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Short-Handed Ravens Show Grit in Narrow Loss to Unbeaten Steelers

Baltimore Ravens CB Marcus Peters and OLB Tyus Bowser tackle Pittsburgh Steelers WR Chase Claypool
Baltimore Ravens CB Marcus Peters and OLB Tyus Bowser tackle Pittsburgh Steelers WR Chase Claypool

Before Wednesday's game kicked off, Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, who was out of the game and on Pittsburgh's Reserve/COVID-19 list, tweeted a message to his teammates.

"Good luck to the boys today. Pad the stats – should be an easy one," he wrote.

With a final score of 19-14, it most definitely was not an easy one for Pittsburgh.

The Ravens had 17 players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, including nine starters, seven Pro Bowlers and one MVP quarterback. They called up 10 players from the practice squad Wednesday just to field a team. The Ravens didn't hold a normal practice all week – just a couple distanced walk-throughs.

Oh, and they were taking on the undefeated Steelers at Heinz Field.

Tuitt surely wasn't alone in thinking the Ravens didn't stand much of a chance. Vegas had the Ravens as double-digit underdogs.

The Ravens made it closer than that in a highly charged game that hung in the balance until the final minutes. There's no world in which a loss to the Steelers feels OK. But after the week the Ravens endured, there was pride about the performance Baltimore had in Pittsburgh.

"I just want to commend all the guys for how hard they fought today and to put on a display like we did against an undefeated team," starting quarterback Robert Griffin III said. "There are no moral victories at all in this league, but I'm proud to be a Raven."

The Ravens defense scratched and clawed, getting multiple stops (and an interception) in the red zone and end zone to keep the game close.

The Steelers definitely did not pad the stats, as Ben Roethlisberger threw a whopping 51 passes for just 266 yards and no receiver topped 54 receiving yards. The Steelers rushed for just 68 yards against a decimated Ravens defensive front.

Behind Griffin, who made his first start in a high-stakes game since 2016, the offense struggled to finds its legs. The Ravens' first four offensive series were a three-and-out, fumble, pick-six, and a three-and-out. Griffin had just 33 yards passing through three-plus quarters.

The struggles were no big surprise considering the biggest COVID-19 absences came on the offensive side of the ball, and because no practice time for a backup quarterback is a recipe for disaster.

Still, Griffin made plays with his legs (team-high 68 yards), running back Justice Hill ran hard in his first extensive action of the season, and an offensive line that was shuffled (again) with an undrafted rookie playing in his first NFL game at center (Trystan Colon-Castillo) blocked pretty well.

"A lot of guys showed their true character today. They went out there, they played their butts off," left guard Bradley Bozeman said. "We had a chance to win at the end and just couldn't pull it all the way through."

The Ravens were a yard away from having the lead at halftime. Had they gotten a delay of game penalty that should have been called, they might have had it. The Ravens kept it a one-score game in the third quarter, with Griffin playing through a pulled hamstring.

After the Steelers landed what could have been a killer blow with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, extending their lead to 12 points, the Ravens showed they weren't done.

Trace McSorley replaced Griffin and found wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown for a 70-yard touchdown to pull within striking distance. The defense forced a third-and-6, and it took a strong catch by Steelers wide receiver James Washington on a perfectly lofted pass by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to put Baltimore away.

Even after the win, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and other Steelers were not happy.

"They came out with a JV squad and we were playing JV," Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. "As you could see, it was a close game, which shouldn't have happened."

The Ravens have lost three straight games to fall to 6-5, and they're among the AFC playoff contenders on the outside looking in. But Baltimore just got through one of the strangest, and most difficult weeks in franchise history.

"It's probably unlike anything we've ever done in our career, probably from little league, to high school, to college, and definitely in the pros," Griffin said.

"Obviously, we wanted to win the game. But the way the game was going was a direct reflection of how we felt about the game. We felt that we had a chance to come in here and win, shock the world, and do something special. We didn't do that."

Head Coach John Harbaugh started his postgame press conference thanking all the people involved in getting the game off the ground to begin with. It took three postponements, many in-depth discussions and tons of flexibility from many different parties.

But Harbaugh turned the focus mostly on the players, because they were the ones to play the game at the end of all this.

"Whatever happened, they didn't blink. That was our goal, not to blink, because we're not going to be pushed around by something that we can't control," Harbaugh said.

"I think that's the type of adversity that great things are built on. That's what I'm proud of these guys for, and the way they handled that, and the way they … Just one day, kept getting hit with these gut punches, and they just kept coming to the next day, the next day [and] the next day; I'm proud of them for that. That's really the success that really matters."

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