Advertisement
Baltimore Ravens

The 10 plays that defined the Ravens’ 2021 season, from injuries to overtime scores

When Ravens coaches and players review the 2021 season, they will see a team that lost about as many close games as it won, that finished with a negative point differential for the first time since 2015 (minus-5), that took more blows than it could ultimately withstand. They will see a team that, as running back Latavius Murray put it Sunday, “didn’t get it done at the end of the day.”

“Again, it’s a tale [of] two seasons, if you want to say that,” Murray said after the Ravens’ sixth straight defeat, a 16-13 overtime loss in Baltimore to the Pittsburgh Steelers. “The first half of the season, we found a way to win these games. In the second half, we didn’t.”

Advertisement

On a macro level, that was the difference between the Ravens competing for the AFC’s top seed and falling short of the playoffs. But on a micro level, the margin between victory and defeat was sometimes just one play. Here are 10 that defined the Ravens’ 8-9 season.

Preseason: CB Marcus Peters, RB Gus Edwards tear ACL in same practice

The season-ending injuries happened on different plays, but they capped one of the worst stretches of preseason misfortune in recent history. On Aug. 28, running back J.K. Dobbins, who’d flashed his breakout potential all training camp, tore his ACL in the Ravens’ preseason finale. On Sept. 2, reserve running back Justice Hill tore his Achilles tendon. On Sept. 8, the Ravens lost Peters, maybe their top cornerback in camp, and Edwards, one of the NFL’s most efficient runners, in the span of a few plays at practice.

Advertisement

Earlier in camp, the Ravens had lost inside linebacker L.J. Fort (torn ACL), a 2020 starter and special teams leader, and rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman (groin), their top draft pick, to significant injuries. By season’s end, 25 Ravens had landed on injured reserve.

Week 1, at Raiders: QB Lamar Jackson strip-sacked in overtime

Defensive end Carl Nassib’s forced fumble, which set up Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr’s game-winning touchdown pass to Zay Jones three plays later, ended a nightmarish debut for the Ravens’ pass protection. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the Raiders pressured Jackson on 54.5% of his drop-backs in their 33-27 win. Even more impressive, they rarely sent more than four pass rushers after him.

Jackson was sacked three times and hit eight times in the game, the last of the Ravens’ season with Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva at offensive tackle. Stanley, an All-Pro selection in 2019, didn’t play again in 2021 — he underwent his second straight season-ending ankle injury in October — and Villanueva took over for him at left tackle, where his level of play fluctuated.

Week 2, vs. Chiefs: QB Lamar Jackson converts clinching fourth-and-2

After taking a 36-35 lead in Baltimore with three minutes left, the Ravens got a forced fumble by outside linebacker Odafe Oweh and a crucial catch from wide receiver Sammy Watkins to set up fourth-and-short at their 43-yard line.

Rather than punt the ball back to quarterback Patrick Mahomes with less than a minute left, coach John Harbaugh asked Jackson whether he wanted to go for it. Of course he did. Jackson took a quick shotgun snap, looked for a crease and surged forward for a 2-yard gain. The prime-time win was the Ravens’ first against Mahomes (343 passing yards and three touchdowns) and kicked off a five-game winning streak.

Week 3, at Lions: K Justin Tucker hits game-winning, NFL-record 66-yard field goal

The Ravens finished with the NFL’s best special teams play this season partly because there’s only one Justin Tucker. According to Pro Football Focus, in finishing 35-for-37 on field-goal attempts this season, the Pro Bowl kicker led the NFL in both success rate over expectation and the number of made kicks over expectation.

His 66-yarder was certainly unexpected. The Ravens, trailing 17-16, needed to convert a fourth-and-19 with 26 seconds remaining to even give Tucker a chance. After Jackson found Watkins for 36 yards, Tucker lined up from Detroit’s 48 with three seconds remaining. His fourth field goal of the day doinked off the crossbar inside Detroit’s Ford Field and carried through the uprights, breaking Matt Prater’s record-setting 2013 kick (64 yards).

Week 5, vs. Colts: WR Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown catches overtime game-winner

Jackson went 37-for-43 for 442 yards and four touchdowns in the prime-time comeback win, and most of his completions looked as matter-of-fact as his last one. On second-and-goal, five minutes into overtime, he dropped back, pump-faked as he waited for Brown to uncover, then whistled a 5-yard touchdown pass to him near the front of the end zone.

