Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 16-13 season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers

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The Ravens saw their season come to a disappointing end Sunday after a 16-13 overtime loss to the Steelers in Baltimore. Here’s what we learned from the Ravens’ sixth straight loss:

On the last day of their 2021 season, the Ravens had to confront the fact they weren’t quite good enough.

Hope visited M&T Bank Stadium for a brief patch of Sunday afternoon. The Ravens could not help but glance at the scoreboard, which told them the Jacksonville Jaguars were smacking around the Indianapolis Colts. This was the most improbable of three pieces of help they needed to duck into the playoffs.


The Ravens were handling their own business, too, knocking the Pittsburgh Steelers on their heels with powerful runs and disruptive defense. As the fourth quarter began, they stood 11 yards from a touchdown that would put them up 17-6, a commanding lead in a game short on coherent offense.

Quarterback Tyler Huntley saw the team’s best pass-catcher, Mark Andrews, flash open in the end zone. He thought he had space but did not put enough mustard on his pass, which ended up in the clutches of Pittsburgh cornerback Cameron Sutton. The Ravens’ chances for extending their season would never look so bright again.


Afterward, they spoke of the opportunities that had slipped through their fingers — the passes they did not catch, the third- and fourth-down stands they did not make. They had made similar comments so many times over the previous six weeks, as they watched a promising season fall apart one excruciatingly close loss at a time. This time, it hit them that there would be no next week.

“We can’t say ‘what if,’” Huntley said. “We have to face the facts of what happened.”

Teams that belong in the playoffs don’t lose their last six games, even if five of those losses came by a combined eight points.

The Ravens were determined. They did not quit on one another when injuries ripped away their starting backfield, their left tackle, their three top cornerbacks and their former MVP quarterback. No loss crushed their will to look forward.

Coach John Harbaugh told them they would point back to this season some day when dispensing lessons on resilience to their children. “You’re going to be able to tell them this story,” he said.

But it was not the story the Ravens wanted to write in 2021. They did not want to be the team that just missed again and again, that talked about what might have been if an ankle had not turned or a ligament had not torn. They all believed they could be the last team standing. Instead, they were not one of the last 14. The whys and hows did not matter so much.

“The first half of the season, we found a way to win these games, [but] in the second half, we didn’t,” running back Latavius Murray said. “So, I appreciate [Harbaugh] for saying we fought and whatnot, but I think all of us are going to look back and just realize we didn’t get it done — we still had a chance, but we didn’t get it done.”

The Ravens couldn’t ‘find a play’ without their best playmaker, Lamar Jackson.

With the Ravens driving in overtime, Huntley had an open look at his best target, Andrews, and threw far enough behind him that Andrews could not get a hand on the ball.


This final misfire was emblematic of Huntley’s worst day as a professional quarterback. He turned the ball over three times and could not compensate by hitting his receivers downfield. If you’re going to be a conservative quarterback in the NFL, you cannot also be mistake-prone.

So let’s set aside any notion that the Ravens were fine without Jackson. As badly as he struggled in the weeks before he hurt his ankle against the Cleveland Browns, they lost their sense of offensive possibility with him on the sideline. The miraculous rallies we saw against the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings, the deep passing displays we saw in the early weeks of the season, were no longer on the table.

That’s not meant as a backhanded dis to Huntley, who helped put the Ravens in position to win every game he started. It’s just to say that Jackson remains the team’s centerpiece, and we should not be surprised they lost their last four games, all must-win, without him.

Huntley made a costly unforced error in the first quarter when he tried to pick up a low snap from Bradley Bozeman instead of falling on the rain-slicked ball. It was a rare case of the preternaturally chill backup overreaching on a play with little upside. The Steelers, who needed all the help they could get to score, had to drive just 29 yards to go up 3-0.

On the next possession, Huntley tried to feather a pass to Andrews but overshot and dropped it into the arms of Pittsburgh safety Terrell Edmunds, who did a nice job picking the ball off the turf.

Huntley had a chance to give the Ravens a two-score lead when he saw Andrews flash open in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Instead of zipping the ball, however, he threw tentatively, giving Sutton enough time to pick it off.


“I couldn’t drive the ball how I wanted,” Huntley said.

Andrews defended Huntley’s read, saying he could have done more. “I think it’s a touchdown if I just go back to the ball,” he said.

No one should put this loss entirely on the quarterback. Marquise Brown dropped a touchdown pass just before halftime and could not hang on to a catch along the sideline in the waning seconds of regulation. The game film will surely reveal other culprits. The Ravens scored one offensive touchdown over their last two games, which they lost by a combined four points.

