A lot of teams don’t recover from the type of loss the Ravens suffered against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
There were playoff implications because there were six teams in the AFC with 6-3 records entering the game, including Baltimore and Tennessee.
But this wasn’t just about the odds. It’s also about the mental fatigue and emotional stress of losing three of the past four games.
The Ravens, along with the Kansas City Chiefs, entered the season as the two favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
“We talked about it all week, [the AFC] is packed in there, and we are going to have to start doing things that will break us away from the pack,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “Today was a great step, it was a great team win. I am proud to be these guys’ coach, and thankful as we approach Thanksgiving. Thankful to be their football coach.”
That’s what a win could have done for the Ravens on Sunday. They would have avenged last season’s playoff loss to the Titans and gone into Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night with confidence trying to knock off the undefeated Steelers.
Instead, there is gloom in Baltimore after another loss to Tennessee, the team that ended the Ravens’ 12-game winning streak in January when they had home-field advantage as the No. 1 seed.
The Ravens blew an 11-point lead in the second half Sunday, allowing a 90-yard touchdown drive in the last eight minutes of regulation. Then they surrendered a six play, 73-yard game-winning drive in overtime, capped by running back Derrick Henry’s 29-yard touchdown run.
This one hurt.
“It’s always hard losing; it doesn’t matter the sport you play,” Ravens left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “Obviously, with the circumstances being what they are, with us wanting to get to the playoffs and understanding the end goal and everything, it’s not easy at all — dealing with losses. This team has a bunch of fighters. We’ve got a bunch of men that love this game, that love to play for each other.
“Ultimately, we have to do a better job and find a way to finish games and start pulling away. Obviously, last year, what we were able to do, it’s so hard to repeat those different things consistently. It’s hard losing, and we’re not comfortable with it. We know what we’re capable of as a team and as a unit. We understand that we want to be in the playoffs, and we want to get to a Super Bowl, but we’ve got to do a better job performing on Sundays.”
In the past two games, the New England Patriots and Titans have done to the Ravens what they did to their opponents last season.
In 2019, the Ravens played “maul ball,” got early leads, turned their pass rushers loose and crushed the opposition because they got other teams to play out of their comfort zones.
Now, the Ravens offense is a mess and the defense can’t get off the field in crunchtime in the fourth quarter.
Well, it’s even worse.
The Ravens can’t even tackle now. On Sunday, their cornerbacks and safeties were an embarrassment on the back end, and might have cost the team the game.
“We ultimately want to be the ‘bullies’ on both sides of the ball up front and stop the run and run the ball well,” Brown said. “Whatever that is, we’re going to get back in the lab and figure it out.”
Brown is like just everyone else over at The Castle these days — puzzled about what has gone wrong in a season with big expectations.
It doesn’t seem as if it’s going to get any better.
The Ravens offensive line is in flux with two starters out with injuries, including one for the season in star left tackle Ronnie Stanley. The Ravens can’t find a capable replacement at right tackle and have two incomplete centers: one who is undersized (Patrick Mekari) and another who can’t snap the ball in the shotgun formation (Matt Skura).
They have two good running backs in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards but won’t use either one when they are hot because of their committee approach.
They have only one good receiver in tight end Mark Andrews and a quarterback in Lamar Jackson who can beat you with his legs, but not with his arm, especially on throws outside the numbers.
“We have guys that have leadership,” Dobbins said. “We know we have to get better. We know we have to find a way to win the game. So, that’s what I feel in the locker room right now — leadership [and] that we’re going to bounce back.
“That’s what we’re focused on right now. We can’t control the past; we have to move on to the future. We’ll look at the film, correct what we need to correct, and we’ll be ready to go.”
After watching the Ravens play in the first half of the season, it was clear that opposing teams had figured out Jackson and the run-oriented offense. But the offense still seemed to be serviceable and the Ravens were winning games in combination with a sound defense.
Without starting defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, the expectation was that the Ravens would struggle to stop the run, but it was the secondary that played poorly Sunday. They couldn’t tackle because they were too caught up trying to force turnovers, which helped them win games early in the season.
In the fourth quarter, the tackling was atrocious.
“We know we haven’t been playing the run too well,” rookie linebacker Patrick Queen said. “Those first three quarters, we were playing it lights out. Just like I said, that last quarter, things went south. And that’s just something we’ve got to build on. Like I said, just finishing the game.”
It sounds so easy, and the NFL has a history of teams going on winning streaks after troubling times. But the Ravens don’t have a consistent, big-time offensive player such as Henry. Just as troubling is that they scored a touchdown on just one of four trips inside the red zone Sunday.
If they had won this game, they would have beaten a strong, physical team toe-to-toe. It would have been a solid all-around performance against a quality opponent instead of a blowout against an overmatched team.
The Ravens are going into Pittsburgh on Thursday night, and there aren’t many who are giving them a chance to win. But they should benefit from playing the Steelers on a short week. They don’t have time to sulk or overthink their loss to Tennessee.
They will get up for the Steelers, even if they had to play them in the parking lot at Walmart. Right now, I don’t question their hearts.
But it’s a mind game, too, and they lost a big one Sunday.