The Baltimore Ravens failed to take care of business during their regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, resulting in a disheartening 16-13 overtime loss. They were without their star quarterback, Lamar Jackson, for the fourth straight game and couldn’t come out out on top despite having ample opportunities in a game where there was some good, some bad, and some ugly.
First half defense: While the offense was busy shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and missed opportunities, their defensive counterparts played lights out in the first half. They forced five punts, four three-and-outs, a turnover of their own, and only yielded 82 net yards of total offense. Even when the Ravens turned the ball over three times, including on downs once on special teams, the defense answered the call and stood their ground each time and only surrendered one field goal.
Latavius Murray: The veteran running back played like he just stepped out of a time machine because he channeled his peak 2015 Pro Bowl form against the Steelers on Sunday. He led the team in rushing by a mile with 150 yards which were not only a season-high for himself but it was the most by any Ravens running back of the year. His 46-yard touchdown run was his longest run since 2014 and the team’s longest of the entire season. Murray showed off a great burst into the second level, bulldozed his way through countless arm tackles, and averaged 9.4 yards on a game-high 16 carries.
Patrick Queen: The second-year inside linebacker had arguably the strongest first half of any defender that took the field not named T.J. Watt. His dominant two-play sequence on the Steelers’ first drive of the second quarter encapsulated the Ravens’ tenacious first-half effort. On first down, he sprinted to the flat to take down wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud for no gain, and on the next play, he knifed into the backfield like he was shot out of cannon to blowup the play. Even though outside linebacker Tyus Bowser got credited for the six-yard tackle for loss, it was Queen’s instantaneous penetration that made the play.
Geno Stone: Even though the secondary as a whole struggled to get off the field in the fourth quarter and overtime, the second-year safety still managed to have the best game of his young career to date. During the defense’s first-half suffocation of Pittsburgh’s offense, Stone hauled in his first career interception on a pass deep down the right sideline. He showed off the same tremendous range and ball skills on the play that he consistently flashed in the preseason.
Chuck Clark: While he didn’t haul in any interceptions in this game, he instead had one bounce off his hands for a pass break up. It would’ve been his third of the season and tied him with Anthony Averett for the team lead. Clark finished with eight total tackles and laid a huge bone-jarring hit on Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson to force a short field goal attempt on Pittsburgh’s second drive of the game.
Mark Andrews: The two-time Pro Bowler put a nice bow on his legendary franchise record-breaking season by leading the team in targets (16), receptions (eight), and receiving yards (85). Andrews made a handful of difficult catches with defenders draped all over him and consistently picked up chunks of yardage after the catch.
Hollywood’s drops: The third-year wide receiver came into the game needing just 19 more receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career and he reached that milestone by finishing with three catches for 27 yards. Brown was targeted the second-most on the team with seven but two of the four he didn’t haul in could’ve made the difference in the game.
The Ravens had a chance to go up by four points just before halftime after the offense advanced the ball all the way down to the Steelers’ three-yard. After getting sacked for a three-yard loss on first-and-goal, quarterback Tyler Huntley tried to riffle a strike to Brown in the front of the end zone but he couldn’t corral it and they settled for a 24-yard Justin Tucker field goal two plays later.
As bad as that shortcoming was for Brown and the offense in a sloppy first half to forget, his most crucial drop came on the Ravens’ final possession in the fourth quarter. It could’ve potentially avoided overtime all together and given them a chance to win in regulation. He showed excellent awareness of where he was on the field and kept both feet in bounds when Huntley hit him deep down the right sideline on a pass that would’ve advanced the ball past midfield and stopped the clock.
Unfortunately, he didn’t complete the process of the catch after Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick made a clutch Marlon Humphrey-like play and punched the ball out. Had Brown been able to shield the ball from the defender or hang on to it through contact, the Ravens would’ve had a fresh set of downs with 20 seconds left to try to get Tucker into a comfortable range to attempt yet another game-winner. Instead, they punted after two straight incompletions and the rest went on to be tragic history.
Second half defense: As impressive as Queen’s first half was, he was one of many Ravens defenders whose performances in the second half wasn’t nearly as dominant. He particularly struggled with tackling in the open field. He finished his second season as the team’s leading tackler with 97 combined but could’ve reached 100 or more for the second straight year had he not whiffed on a handful of opportunities bring down pass catchers for modest gains, but gave up first downs instead.
Injuries in the secondary also contributed to some of the issues the defense had at keeping up in the second and third levels. Both Tavon Young and Chris Westry had to leave the game during the second half with injuries and the Ravens were forced to play rookie safety Brandon Stephens at cornerback in the fourth quarter and overtime. They simply couldn't get off the field no matter the down and distance but it was especially excruciating on third down when the Steelers just kept converting almost at will in overtime.
Fake punt pass: The Steelers opened the second quarter with the ball almost at midfield after the Ravens decided to try to catch them off guard with a fake punt passing play. It was their first of the season and failed miserably. Veteran punter Sam Koch’s perfect career completion percentage and passer rating were ruined. Not only was Pittsburgh’s special teams unit not fooled on the play, but rookie wide receiver Tylan Wallace got hurt attempting to make an awkward grab while tightly covered.
Typically, I’m all on board to pull out all the stops in a must-win game in the season finale with the playoff on the line. However, considering the weather conditions and how susceptible the Steelers’ defense is to the run, Head Coach John Harbaugh would’ve been better off leaving his offense on the field to go for it on the fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 45-yard line.
Tyler’s turnovers: Outside of the running game, the offense was frustratingly sloppy and inconsistent all game long. Ultimately, three bad decision turnovers by Huntley were the undoing of the team.
While the aborted snap on a promising first drive of the game wasn’t on him, the decision to try to get up and run with the loose ball instead of simply just falling on it and living to fight another down was a huge mistake on his part. He not only got taken down for what was nearly the record-tying sack for T.J. Watt but had the ball knocked out of his grasp and it was recovered by the Steelers. Their offense didn’t capitalize with a touchdown but a short field goal was still a positive and points for them in a game where both were hard to come by for the Ravens.
Both of Huntley’s interceptions came on targets to Andrews. While the first one was on an overthrow that proved to be inconsequential because his defense got him the ball right back on Stone’s interception, the second was his worst decision of the day and possibly career to date. The offense had driven to the Pittsburgh 11-yard line on seven straight run plays and Huntley was intercepted trying to force the ball to his Pro Bowl tight end who was well covered in the back of the end zone.
Bateman’s route was— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) January 10, 2022
Feel like the point here is to run as many defenders at Mark Andrews as possible so Bateman can do exactly what he did. It’s like a fake pylon concept. pic.twitter.com/s4pUPRb4gs
What made the turnover even worse was that he had rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman wide open for a walk-in touchdown if he could’ve just lofted a pass over the underneath defender. Instead of going up by two scores like that drive appeared heading for, the turnover kept the game within four points.
Red zone offense: The inability of the Ravens’ offense to maximize their scoring opportunities in the red zone and especially in goal-to-goal situations proved to be the difference in this game like it has in nearly all of their losses down the stretch. The Ravens marched the ball deep inside the Steelers’ 20-yard line twice on Sunday and they only had three points to show for it thanks to the turnover featured above.
Under Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens had been one of the best and most efficient red-zone offenses in the two seasons prior to 2021 but injuries and lack of general execution turned what was once a great strength into a glaring weakness that cost them dearly this past year.