NEW YORK — No lead is safe in the NFL this year, especially if a bad team is holding it against a good team. Sunday's rally by the Ravens (the good team) to beat the Cardinals (the bad team) is proof.
It also was the fifth time this season someone has come back from 20 or more points down to win. That's already a league record with nine weeks remaining on the schedule.
The Ravens were well aware that big comebacks have been almost routine in 2011, so even while trailing 24-3 they never lost faith.
Nor should they have considering the Cardinals have one of the worst pass defenses in football and are one of the leaders in turning over the ball.
"You're going to keep fighting," coach John Harbaugh said of the Ravens' attitude at halftime. "If you watch around this league, you can come back and win."
Just as the Lions did against the Cowboys and the 49ers did at Philadelphia on Oct. 2. Detroit trailed by 24 points in the third quarter and San Francisco was behind by 20 in the second half against the Eagles.
And just as the Bills stormed back from 21-0 behind at home to beat New England the previous Sunday, the same day the Lions staged their first humongous rally, overcoming a 20-0 halftime hole at Minnesota.
In nearly every case, the team overcoming the lead was playing an opponent with a weak or struggling defense. Plus, the rallying side was comfortable with a no-huddle offense.
That was especially noticeable in Baltimore on Sunday.
"I had seen a couple of teams come back from pretty big deficits this year, and it was our day to do that," quarterback Joe Flacco said.
Added Anquan Boldin, who victimized a porous secondary for seven catches and 145 yards against his former team:
"We felt like they had young corners, and that's one of the things we felt like we could take advantage of, and we did that today. We know we played poor as an offense in the first half, and we felt like this team wasn't better than us, point-blank. Even though they were up 24-3, we felt like we were able to go out and put drives together and put points on the board."
The penchant for coming back from big deficits has much to do with the rules favoring offenses nowadays. Teams are unafraid to throw — even those with untested quarterbacks — because of how the game has opened up. There are so many restrictions on defensive backs and linebackers in pass coverage that the old Woody Hayes standby that when you throw, three things can happen and two of them are bad no longer applies.
Yes, there can be incompletions and interceptions, but there also can be defensive holdings and interferences and illegal hits, all of them being enforced more heavily than ever.
There's also the mindset on the leading team's side. Instead of continuing to do what helped build the big lead, those teams tend to back off a bit, get conservative to protect the lead.
Bang! The lead is gone.
"At halftime, we all talked about it," Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb said. "We knew what was coming in the second half. You can't let down in this league, especially against a team like this. It wasn't a lack of focus, it was a lack of execution.
"This league is all about trying to find a way to win. I give them credit for the great comeback they had. In the second half they brought a little bit more pressure."
Exactly. The trailing team gets extra aggressive and, too often, the team in front gets a tad comfortable.
Oddly, the level of experience doesn't seem to matter in this year's comeback scenarios. None of the club's that lost, not even the Cardinals, is callow. New England, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Dallas all are filled with veterans, many of them solid players.
Yet they succumbed.
"When you're playing this game, you have to play loose, no matter what," Boldin said. "No matter how you look, you still have to play loose. Whenever you are tight, guys just try to make things happen and end up making mistakes, and that's not how you play football."
At least not winning football.
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