The Crow's Nest: A fitting end to the strangest season in Ravens history
photo h/t BaltimoreRavens.com
Welcome back to The Crow's Nest your virtual Ravens sports bar, where we have been shut down for a little bit. Thank you to our regulars this year who have stuck with us through thick (the first 11 games) and thin (the last 6 games). I can't think of a more nightmare ending to an NFL season than to lose to your rival in the last game of the season while blowing your own playoff opportunity while giving said rival a gift-wrapped playoff spot. It's a perfect ending to the Big Ben Steelers-Ravens era. Just one more gut punch to the stomach from Roethlisberger. My God. Look, I get the whole injury, 2nd string quarterback excuse but the Ravens had every opportunity to put Pittsburgh away and choked. It's a fitting end to the weirdest season in Ravens history. The season that saw the Ravens look like Super Bowl contenders up until December ends with a six game losing streak with the Ravens losing out on a playoff bid and will pack up the season on the outside of the playoffs for the first time in the Lamar Jackson era.
The mantra of the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick is, "Do your job." What this quote is from John Harbaugh is the acknowledgement that the Ravens coaching failed to do their jobs in this losing streak.
If it sounds like I'm venting, well I am. I understand the pendulum swing in winning a whole bunch of close games to start the season and the momentum swinging the other away after losing to Miami and losing Jackson shortly thereafter. While the Ravens performed admirably with Tyrone Hundley under center, there were so many opportunities to pick up a win and get in the playoffs in the last six games. I won't rehash them all but the Harbaugh quote in the tweet above is a tell. He knows the coaching staff failed his players. While Harbaugh has a cushion with the amount of injuries and the weirdness that was Covid protocols in 2021-22, the die was cast the moment Mark Andrews and Lamar Jackson couldn't connect on the 2 point conversion to win the game in Pittsburgh. From that moment on, the coaching staff was chasing that mistake. They wanted to prove themselves right in the long run and ended up cutting off their nose to spite their face. A two point loss to the Browns, two 1 point losses to the Packers (another failed two point conversion) and the Rams at home and in the finale a 3 point overtime loss to the Steelers. Pathetic.
I'm asking you dear fellow Ravens fan to not chalk these last six weeks up to injuries or luck. They don't tell the whole story. They are a part of what went wrong but the sum of all parts must include how Harbaugh let his team down. If you're this close to winning and you fail in his words to, "Find the play that was needed" then he owns this six game losing streak. The Ravens join the hapless Panthers and the Giants in ending the 2021-22 season on a six game bender. This is not the type of organization that should put up with this. Harbaugh has earned some cushion for sure but it's time for the Ravens ownership, the general manager Eric DeCosta and Harbaugh to reevaluate the talent on the field and decide if they're going in the right direction. Before his season ending injury, Jackson was struggling with the cover zero defense and looked terrible against the Browns (1 TD, 4 INT) and mediocre against the Steelers and Dolphins. As Jackson's rookie deal is coming to an end without an extension after this season, next year seems like a ride or die for the Ravens and Jackson. It will certainly help to have JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards back as his running backs but next season either the Ravens dole out a huge contract or Jackson might walk. It will be the talk of training camp if it's not settled soon. Big changes have to be made to the offensive line, Patrick Queen still cannot tackle as a first round pick linebacker in the open field and the secondary needs help if they expect to keep up with the Bengals receivers.
It still boggles my mind that the Ravens were 8-3, riding high as the #1 seed in the AFC and we sit as the season ends not making the playoffs. It's granted that the wins against the Chiefs, Colts and especially the Lions were miraculous early on but after disposing of the Chargers in late October, it looked like all cylinders were firing. Whatever football karma the Ravens had exited stage left when players started dropping like flies and the team was left with a patchwork offensive line and secondary. It's a testament to a degree that they kept it together but they could not close winnable games in December and January. As wide open as the AFC is with no clear favorite to go to the Super Bowl, a healthy Lamar Jackson going into this year's playoffs would have been fun. One more win, one more yard, one more catch and they're playing next week.
Football is a cruel game in terms of injury and luck. Often times football coaches will use the term "We control our own destiny" when it comes to playoff seeding. The Colts just had to beat the lowly Jaguars today to make the playoffs, it didn't happen. The Chargers may have cost themselves a playoff spot by calling a timeout when the Raiders looked like they were at least considering letting the clock run out and concedeing a tie in the wildest game I've seen maybe ever in my life on Sunday night. Controlling your own destiny is not relying on another team's fortunes to determine how your season will end. The Ravens had control but went into a death spiral and couldn't get it back after beating the Browns in the last weekend of November. As close as the Ravens were to a playoff bid, they could not get over the hump. All the familiar teams (Chiefs, Bills, Titans, Steelers) returned to the playoffs from last year. None of them had the injury bug like Baltimore but they all had their turmoil this season as well. The Ravens have the foundation to be one of those teams. It's maintaining that infrastructure, keeping players healthy and considering some coaching changes that will be on the front burner moving forward. The window here for this team to be contenders isn't closed but to be frozen out of the playoffs isn't acceptable and we've had too much success to let this organization become mediocre. I'm confident as a fan that we'll be back with a much kinder schedule ahead of us and maybe some normalcy in 2023.
And to you, Ben Roethlisburger, you got us one last time. The fact that I never have to see you play at M & T Bank Stadium again is a mix of relief and a feeling of how old I'm getting. I lived in Baltimore when you replaced Tommy Maddox in Baltimore your rookie season. I cherish the memories of beating the Steelers and try to forget the times you've taken us out. The Baltimore-Pittsburgh games won't have the same urgency without you but the rivalry will carry on. I'm now really, really worried about Joe Burrow.
Thank you all for reading and visiting The Crow's Nest this season. With the Sunday Ticket moving over from Direct TV to Amazon or HBO I'll be able to watch more games in full in 2023 and be a little more consistent with the column. It's tough being out of market as an NFL fan but I have had a blast writing these. I'll keep up in the off-season about any Ravens news so this isn't a goodbye until next year. Look out for the podcast that will be coming. I promised the guys here at House Enterprise one and we'll get that rolling as well.
At least we have the Orioles to look forward to in a couple of months. No, I'm serious. They could be fun! No, seriously!
Ok, time to put up the stools, drain the sinks and mop down the joint. It smells stale here in the Nest. This season was one for the books, wildly entertaining and unbelievably depressing in the span of a few months. Hope springs eternal for 2022-23. The beer will be cold, the Ravens will be healthy and we'll find you back here or at the stadium. Keep the faith.