Reasons for the Ravens to be concerned about the future of their 2016 season seemed to multiply in Sunday's 27-23 loss to the New York Giants.
A defense that has been the team's biggest strength was scorched, mainly by Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., for 435 yards and two long second-half touchdown passes. Even with a new offensive coordinator, the Ravens couldn't avoid the penalties that cost them every week, and couldn't score on four plays inside the Giants' 3-yard line. An already depleted roster lost its top cornerback (Jimmy Smith) and top pass rusher (Terrell Suggs) to injuries.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that two of his most accomplished and toughest players — Suggs, who tore his left biceps, and right guard Marshal Yanda, who is dealing with a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the Giants' game — are unlikely to play Sunday against the New York Jets.
Yet, as he spoke to reporters roughly 24 hours after his team's third straight loss, Harbaugh struck an optimistic tone, and he wasn't apologizing for it.
"I don't think I have to stand up here and justify my reasons for being optimistic," he said. Anybody that wants to write the doom and gloom article, that's fine. Write it. But look around the league. This is the National Football League. This is a tough league. I'm not wringing my hands because I know what kind of players we have. I know what kinds of coaches we have. I know what kind of league this is. You understand that this is a long season. There are 10 games left to play, 10 opportunities for us to get rolling. The thing that I'm most excited about is the fact that the things that are our problems are easily correctable."
Harbaugh's biggest laments following the Giants' loss were the number of big plays the Ravens allowed, and their continued penchant for committing penalties on offense and special teams. The defense, which had surrendered the fewest pass plays of 25-plus yards heading into the game, allowed three Beckham receptions of over 40 yards in the second half. Two of them went for touchdowns, including a 66-yard score that gave the Giants a four-point lead with one minute, 24 seconds to play.
The Ravens could have pulled away had they not committed 15 penalties for 111 yards. They now lead the league with 52 penalties.
"I'm excited about where the season is going to go, without question," Harbaugh said. "I know exactly what needs to be done and what needs to be corrected, but we've got to get it corrected. It's not a mystery, it's not new, it's not news. It's the same thing it's been. We will keep just pounding away at the things we have to do better and the things we have to eliminate to play winning football. No matter how long it takes us in practice or no matter who it takes us to do it with, we're going to continue to do that. We're going to get that down. That's where we're at."
The Ravens (3-3) can take comfort in that even with their recent slide, they are still in second place in the AFC North, a game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2). Pittsburgh hosts the New England Patriots on Sunday and just had their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, undergo knee surgery. The disappointing Cincinnati Bengals (2-4) are in third place.
However, the Ravens' task of rebounding, even against a struggling Jets' team, is made more difficult by their myriad injuries. Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (ankle), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), Yanda, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and return specialist Devin Hester Sr. (thigh) all missed Sunday's game against the Giants. A few of those players, including Yanda and Dumervil, are not expected back by Sunday either.
The Ravens' injury list grew against the Giants when they lost Suggs, Jimmy Smith (concussion) and slot cornerback Jerraud Powers (groin).
"He's played with that injury before, so he has a chance to come back soon," Harbaugh said of Suggs who played through a right biceps tear during the 2012 Super Bowl season. "How soon remains to be determined. I'm not going to say anything for this week yet. I think this week will be tough for him, but I don't put anything on Terrell Suggs as impossible [with] his ability to overcome. So we'll see how that goes."
Suggs has told teammates and coaches that he'll play through the injury and he said Sunday, "Whatever it is, you know who I am and you know what I represent." However, the injury could obviously affect Suggs' ability to set the edge and shrug off offensive linemen.
"If it's a partial tear, other than the pain, the only risk is that he can completely tear it," said Dr. Luga Podesta, a director of sports medicine at St. Charles Orthopedics in New York and a former training camp medical consultant for both the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints. "There's not much to do. He can play with it relatively quickly if it's up high. [John] Elway played pretty much his whole career with a partial tear of his biceps until it actually tore in his throwing arm. [Suggs] is more of a strength-type player. … He'll lose some of that strength."
Harbaugh said he hasn't been told that Suggs needs surgery. If the team's longest-tenured member misses any extended time, it will be a significant blow to the Ravens, who have struggled all year to mount a pass rush. The Ravens only have 11 sacks, and Suggs has five of them. The Ravens don't have another linebacker on the team with a sack.
"It's the challenge of the sport, especially in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "It's just the way it is. Everybody's dealing with it. From one week to the next, different teams have different challenges. This was our toughest week, no question. But yet still to my eye, we should have won the football game with the guys we were playing. We don't put anybody on the field that we don't believe is capable of winning. If they prove us wrong, then we're going to put somebody else on. But the guys that go out there and play are guys we put out there because we believe they can win the game for us."