We worked pretty quickly through the stages of grief, didn’t we?
Ravens fans seemed to skip right past denial and straight into anger in the initial aftermath of the Dec. 5 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. John Harbaugh was to blame for choosing to go for two instead of allowing the game to go to overtime. Greg Roman was to blame because … well, that’s what we do. If the offense is anything other than spectacular, it is singularly the fault of the coordinator. But Lamar Jackson is also to blame because … actually this time they’re right, of course. Lamar Jackson, despite everything he’s dealing with in terms of the team’s limitations, simply isn’t playing well enough. That’s justified.
The anger was vocal and was overwhelming. But it seemed to take a turn not long after the game was over. There was definitely some bargaining. Some fans wanted to fire Roman or Harbaugh or even let Tyler Huntley take over again under center. And then the depression and acceptance set in, although I’m not so certain in that order.
Clearly, the news that cornerback Marlon Humphrey will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury is crushing. Particularly crushing considering just how thin the team is … everywhere, honestly. There seems to be at least an amount of acceptance that this injury could very well prove to be the final straw for this team. They seemed to already be running low on both smoke and mirrors already. At this point it’s hard to fathom the tank being anything other than empty.
For some, that feeling has them stuck in depression. For others, almost full acceptance. Coming off a crushing loss and with a daunting schedule ahead and another crippling injury, it would be easy to say something like “this just isn’t the Ravens’ year” and find acceptance.
The only question is … is that actually true?
I have to start by stating the obvious. We DO NOT know. No one does. You don’t need me to tell you that. You’re intelligent. We can’t see the future. If we could, most states would probably take even longer than the state of Maryland to start up sports betting considering, you know, we would always win.
Alas, I’m paid to toss out an opinion here on Al Gore’s internet and mine is simple. Was Marlon Humphrey’s injury the final straw? No. No, not at all. Is it just not the Ravens’ year?
I think the reaction to Humphrey’s injury is as emotional as it is practical. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t practically hurt. While Humphrey is having a down year according to grading services like Pro Football Focus (he’s been a 70 there this season after having previously been more consistently close to a 90), he’s still Marlon Humphrey. His presence matters. And those behind him are … just not Marlon Humphrey. (For example, Brandon Stephens’ PFF grade is closer to 50.)
But the emotional toll feels so much greater. It’s something along the lines of, “How much more can one team take?” Three quarters of your projected starting secondary at the beginning of the season is now gone, on top of your running backs and your All-Pro left tackle and what feels like half of everyone else. The totality is overwhelming.
Yet the reality for the Ravens isn’t all that much different today than when you woke up on Sunday morning. On Sunday morning they were a first-place team with flaws and significant injury issues. They remain a first-place team with flaws and significant injury issues. And one lone thing is likely to determine just how much they can accomplish.
That’s whether Lamar Jackson can play better than what we’ve seen from him throughout the last month.
He’s being asked to do a lot. While Devonta Freeman was slightly more functional in Pittsburgh, there’s still nothing consistent about the run game. The offensive line continues to struggle. As much as Jackson is being asked to do right now, the opportunities are there for him to do it.
This goes far behind him needing to make a better throw on the two-point conversion attempt — which, for the record, I disagreed with but not vehemently. I understand the thought process. The offense just hadn’t been consistent enough for me to trust they’d get a great look. But they did. The call worked.
Throughout the game and regularly during the last few weeks, there have been more underneath looks that Jackson could take but didn’t, seemingly looking to make bigger plays. While it’s fair to understand why he might feel like he needs to be a hero, he has to be willing to take what a defense is giving him.
A quarterback of Jackson’s caliber should not be struggling this much just because of the cover zero schemes he’s seeing. And as poorly as he’s played, the Ravens have very much been in both the Dolphins and Steelers losses and managed to beat the Browns. He has to play better. He’s capable of playing better.
If he does, there are still plenty of great things this team can accomplish. If he doesn’t, unquestionably, this will prove to have not been their year.
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