PITTSBURGH — For a few minutes late Sunday afternoon, the Ravens almost couldn’t look at one another. To enter their locker room after a befuddling 17-10 loss to the Steelers was to see a team that didn’t really know what’d just happened. Players sat on their stools, eyes ahead, replaying in their head the indignities of defeat, the eerie quiet of a collapse settling like a thick fog.
Patrick Queen was among the last to leave. The inside linebacker took six questions from reporters. They were about his frustration, about why the Ravens were back to not finishing off games, about losing to Pittsburgh again. Five times Queen used the word “opportunities,” as if to highlight all that the Ravens had squandered, which was considerable.
“We had opportunities,” Queen said. “We didn’t capitalize, unfortunately. Same old scenario every time. I’m pretty sick of it.”
It was another coulda-woulda-shoulda game, the stink of failure reaching into every phase of the Ravens’ afternoon. There was the offense that dropped pass after pass, botched scoring opportunities and was blanked over the game’s final 42-plus minutes. There was the defense that finally cracked late, pierced by a 41-yard go-ahead bomb from much-beleaguered quarterback Kenny Pickett to new Ravens nemesis George Pickens. There was the punt team that found a new way for the Ravens’ special teams to struggle. There was the coaching that smoothed little of their rough edges.
Add it all up, and the Ravens had another frustratingly familiar loss, this one most notable for the strains of recent misery it spliced together. Want the untimely turnovers and questionable play-calling of the Ravens’ narrow losses late last season to the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals? Sure thing. Another late Pickett touchdown pass to spoil an otherwise stout defensive effort? Done. How about a fourth-quarter offense that made performance art out of high-leverage misfires? Something like the loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3? No problem.
“I want to start off by saying we fought hard,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “It just felt like, at times, there was just too many things going wrong. It’s almost like a sleeping giant, man. We need to wake up.”
Instead, the Ravens blew through every blaring alarm they heard inside Acrisure Stadium, almost oblivious to the encroaching danger.
For the first third of this game, they’d handled Pittsburgh as the tale of the tape suggested they would. Here was a Steelers offense so depleted, so seemingly feckless — and that was the case before Pickett entered Sunday’s game with a bone bruise on his knee — that fans were calling for coordinator Matt Canada’s job in the first quarter. Here was a Steelers defense that had allowed 451 yards one week earlier in a blowout loss to the Houston Texans, rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and their shell of an offensive line.
But even in taking a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, the Ravens dropped hints that catastrophe was looming. Their first drive ended a few plays after wide receiver Zay Flowers couldn’t secure a wide-open pass that would’ve moved the offense into field goal range. Their third drive ended with a field goal after Andrews and wide receiver Rashod Bateman dropped would-be touchdown catches. The Ravens led 10-0 then; they should’ve been up at least 17-0.
“We don’t expect our guys to drop passes,” said quarterback Lamar Jackson, who fell to 1-3 as a starter against Pittsburgh. He finished 22-for-38 for 236 yards and added six carries for 45 yards but was held without a touchdown for the first time all season. “It happens in NFL football. It just happened at the wrong time. But we’re going to get better and go to practice and go to work.”
The next three quarters showed just how much there was for the offense to fix — and how the defense could bear only so much. After their field goal drive, the Ravens watched a promising possession end with a punchout on running back Justice Hill near midfield.
Their final push before halftime ended with a confounding thud; center Tyler Linderbaum, rather than draining the clock and giving kicker Justin Tucker an opportunity to come on for a 40-or-so-yard field goal, snapped the ball to Jackson on fourth-and-2. Linderbaum believed Steelers linebacker Kwon Alexander had jumped into the neutral zone, that the Ravens had a free play. He was wrong, and Jackson’s harried drop-back ended with a hopeless incompletion.
As the Ravens’ offense teetered, slipping from a solid 5.7 yards per play and one turnover in the first half to 3.8 yards per play and two more giveaways in the second, the rest of the team slipped.
In the first half, the Steelers had advanced into Ravens territory just once. In the fourth quarter, they got there on their first three drives. A mediocre Pittsburgh rushing attack, running behind an injury-depleted line, started to gash the Ravens’ interior. Pickett, statistically one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks, went 8-for-12 for 154 yards and a touchdown over those final 15 minutes, more than doubling his yardage total from the first three quarters.
By the time Pickett found Pickens down the right sideline, just ahead of cornerback Marlon Humphrey — finally returning to the Ravens’ secondary, along with safety Marcus Williams — the Ravens’ collapse had become a black hole, expanding and all-consuming. Early in the fourth quarter, their woeful punt unit had given up a safety after a missed assignment led to a block out the back of the end zone. The offense had responded with its second straight three-and-out. Every setback chipped away at the Ravens’ margin, shrinking from 10-3 to 10-5 to 10-8 to, finally, 14-10.
“Had our opportunities, obviously, and played hard,” said coach John Harbaugh, whose Ravens squandered their chance to grab control of the division and complete an AFC North road sweep. “We have to finish plays and do things like that and what you need to do to win a game like this, and we have to fight for that going forward. A lot of football to be played. It’s going to be Week 6, and we need to clean that stuff up and finish games.”
They had their chances, but two of their best ended in Steelers hands. After cornerback Kevon Seymour brought a fumbled punt return back to the Steelers’ 7, the Ravens, leading 10-8 with less than six minutes left, were one play away from a put-away touchdown.
But running back Gus Edwards, who disappeared along with the rushing attack in the second half, was stopped after 3 yards. Andrews lost a yard on a shovel pass. And Jackson’s third-down jump ball to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., his ankle still not 100% after a limited week of practice, was intercepted by rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr., who has 3 inches on Beckham and had a better line on the ball from the moment it left Jackson’s hands.
Pickens scored three minutes later. The Ravens’ response lasted all of three plays and ended with a strip-sack by outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. Their last possession ended with another sack, the Steelers’ fourth. It was the Ravens’ ninth straight drive without a score.
“We could’ve played better,” Flowers said. “We had a chance to close it out multiple times. We failed to do that.”
They will take that knowledge with them to London. A game against the Tennessee Titans awaits next Sunday. So does a long flight.
Right tackle Patrick Mekari (chest) left the game in the third quarter and did not return. Harbaugh, whose next news conference will be held Wednesday, did not have injury updates after the game.
According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Humphrey gave up five catches on six targets for 69 yards and the touchdown. It was his first game since undergoing minor foot surgery in mid-August.
“I didn’t really have a true week that I planned on being back fully,” he said. “I kind of just played it by ear, how the trainers had me working and different things. ... This was a great week to come back, for sure — division game, Pittsburgh. So it was definitely a good game to come back.”
Jackson has fumbled seven times this season, already more than all but two of his five previous seasons in Baltimore. The Ravens have lost 21.4 expected points on those fumbles, according to TruMedia, the second most for any quarterback, after the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence.