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Eisenberg: Challenging Times Have Arrived


The Ravens emerged from Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers with plenty of challenges in front of them.

All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley exited the game with a season-ending ankle injury, challenging a reconfigured offensive line to get the job done without its anchor.

Lamar Jackson lost four turnovers as he continues to search for the magical performance level that earned him league MVP honors last season – a challenge, for sure.

And the loss dropped the Ravens two games behind undefeated Pittsburgh, certainly challenging their goal of capturing a third straight AFC North title.

That's plenty to take on, and another challenge arose Monday when All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey tested positive for COVID-19.

Humphrey's health matters most, but his positive test comes with football ramifications. It forces the Ravens to alter parts of their routine as they prepare to face the Colts Sunday in Indianapolis. "We'll approach it as business as usual in a different kind of way," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. Humphrey will miss at least the one game, another subtraction at a position where injuries have struck.

No doubt, challenging times have arrived.

Admittedly, other than Humphrey's illness, it's all relatively routine stuff. I don't want to minimize the severity of Stanley's injury or take for granted the long rehab he faces. But major injuries are part of the game. As is having a key player experience ups and downs.

Ray Lewis always referred to a season as a "journey" because a team goes through a lot, both good and bad.

That's why last season was so remarkable. The Ravens stumbled in September, but once they found their footing, they rolled to 12 straight wins with little going wrong. Weeks passed with them barely, if ever, trailing on the scoreboard.

We'll never know why they followed up a nearly ideal regular season with a clunker in the playoffs. But after experiencing little adversity during the season, they seemed stunned to fall two touchdowns behind the Tennessee Titans. And they didn't recover.

If they make it back to the playoffs in 2020, they'll do so with a better understanding of what adversity and disappointment look and feel like. Wide receiver Willie Snead IV tweeted that losses like Sunday's, while disappointing, can prove beneficial in their own way. "We get stronger from games like this," he wrote.

That the Ravens would make the playoffs was deemed a foregone conclusion when they began this season as top-tier Super Bowl contenders, and they're still overwhelmingly likely to qualify. Their losses to the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs may have quieted the buzz around them a bit, but they're still superior to many teams.

Given the mounting challenges they're facing, though, Sunday's game now looms as especially big.

The Colts are also 5-2 and resemble the Steelers with their strong defense and veteran quarterback who gets rid of the ball in a hurry. They're unbeaten at home and starting to view the AFC South title as a viable goal now that the Titans have lost two in a row.

It's tough circumstances, especially with the Ravens lacking Humphrey and Stanley as they take on their challenges.

The good news is the O-line held up so well without Stanley Sunday that the Ravens rushed for 265 yards. On the other hand, the Steelers' T.J. Watt was a major nuisance with five quarterback hits and a sack. The Ravens' line will be under scrutiny, especially if guard Tyre Phillips can't play due to a high-ankle sprain.

As for Jackson, Harbaugh was asked Monday if he felt the quarterback was pressing, trying to do too much to help his team win. Harbaugh didn't deny it but stressed that a more tangible issue, turnovers, were his concern.

"We have to be a lot better with protecting the football. That is a No. 1 priority for us going forward," Harbaugh said.

It's a lot to monitor, a lot to work on. But the Ravens have never minded challenges. They haven't lost a road game in 14 months.

"Straightforward. Let's go," Harbaugh said. "We're excited to play the Colts. It's a good challenge, but we're a good team."

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