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Late for Work 1/16: Ravens' Defeat a 'Microcosm of Their Season'

QB Tyler Huntlley
QB Tyler Huntlley

Ravens' Defeat a "Microcosm of Their Season;" Some Ponder "What if?"

With great frequency, Ravens games boiled down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter this season; both the Ravens, and their opponents, were never out of it until the end. In similar style on Sunday, the Ravens found themselves in the final minutes needing to execute in the red zone.

But in the biggest moments, things slipped from their grasp in what The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec called "microcosms of their season."

"[The fumble on the goal line] and the heave that Huntley threw up that deflected off James Proche's fingertips in the end zone on the game's final play were microcosms of the Ravens' season," Zrebiec wrote. "In a 24-17 loss to its divisional rival, Baltimore controlled significant stretches of the game. A strong case could have been made that the Ravens were the better team Sunday night. Most of the game's statistics certainly suggest that."

Along with the close efforts and narrow margins slipping from their grasp, Zrebiec wrote it's hard not to ask "What if?" for this game and the season.

"What if the Ravens did have Jackson, who missed his sixth consecutive game to end the season with the sports world's most speculated-on knee injury," Zrebiec asked. "What if the Ravens had scored a touchdown when they had a first-and-goal from the Bengals' 3 late in the second quarter, rather than settling for a 22-yard Justin Tucker field goal and a 10-9 halftime lead? What if [Offensive Coordinator Greg] Roman had given the ball to either Dobbins or Edwards from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter rather than calling the Huntley quarterback sneak?"

Zrebiec wasn't the only one, either, with The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer doing the same, asking "What if?" on backup quarterback Tyler Huntley's sneak attempt from the 1-yard line, where he decided to leap over the top, which resulted in a punched-out fumble and 98-yard touchdown from Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard.

"No play will be as scrutinized or vilified as the one that defined the franchise's fourth loss in its past five playoff games," Shaffer wrote. "…The Ravens thought they'd scored; the Bengals had scored."

"Difficult as it was to digest, the loss fit the theme of squandered promise that characterized so much of this Ravens' season," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote.

"Few predicted they would have a chance against the streaking Bengals, who no doubt wanted to humiliate them after a contentious regular-season finale on the same field. So, of course, the Ravens played their best game in weeks. Huntley pushed the ball downfield. Andrews made clutch grabs. The defense bottled up Burrow for the third time this season. They did so much right and still, they ended the night searching for the words to explain why it had not worked out."

Of course, just as we're told in our youth, playing the "What if?" game never really helps. The Ravens are now headed into the offseason and have far more pressing questions to answer.

Backup Quarterback Huntley Battled Valiantly

For the second straight season, Huntley was called on late in the year to keep the Ravens' playoff hopes alive. With some help from the rushing attack and the defense, Huntley won three of his first four starts, and helped secure a playoff ticket.

On Sunday, Huntley and the team punched that ticket to Cincinnati, where he was called on to start against the Bengals in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Though they suffered a 24-17 loss, many are giving credit to Huntley who "battled valiantly."

"After an opening drive interception, Huntley settled in, leading scoring drives of nine and 17 plays to send the Ravens to the break with a 10-9 lead,"’s Nick Shook wrote. "He did enough to give Baltimore a chance to win, especially after he connected with Demarcus Robinson for a 41-yard touchdown."

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley: "Huntley made several big plays to keep the 8-point underdog Ravens in the game."

SB Nation’s Jeremy Reisman: "[The Ravens] outgained their rivals 364 to 234 yards, they averaged far more yards per play (5.5) than the Bengals (4.3), and Huntley was even outdueling All-Pro Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow… When the Bengals came out firing in the second half, Huntley was up for the fight. After Burrow retook the lead for Cincinnati late in the third quarter, the Ravens quarterback answered just three minutes later with a 41-yard touchdown bomb to Demarcus Robinson to tie the game up."

