The Ravens saw their season come to a disappointing end Sunday after losing 16-13 overtime to the Steelers in Baltimore. Here’s what we learned from the Ravens’ sixth consecutive defeat:
On the last day of their 2021 season, the Ravens had to admit that they weren’t good enough.
Hope visited M&T Bank Stadium briefly on Sunday afternoon. The Ravens couldn’t help but glance at the scoreboard, which informed them that the Jacksonville Jaguars were overtaking the Indianapolis Colts. It was the most incredible of the three pieces of help they needed to dive into the playoffs.
The Ravens also went about their business, bewildering the Pittsburgh Steelers with powerful races and devastating defenses. At the start of the fourth quarter, they were 11 yards from the touchdown, which allowed them to increase the lead to 17-6, which is a dominant advantage in the game without a consistent attack.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley saw the team’s best pass-catcher, Mark Andrews, open up brilliantly in the end zone. He thought he had room, but didn’t add enough mustard to his pass, which caught Pittsburgh defender Cameron Sutton. The Ravens’ chances of a season extension will never be so bright again.
Then they talked about missed opportunities – not caught passes, not made 3 and 4 attempts. They had made similar comments many times over the previous six weeks, watching a promising season fall apart, one excruciatingly close loss after another. This time it dawned on them that there would be no next week.
“We can’t say ‘what if,’” Huntley said. “We have to acknowledge the facts of what happened.”
Teams in the playoffs are unbeaten in their last six games, even if five of those losses were eight points.
The crows were full of determination. They didn’t abandon each other when injuries ripped off their starting backfield, their left tackle, their top three full-backs and their former MVP quarterback. No loss had broken their will to look ahead.
Coach John Harbaugh told them that someday they will turn to this season as they teach resilience lessons to their children. “You can tell them this story,” he said.
But this was not the story The Ravens wanted to write in 2021. They didn’t want to be a team that misses over and over again, that speaks to what it might have been if the ankle hadn’t turned up or a ligament hadn’t been torn. They all believed that they could be the last team left alive. Instead, they were not among the last 14. Why and how did not matter much.
“In the first half of the season, we found a way to win these games. [but] in the second half, we didn’t, ”said running back Latavius Murray. “So I appreciate [Harbaugh] for the words that we fought and all that, but I think that we will all look back and just realize that we did not do it – we still had a chance, but we did not. ”
The Ravens couldn’t “find the game” without their best playmaker, Lamar Jackson.
When the Ravens were riding in overtime, Huntley looked openly at his best goal, Andrews, and threw him far enough behind him that Andrews couldn’t get his hands on the ball.
This latest misfire symbolized Huntley’s worst day as a professional quarterback. He flipped the ball three times and was unable to compensate by hitting his reception rooms at the bottom of the field. If you’re going to be a conservative quarterback in the NFL, you shouldn’t be wrong either.
So let’s put aside any notion that the Ravens were fine without Jackson. As hard as he fought in the weeks before he injured his ankle against the Cleveland Browns, they lost a sense of attacking opportunity when he was offside. The wonderful rallies we saw against the Indianapolis Colts and the Minnesota Vikings, the deep passes we saw in the first weeks of the season, were no longer discussed.
This was not a blow to Huntley, who helped the Ravens win every game he started. It just needs to be said that Jackson remains the centerpiece of the team and we shouldn’t be surprised that they lost their last four games, all of which were mandatory, without him.
Huntley made a costly involuntary mistake in the first quarter when, instead of hitting a slippery ball from the rain, he tried to catch Bradley Bozeman’s low snap. It was a rare instance of a supernaturally cold-blooded backup going too far with the game by a small margin. The Steelers, who needed all the help they could get to score a goal, had to travel just 29 yards to increase the 3-0 lead.
On his next possession, Huntley tried to pass a pass to Andrews, but missed and threw it into the hands of Pittsburgh defender Terrell Edmunds, who did a great job picking the ball off the lawn.
Huntley had a chance to put the Ravens ahead two points when he saw Andrews open in the home zone early in the fourth quarter. However, instead of buttoning the ball, he threw it tentatively, giving Sutton enough time to hit him.
“I couldn’t control the ball the way I wanted to,” Huntley said.
Andrews defended the Huntley reading, saying he could have done more. “I think it’s a touchdown if I just get back to the ball,” he said.
No one should completely blame the quarterback for this loss. Marquise Brown missed a touchdown pass shortly before half-time and was unable to keep the ball on the touchline in the last seconds of regular time. A fictional film will surely reveal other culprits. The Ravens have made one offensive touchdown in their last two games, losing by four points.
