Ravens fall face-first in AFC North race after Week 17 loss to Steelers

Ravens. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Ravens. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 16-13, in a grueling Week 17 primetime game, throwing away their best shot at claiming the AFC North in 2022.

The narrative seemed to go according to plan up until the last quarter: the Ravens held a 13-3 lead in the third quarter and had the game in the palm of their hands. They just needed to get some points on the scoreboard and run down the clock with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, both of whom had been running the ball effectively in the last several weeks. This was familiar territory for a Ravens team that was pounding the ball a lot more in the wake of Lamar Jackson’s injury.

As long as the defense stood tall, and as long as the team could set Justin Tucker up for a few more kicks (because touchdowns are just too much to ask for), this game was theirs for the taking.

Despite conceding a late touchdown, the Ravens’ defense deserves less of the blame for the end-of-game collapse — with all the pressure and weight of expectations, they were bound to crack at some point. They held the Steelers to 16 points and made a few crucial stops and deflected passes; on the ground, however, Baltimore gave up nearly 200 rushing yards.

It was the Steelers who ended up flipping the script, using Najee Harris to power down the field and get the game-winning touchdown. Baltimore got a taste of their own medicine there, and a Calais Campbell-less defensive line had no answer for Harris’ unusually effective chunk runs.

The run defense will need to be re-examined, but the one lingering issue, the Achilles heel of this painfully-hard-to-watch Ravens team, the weak links of all weak links is the offense.

Baltimore could not make anything happen in the fourth quarter, failing to score on their last four possessions. This offense has scored more than 17 points just once in their last seven games, and the unit came up short again with little rhythm or consistency all game.

They tried giving the ball to Dobbins — the Steelers’ defense stopped him on early downs. They tried throwing the ball to Andrews which worked in the first half, but Pittsburgh tightened its coverage on the All-Pro tight end and effectively cut off that passing lane.

Even with a huge kickoff return by Justice Hill in the fourth quarter in which Hill ran all the way to the Steelers’ 40-yard line, the Ravens went three-and-out and were forced to punt, unable to even set themselves up for a field goal attempt.

Ravens lose to Steelers in agonizing fashion in Week 17

This game was the culmination of all of the Ravens’ season-long flaws put on display: occasional lapses in defensive coverage, a lifeless passing attack, a one-dimensional running game, and a severely limited passer in Tyler Huntley who sealed the Ravens’ sorry fate with an intercepted pass on the final drive.

For the Steelers, they get a breath of new air, a small yet unextinguished flame of optimism that keeps them in the playoff race.

For the now 10-6 Ravens, they got a cold and hard reality check, crippling themselves with their inability to score touchdowns and falling out of the “serious postseason contender” category. And to be fair, they were always on the fringe of that category, what with Jackson’s recent injury and their thorny offensive problems.

This defeat doesn’t spell total disaster for the franchise as they can still win the division if the Bengals lose their next two games, but that would mean the Ravens have to beat them in Week 18, and those odds aren’t looking so great right now.

Baltimore got outplayed, outrun, out-defended and looked completely out of touch on the offensive side of the ball against the Steelers, and morale has dropped to an all-time low this season.

The return of Lamar Jackson may not even save the Ravens. We don’t know what can.

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It doesn’t always happen in football, yet the better team won in Week 17. If the Ravens are throwing away games to rebuilding franchises like the Steelers, they may as well throw away their postseason spot. After a performance like that, they arguably don’t deserve one.