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The second half of the Ravens season: a series of bad breaks and untimely absences

They went from the top seed in the conference to on the brink because of forces that were out of their control.

Los Angeles Rams v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

By the end of November in the NFL’s first 17-game season, the Baltimore Ravens sat atop not only their own division, but of the entire AFC conference with an 8-3 record. More impressive than their win total itself was how they were winning given the adversity they had to overcome: injuries to stars, starters and key role players.

I won’t list players that were lost in training camp, preseason, or in the first portion of the season during their hot start. Instead, I’d like to underline just how shorthanded and unlucky the Ravens have been during this brutal stretch — where they’ve dropped five straight games for the first time under Head Coach John Harbaugh.

Week 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers: 19-20

Even though they only had a seven-point lead after the first three quarters, the Ravens were in firm control of this game until the Steelers’ offense finally came to life in the fourth quarter. Despite giving up 17 points in the final 14 minutes of the game and giving up their lead late, they still had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation after scoring a touchdown with just 12 seconds left on the clock.

However, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey exited with what was later diagnosed as torn pectoral injury late in the fourth quarter. With not much depth left standing behind him at the position, Harbaugh opted to go for the win instead of running the risk of putting a red-hot Pittsburgh offense back on the field first in overtime. Ravens’ Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman dialed up the perfect play call that got Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews wide open in the flat. Had it not been for the immediate pressure that T.J. Watt put on Lamar Jackson to force a slight overthrow that grazed Andrews’ fingertips, he walks into the end zone for a successful two-point conversion.

Week 14 at Cleveland Browns: 22-24

The Ravens lost Jackson to an ankle injury early in the second quarter and found themselves down 24-6 at halftime. However, thanks to the defense pitching a second-half shutout, backup quarterback Tyler Huntley was on the verge of bringing them back from the brink and completing the second-biggest comeback of the season.

After successfully recovering an onside kick for the first time in two decades, the offense had the ball at their own 41-yard line. They needed just a couple more first downs or one nice chunk to get Justin Tucker’s range to attempt a game-winning field goal. Unfortunately, they were only able to muster six net passing yards.

Huntley threw an incompletion on first down, took a 10-yard sack on second down and then completed a 14-yard completion to set up a 4th-&-6. A clutch stop by Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward to limit rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman to just a two-yard gain promptly ended the game.

The debilitating sack that essentially derailed the potential game-winning drive was given up by second-year offensive guard/tackle Tyre Phillips, who was filling in for an injured Patrick Mekari. Both tackles had trouble keeping the Browns’ edge rushers at bay in the game. Veteran left tackle Alejandro Villanueva surrendered the strip-sack in the first half that was scooped and returned for what would ultimately be the deciding score.

Week 15 vs Green Bay Packers: 30-31

In their first full game without Jackson due to injury, the Huntley-led Ravens went blow for blow with the NFC’s top seed. They nearly pulled off an upset victory and frankly should have, had it not been for some bad breaks and utterly horrendous officiating.

The Ravens were even more short-handed at cornerback due to Chris Westry landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and Jimmy Smith attending the birth of his child. Despite this, they were still able to contain the lethal combination of Davanta Adams and Aaron Rodgers to six completions on seven targets for just 44 yards and one touchdown.

Huntley had his best game as a pro to date with a pair of touchdowns through the air and two on the ground, the last of which would have tied the game with 42 seconds left in regulation. However, in an effort to avoid going into overtime with the reigning league MVP, Harbaugh elected to leave the offense on the field for another controversial two-point conversion attempt. Unfortunately, his understandable aggressiveness and belief in his players did not pay off. Just like the Steelers game two weeks prior, a Packers defender stepped up and made a great play to force another gut-wrenching incompletion.

Many questioned the play call of the sprint right option since it eliminates have the field for the quarterback. However, in the two weeks that followed, two different teams successfully converted a two-point conversion on the same exact play and one had a statue at quarterback. Had Huntley hit Marquise Brown — who was wide open in the back of the end zone — or if Darnell Savage hadn’t made a great break on the ball, it might have been as successful as either of the plays below.

Week 16 at Cincinnati Bengals: 21-41

The Ravens’ outbreak of COVID-19 reached a fever-pitch at the most inopportune time, as they were about to play for the control of the division with two games left to play. In addition to taking out Huntley the day before the game, the virus left their defensive backfield without Westry and Smith for a second straight week. The defensive trenches were hit hard also, as both Justin Madubuike and Justin Houston landed on the reserve list.

The losses at cornerback didn’t stop there once the game started, they only got worse. Anthony Averett got carted to the locker room in the first half and didn’t return with a chest/ribs injury, which ultimately would cause him to miss the last two games of the regular season. Standout nickelback Tavon Young was forced to spend some time on the perimeter once Averett left the game and he wouldn’t finish it either after suffering a concussion early in the second half.

Left with a band of practice squad call-ups and veteran free agents signed off the street, Joe Burrow and his elite group of pass-catchers showed no mercy. They torched the Ravens’ defense for record-breaking 525 yards through the air. The likes of Kevon Seymour, Robert Jackson and Daryl Worley were no match for that of Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and rookie phenom Ja’Marr Chase. Despite the valiant efforts of third-string veteran quarterback Josh Johnson, the Ravens couldn’t keep pace with a much healthier and complete offense.

Week 17 vs Los Angeles Rams: 19-20

The Ravens entered this game as heavy underdogs despite being back at home. They were facing a Rams team riding a four-game win streak with just as many dynamic offensive weapons as the Bengals and an even more starts on defense. However, even without Jackson again, they were either tied or leading for nearly the entire game until they lost their lead in its final minute.

Baltimore had done just about everything they needed to secure an upset win except finish drives in the red zones with touchdowns instead of field goals. They forced three turnovers, including their first defensive score of the season, and won the time of possession by more than seven minutes. Ultimately, though, the game came down to one pivotal play that they again came out on the wrong side of.

On the play before the Rams scored the game-winning touchdown, the Ravens defense had a chance to get off the field and force a turnover on downs for the win. Facing a 4th-&-5 from the Baltimore 12-yard line, quarterback Matthew Stafford continued his perfect completion streak in the second half by hitting wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. right at the line to gain.

Had Young played tighter coverage and drove through Beckham, much like Ward did to Bateman in Week 14, the game would’ve been over barring a miracle. If the offense had punched the ball in for a touchdown on their last possession after marching to the Rams’ two-yard line, it would’ve extended their lead to nine points instead of the five. Then, Young would’ve never been in the position to give up that play.

The defense did step up on the two-point conversion attempt that followed and the offense had one more opportunity to answer the call. Once again they got the ball back with a timeout left, needing just to get into field goal range for Tucker to kick another dramatic game-winning attempt. But alas, it was not meant to be after a debilitating sack by a future Hall of Fame pass rusher set the drive back.

Despite not having a winning game since Nov. 28, the Ravens will still be playing meaningful football in Week 18 with the Steelers coming to town for one last showdown against a Roethlisberger-led team. While their chances of making the playoffs are slim and just a tick above none, crazier things have happened to help a team in the hunt extend their season.

The fact that they are still in contention is a testament to how they overcame all the adversity in the first half of the season that inevitably proved to be too much as it piled on even more down the stretch. Both Jackson and Averett have already been ruled out for Sunday but could return for the playoffs if they make it there.

So, all hope is not lost — not just yet.