Barber: 49ers should take hope from 20-17 loss to Ravens
This was the game that proved the 49ers are capable of winning the Super Bowl. The game they lost in Baltimore. The game after which they trudged off the field disappointed and bruised.
Losing 20-17 to the Ravens on a last-second field goal was no moral victory, because those things are almost entirely mythical. It was, in fact, a loss, and a big one. It pushed the 49ers into a more savage fight for the best record in the NFC, and made upcoming games against the Saints and Seahawks doubly fraught.
But when head coach Kyle Shanahan watched film of the game, and shared it with his assistants, and conveyed the lessons to the full team, there must have been a tremendous sense of optimism. The 49ers did a number of things wrong in that game, but it wasn’t an indictment. It was affirmative proof. Not that the Niners deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the NFL’s elite teams, because everyone already knew that.
No, this was proof that Shanahan’s team has a real chance of leaving Miami with the Lombardi Trophy in February — no matter which opponent the 49ers might face (including the Ravens), and even if they don’t make any major adjustments to personnel or scheme.
We can start by acknowledging that Baltimore has the right to be called the best team in the NFL right now. It isn’t really a debatable point.
In the five games leading up to Sunday’s showdown at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens beat, among other foes, the Seahawks, Patriots and Texans. Those are some fine football teams, and the cumulative score of those three Baltimore wins was 108-43. The Ravens mowed through the NFL’s best like fresh clover. Six days before playing the 49ers, they humiliated the Rams 45-6 on “Monday Night Football.” The Rams look nothing like the team that went to the Super Bowl last season. But they are competitive, as evidenced by their bounce-back dismantling of Arizona on Sunday, and the Ravens made them look like scrubs.
Baltimore hasn’t lost since late September. Before facing the 49ers, it hadn’t played a close game since mid-October.
So yes, this was the ultimate litmus test for the 2019 49ers. And they failed. But by the slimmest margin imaginable, in a way that breeds hope for the coming two months.
You can’t forget where the game was played. The rule of thumb in the NFL has long been that home-field advantage is worth three points. I found one website, Boyds Bets, that put the actual number at closer to 2.7 points. Meaning that if two teams are equal in every way, either of them would be favored by at least 2½ points at home.
I imaging that number goes up when a West Coast team travels to the Eastern time zone for a game. Too many teams (cough, Raiders) have used that an excuse for poor performances over the years. But it’s definitely a factor.
And Baltimore is a tough place for any visiting team. When The Athletic ranked the NFL’s various home-field advantages in August, it ranked Baltimore No. 11. That isn’t super high, but it reflected the Ravens’ strong road performance in 2018. The article said this: “Only the Patriots have posted a higher home DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) than the Ravens, who have gone 17-7 at home over the past three seasons.”