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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 31-30 loss to the Green Bay Packers

The Ravens lost their third straight game on Sunday, and each is down to a wire and a crucial 2-point conversion effort. But during a 31-30 loss to the Packers, which put the Ravens (8-6) in the middle of a playoff battle in the AFC, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Here are five things we learned from the defeat in Baltimore.

It was a day to appreciate what crows are, rather than focus on what they are not.

Is it possible to be proud of losing in a zero-sum league like the NFL?

Again, post-game debate would center on John Harbaugh’s decision to move to two points, when Justin Tucker could have kicked a game-tying extra point with 42 seconds. We’ll get to that. But is it the most important point when the Ravens again came within breath of beating a favorite opponent, coming off a week in which they were hammered by COVID-19 due to the injury of their most essential player, Lamar Jackson? Was?

Or is it time to admire them for what they are instead of obsessing for what they are not?

After three consecutive losses and weekly declines in their chances of making the playoffs, the Ravens have filled their gritty, doomed performances. But it’s hard to see them hurt any other way, which now involves Jackson and a slew of COVID-19 positives that have carved their roster too close to the bone.

There are many ways to sum up the hollow position of this team, which just three weeks ago had placed the AFC No. 1 seed.

Every player on the Ravens’ list of Sunday’s inactions – Jackson, defensive end Kallis Campbell, right tackle Patrick McCreery, left guard Ben Powers and fullback Patrick Ricard – was a starter. When the team arrived for training camp, not a single player in the offensive or defensive backfield was the supposed starter. As if their outlook wasn’t bleak enough, the Ravens lost another cornerback, Tavon Young, in the second quarter.

Aaron Rodgers, an inner-circle Hall of Fame quarterback, played as skillfully as you might expect against this collection of misfit toys. At 38, Rodgers still throws while shaking his head, exploiting the slightest creases in coverage with his touch and velocity. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers—normal by his standards, exceptional by most quarterbacks.

However, the Ravens didn’t roll over in the face of these tough odds. He moved the ball skillfully with Tyler Huntley at quarterback and went to halftime with the best of the NFC. They continued to come together in an 11-play touchdown drive after Rodgers took a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. The Ravens eventually managed a defensive stand, punctuated by a stuff and a sack to tackle Justin Madubiuk of the second year. Huntley chased him from 49 yards for another touchdown, setting up that tantalizing 2-point effort.

What more can we really ask of the team that would have been selected to finish in the AFC’s dregs if it had started the season with this collection of starters?

Our decision for the Ravens season, whenever it ends, will involve more complex calculations. But on this day, seeing the blows of the opponent and tireless personnel, he responded with considerable effort.

Here we are again with a 2-point debate in which John Harbaugh made the right call with the wrong result.

Harbaugh gave no quarters after the game, explaining his decision to go for two. He felt that the Ravens had a better chance of winning by taking the lead at that time than trading assets with Rodgers in overtime. With 42 seconds left on the clock, he wouldn’t have gotten overtime anyway, but that’s a different discussion.

Harbaugh is an aggressive coach by nature, and although he won’t say so publicly, he understands that his team is running short of talent right now. If he sees an opportunity to cut a corner for a win that will give the Ravens a significant boost to his playoff chances, he’s going to take it.

“For me, in both those cases, that gave us the best chance to win,” he said of his pair of 2-point calls from the last three games. “Because we didn’t win, that’s not true.”

There is no point in asking your coach to be a different person. The Ravens remain in these games partly because they are inspired by Harbaugh’s relentless drive to make the most of every moment. This may sound like spades, but look at the results he has seen over the years. He has hardly lost his grip in any season.

His decision to go for two, made sense in the context. But the play called the Ravens didn’t work and didn’t come as close as what Greg Roman, an offensive coordinator, dialed in Pittsburgh two weeks earlier. Huntley, with his goal, Andrews, rolled to his right, set up against Eric Stokes just inside the nearby pylon. Huntley saw his tight end open for a moment, but his momentum drew safety Darnell Savage to Andrews, and Savage deflected the pass. Marquis Brown appeared open past the end zone, but Harbaugh and Huntley indicated that Andrews was always the target.

“He made a good decision,” Harbaugh said. “They had a chance to get to Mark, and I think security got out there and pointed a finger at him.”

Perhaps it was a play too obvious for the position, robbing Huntley of the ability to seek another target or run into his own. Even if he had seen Brown, he would have had to throw it against his body to reach him. The Ravens have converted two 2-point conversions in eight tries this season, one of the worst rates in the league.

