The Baltimore Ravens went from being the clear-cut favorite to being in the hunt for a playoff spot after losing every game in the month of December. Next, Baltimore hosts the LA Rams for Week 17 on Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. before concluding the regular season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 9. AP Photo)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Struggles continue for the Baltimore Ravens.

Just several weeks ago, they seemed to be the clear-cut favorite to emerge out of the AFC North, but have just concluded December not having won a game for the entire month.

Ongoing injuries coupled with intermittent COVID-related misfortunes, the Ravens may have the most short-handed roster in the NFL and it showed when they squared off against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 26 at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Ravens tried maximizing who they had available to play but unfortunately came up short against the Bengals again, this time falling 41-21 after Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow had a career day. The second-year player picked the Ravens’ undermanned defense apart, finishing with a franchise record 525 passing yards and four touchdowns as Baltimore dropped its fourth straight.

“ good game. Congratulations to the Bengals for winning it. We’re going to focus on the last two , see what we can get accomplished these last two games and see if we can work our way into the playoffs,” Coach John Harbaugh said. 

“That’s what we’ll be fighting for, and I’m excited about that opportunity. We’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”

Baltimore entered the game with eight defensive players on the injured reserve/COVID-19 list,  including cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith.

Due to backup quarterback Tyler Huntley sitting out after contracting COVID-19 and starter Lamar Jackson still sidelined with an ankle injury, third-string quarterback Josh Johnson took the reins as Baltimore’s signal caller against the Bengals. 

The 35-year-old made his first start since 2018 and had a respectable outing, finishing 28-of-40 for 304 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Additionally, tight end Mark Andrews had another big afternoon for the Ravens, tallying eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. 

It is still too early to count the Ravens out of the playoff race. They could still surpass the Bengals to win the AFC North and secure a playoff spot, but would have to win their final two games against the Los Angeles Rams (11-4) and Steelers while the Bengals would have to lose against the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) and Cleveland Browns (7-8).

If that doesn’t happen, it seems like it will likely come down to the Ravens, Chargers, Dolphins and Raiders battling it out for the final playoff spot, noted Baltimore Ravens writer Ryan Mink. After the Miami Dolphins beat the New Orleans Saints, 20-3, on Monday night, they sit at No. 7 in the AFC at the moment with an 8-7 record.

Likewise, the Ravens, Chargers and Raiders are 8-7, making the final two weeks crucial for the teams on the bubble for playoff contention. In a press conference Monday, Harbaugh said he is “looking forward” to having Jackson in practice on Wednesday, but it’s still up in the air.

Next, Baltimore hosts the LA Rams for Week 17 on Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. before concluding the regular season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 9.