Opinion: Ravens caught in unrelenting storm of a season as problems pile up
That it was not their night only begins to capture the state of the Baltimore Ravens.
Getting soaked by Bill Belichick, Cam Newton and the rest of the New England Patriots for a 23-17 setback during a driving rainstorm in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Sunday night seemed like another pretty good indicator that this is not the Ravens' year, either.
Sure, it’s way too early to write off the Ravens. We’ve seen some teams, including a particular Baltimore outfit, rally down the stretch run to win Super Bowls.
It’s only the middle of November, just after halftime of the NFL’s unusual 2020 campaign.
But what a difference a year makes. Last November, the Ravens steamrolled the Patriots on their way to the NFL’s best regular-season record, and the Patriots had no answers – and certainly not enough prayers – for containing Lamar Jackson and slowing his MVP roll.
This November, Jackson’s effectiveness was affected by the soggy conditions and it was the Ravens who were a step behind. One of the New England touchdowns, for crying out loud, came when Baltimore was fooled by a gadget play that ended with a wide receiver (Jakobi Meyers) throwing a strike to Rex Burkhead, who slipped out of the backfield.
The Ravens, meanwhile, had too many issues handling wet footballs, including two shotgun snaps from Matt Skura that went awry in the third quarter and provided some optics of their woes.
It’s a different deal now. The swagger has been checked. The Ravens have regressed.
It’s all but official now: There is no room for error.
Not with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only undefeated team in the NFL at 9-0, looking poised to run away with the AFC North crown. Not with the Kansas City Chiefs, who blew out the Ravens in September, showing signs that they may be even better than they were in winning Super Bowl LIV. Not with the Tennessee Titans, who upset a Baltimore team that earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a 14-2 record in 2019, coming to town next weekend.
For all of the promise to rectify how last season (and the season before) ended for Baltimore, 2020 has laid a haymaker on the Ravens (6-3), who have now surpassed their total losses from all of last season.
There’s some motivation, John Harbaugh. The Ravens are challenged to prove that you can’t stick a fork in them just yet. We know they won’t go down with a real fight. But maybe it’s akin to the scene in "Animal House" when the character played by John Belushi delivered his "nothing is over until we say it is" speech to his frat brothers.
Check back in 10 days. After Tennessee visits comes a trip to Pittsburgh.
On Sunday night, it seemed fitting that the Ravens were greeted by what’s been called “Patriot Weather” in New England. The wind-aided rain came down sideways for an extended portion of the game. And when the Ravens had a chance to win with a last-minute drive, the most intense deluge of the night came.
Baltimore’s last, desperate, fourth-down play summed up their outing. Jackson’s fling to the flat was dropped by J.K. Dobbins.
No, the Ravens were not at full strength. Injuries prevented cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle) and Calais Campbell (calf) from suiting up. The best offensive lineman, Ronnie Stanley, suffered a season-ending ankle injury earlier this month. Now tight end Nick Boyle is finished for the year, too, carted off on Sunday night with a knee injury. Plus, nose tackle Brandon Williams left before the half with an ankle injury and never returned.
With the middle of the Ravens' defensive line depleted, the Patriots ran 39 times for 173 yards.
Derrick Henry, who bulldozed Baltimore for 195 yards in the January divisional playoff game, must be licking his chops for a crack at a defense that could be missing some pieces. On Sunday night, Harbaugh didn’t indicate the extent and timeline of Williams’s injury, while it is feared that Campbell could miss several weeks.
There are tough breaks for the Ravens. Yet they won’t get sympathy from other teams in the next-man-up environment of the NFL.
The best teams (like Pittsburgh, when it fell into a first-half hole at Baltimore in Week 8), find a way to overcome adversities. Yet faced with another stiff test, a Baltimore defense that entered the game allowing the fewest points in the NFL couldn’t measure up.
In other matchups over the course of the rivalry with the Patriots, the Ravens passed litmus tests with flying colors. They twice beat Belichick and since-departed Tom Brady in playoff games at Gillette Stadium.
Now, though, they leave with some regrouping to do.
During the nationally televised game Sunday, NBC put up a graphic showed how the teams fared since the Ravens drubbed then-undefeated New England, 37-20. It illuminated that the Patriots came in with their worst record over a 16-game span ever during Belichick’s 20-plus years reign. And that No. 1 scoring defense distinction that the Patriots had when they met last year belonged to Baltimore this time around.
Never mind. Defensive stats didn’t help when the Patriots chewed up time in crunch time, leaving Jackson with little more than a minute (and no timeouts) to operate with.
Time is even tighter now with the Ravens caught in a storm that is not over yet.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.