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The Ravens Deserve Credit for Overcoming Injuries and Keeping Games This Close

Baltimore has fallen out of playoff position after another loss that pivoted on a bold decision. But John Harbaugh always keeps things interesting, even with a depleted roster.

Pity the Ravens fan who spent Sunday night complaining about John Harbaugh’s going for a fourth down instead of a field goal, and a two-point conversion instead of an extra point, in their 31–30 loss to the Packers.

While Baltimore did fall into a tie for first place in the AFC North with the Bengals, the Ravens also showed to the more open-minded members of their fan base the complete and total competency with which they operate. Baltimore is the kind of organization that is never irrelevant on any Sunday, regardless of what the lineup looks like. The kind of team that approaches the draft more like a trip to the grocery store and less like scratching off lottery tickets blindfolded. The kind of team that, for better or worse, relies on decision making processes based on analytical principles, and not the whims of a too-tight-khaki-wearing Napoleon cosplayer on the sidelines.

Starting Sunday’s game was quarterback Tyler Huntley, a 23-year-old former undrafted free agent. Huntley went 28-of-40 for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 13 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns. In his two previous starts this year, Huntley completed more than 70% of his passes for almost 500 yards, with a passing touchdown and just one interception. His supporting cast was missing nearly half of the starting offensive line and the fullback (who, in Baltimore, is more of a running game nerve center). The backup right tackle, Tyre Phillips, and one of their five eligible cornerbacks, Tavon Young, both got injured during the game and could not return.

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And yet, the Ravens came within a play of beating arguably the best team in football. That’s the reframe you’re unlikely to hear from those who want to make this an argument about situational decision making and less about the fact that Baltimore is among the most consistently impressive franchises in the NFL. Look around the league over the last few weeks and watch the Giants toggle between Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm. Look at the Bears’ swapping in Andy Dalton and trying not to groan as they describe him as some kind of offensive sparkplug. There is a lot of terrible, incompetent football that gets played when teams are without a starting quarterback and half of an offensive line. Then, there was a game against the Packers that came two yards from a win behind a player that every single team passed on in the 2020 draft.

Yes, Harbaugh opted to go for the win on Sunday with less than a minute remaining, attempting a two-point conversion after Huntley scrambled to score the potential game-tying touchdown. The Ravens lost a game in nearly identical fashion two weeks ago against the Steelers. In some parallel universe, had they opted to play for a tie in both of those situations, completely undermanned at cornerback in both games and struggling with other injuries, and needing to pull the games out in overtime, would they be comfortably leading the division at 10–4? It’s doubtful.

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By this point we’ve become so enamored with expectations, it’s easy to lose control of the narrative. Here is a team that scooped up Lamar Jackson with the 32nd pick and built an offense around a talented quarterback for whom no one else was jumping into the first round. They recognized the market inefficiency on big, multi-faceted players who can diversify both the running and the passing games, and created the most unique system in the NFL.

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This is a franchise that could have gone adrift when its former Super Bowl–winning franchise quarterback left town. As a similar thought exercise, look around the league at teams that have been in similar situations and see which franchises are still struggling to find an answer at the position, and which others have clung on to depreciating assets for so long that they’re facing an impossibly long rebuild with one of the most underwhelming QB classes in recent memory hitting the draft pipeline.

The Ravens haven’t had a losing season since 2017 and have made the playoffs in each of the last three years. This could have been so much worse. This game could have been miles away from the national Fox slot at 4:25 ET on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, we’re wondering why a team that started a backup quarterback whom no one else wanted didn’t want to play for a tie against a team that almost no one else can beat.

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