In his weekly session with the media last week, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale was asked about having to prepare for the Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow immediately after playing the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.
Martindale said it was a tough comparison because Rodgers is headed straight to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and "I don't think we're ready to buy a gold jacket for Joe yet."
He wasn't trying to demean Burrow, a second-year pro. He was just trying to compliment Rodgers.
But after the Bengals whipped the Ravens Sunday, Burrow said the gold jacket comment was "unnecessary." When asked if he'd thought about it while passing for 525 yards, he said, "Maybe."
Teams try to avoid saying things that irritate opponents, but I hope the Ravens don't blame Martindale.
He's a terrific interview, personable and funny. His media sessions offer a window into why players want to run through a wall for him.
It was his throwaway line about Burrow, at the end of his answer, that got him in trouble. I could relate. I've dealt with many readers offended by throwaway lines with which I didn't intend offense. Believe me, those are always the lines that get you in trouble.
I once wrote that the game-winning hero of a baseball playoff game was an unlikely star because he wore glasses and "looked like a librarian." I was just trying to add some descriptive color, but I soon received an angry response from a librarian daring me to "come to the stacks for a rumble."
You just never know.
I'm sure Martindale didn't. He drew laughs during the interview in question when he compared his injury-riddled defense to the Squid Game, the popular Netflix series in which contestants are brutally eliminated. It was a great line I planned on stealing until Sunday's game went so awry. But now, all he's getting is heat.
I would give Martindale a pass, and that's fitting, because I also would give him a pass on a weightier matter – the state of his defense.
It's hurting. No secret there. Depleted by injury and illness, the Ravens couldn't stop Burrow Sunday. And they've endured other, similarly tough days this season.
With two games left, the Ravens rank No. 32 in pass defense, No. 20 in scoring defense and No. 25 in total defense – numbers that seem like someone's idea of a practical joke given the unit's proud history.
As coordinator, Martindale is responsible. But factors he didn't control have had a lot to do with those numbers.
The Ravens began training camp with one of the NFL's highest-priced secondaries, but injuries have wiped it out. Burrow might have had less time to reflect on the gold-jacket comment while facing cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and safety DeShon Elliott, all starters out for the year.
When the team's only relatively healthy cornerbacks, Anthony Averett and Tavon Young, left the game with injuries, it seemed like another practical joke.
A D-line with a healthy Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe probably would have gotten more of Burrow's attention, too, but Wolfe never played in 2021 and Campbell is limping to the end.
With Justin Madubuike, Justin Houston and many others on the Reserve/COVID-19 list rather than the field Sunday, the defense the Bengals beat up bore little resemblance to the one the Ravens originally drew up.
Other factors also have contributed to the unit's downturn in 2021. The Ravens have 17 fewer sacks than their opponents, which doesn't reflect well on the front office's pass-rush reset. Also, the front office hoped 30-and-older D-linemen would hold up, but they haven't so well.
Martindale has done what he can, moved personnel around, dialed his blitz rate up and down, concocted special plans. Against the Packers, he took away Davante Adams, but Rodgers still had a big day.
Yes, I'm giving him a pass. And remember, the season isn't over. As bleak as the situation appears now, enough players might come off the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week to give Martindale more of a fighting chance against the Rams Sunday.
If things go better, I just might steal his line and call it the Squid Game Defense.