Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley looks to pass against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL preseason football game, Aug. 14. in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO
The Baltimore Ravens are entering the 2021 season with a chip on their shoulder.
The team has re-signed quarterback Kenji Bahar, a former Calvert Hall standout and Baltimore native. The news comes as backup quarterback Trace McSorley will miss the remainder of the preseason due to a back injury, leaving Tyler Huntley as the No. 2 option at the position behind 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley led a late-game comeback effort on Aug. 14, also due in large part to a staggering defense that forced six turnovers, as the Ravens edged the New Orleans Saints, 17-14, in the preseason opener at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Then Tyler came in and just played tremendous football,” Coach John Harbaugh said after the win. “ made plays running and throwing. just did a great job. He won us the game. We called him up – he broke the huddle at the end of the day, and it was great.”
Huntley threw for 86 passing yards on 12-of-16 passing and rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Trace McSorley started at quarterback for Baltimore with Lamar Jackson on the sidelines, and was 11-of-18 passing for 86 yards and an interception.
In the second half, the Ravens played lights out defense as second-year safety Geno Stone totaled two interceptions in addition to three forced fumbles as a team.
“The defense, we definitely did our thing,” said rookie cornerback Brandon Stephens, who led the Ravens with seven tackles.
“Geno had two interceptions, Shaun with the game-winning there in the fourth quarter. But it was good all around.”
Despite the offensive struggles, Baltimore proved its ability to win and capitalize in the game’s most crucial moments. After a disappointing end to the 2020 season, the year the Ravens were projected as Super Bowl contenders, they showed that they are on a mission.
Last season, Baltimore overcame tremendous adversity, from a COVID-19 outbreak at a crucial point in the season to being riddled with multiple injuries, to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record for a berth in the playoffs and a second-place finish in the AFC North behind the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After a revengeful win over the Tennessee Titans in the opening round of the postseason, the Ravens suffered a season-ending 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
One of the franchise’s primary focuses of the offseason was creating a more balanced offense which meant securing more diversified talent, especially at the receiving positions. The Ravens led the league in rushing last season (3,071 yards) but finished last in passing yards (171.2 yards per game).
With a dual-threat Jackson leading the charge, and as long as running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards remain healthy, the Ravens’ run game will likely be effective, as it was the past two seasons.
However, if or when opponents find ways to slow down Baltimore’s ground attack, the passing game will have to come into play. Jackson’s chemistry with Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown, and possibly rookie receiver Rashod Bateman will be crucial in the team’s postseason run.
The Ravens acquired top tier talent in the offseason as they look to build on last year’s accomplishments.
Baltimore’s 2021 NFL Draft picks include: wide receiver Rashod Bateman (Round 1, No. 27 overall); linebacker Odafe Oweh (Round 1, No. 31); guard Ben Cleveland (Round 3, No. 94); cornerback Brandon Stephens (Round 3, No. 104); wide receiver Tylan Wallace (Round 4, No. 131); cornerback Shaun Wade (Round 5, No. 160); defensive end Daelin Hayes (Round 5, No. 171); and full back Ben Mason (Round 5, No. 184).
Coming off a season where they were ranked one of the top-ranked defenses, the Ravens essentially have all the tools they need on the defensive line and in the secondary to present major challenges for teams they will face this year.
Presuming the defensive unit holds its ground and offensive coordinator Greg Roman can implement a more balanced offensive attack, the Ravens seemingly have a chance of advancing farther this season than they did in 2020. Whether they are Super Bowl contenders — it’s too early to make that judgment, but only time will tell.
Aside from Super Bowl contention, having fans back in the stands at M&T Bank Stadium should certainly make for an exciting season.
The Ravens will go for their 19th straight preseason win when they face the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium this upcoming Saturday at 7 p.m. Baltimore will open its regular season with an away game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 13.
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