Consider the hype lived up to.
A high stakes showdown between the Ravens and Steelers largely met expectations, resulting in a down-to-the-wire finish late in the fourth quarter. It was Pittsburgh who held on to a slim lead late and improved to 8-0 on the season. The Ravens led for most of the second and third quarter but came up short in the end.
Takeaways are in order:
1) A gut-wrenching finish
It was difficult not to be optimistic about the prospects of a Ravens victory in this game through the first two quarters. Despite only leading by 10 points at halftime, in reality it felt like a multiple-touchdown lead for Baltimore.
The Ravens had nearly doubled the Steelers time of possession and had forced Pittsburgh’s offense into three punts and a turnover. Missed opportunities (more on that below) allowed the Steelers to remain within striking distance, though, and unfortunately the tide began to turn in the third quarter.
Following two quick unsuccessful drives from the Ravens offense, the Steelers poured in back-to-back touchdowns and suddenly led 21-17. Pittsburgh’s 14-0 advantage in the third frame of play proved to be the difference, as it gave them a four-point cushion down the stretch.
Both teams traded 8-play scoring drives in the fourth quarter. The Ravens responded to the Steelers regaining the lead with a 10-play drive and were knocking on the door in the red zone, but an unsuccessful conversion on 4th-&-3 all but sealed the deal.
Losing to the Steelers is never fun, but this loss stings particularly more than most in recent memory. For one, the Ravens were at home and playing in front of an audience of fans for the first time all season, but Baltimore had an opportunity to even the playing field in the AFC North.
2) Game of inches, and . . . turnovers
Leading up to this matchup, it was fairly evident that whoever won the turnover battle would wind up having a solid chance of emerging victorious. This was reason for optimism for the Ravens, who entered Week 8 with the third-best turnover differential in the NFL.
The Steelers, meanwhile, were +2 on the year themselves, a number that was dragged down by Ben Roethlisberger’s three interceptions against the Titans in Week 7. Against the Ravens, though, they flipped the script in a big way. Lamar Jackson’s trio of turnovers arguably, but perhaps not so arguably, were the biggest reason the Steelers ultimately won this game — as they were crucial in the grand scheme.
Of course on the opening drive, Jackson’s pass attempt to James Proche was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by LB Robert Spillane. This was the first pick-six of Jackson’s career and gave the Steelers a 7-0 advantage less than a minute into the game. Two drives later, Jackson was stripped from behind in the red zone by Bud Dupree and the Steelers recovered the loose ball.
Jackson’s fumble came one possession after the Ravens defense had just forced a fumble of their own and given the ball back to the offense in scoring territory. If Jackson holds onto the ball, the Ravens either find the end zone or settle for a field goal. Either way, they come up with points — but instead they left the field empty-handed.
Then, on the Ravens first drive of the second half, Jackson was intercepted again in Baltimore territory on an errant pass attempt for Mark Andrews. This set up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Chase Claypool. This could have been Jackson’s third interception of the game, but Joe Haden couldn’t corral a would-be pick towards the end of the first half.
Simply put — Jackson was far from his best on Sunday and put the ball in harm’s way on a handful of occasions. Doing so against inferior opponents may not prove costly but against one of the best teams in the NFL and a fearsome divisional rival like the Steelers, you can’t afford to turn the ball over at that rate.
3) When it rains, it pours
After tying the game at 7-7 a piece in the first quarter, it only took a few minutes for the Ravens to suddenly be down two starting offensive lineman and a starter on the defensive side of the ball.
Tyre Phillips suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the game, followed by Ronnie Stanley exiting on the next drive. Early in the second quarter, Matthew Judon was ejected after “hitting” a referee, although the contact pretty clearly appeared to be inadvertent as Judon and other players were involved in a scum on the sideline.
No disrespect to Phillips, but the losses of Stanley and Judon were far more crucial.
Stanley, just days after signing a five-year contract extension worth $112 million, had his left leg buckled after being rolled into from behind by T.J. Watt. He immediately went down and grimaced in pain, collectively causing everyone to hold their breath. Stanley was carted off the field and his ankle injury was pronounced as season-ending by John Harbaugh after the game.
It’s just an extremelt disheartening injury for Stanley and a crushing blow to the Ravens, as Stanley is one of, if not the single most important player on the roster. After Stanley went down, the Ravens slid Orlando Brown Jr. to left tackle and inserted D.J. Fluker at right tackle, with backup Patrick Mekari filling in at right guard for the injured Phillips.
All-in-all, this patchwork combination did a fairly commendable job facing a daunting task against a fearsome defensive front, particularly in run blocking. However, losing Stanley clearly comprised the Ravens a bit. So too did losing Judon.
Judon is an important chess piece for “Wink” Martindale. Not having him on the field limits the flexibility and creativity of what Martindale can dial up, particularly in blitz packages. The Ravens were able to generate some stops at times following Judon’s departure, but the pass rush was evidently not as effective nor dynamic in his absence.
Fortunately, Judon’s services will be available next week and moving forward. As for Stanley, the Ravens will have to adjust to life without maybe the best left tackle in the NFL.
4) No Ingram, No Problem
Mark Ingram was absent from Sunday’s game with a high ankle sprain — an injury that might also sideline him for the near future. However, you wouldn’t known that Ingram was missing from the lineup against Pittsburgh based on how the Ravens ran the football.
Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, who have actually led the backfield in total snaps this season, stepped up to the plate in a major way. Edwards rushed 16 times for 87 yards and a touchdown, while Dobbins ripped off a team-high 113 rushing yards.
Combined with an additional 65 rushing yards from Lamar Jackson, and the Ravens rushed a total of 47 times for 265 yards — 179 of which came in the first half. They did so despite missing two starting offensive lineman against perhaps the best defensive front in the NFL, too, which makes the season-best rushing performance even more impressive.
The Ravens have been efficient on the ground all season, but not quite as dominant snap-to-snap as they were in 2019. Ingram is a fan favorite and rushed for 1,000 yards last year, but there’s an argument to be made that he’s been the third-best rusher in the backfield this season on a per-touch basis.
He should have a role when healthy and certainly will, but it’s hard to argue against the potential of Edwards and Dobbins as a dynamic 1-2 punch after Week 8.
5) Bring on Thanksgiving
Between missing starters, missed opportunities, and costly mistakes, the Ravens are certainly shaking their head after seeing this game slip away. However, potential revenge awaits in just a few weeks on Thanksgiving day, when Baltimore will travel to Heinz Field.
Rest assured the Ravens will want to avoid being swept by the Steelers in the season series and if they hope to jump back into the AFC North race, they’ll have to even things up on November 26.
The upcoming meeting between these two teams will be even more anticipated than the one that was just played.