Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
By game time Sunday there were news reports that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti would fire coach John Harbaugh during the bye week if his team lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers and fell another game behind them in the AFC North race.
The assumption here is that Bisciotti couldn’t have been happy after the 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh. The Ravens stayed close but never gave any serious indications they were going to pull out a victory.
Almost as important were the Ravens fans among the crowd of 70,997 who left disappointed as if another season had passed and the Ravens were going to miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
Regardless of the loss, Bisciotti won’t fire Harbaugh.
He might have fired him for a few seconds during a fit of rage after the game, but he will overcome his own impulsiveness and allow Harbaugh to finish the season before determining his future.
After all, it makes no sense to basically give up barely after the midway point of a season in a mediocre league with teams such as the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals remaining on the schedule.
Here’s the most important thing to ask before an owner fires a coach: Have the players quit on Harbaugh? And then ask are they pointing fingers and whether there is dissension in the locker room?
None of that going on with this team. Some players don’t like Harbaugh but that is true with any head coach and it’s not as if there is a mass mutiny. Back in 2007, when Bisciotti fired then-coach Brian Billick, the players believed Billick had quit on them and they wanted change.
One of the questions often asked during the offseason was why the Bengals kept coach Marvin Lewis after a 7-9 season a year ago. The answer was simple. His players respected him and played hard for him. They showed that in the final game of the 2017 season when, already eliminated from the playoff chase, they beat the Ravens on one of the last plays of the game.
If Bisciotti fired Harbaugh now, it would be like waving the white flag. If the owner at the top gives up, then the players feel the same way. The Ravens are 4-5, not 3-6.
If Harbaugh were fired, who would replace him? Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was 5-27 during his two years as coach of the Detroit Lions in 2001 and 2002. Don “Wink” Martindale is in only the first year of his second stint of being a defensive coordinator after serving only season (2010) in the same capacity with the Denver Broncos.
That leaves special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Jerry Rosburg. He has a good mind and works well with players, but it isn’t worth sacrificing the rest of this season to find out whether he is the possible replacement for Harbaugh.
Let’s also be honest.
The only things the Ravens had going for them entering the Pittsburgh game was it being a rivalry in which games were always close and the game providing a much-needed sense of urgency after two straight losses.
Realistically, the Ravens had very little chance of beating the Steelers because of injuries. They were missing two starting offensive tackles, James Hurst and Ronnie Stanley. Starting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was playing hurt, and so were left guard Alex Lewis and cornerback Jimmy Smith.
There are some things the coaches have to work on during the bye week. Against Pittsburgh, the Ravens settled for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. That is good enough against the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, but not against the Steelers or New Orleans Saints.
The Ravens have little to no running game. That problem won’t be solved until next season, but it would help if quarterback Joe Flacco had time to throw, which he didn’t Sunday. On defense, Martindale has to get his outside linebackers to hold the edge because opposing teams don’t run inside the tackles but bounce outside.
There were no adjustments Sunday as the Steelers repeatedly ran hitch and short-to- intermediate crossing routes; the Ravens didn’t do anything like jamming receivers to interrupt the timing. Also, more opponents are throwing over the linebackers and in front of free safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, who can’t close fast enough.
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The speculation about Harbaugh heated up in Bisciotti’s end-of-the-season news conference in January when he said he thought about firing Harbaugh. The heat intensified with the lopsided loss to the Carolina Panthers last week.
Harbaugh, though, didn’t appear bothered by the speculation.
“I’ve never been someone who’s worried about keeping a job,” Harbaugh said. “It’s always been for me about doing the job. I’ve got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years and for the last number of weeks we’ve been in the season.
“So there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me. We’ll keep fighting, and that’s we do.”