The curtain that closed the Ravens preseason may have fallen on some players, too.
As many as 30 players could spend the next 12 to 24 hours wondering whether they built enough of a case to warrant a spot on the team's 53-man active roster — a fate that won't be determined until late Saturday afternoon when all 32 franchises must submit their rosters.
For some of those players, their path to Owings Mills took a detour after the team's 27-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams Thursday night.
One of those players is Jason Phillips, the second-year linebacker who registered a sterling preseason in the team's first three contests.
The leader in tackles before Thursday night, Phillips cemented that honor with nine tackles against the Rams. But Phillips, a solid run stopper, was exploited by quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Keith Null, who found tight ends running behind Phillips.
"If you get a chance to play and you make plays, that's going to help you," Phillips acknowledged after Friday morning's practice. "Being out for a bunch of snaps on defense and special teams, I was just really trying to go hard the whole game and show them that even when I'm tired, I can still try to make some plays."
Phillips said his biggest regret was allowing tight end Billy Bajema to get behind him and catch a pass from Bradford for a two-yard touchdown on St. Louis' opening possession.
"The touchdown that I gave up [Thursday], that was in my head all night," he said. "Little things like that will stick with you, but you've just got to think about it, forget about it, and then hope for the best. It's out of my hands now."
A mistake like the one Phillips made can raise a red flag for coaches. However, coach John Harbaugh said one play shouldn't outweigh an entire preseason's amount of plays.
"If a guy's struggled all during camp and has one good game, no," he said. "If a guy's had a great camp and struggles in one game, that's not going to override a body of work. But it would augment what has gone on previously."
Like Phillips, Prince Miller is hoping that one error doesn't determine his fate with the Ravens. Pressed by the organization's decision to acquire Josh Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday, the rookie cornerback led the team with a 13.9-yard average on punt returns before Thursday's game and might have converted that into a spot on the roster.
While he did return two punts for 27 yards, Miller also muffed a punt in the second quarter that cornerback K.J. Gerard recovered in the end zone to prevent a Rams touchdown.
"It runs through your mind," Miller said. "You hope that the body of work that you put in through the course of the preseason overshadows that one play. But you can't worry about it. What's going to happen is going to happen. You've just got to live with whatever decision is made."
Prescott Burgess didn't make a mistake that stood out, but the linebacker was noticed for what he didn't do. Burgess, who is tied with linebacker Edgar Jones for the team lead in sacks with two, was almost non-existent against the run.
On one play, Burgess was pushed out of the way, allowing St. Louis running back Kenneth Darby to run 29 yards around the right end of the offensive line in the first quarter.
Burgess, a sixth-round pick in 2007, was traded by the Ravens to the New England Patriots last September, but was re-signed when the Patriots released him after a few weeks.
"It'd be great if I made the roster for the Ravens, but if I have to go somewhere else, I think I would be a good player," Burgess said. "We'll just wait until Monday to see what happens."
Young players aren't the only ones feeling antsy. Vested veterans like safety Ken Hamlin and cornerback Travis Fisher are guaranteed a full year of salary if they are on the season-opening roster, and Harbaugh acknowledged that money could play a role.
"That's a big factor," he said. "The budget is real, and that factors in tremendously. That's just the way the rules are written. Maybe that will change to some extent in the next contract, but you've got to factor in everything."
With the arrival of Wilson and the continuing improvement in health for Fabian Washington, Lardarius Webb and Chris Carr, Fisher could be expendable. Hamlin, however, could stick around if the team decides to place six-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed on the physically-unable-to-perform list to begin the season.
Hamlin declined to assess his chances of staying with the Ravens based on Reed's availability.
"I don't look at somebody's injury and say, 'OK, this is an opportunity for me,'" Hamlin said. "Like I said, I came in here just to try and compete and show that I can still play this game at a high level, and we'll see what happens."
There are other questions. Should Troy Smith be retained as the third quarterback? Have wide receivers Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith or rookie David Reed done enough to avoid getting released? How much will Kelly Talavou's left calf injury impact the competition at defensive tackle? And will the team go with Billy Cundiff or Shayne Graham as the kicker?
There's a lot to consider, Harbaugh said.
"There'll be some [need-based] decisions," he said. "We've got some injuries, which means you have to go heavier at one position or another. So some guys that might have made it in different circumstances, might not in these circumstances. So I think all that kind of stuff factors in."
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