The Ravens' loss to New England Patriots on Sunday night was not just an upset, but a major setback.
The Ravens went into the game as big favorites against a team that was struggling, but it was the Patriots (4-5) who found their identity. The Ravens (6-3) are virtually adrift in the AFC, now three games behind the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) in the AFC North race.
New England, with quarterback Cam Newton, played ball control on offense with a strong running game and a short, efficient passing game. That was the Ravens' formula for success last season. But the Ravens offense is still a “work in progress.”
Or, as I like to call it, a “mess in progress.”
The Ravens now must face a struggling but capable Tennessee Titans team in Baltimore on Sunday and then travel to Pittsburgh for a Thanksgiving Night game on short rest. They are still capable of earning a wild-card playoff spot but might have to spend the postseason on the road.
That’s a far cry from a year ago, when the Ravens won 12 straight to finish 14-2 with the best regular-season record in the NFL and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But again, that was last year.
In 2019, the Ravens were able to overcome serious injuries and still play well. That hasn’t been the case this year.
They played the Patriots without two starting offensive linemen who are on injured reserve in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and rookie right guard Tyre Phillips. During the game, they had to move undersized right guard Patrick Mekari to right tackle and insert Ben Powers at right guard because D.J. Fluker was struggling on the right side.
“We were doing what we thought was the best thing. We’re trying to find the right combination there right now in terms of being successful, and that’s why we made that move at that time,” coach John Harbaugh said. "I don’t think it’s … It’s not the end for D.J. at all; just that game [and] this night, we felt like that was going to give us the best chance.”
On defense, the Ravens started the game without several injured players, including defensive end Calais Campbell, weak-side linebacker L.J. Fort and cornerback Jimmy Smith. When nose tackle Brandon Williams left in the first half with an ankle injury, the Ravens were left to play reserves Justin Ellis and Justin Madubuike.
“We just have to overcome them,” Harbaugh said of the injuries. “I don’t think it does anybody any good to sit there and say, ‘Well, it’s this degree of a problem.’ Teams have them; Guys are going to have to step up, and they’re going to step up.”
Without Campbell and Williams, rookie inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison were exposed. They are good athletes, but not very physical, and the Patriots gouged the Ravens inside. Those two will get better in time, but time isn’t on the Ravens' side right now.
“Whoever is in the game needs to play to a standard. When we let up that many rushing yards from a team, that’s unacceptable,” outside linebacker Matthew Judon said. “If a team runs the ball like that, you usually lose. So, there’s no excuses."
Offensively, the Ravens don’t have a clue. Quarterback Lamar Jackson lacks sufficient arm strength to throw outside the numbers, even to stop the clock in a two-minute offense. The Ravens have only two real weapons in their passing offense, veteran receiver Willie Snead IV and tight end Mark Andrews. Receiver Marquise Brown has complained about not getting the ball enough, but he needs to work on running better routes.
In essence, this offense is limited, and defensively the Ravens will get exposed if they have to play in their base package for the majority of the game, much like last season. During the past couple of weeks, there have been several complaints from players on social media about a lack of playing time, not getting the ball enough or opponents calling out their offensive plays.
“I don’t think this loss is going to define our season by any means," Snead said. "I give the Patriots a lot of credit. They did what they had to do to win the game. We just have to be better, and I think we will continue to take strides in the passing game [and] offensively as a whole, and we’ll get better from this.”
In the past, Harbaugh has been good at keeping his team together during adversity, and there seems to be some problems brewing right now. Fortunately for the Ravens, there are seven games left and a lot of time to regroup.
But Sunday night’s loss hurt.
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It was an upset and a setback.