The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker: "What a cruel twist for Tyler Huntley, who was playing the game of his life only to fumble away a potential victory at the goal line. The Ravens probably should have handed the ball to a running back on that fateful third down, but it's Huntley who will feel the agony."

The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon: "That botched sneak overshadows what was a gutsy performance for Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, who will be thinking about that stretch at the goal line for a long, long time. The Ravens won't be interested in moral victories after such a disappointing end to the season, but stifling defense and a resurgent J.K. Dobbins provide some hope for the future, provided the offense can find some reliable receivers."

Hamilton's Hit Rocked Twitter, Too

With under three minutes remaining in the first half, rookie safety Kyle Hamilton delivered one of the hardest hits of the season on Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst. The hit rocked the ball loose from Hurst, and rocked viewers on Twitter.

Pundits Question Final Drive Clock Management

Inside the Ravens final drive, pundits were puzzled with the clock management by the Ravens.

Inside the two-minute warning, the Ravens possessed two timeouts and saw the clock dwindle down to 34 seconds remaining in four plays.

The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon's critique involved the Ravens players huddling up to get the next play in after running the ball and the clock continuing.

"The Ravens elected to huddle after the play and not use one of their two remaining timeouts, letting 35 seconds tick away before an incomplete pass stopped the clock," Doon wrote. "… After an 11-yard catch by running back J.K. Dobbins moved Baltimore to the Bengals' 17, the Ravens once again huddled, letting 43 seconds expire before Huntley threw an incomplete pass over the middle."

Some questioned the lack of timeout usage, which Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh answered in his post-game press conference.

"No, the idea there was to save the timeouts for the red zone. I think the thing that killed us was the holding penalty, which knocked us back. The idea was, 'We've got time.' We want to keep those timeouts to throw the ball," he said.

USA Today’s Doug Farrar called it "wishful thinking."

"The Ravens were in a place where Huntley couldn't complete a pass, and there was no sensible option for running plays if you weren't going to use your timeouts," Farrar wrote. "Saving them for a red zone trip you may never make (and the Ravens never did) seems more like folly and hubris than the right kind of coaching decision. Maybe a timeout for Huntley to come to the sideline and talk things over with his head coach would have settled him down, or given him a second to contemplate how to best deal with a Bengals defense that had him on lock in the most crucial part of the game."

Early Offseason Questions for the Ravens

As the clock hit zero in Paycor Stadium, the Ravens' offseason began. ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters began their early notes on what lies ahead for Baltimore in the months ahead, and Hensley thinks the Ravens could consider targeting a big-name wide receiver as their "under-the-radar offseason priority."

"The Ravens have to improve this wide receiver group," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens will get back Rashod Bateman, who missed the past nine games with a foot injury, but Baltimore still needs more help to boost a wideout group that ranked last in the NFL with 1,517 yards receiving. Could the Ravens make a big move and trade for DeAndre Hopkins?"

ESPN's Field Yates and Matt Miller also question if cornerback Marcus Peters will be in the Ravens' future plans.

"A presumed franchise tag for Jackson will take up a healthy chunk of Baltimore's cap space, while Peters could be looking for one final contract splash at age 30," Yates wrote. "He's still a productive player, but injuries have limited him to 13 regular-season games over the past two seasons."

Miller believes cornerback will be an area to target in the draft, but like Hensley, sees wide receiver as the priority early.

"The Ravens have just five draft picks in the upcoming class to add talent at wide receiver, cornerback and edge rusher," Miller wrote. "They need to find a wideout running mate for Bateman, and this class should offer a few potential pass-catchers in the Ravens' first-round range."

Of course, Lamar Jackson being a pending free agent is atop the list.

"Back in August, quarterback Lamar Jackson and general manager Eric DeCosta both said they were going to put contract negotiations on the shelf until after the season. Well, the loss to the Bengals means it is officially "after the season" now, and Jackson's contract status immediately becomes the dominant storyline for this team — and the league — until something is resolved," Pressbox’s Bo Smolka wrote.

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