“We failed a lot of games here, in the sense that we just couldn’t find the game,” Harbo said. “We couldn’t find the play we wanted.”
Would Jackson find this play? Impossible to tell, but this is the person Ravens turn to when they have no other answers. Without him, they would not have been the team they hoped to be at the start of the season.
The Ravens need a more reliable plan of attack.
Last offseason, the Crows prioritized their offensive line after the right side staggered in the playoffs after losing to the Buffalo Bills. They’ll have to go back to the drawing board after turning in more bags than any other team in 2021.
General manager Eric DeCosta signed right-back Kevin Zeitler, who was their top striker this year. Shifting Bradley Bozeman to the center was the most successful one. But their plan to defend the edge with Ronnie Stanley and veteran Alejandro Villanueva fell through on the first run of the season.
We saw excitement again on Sunday when the Steelers fired Huntley three times and hit him six times in the first half. After that, the line played better when the Ravens turned to their powerful play, but their inability to score earlier made itself felt.
It could be argued that Ravens have the options they need, with Stanley recovering from ankle surgery and Ja’Vuan James’ right tackle is expected to be ready after missing this season with a torn achilles. But if the Ravens don’t use draft picks and free agent dollars to add quality tackles behind Stanley and James, they’ll fall into the same trap as this year. Their entire plan, including the decision to trade Orlando Brown Jr., was based on Stanley’s health, but they can’t afford to count on him next season, even if they hope he will return to his All-Pro form from 2019. James could be an above average right tackle, but he hasn’t played anything close to a full season since 2018.
Ravens began to tackle these issues by hiring Patrick Mekari, the perfect lineman who has excelled in the right tackle this season. They have to assume that Stanley and James will not be available for every game, and sketch out a tackle that will be ready to play in 2022 and start in the years to come.
Ben Roethlisberger was far from vintage, but he said goodbye to the Ravens in a befitting manner.
We spent a week recounting the instances where Roethlisberger brushed off brutal blows to rally the Steelers over the Ravens. “The Terminator,” Defense Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale called him in a tribute ahead of Roethlisberger’s last regular season game.
For most of the day, Roethlisberger looked like a player who was one season late. He could not harm the Crows in the lower part of the field and gave passes, which asked to be intercepted.
Somehow he shook off the rust for exactly fourth quarter and overtime. In the third and ninth, with less than six minutes left on the fourth, he found Ray-Ray McCloud 20 yards away, his second longest finish of the day. Moments later, he hit Pat Freyermouth’s tight end by 11 yards in third and sixth. In overtime, he linked up with Freiermouth another 14 yards in third and 7th and McCloud for 10 yards in fourth and eighth.
The crows can never take the last bit of life from him.
“I pay tribute where necessary,” said defender Calle Campbell. “We made life difficult for him. … He’s a legend that plays critically at important moments. ”
Some may consider this to be the last glittering Stand for a Hall of Fame player, but that’s not entirely true. Rotlisberger did not turn back the clock. We saw him in debilitated form, averaging 5.5 yards per try. He made enough shots to win on a day marked by ugly football. And that fits like his final note on rivalry, which has always been more about survival than beauty.
Injuries have been the Ravens’ worst enemy, but they know they need more than luck.
Reflecting on the offseason, we can say that the Ravens are likely to do better in 2022, even if they don’t make significant changes to their roster and coaching staff.
When they showed up at training camp, they reasonably expected them to have the best attack in the league and one of the best secondary players. DeCosta and Harbo have built everything around these strengths.
The team we saw at the end of the season – the last one in passing defense, 18 points per game out of the last nine – did not fit that vision. The Ravens have lost too many players to give them their identity.
When they get back to work this summer, we’ll probably see Jackson, Stanley, Marlon Humphrey, J.C. Dobbins, and so on. The group that could not resist the Steelers will forever be remembered.
But there are fundamental improvements. The Ravens must replenish their offensive and defensive lines. They must rethink offensive concepts that have become obsolete since they beat the league in 2019. They need to figure out if it’s worth making huge financial commitments to Jackson and how to cure him of the hiccups with the confidence we’ve seen this year.
This was not a team that came close to achieving their goals, so self-esteem – the traditional strength of this coach and front office – must be unforgiving.
“We’re going to hit the lab,” Andrews pledged after a monumental personal season (107 catches, 1,361 yards, 9 touchdowns) and a disappointing team season.
Safety Chuck Clark didn’t even answer the questions, because he could only say one thing: “Just watch how we come to our senses.”