Preston: Coming close Sunday just put the Ravens further from their postseason aspirations

There are moral victories in the NFL, just not in December.

A young team losing a close playoff game or falling to a high-quality opponent would be a confidence-builder. And the Ravens’ loss to the New Orleans Saints in October was a tone-setter.


But the Ravens’ loss Sunday was nothing of the sort. Had they beaten the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, they would have almost guaranteed themselves a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Instead, they’re stuck in Mudville.

At least few of the players were talking about Sunday being a moral victory. Sure, some of the usual locker room cheerleaders said the team’s play against a top opponent gave them confidence, but the veterans know that the sense of urgency has become greater.


After a big loss, some teams die at the end of the season, so I asked veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith about the Ravens.

“We ain’t got time to die,” Smith said. “It’s December football.”

That’s what you want to hear, not excuses about officiating or pointing fingers at teammates. The Ravens accepted the loss and are ready to move on.

They are one of several teams competing for the second wild-card playoff berth in the AFC, and basically if they win the next three games, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Chargers and Cleveland Browns, they will make it into the postseason.

Here's where things stand in the AFC playoff picture heading into Week 15.

The Ravens really don’t care about Pittsburgh and that the Steelers play the New England Patriots and New Orleans the next two weeks. They don’t care about other wild-card contenders — the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins or Tennessee Titans. They know they have to take care of their own business.

“We put this one away, gear up and get ready for the next one,” veteran Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr said.

The Ravens are coached well enough to beat most teams, but it still comes down to playmakers. When your top guy is placekicker Justin Tucker, it’s hard to go deep into the postseason.

Sometimes, it’s is even harder to get there.

Who’s the man?

When you have two quarterbacks, you really don’t have one, so we’ll call the Ravens new starter Joe Jackson.

Former starter Joe Flacco has been cleared medically to play, but coach John Harbaugh said Flacco’s new role could entail anything.

Maybe rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will be the starter first downs as a threat to run and Flacco will come in on passing situations. That role sharing really hasn’t worked in the NFL in decades, but then again, few thought the Ravens could win three straight games running the option offense.

At this point, it’s not even worth asking about the starter anymore: Just play the damn game.

Flacco won’t do this, but if I were him, I’d endorse Jackson, allow my hip more time to heal and then sign a nice, new lucrative contract once the Ravens released me at the end of the season.

There is no way to salvage his starting role anymore. Why risk injury? Why go out and look slow on video for other teams if you’re not 100 percent healthy?

The Ravens opened the window for Flacco to leave when they drafted Jackson in the first round this year. It’s apparent that it’s time for both sides to move on.

Columnist Mike Preston grades the Ravens after their loss against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Work in progress

Jackson completed 13 of 24 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas City to finish with a quarterback rating of 100.5, but he needs a lot of work. There is nothing natural about his throwing motion.

He throws flat-footed and seldom steps into his passes. If he did, he certainly would get more velocity and his passes wouldn’t be soft or fall short of receivers.

Athletically, he is better than any other quarterback the Ravens have drafted, but his mechanics aren’t good. Jackson, though, has made a lot of progress from the player he was during organized team activities before training camp started.

He has potential, but a lot of it is raw, especially when it comes to throwing.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Patrick Ricard’s messages, the most recent of which were posted in 2013, would be addressed within the team.

Strip sack revisited

When Jackson got sacked and lost a fumble late in Sunday’s game, it reminded me of a few years ago when Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu smacked Flacco from the right side on a similar play.

When asked what happened, Jackson replied: “I don’t know what happened back side. I am looking the opposite way, so I cannot really tell you.”

Wrong answer. The quarterback or the center should be making the slide call so the running back knows who to pick up in the blocking scheme.

Flags flying

The Ravens were hurt by some questionable officiating Sunday, but some team feels victimized every week in the NFL.

The Ravens did get homered a little, but they can’t complain because they were penalized 11 times for 112 yards. In other words, they should just be quiet.

John Harbaugh said at his weekly news conference Monday that “if Joe’s ready to go, he’ll be part of the game plan."

Return to form

If there were a Comeback Player of the Year award, it should be given to return specialist Cyrus Jones.

This kid has been shuffled back and forth between Boston and Baltimore like an Amtrak train, but he has made a huge impact this season with the Ravens returning punts.

His 55-yard punt return set up what should have been the game-winning touchdown with 4:04 left in the game against Kansas City. Jones also had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders late last month.

Special teams, which were a problem for the Ravens earlier in the season, have been a a big positive in recent weeks.

Play-calling wizardry

I don’t know whether Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is head coaching material, but he sure can dial up plays.

He runs a lot of motion and misdirection, and sets up things so well that even his screen plays look like they took an hour to devise. Some owner needs to give him an opportunity, or at least an interview.

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