I’m not panicked.
To be fair, I’m probably the wrong barometer for panic. I’m finally into Season 4 of “Fargo,” I got all of my Christmas decorations up and we’re so close to Kanye finally taking office, you guys.
So I’m not panicked about the Ravens, specifically. I perhaps should have started there. For what it’s worth, I didn’t get the sense most of you were necessarily “panicked,” either.
The Ravens’ 28-24 loss to the Steelers Nov. 1 was a strange game to unpack. The Ravens were, well, dominant. They outgained Pittsburgh 457-221! You’ve probably already told one of your friends about how they’re the first team since “at least 1950” to outrush their opponent by 200-plus yards and outgain them via the air by any amount to have lost the game only to have your buddy say “cool story Neil, I saw that CBS Sports tweet, too.”
This game wasn’t the same as the loss to the Chiefs. The Ravens weren’t remotely outclassed by the Steelers. That doesn’t mean the Steelers didn’t deserve to win the game. They made just enough plays when they needed to make them. But they were at least as “fortunate” as they were “good.” They won because Lamar Jackson played his worst game since, well, at least the last time he faced the Steelers.
I’m not panicked about the Ravens’ loss because it really is that simple. They lost because their quarterback didn’t play well. Not because he “didn’t play up to his unanimous league MVP standard.” They lost because he didn’t play well. He played poorly. He still made some plays with his feet and tossed in a couple of really nice throws. But as a whole, he had a very bad day, his second against Pittsburgh in as many tries.
It certainly didn’t help that Matthew Judon was ejected in the first half and that they lost their $100 million left tackle and that it took a few possessions before the coaching staff recognized that it might make sense to do that “dominate the game on the ground” thing that we’ve been wondering aloud why they haven’t been doing more frequently. And no, I wouldn’t go empty backfield on a “must convert” situation, either.
But. The. Quarterback. Turned. The. Ball. Over. Four. Times. Including. Two. Unforgivable. Interceptions. That. Both. Turned. Into. Easy. Steelers. Touchdowns.
“Isn’t that worth panicking about?,” you are perhaps asking. But no. Not really. I mean, he has to play better against the Steelers. That’s pretty simple. You didn’t even have to sign up for a paywall site to get that hard hitting analysis. Lamar Jackson has to play better against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens won’t be able to beat the Steelers without that. Although to be fair, they almost did Nov. 1.
When the teams square off again on Thanksgiving, either he’ll play better or they’ll almost certainly lose again. And that could be devastating, as the Ravens have almost no margin for error at this point in a potential race for the AFC North title. If Baltimore is going to win the division, it’s going to have to win that game.
Spoiler alert: the Ravens absolutely do not have to win the division to win a Super Bowl, and there’s never been a year where simply winning the division has meant less. That is not just because only one team will get a playoff bye so the majority of division winners will have to play on wild-card weekend. It’s also because, you know, there’s never been less of a home-field advantage in football history.
But again, either Jackson will play better in the next game against the Steelers or he won’t. If he doesn’t, the Ravens won’t win and their path to a Super Bowl will be just a bit more difficult. If he does, the Ravens showed that they’re more than capable of beating the Steelers, and there’s real reason to like their chances. (Although life without Ronnie Stanley will presumably get more difficult in the coming weeks.)
I would be more panicked if the Ravens were demolished or looked like they were clearly the lesser of the two teams. That didn’t happen. But they looked like they had the lesser of the quarterbacks, which shouldn’t be the case.
What WOULD make me panic? If Jackson were to play poorly again against the Colts next week and/or against the Patriots the following week. It would worry me if his two terrible outings against the Steelers weren’t the outliers. If I got any sleep (I’m the parent of two small children), I’d lose it.
But not now. Not because of this. I have real concern about how they’ll hold up without Stanley, who is likely the third most significant player on the roster behind Jackson and cornerback Marlon Humphrey. But not panic. They were still outplaying the Steelers (and had their best drive of the day) even without Stanley.
The only thing I’m panicking about is whether we can FINALLY get a new friggin’ season of “Letterkenny.” Pitter patter, Canadian friends.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox