Despite loss, Baltimore Ravens in good position for playoffs

By Todd Karpovich, The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 11, 2017 at 7:01 PM
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are still in a solid position to earn a berth in the postseason despite another disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Baltimore (7-6) is vying with Buffalo (7-6) and the Los Angeles Chargers for the sixth wild-card spot in the AFC. The Ravens, though, will advance if they win their final three games by virtue of several tiebreakers. Baltimore also has a favorable schedule with games against the Cleveland Browns (0-13), Indianapolis Colts (3-10) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-8).

The Ravens squandered an 11-point fourth-quarter lead in the 39-38 loss to the Steelers on Sunday night. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the team is already planning for the next game against Cleveland.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity to win the next game and what that entails," Harbaugh said at his Monday press conference. "We're in it. We've earned our way to be in it. We're right there for a wild-card berth. There's three games left and we have to make it happen for ourselves. We're excited about that."

Baltimore has not made the playoffs since 2014.

The Ravens were beginning to look like a dangerous team over a recent three-game winning streak. However, the secondary was exposed against the Steelers, who amassed 545 total yards.

"This one is going to hurt, but it's best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out, there's a good chance we'll be in," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 44 of 66 for 506 yards with two touchdowns. Antonio Brown had 11 receptions for 213 yards, and repeatedly beat cornerback Brandon Carr.

After feasting on backup quarterbacks for much of the season, the Ravens got a taste of how the top-tier players can perform against them. The Steelers also clinched the AFC North crown against Baltimore for the second straight year with late-game heroics.

This time, Chris Boswell hit the winning 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left in the game.

"These are tough games," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was 20 of 35 for 268 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.

"Definitely a similar feeling to (last year)," he said. "It is what it is. It's another one. We have three left now. I think we have pretty short memories around here, and I think we do a good job of that and we better do it quickly."

The key for the Ravens is to quickly regroup and prepare for winless Cleveland in Week 14. Baltimore needs another three-game winning streak to earn a playoff spot.

"This is going to sting for a while, especially for the guys on defense because we care so much and we hold ourselves to a high standard," safety Eric Weddle said. "Look, we have three games, two of them at home. If we win, we're going to go to the playoffs with a three-game winning streak and winning six out of seven. Hopefully this will build our character and make us better in the long run."

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Ravens running back Alex Collins has emerged as the team's top playmaker on offense. He also might have put himself in position for a big payday in the offseason.

Collins finished with 120 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown Sunday night against the Steelers. He has shown he can be an every-down, big-play running back. It's a remarkable performance for a player who was signed off the practice squad in September.

"The offensive line does a great job every game, every practice," Collins said. "They're going out and busting their tails for us running backs."

Collins is prepared to carry the load over the final three games.

"We're just going to move forward and focus on Cleveland," Collins said. "We have another away game on the road and we have to get ready for those guys. We're going to be on our A game and finish the season out strong."

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Ravens rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey stepped into the starting role for the injured Jimmy Smith and had a solid performance.

Roethlisberger had a huge day against Baltimore, but not at the expense of Humphrey. The first-round pick from Alabama was targeted 12 times and allowed six receptions for 37 yards.

Receiver Antonio Brown had 11 receptions for 213 yards, but most of the big plays came against cornerback Brandon Carr. Brown managed just two receptions for 7 yards against Humphrey.

Late in the first half, Roethlisberger avoided Humphrey's side of the field. Humphrey has shown he could be a mainstay in the secondary.

"We gave up a few big plays, but Ben is a great quarterback," Humphrey said. "I feel like we left a lot of plays out there on the field. It seemed like they were doing the same thing over and over again, and we just happened to be in the wrong calls at the wrong times. Sometimes we made a couple bad decisions. I made a couple -- let the ball get into the flat. I was out-fought a few times."

NOTERS: WR Jeremy Maclin was able to play Sunday against Pittsburgh after missing practice Thursday because of a back injury. ... WR Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round pick in 2015, was a healthy scratch for the third time in four weeks. Chris Moore, a fourth-round (107th overall) in 2016, has leapfrogged Perriman on the depth chart. ... LB Za'Darius Smith (shoulder) was inactive Sunday against Pittsburgh.

REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

--PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was 20 of 35 for 268 yards and two touchdowns. However, he killed a potential scoring drive with an interception in the first quarter and fumbled on the game's final possession. Receiver Jeremy Maclin was targeted 11 times, and came up with three receptions. Mike Wallace caught three passes for 72 yards.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Alex Collins has emerged as top playmaker and finished with 120 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. Inexplicably, the Ravens got away from him in the final quarter when he had worn down Pittsburgh's defense.

--PASS DEFENSE: F -- This unit was exposed and must take most of the responsibility for the loss. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a huge day against Baltimore's secondary, going 44 of 66 for 506 yards with two touchdowns. Receiver Antonio Brown had 11 receptions for 213 yards. Cornerback Brandon Carr was repeatedly beaten on the outside.

--RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Ravens held the Steelers to 59 yards on the ground. Le'Veon Bell entered the game as the league's top rusher, but managed just 48 yards on 13 carries. Bell still finished with a pair of scores. Tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams were solid.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Justin Tucker made a 47-yard field goal. Sam Koch had three punts for 125 yards. Coverage was solid and there were few costly penalties.

--COACHING: D -- The Ravens overcame an early 14-point deficit, but still faltered in the final quarter. The secondary was exposed and there was questionable play-calling for the offense in the final quarter. Baltimore once again was forced to watch the Steelers celebrate an AFC North title at Heinz Field for the second straight year.

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