With the Ravens hoping to snap a nightmare five-game losing streak in the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. In early December, I described this rivalry game as “capable of flipping the fortunes of a season just like that.” Baltimore entered that first meeting atop the AFC before losing Marlon Humphrey, a 20-19 nail-biter, and Lamar Jackson (the following week) in just over a quarter’s worth of football. Stunning.
2. Four years ago, the Ravens were on the opposite probability side with a 97% chance of making the playoffs before “Fourth-and-12” struck. Stranger things have happened, but that “three-game parlay” Wink Martindale mentioned still includes Jacksonville. Of course, Baltimore also needs to win for the first time in six weeks.
3. Ben Roethlisberger has meant so much to a rivalry that wasn’t defined by quarterbacks early on. His arrival a year after Baltimore whiffed with Kyle Boller gave Pittsburgh an edge until Joe Flacco established himself as a worthy adversary years later. How the Steelers proceed at quarterback will be fascinating.
4. T.J. Watt is one sack shy of Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22 1/2 set in 2001, but he’ll have a tougher time against Patrick Mekari, who exited in the third quarter of the December meeting. Mekari had a difficult day against Von Miller last week.
5. Tyler Huntley is coming off a rough game against the Rams, so I’m interested to see how he bounces back against a Pittsburgh defense that’s been very up and down beyond Watt’s dominance and Cam Heyward’s top-shelf consistency. Huntley needs to push the ball downfield more frequently.
6. Mark Andrews was nearly a unanimous team MVP and is 141 yards shy of setting an NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end. However, this is where we must acknowledge the new 17-game schedule. Travis Kelce had 1,416 yards in 15 games of a 16-contest slate last year.
7. A national curtain call doesn’t hide the fact that Roethlisberger’s averaged an anemic 3.5 yards per pass attempt over the last two weeks. Even with a depleted secondary, there’s no excuse for the Ravens not to be able to limit the Pittsburgh air attack, especially if Diontae Johnson doesn’t play.
(Update: Johnson was activated from the reserve-COVID-19 list on Friday afternoon.)
8. Asked to reflect on what this season could have been with better fortune, Jimmy Smith said, “If ‘if’ was a fifth, we’d all be drunk.” I’ll miss his candor if this is it for the 2011 first-round pick, who’s had a good career despite so many frustrating injuries.
9. Despite lingering concerns about the passing game after a promising start dissipated weeks before Jackson’s injury, I have a tough time putting it all at the feet of Greg Roman, who compared 2021 to “a Larry David episode.” This run-heavy offense was broken upon losing J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.
10. Acknowledging potential retirement and his free-agent status, Calais Campbell said Wednesday, “I’m not even sure I’m going to have somebody that wants me to play football next year.” Despite turning 36 next September, the six-time Pro Bowl selection is still a darn good football player and will draw interest.
11. An offseason key will be reacting without overreacting as the Ravens tied a post-merger record with six games decided by two or fewer points. A rotten injury picture was a massive factor, of course, but going 6-5 in one-score games is about what you’d expect from an in-game luck perspective.
12. Tuesday marks two years since the Ravens’ playoff loss to Tennessee after going a franchise-record and NFL-best 14-2. It reminds how easy Baltimore made it look that season and how difficult it’s been since — even with a star quarterback on a rookie contract. It’s why every opportunity must be seized.