“We fell short in numerous games here down the stretch in the sense that we just couldn’t find a play,” Harbaugh said. “We couldn’t find a play that we needed.”

Would Jackson have found that play? Impossible to say, but he is the man the Ravens turn to when they have no other answers. Without him, they could not be the team they hoped to become when the season started.

The Ravens need a more reliable plan at offensive tackle.

The Ravens prioritized their offensive line last offseason after the right side faltered in a playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills. They will have to go back to the drawing board after surrendering more sacks than any other team in 2021.


General manager Eric DeCosta signed a stalwart in right guard Kevin Zeitler, who was their best offensive lineman this year. Bradley Bozeman’s shift to center succeeded more often than not. But their plan to protect the edges with Ronnie Stanley and veteran Alejandro Villanueva failed from the first snap of the season on.

We saw the ripples again Sunday as the Steelers sacked Huntley three times and hit him six times in the first half. The line played better after that as the Ravens turned to their power running game, but their inability to score early came back to bite them.

You could argue the Ravens have the options they need in-house, with Stanley recuperating from ankle surgery and right tackle Ja’Wuan James expected to be ready after he missed this season with a torn Achilles. But if the Ravens don’t use draft picks and free-agent dollars to add quality tackles behind Stanley and James, they will be falling into the same trap that claimed them this year. Their entire plan, including the decision to trade Orlando Brown Jr., was predicated on Stanley’s health, but they can’t afford to count on him for next season, even if they hope he will return to his All-Pro form from 2019. James could be an above-average right tackle, but he hasn’t played anything close to a full season since 2018.

The Ravens began to address these issues by extending Patrick Mekari, an ideal utility lineman who filled in admirably at right tackle this season. They need to assume Stanley and James will not be available for every game and draft a tackle who’s ready to play in 2022 and to start in the years beyond.

Ben Roethlisberger was far from vintage form, but he bade the Ravens an appropriate farewell.

We spent the week talking about all the times Roethlisberger had shrugged off vicious hits to rally the Steelers past the Ravens. “The Terminator,” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale called him, paying his respects ahead of Roethlisberger’s final regular-season game.

For most of the afternoon, Roethlisberger looked like a player who had stayed one season too long. He could not hurt the Ravens downfield and lobbed passes that begged to be intercepted.


Somehow, he shook just enough rust off for the fourth quarter and overtime. On third-and-9, with less than six minutes left in the fourth, he found Ray-Ray McCloud for 20 yards, his second longest completion of the day. A few moments later, he hit tight end Pat Freiermuth for 11 yards on third-and-6. In overtime, he connected with Freiermuth for another 14 yards on third-and-7 and to McCloud for 10 yards on fourth-and-8.

The Ravens could never crush the last bit of life from him.

“I pay respect where respect is due,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “We made it hard on him. … He’s a legend for making the critical plays in big moments.”

Some will spin this as a last brilliant stand for a Hall of Fame player, but that’s not quite right. Roethlisberger did not turn back time. We saw him in diminished form, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt. He dredged up just enough throws to win on an afternoon marked by ugly football. And it fit as his final note on a rivalry that was always more about survival than beauty.

Injuries were the Ravens’ greatest enemy, but they know they must look for more than better luck.

As thoughts turn to the offseason, we can say the Ravens will probably be better in 2022 even if they do not make significant overhauls to their roster and coaching staff.

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When they showed up to training camp, they reasonably expected to have the league’s best running attack and one of its best secondaries. DeCosta and Harbaugh built everything around these strengths.


The team we saw as the season wound on — last in passing defense, 18 points per game over the last nine — did not live up to that vision. The Ravens lost too many of the players who were supposed to give them their identity.

When they come back to work this summer, we’ll presumably see Jackson and Stanley and Marlon Humphrey and J.K. Dobbins and so on. The group that could not hold on against the Steelers will be a fading memory.

But there are fundamental improvements to be made. The Ravens must restock their offensive and defensive lines. They must reexamine offensive concepts that have grown stale since they ran over the league in 2019. They must figure out whether to make an enormous financial commitment to Jackson and how to nurse him through the hiccups in confidence we saw this year.

This was not a team that came close to meeting its goals, so the self-assessment — a traditional strength for this coach and front office — must be unforgiving.

“We’re going to hit the lab,” Andrews promised after a monumental individual season (107 catches, 1,361 yards, nine touchdowns) and a disappointing team one.

Safety Chuck Clark didn’t even take questions because he had but one thing to say: “Just watch how we bounce back.”