CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The hot seat that Ravens coach John Harbaugh has been sitting on all season got hotter Sunday. Everybody from the front office to the coaching staff down to Poe the mascot should start getting a little nervous now.
The Ravens didn’t just lose to the Carolina Panthers in what could almost be classified as a “must-win game,” but they got embarrassed, humiliated and humbled. It was a downright beat-down, a 36-21 debacle.
“We weren’t there in terms of what we needed to do — coaching, playing. It starts with me,” said Harbaugh, who is in his 11th season as the team’s coach. “It’s on my shoulders completely.”
And somewhere in his private confines, team owner Steve Bisciotti had to be seething and wanting to know what the heck happened to his football team.
This was a golden opportunity for the Ravens. Had they beaten the Panthers, they would have been 5-3 going into a home showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, which is followed by a bye and two more games at M&T Bank Stadium, against the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders.
Five of the eight remaining games are still at home, but the Ravens are now 4-4 and still have to face marquee quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and Patrick Mahomes.
And let’s not forget the unpredictable one, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton.
“There is no lying in this league. You are what your record says you are, and that’s the bottom line,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.
Asked whether he was surprised the Ravens are only a .500 team, Flacco cautiously acknowledged that they should be better.
“Knowing the talent that we have in there, really the way that we have been playing overall, I am a little bit,” he said. “I think just situationally, game by game, I think overall when you look at us you would think that we are pretty good.”
That’s the general assumption of most of the team officials over at The Castle and a lot of fans. During the offseason, Bisciotti announced that this would be the last season for general manager Ozzie Newsome, who would be replaced by assistant Eric DeCosta.
Bisciotti also conceded that he thought about firing Harbaugh after the 2017 season when the Ravens failed to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
To make sure Harbaugh had the proper offensive weapons for this season, Newsome signed free-agent wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and John Brown, and drafted South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round.
Until Sunday, these really weren’t the same old Ravens. They could play long ball on offense and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had added some new wrinkles.
On defense, coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale was more aggressive than predecessor Dean Pees and was more creative in blitz and pressure packages. Instead of being attacked, the Ravens attacked.
But on Sunday some of the past criticisms of Harbaugh haunted him. The Ravens lost to a quality team again. They’ve beaten only one good one this season, Pittsburgh, but have lost to the Bengals, New Orleans Saints, Panthers and even the Cleveland Browns.
Yes, the Browns.
The Ravens were lethargic on the road again, which has been the case numerous times under Harbaugh. It is one thing to lose and be competitive, but another to play without energy or a sense of urgency.
The Ravens were totally outcoached by Carolina offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and Mornhinweg couldn’t come up with anything to counter the Panthers after they took the long ball away from Flacco.
But the two biggest disappointments were being outwitted at the end of the half, which led to a Panthers field goal, and how Carolina hurt the pride of this franchise by running through the defense.
The Panthers scored four touchdowns and three field goals on 11 possessions. One of the touchdown drives covered 99 yards, and Carolina held a nearly nine-minute advantage in time of possession. The Ravens are still looking for quarterback Cam Newton, running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver DJ Moore.
“We’re an average team. We just got blown out,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re, wouldn’t say rock bottom, but we have to look at ourselves and get back to work.”
The Ravens still have a shot at the playoffs. This is the NFL, where mediocrity has become the norm. But just when fans and the city were starting to get really excited, the Ravens stunk it up Sunday.
There can be no more excuses. No one cares about the physical game the Ravens played a week ago against New Orleans. No one wants to hear about a patchwork offensive line or the injuries to players such as cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
There were a lot of players who didn’t step up Sunday, but all the fingers are now pointing at one man, one coach.
John Harbaugh is still on the hot seat.
The heat got turned up a few notches Sunday.