'Team That Played the Best Did Not Win … Steelers Got Away With One'
We all know there are no moral victories in the NFL, but if there were, the Ravens earned one in Pittsburgh Wednesday afternoon.
Despite fielding a team that had 17 players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list — nine starters, seven of which were Pro Bowlers including reigning league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson — the Ravens gave the undefeated Steelers (11-0) all they could handle before coming up short, 19-14.
The defense, which was missing starters Calais Campbell, Mathew Judon, Brandon Williams and Pernell McPhee (plus, cornerback Jimmy Smith left the game in the second quarter after suffering a groin injury and did not return), deserves much of the credit for keeping the game close.
The unit kept the Steelers out of the end zone for three quarters. Three Pittsburgh trips inside the 10-yard line resulted in two field goals and an interception by Tyus Bowser in the end zone.
"I just feel like the team that played the best tonight did not win the ballgame, and that's the Baltimore Ravens," NFL Network's James Jones said after the game. "The Baltimore Ravens came out and they played their tails off on the defensive side of the ball. If they had their MVP quarterback, different story. But this defense came out and they played lights out. They made it hard on [Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger].
"The Steelers got away with one."
As previously stated, however, there is no column for moral victories in the standings. The Ravens' third consecutive loss officially ended their quest for a third straight AFC North title. At 6-5, Baltimore still has a chance to make the playoffs, although its margin for error has gotten slimmer.
"There is still playoff hope for Baltimore," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "The Ravens, who face only one more team with a winning record, still have a 77% chance of making the postseason."
Yesterday's gritty effort against a team that was favored to beat them by double digits could be just what the Ravens need to jump-start a strong finish to the season.
"This is one of those games that Coach [John] Harbaugh can go back and show his team and say, 'This is the type of team we are, and we're going to getting some people back that are going to turn our offense into the type of offense we know our offense can be,'" Jones said. "And if we can play like this, it is going to be tough to beat the Baltimore Ravens."
NFL.com's Kevin Patra wrote: "Moral victories are for the birds, but often losses can be teachable moments. The Ravens lesson is that they can compete with good teams despite not being at their best. When their starters return off the COVID-19 reserve list and they're at full force, keeping the mentality they fought with Wednesday could get them back into postseason position."
Trace McSorley, Marquise Brown Provide a Spark
Trailing 19-7 with 3:30 remaining in the game, things looked bleak for the Ravens, who were starting a drive at their own 16.
However, Trace McSorley, who took over at quarterback after Griffin left the game early in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, connected with wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown on a 70-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown to pull the Ravens within five points with 2:58 left.
McSorley, a 2019 sixth-round pick, had played just one snap (last season) before yesterday.
"In a long run of bad luck and bad news, at the very least, McSorley gave the Ravens something to get excited about on an unconventional Wednesday amid a most unconventional year," NFL.com's Grant Gordon wrote.
Something else for the Ravens to be excited about was the resurgence of Brown in this game. He led the team in receiving with four catches for 85 yards on eight targets. It was the most yards Brown has had in a game since Week 4 against Washington.
"After a struggling season, it's great to see him make a play," Baltimore Beatdown's Kyle P Barber wrote about Brown. "For both himself and for the team. That's what we like to see."
On a side note, NBC Sports' Chris Simms observed that Griffin probably would've scored on the play in which he limped to the sideline after a 7-yard run to the Steelers' 30. The Ravens ended up punting.
Trash Talk After Another Close Ravens-Steelers Game
While the leadup to the game was the antithesis of typical, the game ended up being quite typical of a rivalry that is arguably the best in the NFL.
Regardless of which star players are missing or where the teams are in the standings, games between the Ravens and Steelers are almost always close. Since Harbaugh came to Baltimore in 2008, 21 of 29 games against Pittsburgh (including the playoffs) have been decided by one score.
That includes the teams' meeting last month, when the Steelers prevailed, 28-24, despite the Ravens rushing for 265 rushing yards and outgaining the Steelers in total yards, 457-221.
Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt should've known better than to assume yesterday's game was going to be a cakewalk.
As far as padding their stats, the Steelers were held to 68 rushing yards, no pass-catcher had more than 54 yards receiving, and Roethlisberger had a 62.8 QBR and 266 yards passing on 51 attempts.
Of course, it wouldn't be Ravens-Steelers if there wasn't trash talk. Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has over 2 million followers on the video-sharing social network TikTok, took to social media after the game to crow about stiff-arming cornerback Tramon Williams.
Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead IV, who missed the game (Reserve/COVID-19), offered a succinct rebuttal.