The collective frustration that could be felt inside M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday was so palpable that it generated a sense of dread as if an ominous storm cloud loomed above. The game, marked as a must win by the fans and media alike, ended in a 23-16 embarrassment. Embarrassment, although, cannot capture the full essence of the feelings surrounding Sunday’s game, perhaps no single word can. There was no fight, no vigor, no drive to win. The Ravens failed on nearly all levels to salvage the season, the season once touted as the return of the Ravens to the national stage. Instead, the Ravens allowed a team they easily handled just five weeks ago to flip the script, and do the same to them.
The Steelers poked at Baltimore’s weak points over and over again. The Ravens got the Ben Roethlisberger led offense stuck in a third down situation on plenty of occasions. But while opportunities for a defensive stop were bountiful, the desired result was not. Over and over again, Roethlisberger hit receivers on short crossing routes turned into first downs. Over and over again, James Conner ran straight through defenders. Over and over again, the Steelers defense blew past Baltimore’s offensive line. Over and over again, Joe Flacco made errant throws, to receivers who did their worst to catch the ball. Over and over again, the Steelers dominated, slowly sucking the life out of the Ravens.
There’s very little to say that has not been said already. The Ravens blew their best chance to halt the tailspin, to turn the season around, and to save themselves from ultimate destruction. The total meltdown of the team could not have come at a worse time for head coach John Harbaugh. Harbaugh, who I still regard as one of the best coaches in football, was hearing calls for his ouster before Sunday’s game. The cries once only shouted just by fringe commenters on Twitter is now a rallying cry for the majority of the Ravens fan base. The once beloved man is now public enemy number one in Baltimore.
There’s no one move, one solution, that can save the sinking ship known as the Baltimore Ravens. The midseason firing of John Harbaugh or benching of Joe Flacco will only accelerate the team’s demise. But as the team sinks even further into the deep ocean of despair, serious questions must be asked. Has John Harbaugh overstayed his welcome in Baltimore? Is Joe Flacco unworthy of commanding the offense? Is imminent change coming in the near future?
I have defended John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco for what seems like an eternity. In my mind, I never associated either with the problems facing the Ravens. Harbaugh didn’t trade away Anquan Boldin or Haloti Ngata. Harbaugh didn’t injure his players. Harbaugh didn’t fail to stop Antonio Brown from crossing the goal line to win the division, and Harbaugh didn’t blow coverage on 4th and 12. Similarly, Flacco never chose his receivers, Flacco never dropped game winning passes. Flacco never wanted to tear his ACL or injure his back. Flacco never was responsible for 4th quarter defensive meltdowns that plagued Baltimore’s so-called top-notch defense.
But while neither of the two can be blamed for all of Baltimore’s struggles, both are ultimately responsible for them. John Harbaugh is the leader of the team, and Flacco the leader of the offense. When the team falters, both will accept the blame, whether as scapegoats or not. The prospect of missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year does not bode well for one of the most successful coaches and quarterback tandems of all time. The old guard of the Ravens may be on its way out after this season. I may not like it, and I may not agree with it, but perhaps change is overdue in Baltimore.