Despite this, the players were in no mood to re-examine the decision later. “I told the coach I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Andrews said. “I think people second guessing are wrong.”

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Tyler Huntley leads the Ravens again with quick-reading proficiency.

The Ravens covered 75 yards in 14 plays to start the game and were on the verge of scoring a touchdown in the first quarter for the first time since Week 6. Three times in a row, Huntley turned back and checked for an open receiver in the end zone. Three times in a row, they didn’t get the right connection.

It was the kind of disappointing sequence that rattled the quarterback and made his second NFL debut against the best team in the NFC. But the man known as “Snoop” doesn’t cringe easily. He was there as a high school star, trading touchdowns with Jackson in areas of South Florida. He didn’t because he turned the Ravens backup job away from Trace McSorley, practice rep by practice rep.

The next time he got the ball, he completed four straight passes, the last of them diving into the end zone to Andrews. He was even better off the drive after that, finding the Ravens 73 yards on 11 plays and Andrews in traffic for a 9-yard touchdown. The offense seemed at its best in six weeks.

Huntley doesn’t have the seductive talent of Jackson as a scrambler, but he brought a pleasant simplicity to operation, reads fast and throws accurately. Although he attempted only two passes beyond 20 yards into the game, the Ravens converted seven of 13 in the third down and scored five of eight on property. Huntley’s refusal to despair when the Ravens fell behind by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter was particularly noteworthy.

He didn’t think that crows could be ripe. Instead, he went out to the Green Bay defense 3, 5 and 6 yards at a time, galloping into free ground (73 yards at 13) when he could not locate a receiver. The Packers never traced the previously unfinished free agent.

“I thought today, he took another step forward, just in terms of handling himself, timing the rhythm, taking off and running at the right times, accurate throws, all those things,” Harbaugh said. “He took a big step.”

If Jackson is ready to go to Cincinnati the day after Christmas, that’s not an argument for Jackson to start Huntley. It will be a foundation-shaking decision that will involve Raven being the most important since Ray Lewis. But we came to this season assuming that the Ravens needed to be all Lamars, to be given a chance at all times. Huntley has denied this notion over the past month. The big football world has learned what the Ravens did in training camp: This guy can play.

Since John McKay has seen Baltimore a tight end around the quality of Mark Andrews.

McKay was the prototype in its era, demonstrating the formidable catch and steer ability of a receiver built like a linebacker. He gave the Colts of the 1960s an element that no one could match.

Before we talk about him in the same breath, the 6-foot-5, 256-pound Andrews will have to stack up several Pro Bowl seasons, but he’s closing out his fourth season in bravura fashion. A week after catching 11 passes on 11 goals in Cleveland, Andrews leapt, dashed and rumbled for 136 yards on 13 goals for 10 catches and two touchdowns against the Packers. One scoring grab came on a headlong dive, another after a fight in traffic. Andrews was the leading pass-catcher on the field in a game that involved Davante Adams.

Shannon Sharp and Todd Heep made the Pro Bowls playing tight ends for the Ravens, but Andrews, through 14 games, already has more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than both accumulated in a season in Baltimore. And lest we forget, he’s no longer the cunning player who was speculated to be coming out of Oklahoma. According to Pro Football Focus, he holds the fourth-best run-blocking grade in all tight ends.

Watching a great player come into his own is one of the real joys in sports. It’s that time for Andrews.

A win over the Packers would have been a huge boost, but a life-or-death game is still ahead.

The Ravens could have significantly increased their playoff odds to the displeasure of the Packers, but it still wasn’t necessary for them. Going into the weekend, Pro Football Focus said they would have an 86% chance with a win and a 55% chance with a loss.

Once it became clear that they would not have Jackson at quarterback and that COVID-19 would leave him with a last-game-of-the-precision secondary, it had to be for him that the Packers’ game was some sort of stage to life. There was no-or-death stand.

They fought till the end. They usually do. But they knew on some level that their fate would be decided not by the Packers but by the two remaining divisional games – in Cincinnati on Sunday and at home against the Steelers on January 9. The Ravens would not be favored against the Bengals, who hammered them in Baltimore. And the Week 18 finale, possibly Ben Roethlisberger’s final regular-season game, may display unsettling emotions.

But the Ravens will at least hope to field a healthy team and take their chances against AFC North, which turns out to be more mediocre than any of us predicted in September.

After the game, Andrews said his mind was already on the Bengals, who defeated the Denver Broncos to join the Ravens 8-6.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” he said. “It is a big game, a divisional game. We are tied. So, if we can win it, it’s going to look good.”

week 16

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