6 Takeaways With Future Implications
With the Ravens officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday in the 35-6 blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks, one can't help but look at the remaining games as a tryout and evaluation period for 2016 and beyond.
It's a matter of pride and job security at this point.
"I wouldn't say that any of these last games don't matter," said cornerback Jimmy Smith after the game. "I don't think we can make the playoffs, obviously, but everybody is being evaluated – everybody, every single coach, every single player. So, these last three games are important for every single person in this organization."
With that in mind, here are six* *takeaways from the loss to the Seahawks that have future implications:
1) Clausen An Upgrade Over Schaub; Auditioning For Backup Of Future
It's been eight years since the words "quarterback controversy" have been uttered in Baltimore.
But that's just what we may have – for the short-term (and long-term at the backup spot).
Joe Flacco spoiled Ravens fans with a 122-game streak of consecutive starts, but now that he's on injured reserve (knee), there is doubt as to who will start under center for the first time since 2008.
With Matt Schaub ailing Sunday, third-string quarterback Jimmy Clausen got the start against the Seahawks and he played well enough for Head Coach John Harbaugh to consider him for the starting role going forward, even if Schaub is healthy.
"Clausen was an upgrade over Schaub," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "Clausen proved competent in his first start for the Ravens and proved better than Schaub, which isn't saying much."
With just three weeks of* *experience with the Ravens, a banged-up offensive line and receiver corps, and facing one of the NFL's toughest defenses, Clausen finished 23-of-39 for 274 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.
"Clausen did not perform badly, considering the deck was severely stacked against him," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown. "It wasn't enough to fall in love with Clausen - after all, the Ravens never reached the end zone. But even if Matt Schaub (chest) can play against the Chiefs in Week 15, his four interceptions in his two starts are concerning."
As the Ravens look forward to next week, they also need to consider the possibilities beyond this season. They've gotten a good look at Schaub, who has been on the roster all season and already has two starts.
They will need a capable backup when Flacco returns from his ACL and MCL injury, and they may want a more extended look at Clausen to see if he's the man for the job next year.
"Clausen is younger, and wants to show he can be Joe Flacco's backup next season," wrote Brown. "The Ravens will have to consider sticking with Clausen down the stretch as they plan for next season."
2) Loss Illustrated Gap Between Ravens And Super Bowl Contender
Back in April, schedule makers thought a Ravens-Seahawks matchup would be perfect for a primetime audience, assuming both would be in the playoff hunt and maybe even offer a Super Bowl preview.
But only the Seahawks showed Super Bowl* *potential.
The matchup was flexed out of the national spotlight, and the lopsided score proved that a wise decision (although the New England Patriots' 27-6 win over the Houston Texans wasn't much better).
"This wasn't a fair fight," wrote Brown. "The Seahawks (8-5) have won four straight and are a threat to reach the Super Bowl for the third straight year. The Ravens (4-9) are an injury-depleted team that needs to get heathy and rebuild this offseason."
Added The Baltimore Sun's Alexander Pyles: "For maybe the first time this season, the Ravens looked truly overmatched; the talent deficit between them and the Seattle Seahawks was evident throughout the game."
For the Ravens to get back into the upper echelons of the league, where they've resided for the last eight years, the Seahawks put on a clinic of what it will take to get there.
"This game illustrated the large gap between a Super Bowl contender and the Ravens," wrote Brown.
3) Secondary Still Looks Vulnerable Against Quality Quarterbacks
So much for all that talk about the pass defense improving.
Head Coach John Harbaugh had one word for it Sunday … "bad."
The secondary seemed to be improving since the bye week, allowing the second-fewest total yards per game (257) and the fewest passing yards per game (164) in the NFL during that four-game stretch.
But one couldn't help but wonder whether playing against losing opponents – the Jaguars, Rams, Browns and Dolphins – was the real reason for the Ravens' improvement.
Quarterback Russell Wilson proved it was.
"The defense showed today that it really hasn't improved – it just hasn't been challenged in a few weeks," wrote Pyles.
Wilson threw for a whopping five touchdowns to zero interceptions. The Ravens defense is still stuck with a league-low four interceptions on the season.
"The Ravens secondary still looks vulnerable against quality quarterbacks," wrote Brown. "There were missed assignments in the secondary and Seattle wide receivers running wide open. The Seahawks were the superior team, but a few of the completions the Ravens allowed Wilson to make were simply far too easy."
