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Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 16-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers – Boston Herald



The Ravens’ two-minute defense again let them down as the Steelers drove 80 yards to come from behind for a 16-13 victory in another Baltimore-Pittsburgh slugfest. The Ravens now have to wait to see if they will have a chance to compete for an AFC North title in Week 18 and if quarterback Lamar Jackson will return to practice this week.

This one hurt because the Ravens were confronted with how little progress they have made.

How many times can they lead by 10 points in the second half and watch the game slip from their clutches? How can they expect to finish off a resilient opponent when their offense goes three-and-out on two consecutive drives in the fourth quarter? How can they call their defense great when it cannot get off the field against a two-minute offense?

These questions haunted the Ravens’ postgame locker room as they contemplated another narrow defeat and tried to see a brighter path forward to the postseason game they will play in two weeks.

“[That was] not one of our better performances at all,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Coaching staff; start with that, start with me. Start with the coaching staff, game plan, all of it — not good enough.”

The Ravens are a winning team, but they sure seem to find their way back to the same losing habits. What else can we say after rookie tight end Isaiah Likely failed to hold on to a pass over the middle that would have put Justin Tucker in position to extend the lead to 16-9? After Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett completed consecutive passes of 20 and 28 yards as the clock ticked down toward two minutes?

Week after week, this group seems to tumble into some tense, nightmare realm when a tight game flips to the fourth quarter.

“It hurts man,” defensive end Brent Urban said. “As far as I’m concerned, we need to play great fourth-quarter defense and close the game out. It’s not on the offense; it’s on us. There’s a standard here, and we need to play to that.”

Tight end Mark Andrews, who led the team with 100 receiving yards, flipped that around, saying it was on the offense for picking up just one first down in the fourth quarter. “It really wasn’t down to the last drive,” he said. “It was our two drives before that.”

Perhaps Urban and Andrews could agree that no Raven acquitted himself well with the game hanging in the balance. The leaders of this time have promised to fix these same problems since the Ravens blew a 21-point lead against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2. They have held on for tough victories along the way, dominated on defense at times, run opponents into the ground at others. But they’re stuck in the same circular narrative, with only a few weeks left to get themselves right.

If the Cincinnati Bengals win Monday night, the Ravens will not play for the AFC North title this weekend, but such specific concerns were almost beside the point as they looked ahead. Whether they can improve their seeding or not, they will search for some spark, some sign that they’re on a better path, in Cincinnati.

“It’s going to be a good, ‘come to Jesus,’ this week,” guard Kevin Zeitler said. “We’ve got to get this figured out or else nothing good will happen.”

The Steelers went right at the Ravens’ strength and beat them.

The Ravens’ young defensive tackles — Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and to a lesser degree, Travis Jones — have been essential to their elite run stuffing. But Pittsburgh blockers pushed them off the line of scrimmage too easily as the Steelers rolled up more rushing yards before halftime than they had in four quarters of their Week 14 loss to the Ravens.

Washington sat silently at his locker for a long time after the game, his jersey and shoulder pads still on. “I’m really just embarrassed,” he said. “They just executed what they did well, really well. We’ve just got to be better.”

“They did a great job coming off the ball, had good schemes,” Urban said. “It was just unacceptable as far as I’m concerned.”

The Ravens did not start the game with much verve, allowing the Steelers to go 73 yards, 60 of those on the ground, on their opening drive. Running back Jaylen Warren’s 31-yard sweep, on which Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser was blown off the edge, put Pittsburgh in scoring position. Only a nifty play by cornerback Brandon Stephens in one-on-one coverage against George Pickens kept the Steelers from going up 7-0.

The Ravens continued to make the clutch plays they needed to keep Pittsburgh out of the end zone, but every handoff seemed to produce at least five yards. The Steelers finished the first half with 108 on 18 carries, a level of production we simply have not seen against the Ravens since they traded for linebacker Roquan Smith on Halloween.

The same story continued in the second half as the Steelers gouged the Ravens up the gut and on the edges. No team had outgained them on the ground since Week 1, but Pittsburgh hammered out a 198-120 advantage. This has to be at least a mild concern going forward, though the Ravens will benefit from the return of defensive end Calais Campbell, who was inactive Sunday after testing his injured knee before the game.

