Maybe the Ravens didn’t use up all their luck in the first half of the season.
There is always that possibility.
To get into the playoffs, the Ravens need a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at home Sunday and losses by the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins. According to most of the projections, there’s a less than 3.5% chance of that happening. But this has been a crazy season filled with plenty of unpredictable storylines.
If the Ravens win behind backup quarterback Tyler Huntley and the Colts (at Jaguars) and Dolphins (vs. Patriots) lose early Sunday afternoon, all the Ravens fans will be sitting up late Sunday night watching the Chargers play the Raiders in Las Vegas. And if they are lucky, the Chargers will be trailing by one point after scoring a touchdown with one second remaining and Ravens coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman will be asked to call the 2-point conversion play.
OK, just kidding. But the Ravens need that type of luck.
“Now, let’s [not] put this season to bed yet, because if we win this game, we just need a three-game parlay, now, to hit,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “I don’t want to sound like Pete Rose up here, but we just need a three-game parlay to hit; a lot of people bet five and six — not that I’m a gambler.”
In all honesty, the Ravens are fortunate to be at this point, which is tribute to their front office and coaching staff. They’ve lost their top three running backs, Pro Bowl left tackle, star quarterback, two Pro Bowl cornerbacks, a starting safety and a starting defensive end for significant time. That shows the depth of the roster assembled by general manager Eric DeCosta and his staff, as well as the game day preparations made by Harbaugh and his coaches.
It also puts the Ravens’ season into perspective: They are an average team playing in a below-average league.
Their work ethic and philosophy were keys to a strong start, but they also got plenty of luck. Some might call it fate. In Week 2, Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumbled at the Ravens’ 32-yard line with 1:26 left, which helped Baltimore secure a 36-35 win. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit an NFL-record 66-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Lions, 19-17, in Week 3. Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship suffered a hip injury in pregame warmups in Week 5, which is why Indianapolis tried and failed on a pair of 2-point conversions in a 31-25 overtime loss in Baltimore.
Back then, “a win was a win.” Few cared how the Ravens played since they won five of their first six games and at one time had the No. 1 seed in the AFC at 8-3.
Now, their luck has changed. The Ravens (8-8) have lost five straight and are on the outside of the playoff picture.
Things started to fall apart Oct. 24, when the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Ravens, 41-17, and put the rest of the league on notice that an athletic front seven, particularly in the front four, could cause problems for quarterback Lamar Jackson. Nearly three weeks later, the Miami Dolphins repeatedly pressured Jackson into making mistakes in an ugly 22-10 loss.
The word was out, and no one knows for sure how Jackson will respond because he will miss his fourth straight game Sunday with an injured ankle. Without Jackson, the Ravens’ offensive weaknesses have been exposed. The running game has suffered because Jackson is their only outside threat, and the pass blocking is worse because Huntley and journeyman Josh Johnson are not as elusive as Jackson.
Forget about big plays. They no longer exist in this offense, and some of that is by design.
Defensively, the secondary has become a revolving door for street free agents. Once considered the strong point entering the season, the Ravens are ranked No. 32 in pass defense, allowing 220.3 yards per game. At least that’s a new problem this year on top of the continued failure to pressure the quarterback.
After last season ended with a divisional-round loss to the Bills, the Ravens wanted to improve their offense, which was ranked No. 1 in the league in rushing and No. 32 in passing. They’ve done that, sitting at No. 5 in rushing and No. 13 in passing. However, they are No. 1 in rush defense and last in pass defense. They’ve taken one step forward and one step backward.
But when all the injuries are considered, it’s a major accomplishment the Ravens are still in the playoff picture, even though there have been some questionable coaching decisions on game day. It’s been a crazy year.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it. I guess, as a fan and just following other teams, but it’s just so rare — just when you put yourself in position and then, literally, you go through so much hardship and different things that [makes it] just hard to win a ballgame,” Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said. “You do everything you can. We were preparing the same way in those first games when we put ourselves in position, and we were the No. 1 seed and [had] the best record in football. To, then, now, being where we’re at now, where we need a lot of help to get in … It’s definitely a very unique year, and you don’t see it that often.”
Added Campbell: “It’s definitely painful, frustrating, but if guys are not frustrated, I’d be upset, because this is something that we care about it. This is our livelihood. There’s a lot of passion, a lot of time and energy spent to being great at this. So, it’s definitely been a frustrating year, for the most part, but at the same time, there’s hope, and we’re definitely embracing the hope, and we’ll relish in the moment of being able to play this kid’s game that we love so much. But yes, you don’t see this too often, and it definitely is painful.”
For as much as the Ravens have endured in the second half of this season, they still have a chance.
Maybe they can pull a rabbit out of the hat one more time. Maybe their fate is about to change again.
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