Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 16-13 season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers – The Mercury News

The Ravens saw their season come to a disappointing end on Sunday after a more than 16-13 loss to the Steelers in Baltimore. Here’s what we learned from the Ravens’ sixth straight defeat:

On the last day of their 2021 season, the Ravens were faced with the fact that they weren’t good enough.

Hope visited M&T Bank Stadium for a brief run on Sunday afternoon. The Ravens couldn’t help but glance at the scoreboard, which told them the Jacksonville Jaguars were smoking around the Indianapolis Colts. It was the most impossible of the three pieces they needed to enter the playoffs.

The Ravens were handling their own business too, knocking the Pittsburgh Steelers on their heels with powerful runs and disruptive defense. As the fourth quarter began, they stood 11 yards away from a touchdown that would put them up 17-6, a commanding lead in the low game on consistent offense.

Quarterback Tyler Huntley saw the team’s best pass-catcher, Mark Andrews, flash open in the end zone. He thought he had the spot but didn’t put enough mustard on his pass, which ended in the clutches of Pittsburgh cornerback Cameron Sutton. The prospect of the Ravens moving forward with their season will never look so bright again.

Later, he talked about the opportunities that slipped his fingers – passes he didn’t catch, third and fourth-down stands he didn’t make. He had made similar comments several times over the past six weeks, as he looked at a promising season apart from a very close loss at one point. This time, it struck him that next week would not happen.

“We can’t say ‘what if,'” Huntley said. “We have to face the facts of what happened.”

Teams drawn into the playoffs do not lose their last six games, even if five of those losses came by a combined eight points.

Ravana was determined. When injuries ripped through his starting backfield, his left tackle, his three top cornerbacks, and his former MVP quarterback, they didn’t spare each other. No loss crushed his desire to look further.

Coach John Harbaugh told him he would point to someday this season as a time when he would teach his kids resilience lessons. “You’re going to be able to tell them this story,” he said.

But this was not the story the Ravens wanted to write in 2021. They didn’t want to be the kind of team that got missed over and over again, that talked about what would have happened if the ankle hadn’t been twisted or a ligament hadn’t been torn. They all believed that they could be the last team to stand. Instead, he was not one of the last 14. Why and how didn’t matter so much.

“In the first half of the season, we found a way to win these games, [but] In the second half, we didn’t,” Latvius Murray retorted. “So, I appreciate [Harbaugh] Not to say we fought and whatnot, but I think we all look back and realize we didn’t get it – we still had a chance, but we didn’t make it.

The Ravens ‘can’t find a play’ without their best playwright, Lamar Jackson.

With the Ravens driving into overtime, Huntley took an open look at his best target, Andrews, and threw so far behind him that Andrews could not get his hands on the ball.

This final misfire marked Huntley’s worst day as a professional quarterback. He swung the ball three times and could not compensate by hitting his receivers downfield. If you’re going to be a conservative quarterback in the NFL, you also can’t be mistake-prone.

So let’s dispel any assumption that the Ravens were fine without Jackson. As badly as he struggled in the weeks before injuring his ankle against the Cleveland Browns, he lost his sense of offensive prospect with him on the sidelines. The miraculous rallies we saw against the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings, the deep passing displays we saw in the early weeks of the season were no longer on the table.

It wasn’t meant to be a backhanded dis for Huntley, who helped the Ravens get into winning positions every game he started. It’s just to say that Jackson remains the centerpiece of the team, and we shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve lost their last four games, all winning without him.

Huntley made a costly unforced error in the first quarter, when he tried to take a low snap from Bradley Bozeman instead of falling on a rain-hit ball. It was a rare case of pre-naturally chill backup on a play with little upside. The Steelers, who needed all the help they needed to score, had to go for just 29 yards to go 3-0 up.

On the next possession, Huntley tried to pass a pass to Andrews but overshot and dropped it into the arms of Pittsburgh safety Terrell Edmonds, who did a good job picking the ball off the turf.

Huntley had a chance to give the Ravens a two-score lead when he saw Andrews open in the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter. However, instead of zipping the ball, he threw it temporarily, giving Sutton enough time to pick it up.

“I couldn’t drive the ball the way I wanted to,” Huntley said.

Andrews defended Huntley’s reading, saying he could have done more. “I think if I go back to the ball it’s a touchdown,” he said.

No one should put this loss solely on the quarterback. Marquis Brown dropped a touchdown pass just before halftime and could not hang on to a catch with the edge in the dwindling seconds of regulation. The sports film will certainly reveal other criminals. The Ravens scored an offensive touchdown in their last two games, which they lost by a combined four points.

