There is an old law of football physics: for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
For every great game-winning touchdown drive by an offense, there is a miserable collapse by a defense that had victory in its grasp. For every great upset victory, there is a team that gagged away a game it should have won.
Some pigskin pundits like to accentuate the positive and celebrate grand achievements on the gridiron. The Cold, Hard Football Facts prefer to savor the delicious distaste of somebody else's miserable demise.
Enter Epic Fail: our weekly look at the NFL's biggest collapses, greatest missed opportunities and most colossal choke jobs.
This week one AFC North team runs away with Epic Fail dishonors for an incredible physical and mental breakdown against one of the league's worst teams. The same division garners a Dishonorable Mention – a rare double-bill of deliciously distasteful defeat for one NFL foursome.
Epic Fail: The Baltimore Ravens
Yes, the entire organization earns rare team-wide Epic Fail dishonors for its disastrous 22-17 defeat in Seattle against a bad Seahawks team. The loss comes just one week after Baltimore's signature last-second win over the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers that appeared to put the team on a fast track to the AFC title.
The Ravens entered Week 10 with a 6-2 record and the NFL's No. 2 in scoring defense; the Seahawks entered Week 10 with a 2-6 record and the NFL's No. 28 in scoring offense.
The Ravens were also statistical dynamos in each of the Quality Stats we use to rate defenses at Cold, Hard Football Facts.com: No. 1 on the Defensive Hog Index, our measure of each defensive front, and No. 3 in Defensive Passer Rating – the most important indicator of defensive success other than points allowed.
The Seahawks were statistical duds in each of the Quality Stats we use to rate offenses at Cold, Hard Football Facts.com: No. 31 on the Offensive Hog Index, our measure of each offensive line, and No. 28 in team-wide Offensive Passer Rating – one of the most ineffective passing attacks in football.
In other words, this was a huge mismatch by any empirical measure. And the outcome of Ravens-Seahawks seemed as certain as any you'll find in the NFL: a big win for the powerful birds of pigskin prey from Baltimore and a fourth straight loss for second-rate Seattle.
But the Ravens stumbled right of the gates and a sure win turned into the most embarrassing loss by any contending team in 2011.
The Seahawks took over after the missed kick in great field position, their own 40, and took just six plays to shred the vaunted Ravens defense. The 60-yard scoring drive ended with a 1-yard TD plunge by Marshawn Lynch(notes).
Lightning then struck twice – twice! Reed fumbled on another kick return and Cundiff missed another long field goal (52 yards) – given each special teamer a pair of gold cufflink gaffes in the first half alone.
Baltimore's Epic Fail could be measured up and down the field:
• The Ravens lost the turnover battle 3-0.
• The Ravens lost the rushing battle 119 yards to 75 yards.
• The Ravens lost the all-important battle of passing efficiency: 7.4 Real Passing Yards Per Attempt to 4.6 Real Passing Yards Per Attempt (our Quality Stat that takes into account the impact of sacks).
The Epic Fail also infected John Harbaugh and the Baltimore coaching staff. Basically, the Baltimore brain trust panicked after the team fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter.
The Ravens ended the day with 53 pass attempts and just 12 rush attempts. Unbalanced offenses are usually doomed and in the case of Baltimore the lack of offensive perspective only compounded the problems: Baltimore averaged 6.2 yards per rush attempt and just 4.6 yards each time the team dropped back to pass. In other words, the Ravens were more effective running the ball than they were passing the ball – yet they insisted on smashing their collective heads into a wall by calling pass after pass.
Baltimore should have learned its lesson three weeks earlier in the team's also-embarrassing 12-7 loss at Jacksonville.
The Ravens ran the ball just 12 times in that game, too – notice a trend here? – and attempted 38 passes.
That's a total of 91 pass attempts and 24 rush attempts in Baltimore's last two losses – games in which they translated all those pass attempts into a grand total of 24 points.
Nice job, Baltimore: an Epic Fail everywhere from design to execution on the sidelines and on the field.
Epic Fail Dishonorable Mention: Cleveland kicking game
Imagine for a moment you're the 3-5 Cleveland Browns. You're hosting the lowly Rams, a team that began the season 0-6, came to town with the worst offense in football and had enjoyed just one victory all year (1-7).
Sounds like a great opportunity gain your fourth win of the year and maybe even make goo-goo eyes with a winning record for the first time since 2007.
All you need to do is kick a chip-shot 22-yard field goal with 2 minutes left in the game – something high school teams execute with fairly consistent results.
The easy attempt could not have unfolded in uglier fashion: long-snapper Ryan Pontbriand(notes) bounced ball back to holder Brad Maynard(notes) – the closest thing Cleveland has to a hero in this series of disasters.
Maynard got the ball set, but kicker Phil Dawson(notes) then booted the ball wide left. The Browns puttered away their last chance in a 13-12 defeat and were booed by the hometown faithless as they slinked off the field.
But don't cry for Cleveland: it took a true Epic Fail on special teams to earn this especially painful loss at home.
And, well, the misery of others is something for the Cold, Hard Football Facts to celebrate.