What Mink Thinks: Don't Forget the 'Should'ves' When Lamenting the 'Could'ves'

Defense Huddle

The Miami Dolphins' win over the New England Patriots eased some of the pain from the Ravens' season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens wouldn't have been in the playoffs even if they beat the Steelers.

But let's not kid ourselves. The Ravens' six-game losing streak to close the season was excruciating.

What made it so tough was that the Ravens absolutely could have won at least one of those games, which may have put them in the playoffs. Five of those six losses came by a combined eight points – a stat so mind-blowing that I had to count my fingers twice to make sure.

I don't have enough fingers, or toes, to count how many times the Ravens came "one play away." The two point conversions in Pittsburgh and against Green Bay stand out. There were fourth-down knockout opportunities for the defense and 1st-and-goals for the offense.

The Ravens struck out time and time again in those situations. It's almost unfathomable that it could happen so many times, but it did, and it leaves a gut-wrenching feeling in the pit of your stomach.

"We fell short in numerous games here down the stretch in the sense that we just couldn't find a play. We couldn't find a play that we needed," Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday's overtime loss.

"We couldn't find a way to put them in position to make the play that would make the difference in the game, and that's what I feel worst about as a coach. Any one of these games we could've found something to find a way to win the game. We would have liked to have done that, but we didn't come up with that. So, we're not happy about that, and that's my biggest disappointment."

What makes it so much tougher to swallow is the "could'ves." Those are the ones that stick.

But let's not forget about the "should'ves."

Should the Ravens really have been 8-3 and had the best record in the AFC this season at one point? Hell no.

Should the Ravens have even been competitive with the Green Bay Packers, who are the NFC's top seed entering the playoffs, or the Los Angeles Rams, who won the toughest division in football? No and no.

Quite frankly, considering all the injuries the Ravens carried into the season, I thought a .500 finish was about what we should expect. That was before Baltimore lost Ronnie Stanley, Marlon Humphrey, Derek Wolfe, Patrick Ricard and some guy named Lamar Jackson for the rest of the season.

Remember when Charlie Batch beat the 2012 Ravens in relief of Ben Roethlisberger? Everybody treated that like the upset of all upsets. Batch had started 54 games before that day. Tyler Huntley, who stepped in against Pittsburgh's ferocious defense, was starting his fourth.

What happened here is the Ravens' injury (and COVID-19) lists grew so lengthy that they started just looking like more names on a sheet of paper. And the backups played so valiantly, and were coached up so well, that we were all tricked into thinking that they should still win these tight games against much mightier opponents.

Nobody in their right mind would think that a team without Lamar Jackson, or the team's top running backs, or the team's best blockers, should move the ball so often down the field so much over these last four games. They did, but they just kept coming up short.

Injuries aren't excuses. They're actual, tangible losses that make actual, tangible differences in an extremely competitive league where the difference between winning and losing is razor thin.

The Ravens were good enough that, despite their losses, they were in position to win again and again. But they were bad enough that every missed opportunity or mistake was a crushing blow. They had no margin for error, and even the best teams need some wiggle room.

While it doesn't make the pain go away, it's something to remember when making the big-picture evaluation of the Ravens' 2021 season. If nothing else, maybe the view that the Ravens shouldn't have been in position to make the playoffs, will help you sleep better.

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