Advertisement

The 31-25 victory was a career night for both Jackson, who had a career-high 442 passing yards, and Brown, whose 125 receiving yards and two scores both finished as season highs. But the Ravens’ passing attack rarely made it look that easy over the next three months.

Week 7, vs. Bengals: WR Ja’Marr Chase scores on 82-yard catch-and-run

No game better epitomized the struggles of the Ravens’ secondary, and no play better epitomized Cincinnati’s dominance of the Ravens this season. On a third-and-2 midway through the third quarter, Chase separated from cornerback Marlon Humphrey, caught a pass from quarterback Joe Burrow, broke out of safety DeShon Elliott’s tackle attempt, spun free of safety Chuck Clark and outran everyone to the end zone.

In two blowout wins, Burrow torched the Ravens for 941 passing yards, seven touchdowns and one interception, while Chase had 15 catches for 326 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens, beset by injuries in their secondary, finished the season last in the NFL in pass defense (278.9 yards allowed per game, a franchise worst) and last in 40-yard plays allowed (18).

Week 12, vs. Browns: QB Lamar Jackson throws third interception in five-pass span

Jackson’s midseason malaise seemed to start in Week 10, when the Ravens’ offense couldn’t solve the Miami Dolphins’ Cover 0-heavy approach. Two weeks later, though, his struggles reached almost absurdist levels. Late in the second quarter of an eventual 16-10 home win over the Cleveland Browns, he threw three interceptions over a five-pass span. Every throw came from a clean pocket.

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Weekly

Want the inside scoop on the Ravens? Become a Ravens Insider and you'll have access to news, notes and analysis from The Sun.

After adding a fourth pick in the fourth quarter, Jackson finished the game with a 46.5 passer rating, the worst of his career as a starter. (One saving grace: his miraculous third-quarter scramble to find tight end Mark Andrews for a 13-yard touchdown pass.) Over Jackson’s final four games of the season, a stretch that started in Miami, he completed 62.9% of his passes for 673 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. He averaged just 5.8 yards per pass attempt and 4.6 yards per carry in that span.

Week 13, at Steelers: CB Marlon Humphrey hurt on go-ahead touchdown catch

The Ravens had already lost Peters and Elliott to season-ending injuries by the time the Steelers, trailing 13-12 late in the fourth quarter, lined up on third-and-goal from the Ravens’ 5. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson’s touchdown catch added insult to another injury. Humphrey, an All-Pro like Peters in 2019, tore a pectoral muscle as he tried to punch the ball out from Johnson near the goal line.

Advertisement

His absence from an already depleted cornerback room led Harbaugh to go for the go-ahead 2-point conversion after the Ravens scored on their ensuing possession. But Jackson’s pass to an open Andrews glanced off his fingertips, and the Ravens, who’d entered the game atop the AFC, would soon start a precipitous end-of-season slide.

Week 14, at Browns: QB Lamar Jackson hurt on scramble

No play this season might’ve been more impactful than Browns inside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s innocuous-looking tackle attempt on Jackson as he rolled out for a short throw to Andrews. Jackson suffered a bone bruise on his right ankle, and he was carted off the field, never to play another down in 2021.

While backup Tyler Huntley impressed in the eventual 24-22 loss in Cleveland, the Ravens had to play the final four-plus games of their season without their most important player and former NFL Most Valuable Player.

Week 15, vs. Packers: QB Tyler Huntley can’t convert 2-point attempt

Had the Ravens won even one of their final six games, their season might still be alive. Green Bay’s 31-30 win in Baltimore didn’t crush their playoff hopes, nor did it reflect poorly on the Ravens themselves, who were playing with a roster ravaged even further by a coronavirus outbreak. But the game did capture the razor-thin margins that defined their season.

Huntley’s pass on the game’s decisive 2-point try never reached Andrews, deflected instead by Packers safety Darnell Savage’s outstretched hand. Huntley also never saw Brown, who was running wide open across the middle of the end zone. It was the Ravens’ eighth and final 2-point attempt of the season; they converted only two.


Advertisement