4) No. 1 Overall Draft Pick Still Very Much In Play
With Sunday's loss, coupled with the Cleveland Browns winning, talk of the No. 1 overall draft pick is creeping up again.
"The Ravens are very much alive in the battle for the first overall draft pick," wrote Zrebiec. "That's about all that's left this season."
If the season ended today, Baltimore would have the No. 4 overall selection, with the Titans (3-10), Browns (3-10) and Chargers (3-10) going one, two and three.
The Ravens, 49ers, Cowboys and Lions each have four wins.
While Baltimore won't tank for draft positioning – that goes against building a winning culture – it wouldn't be surprising if the Ravens lose out given the injury toll and the caliber of remaining opponents in the Chiefs, Steelers and Bengals.
Oh, and here's a gem from that Browns win that boosted the Ravens' draft stock. It's second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel banging his head against a tablet after he threw a bad interception.
5) Osemele More Than Held His Own At Left Tackle
The experiment at left tackle went well.
The Ravens moved left guard Kelechi Osemele out to left tackle, just one day after putting starter Eugene Monroe on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Osemele got positive reviews after facing one of the toughest defensive lines in football.
"He more than held his own in his first NFL start at left tackle," wrote Hensley. "The switch from left guard could keep Osemele in Baltimore for the long term."
Many pundits believed that Osemele had played himself out of Baltimore with a big payday coming in free agency that General Manager Ozzie Newsome couldn't match after paying guard Marshal Yanda earlier this year.
But as a left tackle? Maybe that changes things this offseason, especially if the Ravens cut ties with Monroe, who has started and finished just three of the Ravens' last 16 games, dating back to last season.
"It's premature to say that the Ravens will cut Monroe, as such a move would create $6.6 million in 'dead money' on the team's salary cap," wrote Zrebiec. "However, the Ravens surely will need to address the position this offseason. Monroe's injuries have made it impossible for them to count on him going forward"
Meanwhile, Osemele had a huge grin on his face when asked if he* *liked playing left tackle. He called it an honor to even get the opportunity and wants to prove he can do it moving forward.
After all, he started 38 games at left tackle at Iowa State, and played right tackle during the regular season of the 2012 Super Bowl year.
"With three games left before he hits free agency, Osemele relished the chance to play left tackle, both now and possibly long-term for the Ravens," wrote Meoli.
6) Daniel Brown Making A Case for Himself
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Daniel Brown quietly notched five catches for 47 yards Sunday. His long was a 31-yard strike in the first quarter.
He nearly put up his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter, but a high pass soared past his extended finger tips. Brown has played in just two-regular season games, but in those contests, coupled with the preseason, he always seems to have a knack for getting open and making plays.
Pete Carroll Stands On Top Of Lockers At M&T Bank Stadium
Ugh. I hate losing. I hate watching the other team celebrate even more.
Can you tell Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll is fired up?
He jumped atop the lockers in the visiting locker room at M&T Bank Stadium to deliver his game-winning speech to his team.
Andy Dalton Likely Out For Rest Of Season
When the Cincinnati Bengals host the Ravens in Week 17's season finale, they may be without their starting quarterback Andy Dalton.
Dalton, who has been a top-five passer this season, left after the Bengals' first drive and did not return. He said he fractured his right thumb after he threw a red-zone interception to the Steelers Sunday and tried to tackle Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
Here's the play.
Per ESPN's Bob Holtzman, Dalton will likely miss the rest of the season, with the best case scenario of him returning for the playoffs.
That means Week 17 will feature backup quarterback AJ McCarron against either Schaub or Clausen.
Is This The NFL Or Flag Football?
The referees continue to make head-scratching calls this season, the latest coming Sunday when they called unnecessary roughness on Lardarius Webb for this clean hit on Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett.
Steve Smith Sr., who has taken plenty of hits like this as a receiver, clearly didn't like the call.
You Know It's Ugly When Hair Tackle Is A Highlight
It was one of the more-talked about plays of the day yesterday.
Former Seahawks receiver Chris Matthews, who played his first game as a Raven, tackled Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman by his dreads after he picked off a high Clausen pass.
"It did not feel great," Sherman said, stating the obvious.
"When you're getting blown out in an ugly game at home, you resort to any measure possible to help yourself out,"* *wrote Eric Garland of CSNmidatlantic.com.
I'm sure it was a special moment for Matthews to play against the team that cut him, but it would have been epic to see Steve Smith Sr. and Sherman go at it all day. At least they caught up with each other before the game.