The Baltimore Ravens entered the 2021 regular season with championship aspirations and one the most talented rosters in the NFL. By Week 2, they had already been decimated by injuries at key positions on both sides of the ball.
However, despite being ravaged by injuries, they were atop their division and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff standings with a record of 8-3 at the of November. As adversity continued to mount in the form of one debilitating injury after another and a COVID outbreak for the second-straight season, they watched their playoff hopes wither away one loss after another.
The first half of their season featured almost as many close games that were decided by less than a touchdown (five) as it did down the stretch (seven). The Ravens came up short in each of their last six games, the last four of which were without former league MVP, Lamar Jackson. Following their overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season finale, veteran running back Latavius Murray aptly summed up the story of their season.
“It’s a tale [of] two seasons, if you want to say that,” Murray said. “The first half of the season, we found a way to win these games, in the second half, we didn’t.”
He was one of several Ravens that stepped to the podium and echoed similar sentiments in their post-game press conferences.
“We fell short in numerous games here down the stretch in the sense that we just couldn’t find a play,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We couldn’t find a play that we needed. We couldn’t find a way to put them in position to make the play that would make the difference in the game, and that’s what I feel worse about as a coach. Any one of these games we could’ve found something to find a way to win the game. We would have liked to have done that, but we didn’t come up with that. That’s my biggest disappointment.”
“I feel like we had our opportunities, we just didn’t get it done,” Calais Campbell. “That’s the way the whole season has been – opportunity after opportunity and just missing it. There’s a lot of fight in this team, a lot of heart. It’s just tough when you give it that much effort and that much energy but you can’t get it done. Those ones hurt the most.”
Even though they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and finished with a longing record for the first time since 2015’s almost as equally injury-riddled season, the 2021 Ravens fought and competed with the gut and grit of champions. Of their nine losses, only three were decided by more than a touchdown and two were to the same team under similar circumstances.
“They stuck together,” Harbaugh said. “No one ever pointed a finger. Everybody competed the best they could.”
The most compelling post-game presser was also the shortest. It came from veteran safety Chuck Clark who is soft-spoken by nature but didn’t mince his words when he addressed the media about prospects for the team heading into the offseason.
“As respectfully as I can say as possible, just watch how we bounce back,” Clark said. “That’s all I have to say.”
The immediate aftermath of the season, especially one that didn’t end with a deep run into January or playoff berth all together is a time for reflection for players, coaches, and executives around the league. The Ravens are no exception and following a year filled with seemingly countless hardships and so many close almosts, Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews knows the foundation is strong in Baltimore.
“We’re at the point now where it’s about looking ourselves in the mirror, understanding that we have a really, really good team, and this organization allows people to flourish, and we’re going to be just fine,” said Andrews. “We’ve got the pieces, we’ve got the coaches, and it’s time to get to work. It’s time to get serious in this offseason and come back strong.”
“We’ve been hit by a lot of things this year, and things just didn’t go quite our way, but I think when we get guys back, we’ll come back strong. [If] guys are focused in the offseason, working on themselves, healthy, and we come back 100%, this is a scary team.”
Andrews and third-year wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown are coming off a career-best season where they became the first Ravens passing catching duo to reach 1,000 receiving yards in the same year since the inaugural 1996 season. Brown is proud of how their traditionally run-dominant offense was able to find more balance, reinvent themselves on the fly, and manage to help the team stay in contention until the very end with so many moving pieces.
“The whole identity of our team changed throughout the course of the season,” said Brown. “To even be put in a position that we put ourselves in, of course we wanted to win more, but it’s very encouraging going into next season.”
One of the players that had to step up for the Ravens the most down the stretch and performed more than admirably at times was second-year quarterback Tyler Huntley. In just the past year, he went Jackson’s former South Florida high school rival turned teammate to the starting quarterback for a team that was fighting tooth and nail for their playoff lives.
As much as the pain of coming up short and missing the postseason stings, he knows that the team must use those feelings as fuel. He believes that it will motivate and drive them in the offseason to become the best they can be so that 2022 won’t get derailed no matter what future adversity may come their way this fall and into the next new year with the new expanded regular seasons as the new normal.
“We’ve just got to translate this hurt, this long season, this up-and-down season, this crazy season,” said Huntley. “We’ve just got to translate that into our offseason, come back next year, and just prepare ourselves for another long season. We’ve just got to be ready to attack whatever comes to us coming in the next season because we don’t know.