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Mike Preston: After one of the toughest weeks in Ravens history, it’s time for team to look ahead | COMMENTARY

Now that the Ravens’ thrice-postponed game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is over, it’s time to focus on the five that remain.

The Ravens played the Steelers tough Wednesday and kept it close until the end, but there are no moral victories in the NFL. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and his staff deserve credit for keeping his team together throughout this COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined 17 players for the game, including nine starters and seven Pro Bowl selections.

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Few thought this rematch was going to be close and the Ravens only lost 19-14. They were hungry and stayed within their game plan. Pittsburgh didn’t seem to care about competing, especially its receivers, who dropped several passes. But one of the most important things to remember is that the Ravens should be nearly at full-tilt when they host the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday night.

That’s the big picture.

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“There are no moral victories — we lost the game, and at the end of the day, that’s what counts,” said quarterback Trace McSorley, who replaced starter Robert Griffin III in the fourth quarter and delivered a 70-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marquise Brown. “We’ve got to be better, but the fight we have in our team and how we were able to come together throughout this whole week — losing guys, not knowing what was going on — we stuck together, and we kept fighting. So, I think that’s just the core of what we have here. We’ve got to eliminate mistakes so that we can win games, that’s the big deal.”

If the Ravens had won, it would have been another historic night for Baltimore, whose Colts won the “Greatest Game Ever Played” in the 1958 NFL championship game against the New York Giants. And those same Colts were involved in one of the league’s biggest upsets, losing to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III in 1969.

If the Ravens had won, it would have been one of the biggest upsets in modern football history.

But it didn’t happen, so it’s time to move on. No need to take a bow for a moral victory or curl up in the fetal position from the loss. Every team’s goal is to get to the playoffs and reach the Super Bowl, and that’s still a possibility for the Ravens, who have lost four of their past five games.

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A lot of fans will assume the Ravens would have beaten the Steelers if they had their full contingent of starters. Certainly, the Ravens could have chosen to play running backs Mark Ingram II and J.K Dobbins, but the team decided to hold them out while they return from a 10-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. That was a smart move.

There was no need to rush them back and possibly risk injury, especially when the Ravens were without starters such as outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Matthew Judon, quarterback Lamar Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews and defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams. It makes perfect sense to get everybody healthy and prepare for the stretch run.

For the Ravens (6-5), the magic number is 11 wins, which almost guarantees a postseason berth. After the Cowboys, the Ravens face the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals. Only the Browns (8-3) have a winning record, but they are still unpredictable.

The Cowboys are 3-8, the Jaguars are 1-10, the Giants are 4-7 and the Bengals are 2-8-1. In the NFL, sometimes the best teams get on a roll at the end of the season, and the Ravens have that opportunity. Teams want that momentum heading into the postseason, and the Ravens should have the nucleus of their team back by next week.

The Ravens haven’t turned the corner with this strong showing against Pittsburgh — far from it. It was a competitive game, but not a good one. The Ravens still get called for too many penalties, and Harbaugh’s clock management was questionable at the end of the first half, just as it always has been.

Don’t expect Jackson to be more accurate when he returns against Dallas, but playing against those weak teams should give him and the Ravens some confidence and momentum. They have lost to Pittsburgh twice this season, but could have won both games. Wednesday’s close loss certainly showed the depth of this team.

The Ravens might have also found a center in undrafted rookie Trystan Colon-Castillo and a backup quarterback in McSorley, who clearly should have been the No. 3 coming out of training camp.

The theme, though, is that the Ravens endured a week in which they were on national television for all the wrong reasons during one of the biggest coronavirus outbreaks in professional sports. They will likely get a stiff fine from the NFL, but they remain very much in the title picture. The loss to Pittsburgh only eliminated them from winning the AFC North championship.

Everything else is still straight ahead. Now they have to refocus and reload.

“Honestly, we’re disappointed that we didn’t win this game, but we fought,” defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. said. “That’s a good football team over there, and we respect them, but they respect us, too. We fought, and we gave them everything that we had. It came down to a couple of plays here and there, but at the end of the day, we fought like Ravens do. We can walk out of here with our heads held high.”

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