Late for Work 1/3: Ravens' Struggles to Finish Doomed the 2021 Season

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QB Tyler Huntley

Ravens Struggle to Finish, Playoff Chances Plummet

After three quarters of play against the Los Angeles Rams, the Ravens were in the driver's seat. The defense had forced three turnovers and the Ravens extended their lead to 16-7.

But, in an all-too-familiar fashion, the game came down to the wire and for the third time this season, the Ravens suffered a one-point defeat, 20-19.

Sunday's game mirrored the Ravens' season. Baltimore jumped out to a 5-1 start, then sat at 8-3 and atop the AFC after Week 12. But, amidst another avalanche of injuries (including to star quarterback Lamar Jackson) and players landing on the COVID list, the Ravens sputtered down the stretch and are now in position to barely miss out on the playoffs.

"Since that wild win over the Vikings the Ravens have gone 2-6 and lost their last five straight," Baltimore Beatdown's Jake Louque wrote. "Six of those eight losses have been by one score, which paints the picture that the second half of this year has been the inverse of the first—that is, they've shown anything but the ability to finish when it counts."

ESPN's Jamison Hensley believes that inability to finish will have Baltimore's season ending in Week 18.

"The Ravens' inability to finish will keep them out of the playoffs," Hensley wrote. "Four games in the Ravens' five-game losing streak were decided by a total of five points. The Ravens, who once had a 91% chance of reaching the playoffs in Week 13, have watched their postseason chances plummet to 8%."

Hensley's mention of the 91% chance to make the playoffs is valid, but The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec remembers what it took for the Ravens to even be in such a position.

"But you can't ignore how the Ravens even got to 8-3," Zrebiec wrote. "They won a game on a Tucker 66-yard-field goal and a fourth-and-19 conversion to Sammy Watkins. They needed a Huntley heave to Watkins to beat the Chicago Bears. They staged remarkable fourth-quarter comebacks to beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts. There was no way they were going to survive living dangerously all season."

And now, with the Ravens needing five games to swing all in their favor, many saw Sunday as a death knell for their playoff chances. The Baltimore Sun's.

"The Ravens (8-8) remain alive on paper, but their hopes of making the postseason likely died when they could not keep the Rams out of the end zone in the last minute," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "Again, they came up short by an excruciatingly slim margin against a healthier, more talented opponent."

It's been a painful final stretch to the Ravens' season, and NBC Sports' Peter King shared some of that heartache after attending yesterday's game at M&T Bank Stadium.

"This really was a compelling game. The Ravens have been ravaged by injury and Covid unlike any team in the league. They're paying 89 players (about 15 above the league average), with about $77 million in 2021 cap money on IR. You could argue the five most important positions on the run-heavy Ravens are QB, RB, LT, CB and CB. The starters at every one of those spots in August—Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Ronnie Stanley, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters—were hurt and not dressed Sunday," King wrote.

"These must-win games are stressful enough for the players. But when I asked Baltimore vet Calais Campbell what this year had been like for him, he said, 'Stressful. So stressed. Not just the game itself, but doing everything to be available for the game,' he said. 'I can't afford to test positive. My team needs me. So I try to stay at home as much as possible. Even at home, I've been masking up, which is so weird. My son's looking at me like, 'Why do you have a mask on?' But it's crunch time. You just can't risk it."

Media Shuts Down QB Controversy Chatter

With Jackson still dealing with an ankle injury, Tyler Huntley was given the third start of his career. Through three games, Huntley's performed admirably, which has created buzz among the fanbase and caused commentary on a possible quarterback controversy.

But after Huntley's game against the Rams—one which was respectable by any NFL backup – local and national media are not fanning the flames.

Russell Street Report's Derek Arnold: "No, the Ravens aren't in better hands with Tyler Huntley than they are with Lamar Jackson, and that was evident today."

The Baltimore Sun's Tim Schwartz: "During this five-game losing streak, Baltimore has lost three by a single point. That seems unfathomable, but maybe it was meant to be this cruel considering how many injuries to star players this team had to overcome. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley's stock continues to rise, but Lamar Jackson's absence is more proof that this team revolves around him."

ESPN's Hensley: "Huntley has proved to be a more than capable replacement for Jackson, totaling 248 yards. But he has struggled to finish drives. There's no quarterback controversy in Baltimore. When Jackson is healthy, he's the starting quarterback and the future of the franchise. But if he's not close to full strength, Huntley clearly represents Baltimore's best chance to win."

The Baltimore Sun's Walker: "Huntley has come up a few plays short against two of the best teams in the NFC, impressive for an undrafted free agent who had never started an NFL game before the third weekend in November. We never would have expected the Ravens to hang in these games without Jackson. To a man, coaches and teammates trust Huntley's calm under fire."

Sports Illustrated's Todd Karpovich: "While Huntley can effectively run the offense, he tends to have trouble in the red zone. The Ravens didn't score an offensive touchdown for the first time in three years."

RavensWire's Kevin Oestreicher: "Huntley provides a very solid option as a backup, but Jackson brings an extra element in many different areas of the game. There has been a bit of 'quarterback controversy' made up by some recently, but there's no question that Jackson is the starting quarterback, and Huntley is a great backup to him."

Marcus Peters Helped Suddenly Turnover-Happy Defense

To have any chance against the Rams, the Ravens defense needed to step up and get the ball out of their opponent's hands. They did so against Stafford and it drew attention from NFL.com's Chase Goodbread and Press Box's Online's Bo Smolka.

"Although the unit couldn't get a late stop to secure the win, the Ravens played a physical brand of football with a sense of urgency and a determined edge befitting a team desperate to turn its season around in time to reach the postseason," Goodbread wrote. "Clark spearheaded that effort with a pair of interceptions in the first half. A Tyus Bowser strip sack on the opening drive of the second half killed another strong scoring opportunity for Los Angeles. Stafford ended up with a 300-yard day, but it didn't come easy. Ultimately, the Ravens gave up 20 points to a team averaging nearly 28, and needed more from their offense to finish the job."

"[The Ravens] went five games in a row without an interception, and they entered Week 17 with 11 takeaways, the second-fewest in the league. Turnovers not only can directly lead to points, but they can also give the offense a short field, give the defense a breather and generate emotion in a game that thrives on it. … Against the Rams, the Ravens saw what they've been missing all season."

An interesting part of the Ravens' sudden turnover creation may have been due to cornerback Marcus Peters' involvement.

Peters is one of the NFL's elites in generating turnovers; since entering the NFL in 2015, Peters has 31 interceptions and nine forced fumbles. Nobody has more picks. Peters also has an extra interest in seeing the Ravens beat the Rams after Los Angeles traded him away in 2019.

However, for all the turnover creation, it just wasn't enough. Stafford sliced up the Ravens secondary in the second half.

"The Rams QB completed 14 of 14 passes in the second half for 162 yards, capping the comeback with back-to-back completions to Odell Beckham that converted a fourth down in the red zone, then dispatched the Ravens with a short TD throw on a quick out to seal the win," Goodbread wrote.

Ravens Reportedly Were Ready to Draft Cooper Kupp

The Ravens snapped Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp's streak of four straight 100-yard games, but not by much. Kupp posted six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, continuing his record-setting campaign.

Turns out, Kupp was apparently close to being on the other side of yesterday's game.

NFL Network's Peter Schrager tweeted before Sunday's game that the Ravens were preparing to select Kupp in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but the Rams stepped in front.

Instead, the Ravens chose defensive lineman Chris Wormley at No. 74 and outside linebacker Tim Williams at No. 78.

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