John Harbaugh explains perplexing clock mismanagement in final moments of Ravens loss to Bengals

The Baltimore Ravens' season is over after a 24-17 wild-card loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night.

Like the Miami Dolphins earlier on Sunday, they conclude their season after perplexing clock mismanagement cost them down the stretch.

The Ravens faced a hurry-up situation in the game's final minutes while attempting to rally from a seven-point deficit. Yet they allowed valuable time to tick off the clock and finished the game with a timeout they can't take with them to next season.

Why didn't Ravens call a timeout?

Facing first-and-10, the Ravens advanced to the Bengals' 17-yard line on a completion from Tyler Huntley to J.K. Dobbins. Officials blew the play dead with 1:09 remaining after Bengals defenders stood up Dobbins just past the first-down marker. The clock continued to run. The Ravens had two timeouts, yet opted not to use one.

The Ravens' offense then huddled and lined up for a pass play. They eventually snapped the ball with 33 seconds remaining, having allowed 36 seconds to burn off the clock. From there, they ran four more plays including a run that drew an offensive holding penalty. A fourth-and-20 Hail Mary from the Cincinnati 27 fell incomplete, and the game was over.

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh watches from the sidelines in the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
John Harbaugh declined to call a timeout with valuable game clock running down. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

They didn't leave with both remaining timeouts in the holster. They burned one with the clock already stopped after an incomplete pass on third-and-20 to set up the final play. That one timeout remained unused while the Ravens wasted the better part of the final minute of regulation.

Harbaugh's explanation

After the game, Harbaugh explained the decision to reporters. He said that the Ravens wanted to score without leaving any time on the clock for the Bengals and blamed the holding penalty for foiling his plan.

"We wanted to save the timeouts for the red zone,” Harbaugh said, per Touchdown Wire. “The thing that killed us was the holding penalty. That knocked us back. ...

"We wanted to score without giving the ball back. We think we’re going to get in the red zone, we think it’s going to be a certain number of plays, and we’re going to work right down to the end of the game. Rather than score with 30, 35 seconds left, you give them a chance to go kick a field goal at the end."

That's a contingency that requires a lot of things go absolutely right in a pressure-packed playoff situation and a backup quarterback running the offense. Rather than calling one of two remaining timeouts when the clock is running against you. It's a classic case of overthinking the situation.

Unsurprisingly, the plan didn't work out. It's tough to say whether it impacted the game's outcome after it ended on a failed fourth-down play. It certainly added undue pressure to a situation that the Ravens could have controlled. Add it to the list of offseason woes in Baltimore that includes figuring out what happens with Lamar Jackson.