There comes a time
Got no patience to search
For peace of mind
Want to take it slow
No more hiding or
Disguising truths I’ve sold”
-Alice in Chains, “No Excuses”
After Sunday’s Championship debacle I popped in my earbuds and went on a short walk to clear my head. I was filled with a variety of emotions, and needed to let off some steam before I thought about starting the work week.
It seemed totally appropriate that the 90’s grunge classic “No Excuses” by Alice in Chains were the first sounds to fill my ears.
I truly felt that going into this game that Baltimore had the better team and that while there were still opportunities to falter against the reigning Super Bowl champions, I still felt confident that if the team played the way they did during the regular season and against Houston the previous week they would have enough to book themselves a ticket to Las Vegas with a chance at a third franchise championship.
Of course, we all know what happened and I won’t spend time here totally rehashing all my analysis of what went so horribly wrong, but I’ll just say that sometimes you just need to trust who you are and know that it will be enough.
The Baltimore Ravens have been a run-first team since Lamar Jackson took over the job under center over six seasons ago. While Jackson has been the team’s top rusher since he took over the starting job full time in 2019, the offense has relied on a host of running backs to dominate time of possession and control the football. Over that span they set records for their ability to gain yards consistently even when the opposition knew it was coming. This past season was no different and they were once again the best rushing team in the league. So why in the most important game in franchise history do the Ravens only have sixteen rushing attempts, which is the lowest amount in six years or the Lamar Jackson era?
I have a feeling that several things may have happened that led to this decision. The Mahomes-Kelce combo was cooking early and in the first two possessions Kansas City moved the ball easily for scores. Perhaps there was some panic among the staff and players that they would need to score quickly and be prepared for a shoot-out to win.
I think that it was possible that Lamar may have checked out of several run plays because he saw possible gains to be made through the air. If you make that decision, then you must complete better than 54% of your passes and you can’t turn the ball over.
I also think that John Harbaugh should have stepped in and adjusted the game plan at half time just like the defense did. I know that he trusts his assistants but he’s the head coach. As far as I’m concerned, he has to give a better answer on the game plan than, “It’s just how the game went”.
Baltimore was charged with 8 penalties for 95 total yards. Many of them were personal foul calls where the players let their emotion get the better of them. The Ravens deserved every one of those penalties and while they were shortchanged on getting some calls to go their way there was no conspiracy.
Unfortunately, this season will be remembered ultimately as a disappointment and a failure. A potentially great team that couldn’t overcome their final hurdle to get to a Super Bowl and missed their opportunity at greatness.
They just weren’t good enough. No excuses. Better luck next season.
1) MacDonald to Seattle
The 2024 season is already here for the other thirty teams in the NFL and considering what a tremendous regular season Baltimore had it only makes sense that the coaching staff would be under consideration for promotions. The former Ravens intern Mike MacDonald proved in his two seasons in Baltimore that he was an elite defensive coordinator and a coach that was going places. So this week MacDonald became the league’s youngest head coach as he agreed to terms with the Seahawks.
I know there were many fans that were hoping that MacDonald would be the next man up to replace Joh Harbaugh and that maybe a new contract could be drafted to keep him in the fold. That didn’t happen but does bring up the “problem” of John Harbaugh again. Harbs is a popular coach and one of the league’s longest tenured. He’s now 12-10 in the playoffs with much of that success occurring when he had Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to help keep the team focused. More recently he’s 3-6 with three of those losses at home. What have you done for me lately Coach? I’m not necessarily suggesting that the team move on from him but he has some hard questions to answer behind closed doors.
I also shouldn’t forget that a few days earlier the Ravens lost Director of College Scouting Joe Horitz to become the new GM for John’s brother Jim Harbaugh who takes over the Bolts in Los Angeles this season. This is what happens when you win, other teams covet what you have.
The Ravens way has always been next man up and it didn’t take long for Baltimore to find and in-house candidate to take over in 31 year old Zach Orr. A homegrown Raven who’s known as energetic and intelligent and was forced into early retirement due to physical issues. It will be his first time calling plays and it will be interesting to see how much of MacDonald’s scheme he keeps under his watch.
2) Roster Turnover
Change is inevitable. Teams can retain their core but the faces around them will always be different. The Ravens have 27 players whose contracts are up for next season. Who will stay and who will go?
On offense I’m hoping they re-sign Kevin Zeitler who played at a high level this season though I wonder if he is showing signs of wear as he missed a few games. Was Odell Beckham Jr. worth his huge contract? He seemed to enjoy his time here but would be come back at the right price? The backfield could look very different in 2024 as Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, Melvin Gordon III and Dalvin Cook could all end up elsewhere. Could the Ravens look to draft a runner and pair him with a hopefully returning Keaton Mitchell?
On defense the two biggest names are All-Pro Justin Madubuike and Patrick Queen. I can’t see Madubuike going anywhere as players with his skill set aren’t easy to come by. Queen played extremely well next to Roquan Smith but he may be a cap casualty. There are also eight defensive backs like Geno Stone, Arthur Maulet, and Ronald Darby that had excellent seasons. Were they a product of scheme or did they break out? Either way there are a lot of decisions to be made before the draft in a few months.
3) Can the Ravens get to the Super Bowl?
I don’t see why not. The Chiefs are a new souped up version of Brady’s Patriots dynasty and they are the final boss to get through to go play for a title.
The Road to Kansas City is filled with other contenders, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Miami, Houston is on the rise and with Jim Harbaugh being hired you must consider the Chargers to be a serious threat eventually as well. Cleveland is an outside threat and then there’s Pittsburgh. I shouldn’t forget Jacksonville as well. When you start checking the competition you realize what a golden opportunity Baltimore blew this past weekend. Home field advantage against the reigning champs with every former Baltimore sports legend in attendance. So getting back to this position won’t be easy but it can be done.
Todd Monken’s offense was a huge step forward for Lamar Jackson and his recent brain fart aside he had a pretty solid season calling plays, mixing old and new concepts and in general taking the offense forward. So the offense which has been the Achilles heel in recent playoff defeats can always get better.
The franchise usually drafts and develops players well and Eric DeCosta has usually been able to field a more than competitive team to get the job done. So the pieces are there, they just have to do put it all together.
In closing I’m reminded of the words of Chuck Noll – “The critics are always right. The only way to shut them up is by winning.” Every member of the Ravens organization should have that quote taped to their locker.
Until next season.
Matt has lived in Maryland his entire life and is a graduate of Calvert Hall and Towson University. has always been an avid Baltimore sports fan. Since 2007, he has been writing and talking about Baltimore sports, especially the Ravens. His work has appeared on Ravens Gab, Russell Street Report, and he currently co-hosts a podcast “The Blitz- A Ravens podcast” with Brent Harris.