The Ravens are well on their way to the AFC Divisional Round in two weeks. 

With the division and the No. 1 seed completely locked up on Dec. 31 in a blowout victory against the Dolphins, Baltimore played its backups against the Steelers in Week 18. Rain poured at M&T Bank Stadium and the Ravens fell 17-10 to end the regular season. The Ravens were outgained 289-224 and Pittsburgh has won seven of its last eight games in Baltimore.

Here are five takeaways from the Ravens 17-10 loss to the Steelers.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh should play their finale earlier in the year

The Ravens-Steelers rivalry used to mean something for both teams. In recent years, it’s meant little to nothing. While it makes sense that teams would play against divisional opponents in the final game of the year and it should bring excitement to the matchup – it hasn’t had the same result for Baltimore and Pittsburgh. 

Part of the magic of their rivalry was that each team had something to play for. With the Steelers gunning for an opportunity for a playoff spot and Baltimore playing for what amounted to an exhibition game, it felt dull this season and the same could be said for 2019. 

Maybe it could be that sheer star power isn’t where it was in the rivalry.It could also be the rule changes with defense becoming less physical. But it’s fair to say that it’s not the same as it once was and that’s worse for football.

It was the right decision to rest key contributors

Fans and media members alike speculated whether or not the Ravens would start Lamar Jackson and company in the final game of the season. Baltimore opted to rest its starters when it last won the AFC North and the No. 1 seed in the conference in 2019 in the final week of the regular season, resulting in a 28-10 victory led by Robert Griffin III. The Ravens went on to lose 28-12 in the AFC Divisional Round against the Titans.

Jackson, Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers, Kevin Zeitler, Malik Harrison, Marlon Humphrey and Kyle Hamilton were announced as inactive on Saturday. A number of backups received extra repetitions and it could ultimately prove important heading into the playoffs. Geno Stone (knee) and Del’Shawn Harris (shoulder) exited the game with injuries.

Incentivized football

Jadeveon Clowney earned his $750,000 incentive with a sack and a forced fumble. Nelson Agholor needed 58 receiving yards to reach 400 yards to trigger a $250,000 incentive and needed 10 more receptions for 40 grabs on the year for a $500,000 incentive. Unfortunately for Agholor, he came up short in both with five catches for 39 yards on Saturday against Pittsburgh. 

Justice Hill also needed 113 rushing yards for 500 on the season to meet a $250,000 incentive. Baltimore gave him zero carries with Gus Edwards rushing 10 times for 48 yards, Tyler Huntley with eight carries for 40 yards and Melvin Gordon with seven carries for 18 yards. 

Tyler Huntley has likely played his final game as a Raven

Huntley signed a 1-year, $2.627 million deal ahead of the 2023 season when there was uncertainty that Jackson would return. He’s been the Ravens’ reliever at quarterback with multiple injuries to Jackson in 2021 and 2022 that have shelved the likely MVP quarterback in back-to-back years. 

In 13 games for Baltimore in both seasons, Huntley has gone 197-for-300 (65.7%) on passes for 1,739 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 76.8 passer rating. Huntley finished this season with 209 passing yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 99.3 passer rating. 

Baltimore signed former Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham off of the Patriots practice squad on Dec. 12 – marking what could be the beginning of the end of Huntley’s tenure with the team. Huntley has provided a steady hand as a backup and has a 13-12 record in Baltimore.

Preparation for the Divisional Round is crucial

Jackson said multiple times on the bigger picture when it comes to MVP talks. He’s seemingly been unaffected by the buzz that’s surrounded the team’s bludgeoning of two Super Bowl contenders in the 49ers and Dolphins in consecutive weeks. He’s locked in.

The defense has played at a high level throughout the season with Justin Madubuike, Roquan Smith and Hamilton leading the way up the middle. Baltimore’s offensive weaponry is more diverse than it’s ever been – even without Mark Andrews, J.K. Dobbins and Keaton Mitchell. 

Can the Ravens overcome the ghosts of bye week past? The team’s ability to focus on their goal ahead lies within its collective experience. Many players are staring in the face of the divisional round for the second or third time in their careers after the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Both times resulted in losses.

Kyle Andrews
Kyle Andrews

Kyle J. Andrews is a 2018 University of Baltimore and Mount Saint Joseph High School graduate, along with former sports reporter for the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa., the Baltimore Sun Media Group, 105.7 The Fan, Baltimore Beatdown, and Fox Sports 1340 AM. He has covered the Orioles, Ravens, high school sports in the Baltimore area and Central Pennsylvania, minor league baseball, Penn State and Maryland athletics and more.