PITTSBURGH – Wide receivers Nelson Agholor, Rashod Bateman and Zay Flowers sat in a row, still as statues, staring sightlessly into their lockers as their teammates bustled around them.
They had just, quite literally, dropped the ball in a game in which the Ravens had plenty of opportunities to win but instead lost 17-10 to their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Flowers, the only player still dressed in his pads, was mentally replaying the many chances he had to change the direction of the game.
There was the deep pass on the opening drive that would have moved the Ravens into the red zone. The rookie dropped the pass, the first drop of his NFL career. Then there was the first-down catch he almost made on first-and-10 to the Ravens’ 45 but dropped once T.J. Watt collided with him. And the deep ball in the fourth quarter he missed because he slipped as he tried to adjust to the wind. That one he probably would have carried all the way to the end zone with how badly he had the Steelers beat.
It was the most mistake-riddled game for the rookie, who has been consistent until this point. But Flowers, who led his team with five catches for 73 yards, was far from the only one to drop the ball on opportunities that could have changed the tenor of the game.
So, after running through each one in his head, he shook it off, showered and packed up for the trip to London, where the Ravens have the chance to redeem themselves against the Tennessee Titans.
“We knew we should have won,” Flowers said. “We just didn’t execute at the times we needed to execute, and they did. So we’ll give them that one.
“We just have to go get this [next] one.”
Here are three ways the Ravens handed the win to the Steelers.
1. Ruined receiving record
Flowers was the first Ravens wide receiver to drop a pass this season, but he didn’t stay alone in the category for long. Veterans Bateman and Agholor, along with tight end Mark Andrews, contributed to over a half dozen dropped passes Sunday.
Andrews’ and Bateman’s drops came on back-to-back plays in the end zone. The Ravens had put together an 11-play drive to reach Pittsburgh’s 4-yard line. Lamar Jackson first looked to Flowers, who has become one of his go-to receivers, on the jet sweep but gained no yardage. He then threw high to Andrews in the end zone, a play that led to a touchdown last week against the Browns.
This time, it went through Andrews’ fingers. Then Jackson found Bateman open in the end zone and put it on his chest. Bateman dropped it.
The Ravens settled for a field goal.
“That stuff can’t be contagious,” Andrews said. “Once it happens, whatever. Move on and get to the next play. We need to be better. Obviously, Lamar is putting the ball right where it needs to be. We need to be better for him and make plays.”
After a drive that ended in a disappointing three points, the Ravens had another chance to increase the lead when the defense forced the Steelers to punt. They got two quick first downs. Then Jackson tossed a short pass to Justice Hill, who had rushed in the Ravens’ only touchdown of the day.
Hill fell off balance as he caught the ball, righted himself, and broke safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s ankles as he passed the first-down marker — only to let the ball pop loose as defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi tackled him from behind. The Steelers’ offense took that opportunity to kick a field goal, their first points of the game.
“I believe so,” Jackson said when asked if he thought the Ravens gave the game away. “We didn’t want to, but [we had] little mishaps. We’re right there. We had [the Steelers] beat. [On] offense, we had to find our groove; we didn’t find it. The defense played a great game – kept stopping, kept giving us opportunities. We’ve just got to do what we do [and] finish drives.”
Although the Steelers scored twice more, the Ravens hung on to a two-point thread of a lead. The special teams gifted them a fumble recovery. Jackson responded with an interception.
Then Jackson, who had six fumbles in four games heading into Week 5, ended the Ravens’ chances to regain the lead after the Steelers scored their first touchdown in the final two minutes of the game to make it 14-10. He connected with Flowers for 19 yards but fumbled on the next play. Unlike many of his other fumbles, neither he nor his teammates could recover it. Watt picked it up, and the Steelers kicked a field goal to make it 17-10. And that was that.
Staring down fourth-and-2 at the Pittsburgh 23 with 19 seconds to go before the half, the Ravens ran down the play clock, waiting to see if they could get the Steelers to jump. Or, at least, that was the plan. Instead, center Tyler Linderbaum snapped the ball, surprising Jackson, who scrambled to find an open receiver. There was none, so Jackson threw the ball out of bounds and turned it over on downs.
“We were planning on kicking the field goal there,” Harbaugh said. “But we had just a miscommunication – [in the] heat of battle. We weren’t on the same page. They jumped the neutral zone, and guys thought they were in the neutral zone and went ahead and snapped it. So, that wasn’t what we were planning to do.”
If they had kicked a field goal, they would have taken a 13-3 lead at the half. Instead, it remained a one-score game.
Linderbaum took the blame. He implied he thought one of the Steelers jumped but said, in the end, he has to understand the situation better and learn from the mistake. Harbaugh said that mistake was representative of the state of the offense right now.
“That’s kind of an example really of where we’re at,” Harbaugh said. “We just have to get better at operational things and just clean stuff up and make those plays. I think we’re that close in so many ways, but that’s the difference in a game on the road like this and in this kind of a rivalry game, so we’ll learn from it.”