Here goes nothing . . .
1) What just happened?
It’s hard to process exactly what unfolded on our television screens and, for some, in-person at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens entered Saturday night’s game as the prohibitive favorite, coming off a first-round bye and having multiple weeks to rest several starters and prepare for their eventual matchup in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Naturally, many fans and spectators expected them to look like the team we saw for all but two weeks of the regular season, the one that boasted a potent and explosive offense, historic rushing prowess and an aggressive, stout defense.
Needless to say that . . . did not occur.
Blame dropped passes. Blame the offensive line. Blame the quarterback. Whatever.
There’s no changing the result, which was a blowout loss at home against the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Respect goes out to the Titans and their organization, but this is undeniably a massively disappointing end to such a promising and successful season.
2) Promising start quickly cedes way to disaster
Within the first several minutes of the game, the Ravens had successfully forced the Titans to punt on their opening possession, picked up multiple first downs and found themselves in scoring territory across midfield.
Then, a pass from Lamar Jackson sailed off the fingers of the usually sure-handed Mark Andrews and into the arms of FS Kevin Byard. From there, the dominos proceeded to roll over, and over, and over . . .
With good field position, the Titans put together an 8-play scoring drive capped off by a tremendously-difficult touchdown grab by TE Jonnu Smith in the end zone. On the Ravens next drive, they failed to convert on a 4th-&-1 and Tennessee responded with a 45-yard touchdown on the very next play.
Baltimore’s first three offensive drives resulted in an interception, turnover on downs and three-and-out. This type of slow start didn’t happen all season and it was one that Jackson and other Ravens players talked about needing to avoid in this game. It’s eerily similar to the dreadful start they suffered against the Chargers in last year’s Wild Card playoff loss.
The arrow began to point up towards the end of the first half when the Ravens put together back-to-back scoring drives, both of which resulted in field goals but points nonetheless. On their opening possession in the third quarter, they drove all the way down to the Titans’ 18 yard line and were thwarted on 4th-&-1 for the second time.
Once again the Titans capitalized off a turnover with another touchdown, and that was the ball game.
3) Poor execution and poor adjustments loom large
In the first half of this game, the Ravens were faced with six third-and-long situations, that is they needed six or more yards to convert a first down. They managed to avoid such occurrences throughout the regular season thanks to successful, creative play-calling on first and second downs of possessions.
Thanks to some heroics from Jackson and Marquise Brown, the Ravens were able to keep their final two drives alive despite needing large chunks of yardage. Still, the Ravens weren’t sustaining enough offensive production early on to put up much-needed points.
Furthermore, pagining Gus Edwards?
Mark Ingram II was clearly not 100% in this matchup and quite frankly, probably shouldn’t have been playing. He didn’t look nearly as explosive and spry as he did throughout the regular season. Easy solution is to give more touches to Gus Edwards, right? One would think so, but Edwards received just three carries on the night. Yes, three (for 20 yards).
Some of this certainly had to do with game flow but still, knowing Ingram clearly wasn’t himself, it would have been wise to mix Edwards more into the offense early on. This became especially confusing when the Ravens faced 4th-&-1. On both said occasions, they opted for QB sneaks with Jackson instead of hammering Edwards up the middle, a play that has been money all year long on short-yardage situations.
It also would have been nice to see someone like Hayden Hurst or Miles Boykin get more involved early, too, to give the Titans defense a different look.
4) Here come the naysayers . . .
Everything that every anti-Ravens individual had harped on even through all the team’s success this season came to fruition on Saturday night.
Some analysts - and more so twitter trolls - continuously proclaimed that if the Ravens and Lamar Jackson were forced to play from behind, they could be beat. Others also waited patiently for Jackson to “choke” in the postseason as he did last season, or so some believe.
Chalk up this loss to whatever you please. The fact of the matter is that the Ravens did in fact fall behind early and failed to complete a comeback. People will point to Jackson’s two turnovers and a few off-target throws as evidence that he’s a “running back” and is only good in the regular season, or what have you.
Just prepare yourself for the onslaught of negative attention that is coming, Ravens Flock. It’s going to be a long offseason.
5) All hope is NOT lost
I know. It’s hard for any of us Ravens fans to think about anything else right than what just unfolded tonight. We have every reason to be angry, disappointed and upset.
But I urge you to hear this out for one second:
Lamar Jackson, Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr. and almost every other key offensive piece on this team - with the exception of veterans like Willie Snead IV and Marshal Yanda, are 25 years old or younger.
Both of the team’s coordinators - Greg Roman and Don “Wink” Martindale - are likely to return next season. John Harbaugh is still one of the best coaches in the NFL. Eric DeCosta put together a 14-win roster in just his first season as the general manager of this team.
The Ravens were not supposed to be this good this season. No matter who you ask nor which way you slice it, they overachieved. Their window to contend is far from closed and based on everything mentioned above, it’s likely just beginning to open. It may seem foolish and untimely to say this after back-to-back playoff losses, but the pieces and foundation is in place for this team to be just as, if not more successful moving forward.
This loss sucks, stings and everything in between. But don’t give up hope.
Onto the offseason we go.