The Ravens have cleaned out their lockers and scattered, with players, coaches and team executives left to reckon with a season full of promise that instead imploded under the weight of injuries and other adversity.
The end came more quickly than anyone expected back in July or even in November, when the Ravens held the No. 1 seeding in the AFC and quarterback Lamar Jackson was being touted as a Most Valuable Player candidate.
One day after a 16-13 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers ended the Ravens’ season at 8-9, guard Kevin Zeitler summed it up on a Zoom media session with reporters when he said, “I did not picture me talking to you guys right now about this stuff, especially six weeks ago. It is what it is.”
What it is, in fact, is the second losing season in John Harbaugh’s 14-year tenure and the Ravens’ first absence from the postseason in Jackson’s four-year career.
Other than the obvious ones such as 6 (the number of consecutive losses to end the season) and 9 (the total number of losses), here are five numbers that help tell the story of the Ravens’ 2021 season:
6 — Failed two-point conversions
The Ravens went 2-for-8 on two-point conversions this year, and a couple of those failures proved disastrous in one-point losses. The Ravens converted two two-point tries in their comeback win against the Indianapolis Colts, and they failed on their other six attempts.
With Marlon Humphrey sidelined by a torn pectoral muscle suffered late in the game and Harbaugh concerned with how he would field a secondary should the game go to overtime, Harbaugh kept the offense on the field for a two-point try at Pittsburgh trailing 20-19 with 12 seconds left. Lamar Jackson’s pass intended for Mark Andrews glanced off Andrews fingertips and fell incomplete.
Two weeks later against Green Bay, the Ravens rallied with two fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Tyler Huntley to cut the Packers lead to 31-30 with 42 seconds left. The Ravens again kept the offense on the field for the conversion, but Huntley’s pass intended for Andrews in the right corner of the end zone fell incomplete.
Video released by the team after the game captured Harbaugh conferring with players and coaches before deciding to for two, and Andrews after the game declared, “That was the decision. … I told Coach that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think people that second-guess that are wrong. I think that was the right thing to do. We’re an aggressive team.”
Andrews would know; six of the eight two-point plays were passes intended for him. Harbaugh’s decisions aligned with his consistently aggressive mentality, and his belief that his offense can execute to gain 2 yards when it needs to. Too often, though, it just didn’t happen.
“We fell short in numerous games here down the stretch in the sense that we just couldn’t find a play,” Harbaugh said after the season-ending loss to the Steelers. “We couldn’t find a play that we needed.”
15 — Takeaways
The Ravens totaled 15 takeaways, the second-fewest in team history. The injury-ravaged 2015 team — Harbaugh’s only other losing season — had 14. Only two teams this year had fewer takeaways, and those teams had a combined record of 7-27. (The Jacksonville Jaguars had nine, and the New York Jets had 14.)
A defense that can generate turnovers can score points directly — as Chuck Clark did against the Los Angeles Rams with the Ravens’ only defensive touchdown of the season — or give the offense a short field while also providing momentum and energy in a game that thrives on it.
Conversely, the lack of turnovers keeps the defense on the field for sustained drives, and that can take a toll late in games, particularly with a roster thinned by injuries.
The Ravens had their chances, too. They had at least a half-dozen potential interceptions glance off hands, but finished the year with nine picks, the second-fewest total in franchise history. Anthony Averett led the way with three.
The inability to create turnovers was exacerbated by the team’s propensity to have them. The Ravens finished the year with a turnover ratio of minus-11, the second-worst of the Harbaugh era.
25 — Players on injured reserve
This team convened in July with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, but a stunning rash of injuries defined this season. The injury bug was indiscriminate, hitting both sides of the ball, Pro Bowl players and practice squad guys alike.
The sight of J.K. Dobbins going down with a torn ACL in the preseason finale proved ominous, but if there’s one day that portended the fortunes of this season, it had to be Thursday, Sept. 9, when Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and running back Gus Edwards suffered season-ending knee injuries minutes apart.
Before the season opener, the Ravens had lost all three of the running backs that figured to make the team to season-ending injuries. (Justice Hill suffered a torn Achilles.)
The Ravens ultimately placed 25 players on injured reserve, including two — offensive lineman Tyre Phillips and rookie linebacker Daelin Hayes — who hit the IR list twice.
The roll call of players lost for most or all of the season was stunning, beginning with Dobbins and including Edwards, Peters, presumed starting linebacker L.J. Fort, starting defensive end Derek Wolfe, All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley (who played just one game before being shut down again because of complications to his ankle injury from 2020), safety DeShon Elliott and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman began the season on injured reserve, and tight end Nick Boyle spent much of the year on it as he tried to return from a 2020 knee injury.
And that list didn’t even include quarterback Lamar Jackson, who never went on IR but missed the final four games with a bone bruise in his foot.
32 — Pass defense ranking
The Ravens ranked last in the league in pass defense for the first time in franchise history, allowing 278.9 passing yards a game. They ranked No. 25 in overall defense and last in yards allowed per play (5.98).
Led by Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell, the Ravens produced the league’s No. 1 run defense, yielding 84.5 yards a game on the ground. But teams didn’t need to worry so much about running the ball when throwing it proved to be so effective.
To be sure, the Ravens’ decimated secondary had a lot to do with that. The Ravens played all season without Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and played the final five games without his Pro Bowl partner, Marlon Humphrey. Starting safety DeShon Elliott missed half the season.
A COVID outbreak and other nagging injuries further decimated the group, and the Ravens were left to play backups of backups and practice squad elevations such as Kevon Seymour, Robert Jackson and Daryl Worley in critical situations.
In an ignominious 41-21 loss at Cincinnati, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow shredded the Ravens’ patchwork secondary for 525 passing yards, the most ever allowed by a Ravens team.
Injuries, though, did not tell the entire story of the struggles of this pass defense. The pass rush, a concern entering the season, proved to be not nearly disruptive enough. Led by Tyus Bowser with seven, the Ravens ranked tied for 22nd with 34 sacks. Communication breakdowns in the secondary left receivers running all alone way too often.
Before the season, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said he thought sack statistics were “superficial,” and that he put a premium on “cover corners.” This year, the Ravens didn’t have nearly enough of either.
57 — Sacks allowed
In his first comments after last season ended, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta stressed that, “One of the things we have to do is get better up front with pass protection.” Instead, the Ravens allowed 57 sacks, the most in franchise history. Only once previously had the team even allowed 50 sacks (56 in 1999).
The problems began immediately, when it became apparent in the season opener that All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley had not recovered from his 2020 ankle injury. He was promptly shut down and had another surgical procedure, costing him the rest of the season. The Ravens had traded Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in the offseason, banking on a fully healthy Stanley to anchor the line.
With Stanley sidelined and Brown traded away, the Ravens were left scrambling, plugging veteran Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle and using super-utility lineman Patrick Mekari at right tackle. Mekari fared well, earning a contract extension in the season’s final week, but Villanueva struggled with speed rushers. Compounding problems, Mekari missed four games, and second-year lineman Tyre Phillips, the Week 1 starter at left guard and a candidate at tackle, had two stints on injured reserve.
Kevin Zeitler and Bradley Bozeman had solid years at right guard and center, respectively, but this group overall never offered the protection that DeCosta envisioned last summer.
To be sure, quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t help with his propensity to hold on to the ball too long, but the lack of protection surely affected what the Ravens hoped to accomplish in the passing game.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox