From championship contender to free fall, the Baltimore Ravens wondered what could have happened – The Mercury News

Several Ravens stood on benches at M&T Banks Stadium, ignoring the chilling rain, as they entered the final moments of a season in which they fought and fought to a disappointing end.

The scoreboard above them told the story: Steelers 16, Ravens 13 – their sixth consecutive defeat, five of them by razor-thin margins. Again, they didn’t come in the end zone with a pinpoint pass or a timely defensive stance that might have made the difference.

“It hurts to know you had everything at your fingertips,” said linebacker Patrick Queen, one of the starters who left at the end of the 18-week run, which was defined by attrition.

According to the analytics website FiveThirtyEight, after the Ravens defeated the Cleveland Browns on November 28, their record stood at 8–3, they placed the No. 1 seed in the AFC and had a nearly 90% chance of making the playoffs.

His performance was in line with Pink’s preseason projections that labeled him a Super Bowl contender.

Over the next six weeks, they split, suffering the longest defeat of John Harbaugh’s 14-year stint as head coach and crashing out of the playoffs for the first time since Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback in 2018. His 8–9 record marked his first losing season since going 5–11 in 2015 and only his second under Harbaugh, whose tenure as head coach is the fourth longest in the NFL.

Several factors – injuries to star players, a significant coronavirus outbreak, stable offences, high-risk coaching decisions that did not pan out – contributed to his unraveling. They vowed to keep fighting as one excruciatingly close loss on top of each other, but they never came out of this tail.

As he surveyed the wreckage of his once promising season, players and coaches seemed puzzled and dismayed at what he had endured.

Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale likened the rooster carnage created by injuries to the body count from the Netflix series “Squid Game.”

“We could probably write a book about it,” said offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who suggested that the scars of the team’s misfortune may have flown from the mind of Larry David, the creator of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.

“It’s very rare – just when you put yourself in the position and then, literally, you go through so much difficulty and different things that [makes it] Winning a ballgame is difficult,” said 14-year-old veteran defensive lineman Kallis Campbell. “You do everything you can. We were preparing the same way in those first games when we positioned ourselves, and we were the No. 1 seed and [had] Best record in football.”

Fans flocking to the season finale on a gray, damp afternoon offered a measured assessment of the franchise’s state. They were disappointed, and hoped to see a younger roster and more creative play-calling the following fall. But many said the Ravens squeezed as much as possible out of an injury-prone year.

“We didn’t do what we expected,” said season ticket holder Darrin Cox, 26, of Rising Sun in Cecil County. “We were all hoping to get to the playoffs, even have a chance at the Super Bowl.”

While he said he had seen “a lot of bad play calls” by the team, he added: “I don’t want to blame one thing; injuries hurt us the most.”

Pat Phillip of Rosedale, who has had a season ticket since 2003, said he hears a lot of negativity towards the team, but now is not the time all the Ravens have endured.

“It’s injury; the coaches have done a great job with what we have on the field,” he said. “I think if we had all our players, it would have been very difficult to stop us.”

“We’ve lost four games for a total of five points,” said Pikesville’s Alan Schiff, taking out burgers and hot dogs from his grill outside M&T Banks Stadium before losing to the Steelers. “How does the team rebound with Marcus Peters out, Marlon Humphrey out, JK Dobbins out, Lamar Jackson out? It just goes on.”

“Significant changes are going to happen,” said Schiff, who has been a season ticket holder since 1996. But he relies on top decision makers – Harbaugh, general manager Eric DeCosta and owner Steve Biscotti.

The lineage of the Ravens was unusual.

After defeating the Browns he had a 91% chance of making the postseason, said Aaron Schatz, founder of Football Outsiders, an analytics website.

“It’s not common for a team at 91% to miss the playoffs; it’s also not common for an 8-3 team to advance [six-game] Losing streak,” Schatz said. “What you saw with the Ravens was hitting the downside of all kinds of possibilities. They just hit a point where they ran out of people.”

Danger signs were hidden beneath the surface of the team’s impressive start.

They had lost some of their most important players before the losing streak began, including cornerbacks Peters, running backs Dobbins and Gus Edwards, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and safety DeShawn Elliott.

And the Ravens weren’t winning most of their games in a commanding fashion. they needed one 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker to defeat the lowly Detroit Lions And the nerve-wracking, Jackson-led comeback defeated the Vikings and the Indianapolis Colts. Jackson’s backup, Tyler Huntley, stepped in to put him out of the fire. Late rally against the average Chicago Bears,

Amidst all these tight games, the Ravens lost steam on offense. He scored only 10 points in an upset defeat to the Dolphins and 16 points in a win over the Bears and Browns.

From there his troubles intensified.

They lost to Pittsburgh by one point. On December 5, when Harbaugh decided to go for a 2-point conversion in the final seconds and Jackson’s pass was passed out by tight end Mark Andrews. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey The damage tore his chest muscles, ending his session.

Next, they lost to Cleveland by two points and saw Jackson off the field with an ankle injury Which ultimately kept him out of the rest of the season.

At quarterback he fought well with Huntley against the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers, but Lost one point after Harbaugh failed to call for a 2-point attempt again in the last minute.

Then, COVID-19 robbed their remaining roster depth. They played in Cincinnati on December 26 with third-string quarterback Josh Johnson and a hastily assembled defense. The Bengals spanking them 41-21,

The Ravens tried to counterattack once again, taking a last-minute lead against the favorite Los Angeles Rams. But They could not put a defensive stop in fourth place and lost by one point. For the third time in five matches.

Every one of those missed opportunities lay in the pits of their stomachs as they contemplated the end of the ride.

“It didn’t end with us; Maybe we didn’t end a play right, didn’t time a tackle at the right time, and the other team made another game,” said 11-year veteran linebacker Josh Bynes. “It certainly bothers you, because the level of expectation here is tremendous.”

As they look forward to the 2022 season, Harbaugh, DeCosta and Bisciotti must decide whether the collapse was an aberration or a sign that they need to make significant changes to their roster and coaching staff. Although players like Stanley, Humphrey and Andrews are off as building blocks, the Ravens will need to refresh their defense and look for a more sustainable mix on their offensive line. How aggressively will they pursue extensions with JacksonWhose performance has been uneven since the 2019 Most Valuable Player season? Will Harbaugh look for new assistants in the second half of this season to shake off the aging crime?

The head coach has never stopped expressing pride in his team’s resilience. After the loss to the Steelers, he spoke to the players about how to learn from this difficult time. “There will come a time in your life when your kids will go through some tough times… and they’re going to ask you why and what’s happening and how to handle it,” he said. “You’ll be able to tell them this story.”

Jackson, the organization’s most important player, echoed Harbaugh’s views, even as he described the agony of sitting out in the last four games.

“We still managed to hope, to fight at the end of the season,” he said. “We have never blinked, never shrugged off anyone, whatever the record. We lost close matches. It says a lot about our people, what is going on with us. Hopefully, this season, we’re going to be right and our guys are back and we’ll have the season we should have been. ,