Five thoughts on the Ravens' 19-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Wednesday at Heinz Field:
The Ravens will seldom have more going against them in a game. They had nine starters on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, including their quarterback. Their practice regimen leading up to the game was limited to a couple of walk-throughs. They had to promote 10 players from the practice squad just to have a full roster. No one outside of their locker room gave them a shot against a Pittsburgh team with a perfect record in December. But the Ravens played with a ton of heart and gave themselves a chance to win a game they had no business winning. Their defense hit hard and refused to buckle. Their offense, truly gutted by the virus, successfully moved the ball for stretches, especially in the first half. The Ravens' goal was to somehow keep the score close and make a decisive play late, and that's actually what happened. They trailed by five points in the fourth quarter. They scored a late touchdown. Too much went wrong otherwise for them to complete the surprise, but after one of the most forgettable weeks in their history, the Ravens gave a memorable and inspiring performance, yes, even in defeat.
The defeat was the Ravens' third in a row and dropped their record to 6-5 for the season. If the playoffs began today, Baltimore wouldn't make it. But there are five games left in the regular season and the Ravens' schedule is favorable, featuring several home games against teams with losing records. Listening to the players after the game, they're optimistic about what might happen next. "Proud of our team; we busted our butts tonight. There's a lot of fight in this team. We're going to get a bunch of guys back healthy. We'll go from here. It's just the beginning," guard Bradley Bozeman said. It obviously remains to be seen whether the Ravens do, in fact, get on a roll and climb back into the playoff picture; they'll certainly need to win their next game against the Dallas Cowboys to make anything happen. But the vibe emanating from the locker room was they had survived a unique and withering challenge with their pride intact and their heads held high. Yes, it could be the start of something.
Robert Griffin III was disconsolate afterwards, saying he lost the game for the Ravens. Lost it because he threw a pick-six in the first quarter. Lost it because the offense botched a golden chance to score a touchdown, or at least a field goal, in the final seconds of the first half. Lost it because he pulled a hamstring late in the second quarter and ultimately was unable to finish the game. "I let my team down," he said. His accountability is impressive. You can only hope his younger teammates will take note and stand up in the same way when their time comes. I'm assuming Griffin can't be talked out of feeling so low, but my two cents, some of what he identified wasn't his fault. The pick-six, yes, that's on him. But the referees should have stopped the clock for a delay penalty or an injury timeout as the Steelers stalled in the final seconds of the first half; that would have given the Ravens a better chance to score. And you certainly can't fault Griffin for pulling a hamstring "for the first time ever," he said. If anything, Griffin deserves credit for playing on despite the injury and making enough plays, mostly with his legs, to lead the Ravens in rushing (68 yards on seven carries) and keep them in the game. With the odds stacked against him, he was a pro's pro.
It was disturbing and then some to see the Ravens' defense experience all sorts of tackling problems late in their last game against the Tennessee Titans. "That's not who we are," Head Coach John Harbaugh said, and indeed, the tackling was vastly improved Wednesday, especially in the secondary. That's where it had to be good, as the Steelers of 2020 are operating a short-route passing game that controls the clock, with the running game usually taking a backseat. Roethlisberger attempted 51 passes Wednesday and the Steelers ran the ball just 20 times. I think that actually worked in the Ravens' favor, as the opposing offense attacked Baltimore where it is strong, i.e., the secondary, as opposed to the depleted rushing defense, which was without Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams for a third straight game. Needing to make stops and keep plays in front of them, the secondary came through. Chuck Clark was in on 13 combined tackles. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters each had six unassisted tackles.
Short takes: For the record, the opening kickoff was delayed 139 hours and 18 minutes … Of all the Ravens getting their first real chance to play due to the outbreak (there were many), rookie center Trystan Colon-Castillo seemed like a standout. He handled all snaps and calls and was singled out by NBC's broadcasters for several strong blocks. The Ravens obviously like him, as they promoted him from the practice squad to the 53-man roster earlier this season to keep him from getting poached … Substitute long snapper Nick Moore also pitched nothing but perfect strikes filling in for Morgan Cox … The Steelers helped keep the game close with mistakes. A fumbled punt set up Baltimore's first touchdown, and Pittsburgh receivers dropped passes in the red zone on consecutive drives in the first half … Trace McSorley's 70-yard scoring toss to Marquise Brown late in the fourth quarter was a stunner that made the final minutes interesting. But the Ravens only had 40 passing yards otherwise.