With the NFL season quickly approaching the regular season finale, week fourteen set some teams up with a great opportunity to close the door on their rivals. We typically talk trash about the NFC East (rightfully) but it seems as though there are two dumpster fires in the AFC. Arguably, the most hapless division in the AFC, the AFC North, has a traffic jam of ineptitude vying for the right to be crushed in the Wild Card round. Fortunately, the Baltimore Ravens will be spared from such an embarrassment.
I am sorry for your loss, Baltimore. Your season is over!
There is so much to like about the Ravens; Coach John Harbaugh, MVP Lamar Jackson, bailing on the city of Cleveland and finding refuge in a city that had a team bail on them. So much!
The AFC North has records ranging from 6-6-1 to 8-5. Wow, and I thought my fantasy record was weak. The Ravens were supposed to walk away with this division. Big Ben is toast, Baker is iffy at best, and the Bengals, at their core, remain the Bengals. But, at this point, they are walking away with it as well as their star quarterback is walking.
Lamar Jackson went down with a sprained ankle early in the second quarter against the Browns and that set the tone for this one. They were already using season ticket holders and practice squad guys as running backs, and the Ravens went with Tyler Huntley to save the day. Queue the timeless Bonnie Tyler jam, because the Ravens were holding out for a hero. But, Huntley was actually kind of good in this one! 270 yards and a TD with no interceptions?! This guy should start for the Giants next year. Or maybe not. Well, actually, he did fumble twice so yeah, he’s perfect for the New York Giants.
But, the Ravens didn’t give up despite losing their best player. In the second half, they rallied, putting up sixteen points while shutting out the Browns. In all fairness, the defense shut down Baker Mayfield from the middle of the second quarter, picking him off and bouncing the Browns on a three-and-out in their two possessions after a one-yard Austin Hooper touchdown. The Ravens’ issues mostly stemmed from the fact that their most consistently explosive playmaker is a 32-year-old placekicker, in Justin Tucker. After their kicker, their tight end, Mark Andrews is their most reliable option. This isn’t 1967, you can’t reach the Super Bowl off of check downs to the big man.
Ultimately, the Browns’ defense was the story of the game. Myles Garrett broke the franchise record for sacks in a season, and scored his first rushing touchdown on a sack-fumble scoop-and-score in the second quarterback. The Browns put the squeeze on the Ravens, forcing two fumbles, four sacks, and eight quarterback hits. Remember when the Ravens had a Pro Bowl offensive lineman but traded him away? Brilliant!
Ravens fans, I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, we’re in first place in the division and you think we’re done?” Yes. You were done when in August you lost running backs like it was a round of dodgeball and they were playing against Globo Gym. Is the issue that the team is led by a multi-dimensional generational talent at quarterback that can’t stay healthy? Or is it that the Ravens can’t protect him?
The Ravens have four more games, and will likely lose three of those. Their sole victory will be a pity win over the Steelers to finish the season at 9-8. We are so far from the Har-Bowl it hurts. It hurts to see Lamar out. Maybe next year he can channel his inner Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco and step into the elite echelon we want to see. Who knows what the future holds for the Ravens? But I know what the present holds: heartbreak. Sorry for your loss, Baltimore.
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[Image Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/Lamar_Jackson_passing_2020_%28cropped%29.jpg, cropped under CC BY SA 2.0]