“We lagged several games here, in the sense that we didn’t get any plays,” Harbaugh said. “We didn’t get the drama we needed.”

Would Jackson have gotten that play? It is impossible to say, but when they have no other answer, they turn to Ravana. Without him, they could not be the team they hoped to be when the season began.

Ravens need a more reliable plan to deal with the offensive.

The Ravens prioritized their offensive line past office after the right side faltered after a playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills. They will have to surrender more sacks than any other team in 2021 and go back to the drawing board.

General Manager Eric DeCosta signed a stalwart in right guard Kevin Zeitler, his best offensive lineman this year. Bradley Bozeman’s transfer to the center was more often than not successful. But his plan to guard the edges with Ronnie Stanley and veteran Alejandro Villanueva failed with the first snap of the season.

We saw the waves again on Sunday as the Steelers sacked Huntley three times and hit him six times in the first half. The line played better after that as the Ravens turned to their power running game, but their inability to score early cut them off.

You could argue that the Ravens have the options they need at home, with Stanley recovering from ankle surgery and Jawuan James hoping to be ready after missing out on this season with a torn Achilles. But if the Ravens don’t use draft picks and free-agent dollars to add quality tackle behind Stanley and James, they will fall into the same trap that claimed them this year. Their entire plan, including the decision to trade Orlando Brown Jr., was based on Stanley’s health, but they cannot count on him for next season, even though they hope to return to his All-Pro form from 2019. Will go James may have above-average perfect tackle, but he hasn’t played anything close to a full season since 2018.

The Ravens began to address these issues by expanding to Patrick Macery, an ideal utility lineman who did the right thing this season. They need to recognize that Stanley and James will not be available for every game and draft a tackle ready to play in 2022 and start in the years ahead.

Ben Roethlisberger was far from old, but he gave the Ravens a fitting farewell.

We spent the week talking about every time Roethlisberger shrugged off vicious hits to rally the Steelers behind the Ravens. “The Terminator,” as defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale called him, paid the respects before Roethlisberger’s final regular-season game.

For most of the afternoon, Roethlisberger looked like a player who had been a season too long. He couldn’t hurt the Ravens downfield and lobbed the passes that begged for interception.

Somehow, he stirred up enough rust for the fourth quarter and overtime. On third and nine, with less than six minutes left in fourth, he found Ray-Ray McCloud from 20 yards away, his second-longest finish of the day. Moments later, he hit the tight end to Pat Freermuth for 11 yards on third and -6. In overtime, he joined with Freermuth for another 14 yards on third and -7 and McCloud for 10 yards on fourth and -8.

The crows could never crush the last part of life from him.

“I give respect where respect is due,” said defensive end Calais Campbell. “We worked hard on him. … He is a legend for making important plays at crucial moments.”

Some would spin it as the last spectacular stand for a Hall of Fame player, but that’s not quite right. Roethlisberger didn’t change the timing. We saw him in dim form, averaging 5.5 yards per effort. He made enough throws to win an afternoon marked by ugly football. And it fits as his final note on a rivalry that was always about survival more than beauty.

Injuries were the Ravens’ worst enemy, but they know they must seek better luck.

As thoughts turn to the off-season, we can say that the Ravens will probably be better off in 2022, even if they don’t make significant changes to their roster and coaching staff.

When they arrived at training camp, they expected the league’s best running attack and one of its best secondaries. DeCosta and Harbaugh built everything around these powers.

The team we saw as the season’s wound – in the final passing defense, 18 points per game in the last nine – did not live up to that vision. The Ravens lost a lot of players who were supposed to give them their identity.

When they get back to work this summer, we’ll likely see Jackson and Stanley and Marlon Humphrey and JK Dobbins, etc. The group that couldn’t last against the Steelers would be a fading memory.

But fundamental improvements have to be made. The Ravens must restore their offensive and defensive lines. They must re-examine the offensive concepts that have become obsolete since participating in the league in 2019. They must figure out whether or not to make a huge financial commitment for Jackson and how to sail him through the hiccups in the confidence we’ve seen this year.

This was not a team that came close to meeting its goals, so the self-evaluation – a traditional strength for this coach and the front office – must have been unforgivable.

“We’re going to hit the lab,” Andrews promised after a huge individual season (107 catches, 1,361 yards, nine touchdowns) and a disappointing team.

Safety Chuck Clark didn’t even question because he had only one thing to say: “Just watch how we bounce back.”