“Give them credit; they flipped the script,” Harbaugh said. “And that’s not what we expect. We don’t expect that at all.”

Tyler Huntley was playing his best game of the season until that fateful fourth quarter.

So much had gone wrong by the time Huntley threw into triple coverage for a decisive interception that his desperation was understandable.

“Just somebody,” he said, recalling that final throw, on which none of his targets appeared open. “[I was] looking for somebody to try and just make a play.”

Huntley played with poise through the first three quarters, buying himself extra time and connecting with his second and third reads. He found Likely for a touchdown when he probably had time to run just one play in the waning seconds of the first half. He threw a 19-yard dart to Andrews on second-and-25 to put Justin Tucker in position to hit a 51-yard field goal in the third quarter. His passing totals were not going to blow anyone away, but he was doing enough to win the game.

Harbaugh felt the Ravens did not do enough to punish the Steelers when they put an extra defensive lineman in the game and crashed in from the edges to negate runs on early downs. But it was not clear if his dissatisfaction lay more with the plan or with Huntley’s execution of it.

“We have to do a way better job across the board in terms of attacking what they did,” he said. “It wasn’t anything we haven’t seen; it was exactly what we saw on tape from them the last three weeks.”

The game turned for good after Justice Hill returned a kickoff 56 yards in the fourth quarter and the Ravens failed to capitalize with any points. Huntley missed a deep attempt to tight end Josh Oliver on second down, and Likely dropped his short pass over the middle on third.

“We could have put the game away right there,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens have scored 59 points over their last five games with Huntley as their primary quarterback. As much as teammates shower him with praise, they and he know that’s not good enough, that it won’t scare any of the very good teams they’re likely to play in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Lamar Jackson’s status is more important than anything that happened Sunday night.

We’ve heard precious few details on how the Ravens’ most important player is doing beyond broad assertions from Harbaugh and teammates that he’s working hard to get back from the knee injury that has sidelined him since Week 13.

The Ravens secured a playoff berth without Jackson, but it’s difficult to envision them stringing together multiple postseason wins without the big-play component he, and he alone, gives them. His absence will become a significantly more urgent problem if it extends into this week.

It’s not so much that the Ravens need Jackson to play in their regular-season finale against the Bengals. If they have to proceed as a No. 6 seed, so be it. But he has not done anything to prepare for a football game in a month. Is he going to be magically ready for the Ravens’ playoff opener if he does not practice until four days before that game? That would be a difficult ask, even for an athlete as sublime as Jackson. The Ravens, and he, need to gain a sense of where he stands sooner rather than later.

None of this is meant to shame Jackson. If his knee was healthy, he would be out there. But time is running short.

The Ravens’ chances for a favorable playoff matchup are running out.

The Ravens had hoped to guarantee themselves a shot to play the Bengals head-up for divisional supremacy in Week 18. Now, they have to root for the Buffalo Bills to do that work for them.

“We’re rooting for the Bills, for sure,” running back J.K. Dobbins said. “We controlled our destiny, though. I’m a guy that likes to control his own destiny by putting in the work and controlling what we need to control.”

Even if the Bills lend a hand, the Ravens will be underdogs against a divisional rival that has consistently outplayed them over the last two months. The Ravens have not reached 20 points since Week 12. The Bengals have not failed to reach that mark since Week 8.

If the Ravens lose again and fall to the No. 6 seed, behind the Los Angeles Chargers, they will be confronted with a series of unfortunate possibilities. A return trip to Cincinnati to face the streaking Bengals? A date in Kansas City against the best quarterback in the world, Patrick Mahomes? A journey to Buffalo to face a Bills team that outlasted them in Baltimore this year and sent them packing from the playoffs two years ago?

None of those matchups portends a happy ending for a team that’s struggling to score and close out decent opponents. The Ravens have the defensive talent and ground power to present problems for the AFC’s best. A returning Jackson could still be an X-factor. But would any sane football watcher pick them to win a road game against the Chiefs or Bills or Bengals based on what we’ve seen lately?

Week 18

Ravens at Bengals

Sunday, TBA

TV: TBA

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

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