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‘It’s time to start winning some games’: After 41-21 loss to Bengals, Ravens are running out of time

At the end of the loss that might doom these Ravens, on the final play of maybe the worst defensive performance in the franchise’s proud history, Joe Burrow took a knee and watched the clock run out. The Bengals had done enough. The Ravens had had enough.

Theirs had been a hellish month, a once-in-a-lifetime gauntlet of injuries and coronavirus protocols, of bitter losses and now a blowout 41-21 defeat. Their postseason prospects had been wrestled away. Their ranks had been thinned beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.

The Bengals’ merciful final snap said more than any scoreline could. Along the Ravens’ defensive line was one practice squad call-up (Kahlil McKenzie). At cornerback was another (Daryl Worley). At safety was yet another (Tony Jefferson II). Back home in Baltimore were Pro Bowl quarterback Lamar Jackson, still sidelined by an ankle injury, and backup Tyler Huntley, out after testing positive Saturday for COVID-19.

A season that had started with such magic and promise has gone grim and bleak, hurtling toward the new year with all the chaos of a runaway freight train. The Ravens don’t know whether Jackson or Huntley will be ready for Sunday’s pivotal game against the Los Angeles Rams. They don’t know who might return from injury or the reserve/COVID-19 list to help a defense that gave up a franchise-worst 575 yards to Joe Burrow and Co. inside Paul Brown Stadium.

All they know is that, after ceding control of the AFC North to the Bengals, they’re running out of time.

“It’s always nice when you can control your own destiny — we’ve been saying that for a while,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “But it’s time to start winning some games.”

The Ravens (8-7) have now lost four straight for the first time since 2016 and for only the second time under coach John Harbaugh. Sunday’s blowout was the first defeat in that stretch by more than a couple of points; they fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 13) and Green Bay Packers (Week 15) by one and to the Cleveland Browns (Week 14) by two.

Big or small, the losses have caught up with the Ravens. After entering Week 13 with the AFC’s No. 1 seed, they’re now holding on for dear life in a crowded postseason push. They’ll enter Monday with the AFC’s No. 7 seed but just a 35% chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections. A loss Sunday to the visiting Rams would drop those odds to 11%, while a win would bump them up to 64%. But not even a second straight win, at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18, would not guarantee a postseason berth.

“I think this is the point where we’re like, ‘All right, are you ready to go home for the offseason or give yourself an extra opportunity to play more games?’” safety Chuck Clark said. “I think, as a team, as an individual, this is where we’ve really got to lock in. You look at the offseason — that’s six-plus months compared to these next two weeks to lock in and find a way to just get a win both weeks and extend our season.”

Not having to face Joe Burrow again should help. In powering Cincinnati (9-6) to its first season sweep of the Ravens since 2015, the former No. 1 overall pick finished with a career-high 525 yards — the fourth most in NFL history — and four touchdowns. That easily eclipsed the 416 yards he threw for in a 41-17 win in Baltimore in Week 7.

Three days after defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said the Bengals’ rising star was not yet on a Hall of Fame path, Burrow kept his cleats pressed on the Ravens’ necks all afternoon. He threw a 52-yard deep strike to running back Joe Mixon as late as the fourth quarter’s two-minute warning, with the Bengals already up 20. His 941 combined passing yards against the Ravens this season set an NFL record for the most against one team in a single season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Afterward, Burrow told Cincinnati reporters that he didn’t feel Martindale’s comment was “necessary.” He smiled when asked whether it was on his mind at the end of the game. “Maybe,” he said.

“I know what type of person he is,” said Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen, Burrow’s teammate on LSU’s 2019 national championship team. “At the end of the day, he threw for a lot of yards, but I think he’s just more proud of getting the win.”

Burrow had a lot of help. Tee Higgins, the No. 33 overall pick in the 2020 draft, had 12 catches on 13 targets for a career-high 194 yards and two touchdowns. Ja’Marr Chase, the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft, followed up his career-best 201-yard performance in Baltimore with a seven-catch, 125-yard outing. Fellow wide receiver Tyler Boyd had the game’s longest play and maybe its easiest score, a 68-yard catch-and-run that gave the Bengals a commanding 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

The Ravens, meanwhile, were mostly out of help. Jackson’s absence, his second straight after being carted off the field in Week 14, was the most significant of Sunday’s game, followed closely by Huntley’s. Josh Johnson, signed Dec. 15 off the New York Jets’ practice squad, became the third different quarterback to start for the Ravens in as many weeks.

But their personnel shortcomings were most pronounced on defense, which was left depleted as it’s been all year, maybe ever. In addition to their raft of players sidelined by season-ending injuries, the Ravens were missing their top edge rusher (Justin Houston), a starting defensive lineman (Justin Madubuike) and two potential starters at cornerback (Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith), all stuck on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell (thigh) played but was limited.

After a first-quarter chest/ribs injury knocked out starter Anthony Averett, the Ravens turned to Kevon Seymour, a former practice squad call-up, and Worley, one of 10 Ravens promoted from the practice squad Saturday, to handle outside cornerback duties. Of all the Ravens expected months ago to contribute to one of the NFL’s deepest secondaries, only cornerback Tavon Young and safeties Chuck Clark and Brandon Stephens remained.

“It’s just challenging circumstances all the way around,” Harbaugh said. “I thought our guys fought. We have guys like Tony Jefferson sitting here. He’s probably been here for about 10 days, Tony? Two weeks, maybe? And he’s going out there and playing a bunch of football and playing well. …

“I thought our guys fought hard and did the best they could under the circumstances. That’s what you ask for. That’s all you can ask for. That’s what you ask for. So the outcomes are meaningful, they matter, but it’s not a one-game season, and it’s not a one-game career.”

As the Ravens approach must-win territory, they can at least find comfort in their resolve. They answered a Bengals field-goal drive on the game’s first possession with their first opening-drive touchdown since Week 6. They found the end zone three drives later to cut the Bengals’ deficit to 24-14 with less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter.

The defense would run out of steam, giving up a fourth consecutive touchdown just before halftime, but the Ravens’ offense made headway against a talented Cincinnati unit. Johnson, in his first start since 2018, finished 28-for-40 for 304 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Andrews had eight catches for 125 yards and a score, nearly breaking the Ravens’ single-season receiving record in his 15th game. Wide receiver James Proche II had seven catches for 76 yards.

“There’s some good football being played,” Andrews said afterward, but not enough, or at least not all at once. Harbaugh was hopeful Sunday that the Ravens would get some players back this week. He was excited for the opportunity to turn around this season. But he could not give the Ravens more time. Their season, a roller-coaster ride since Week 1, has maybe two games left.

“It’s been nothing new this whole season,” Queen said. “It’s just been one thing after another. We’ve just been preparing. We’ve been working, we’ve been preparing, we’ve got faith in the guys that we got — because everybody that we’ve got right now is all we need. We’ve got faith in each other. We’ve just got to go out there and perform.”

Week 17

RAMS@RAVENS

Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Rams by 3


Source: Berkshire mont

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