By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO
Before the season began, most NFL experts and pundits ranked the Baltimore Ravens as a top-five team. But after suffering a disheartening loss to the New England Patriots to kick off the second half of the season, Baltimore’s playoff chances hang in the balance.
The Ravens (6-3) reached a season-low in points in their 23-17 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, Nov. 15. Though Baltimore tallied more yards than its opponent, the deciding factor appeared to be penalties and turnovers.
Baltimore totaled 357 total yards to New England’s 308, but committed four costly turnovers – three coming from lost fumbles and one coming from a Lamar Jackson interception right before halftime. Moreover, the Ravens were charged with eight penalties that resulted in a loss of 64 yards.
The Patriots, who entered the matchup with a 3-5 record and weren’t perceived as a formidable threat to Baltimore (on paper at least), being ranked the second-worst defense in the league through Week 9.
Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP faced a good deal of criticism this season for a number of reasons, had the daunting task of marching his team 83 yards in 65 seconds in a potential game-tying drive at the end of the fourth quarter.
On their last chance to make a play, Jackson’s pass intended for Dobbins fell incomplete, which sealed the win for New England. Strong winds and a torrential downpour made it even more challenging for Jackson and the Ravens to make plays at the end of the game.
“Every time we were up, it felt like [the rain] was coming down even harder. But, that’s just football, things happen. The weather isn’t always going to be perfect. We have to find a way to pull through, pull out a victory. And we just didn’t tonight,” Jackson expounded on the upsetting loss.
“We’ve just got to regroup. Tuesday, we’ll go watch [the] film on our [next] opponent, Tennessee, and we’re going to build from there,” he added.
Jackson didn’t have a bad passing day, going 24-for-34 for 249 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Once again, he led his team in rushing with 55 yards on 11 carries.
Last season when the two faced off, the Ravens cruised to a 37-20 win over the undefeated Patriots. In addition, the Ravens’ season-low score of 17 points snaps a 31-game streak of scoring 20 or more points, which was the longest-held streak in NFL history.
While they have seven games remaining in the season and plenty of time to climb the conference standings, there are five other AFC clubs that share the same 6-3 record: the Colts, Titans, Browns, Raiders and Dolphins.
As it stands, the Ravens hold a No. 7 rank in the AFC standings, meaning that if the playoffs were to begin today then they would compete in the lowest-seeded wild card spot. Baltimore is three games behind the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0), who sit atop the tightly contested AFC North.
Perhaps the biggest story following the game was the Ravens’ injuries. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams, cornerback Terrell Bonds and tight end Nick Boyle were injured during the game. Boyle, considered one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
In addition to the three in-game injuries, Baltimore has had to play without key players who were either ruled inactive or are out for the season, including: defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback Jimmy Smith, linebacker LJ Fort, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (out for season), offensive guard Tyre Phillips and cornerback Tavon Young (out for season).
“It’s an issue, for sure. You don’t want injuries,” Coach John Harbaugh said.
“These are contact injuries, most of them. These are guys in piles, guys getting landed on [and] guys getting hit – that’s football. That’s what it is; we’re going to have these things, and that’s it. So, we just have to overcome them.”
“Disappointing loss man. This one hurts. We gotta do better defensively. We will be better,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said in a tweet after the loss.
Baltimore will likely put considerable focus on its run defense over the course of the week as it prepares to take on league-leading rusher Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans, the team that eliminated them from Super Bowl contention in a first-round playoff defeat last season.
The two will rematch on Nov. 22 at 1 p.m. as the Ravens look to rebound from dropping two of their last three games.