The word, “meaningless,” is inherently subjective, but for the Ravens, Sunday’s game was as close to objectively meaningless as possible. The final game of the year had no bearing on Baltimore’s postseason status. The Ravens already earned the number one seed in the American Football Conference, and with it, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Despite this, the Ravens entered Sunday’s game motivated by their own constructed meaning. The team rallied behind Robert Griffin III and was determined to beat their archrival, knocking them out of the playoffs.
If anyone could find meaning in Sunday’s game, it was Robert Griffin III. The former second-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft had not started a game at quarterback since 2016. His entire football career was in doubt after that season. Griffin was out of the league in 2017, and if not for a call from the Ravens in 2018, his football career would have ended.
Griffin’s first start in four years is emblematic of the rebirth of his career. Griffin dissipated from a superstar, new-age quarterback, to an unwanted and injury-prone mediocre athlete. He knew the Ravens would be his last chance at a serious return to the National Football League. Griffin forced his way onto the roster with an impressive preseason, and he became the indispensable backup quarterback, perfectly crafted to fit the Ravens’ offense designed for the explosive Lamar Jackson. Griffin is one of Baltimore’s hardest workers and many felt he earned the chance to start for the Ravens in this game.
Griffin was part of the showcase of depth the Ravens had on Sunday. He and the rest of the Ravens backups proved the second-stringers are capable of carrying the team to victory if called upon. Griffin completed 11 of 21 passes (in a monsoon, mind you), for 96 yards. He also rushed for 50 yards on eight attempts. These are not Lamar Jackson-like numbers, but they demonstrate that Griffin can run the offense, and win in the driver’s seat. Second-string running back, Gus Edwards, averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 21 rush attempts and gained 130 total rushing yards. His work on the ground was the engine that drove the Ravens offense. The Ravens also saw key performances from depth players on the defensive side. Brandon Carr is a starter in the secondary but is used more like a depth player at this point. The former cornerback was moved to safety earlier this year and moves about the defense to fill various roles. Carr recorded three solo tackles, an assist, two tackles for loss, and a sack against the Steelers. Jordan Richards accompanied Carr with big plays. The former Patriots safety scored a touchdown after Pittsburgh’s botched punt.
Baltimore’s depth allowed the Ravens to win, but the Ravens did more than just win. The Ravens set new franchise and league records to compliment the victory. The win improved Baltimore’s win-loss record to 14-2, which is now the franchises’ all-time best for a single regular season. Baltimore’s previous best season was the 2006 season. The Ravens under Brian Billick went 13-3 but lost in the divisional round of the playoffs. Baltimore’s best single regular-season record now belongs to the franchise’s winningest coach, John Harbaugh. The Ravens also broke the league’s single-season team rushing record. The record was previously set by the 1978 Patriots, with 3,165 rushing yards. Baltimore smashed New England’s record on Sunday, reaching the 3,296-yard mark. The Ravens also were the first team in NFL history to average at least 200 yards rushing and 200 yards receiving per game in a single season. That record was cemented in Sunday’s victory.
Baltimore’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, although meaningless to Baltimore’s playoff standing, was a statement game. The Ravens asserted that the team does not boast the league’s best record because of a few great players at the front of the roster, but because the Ravens are loaded with talent all throughout the roster. The victory excited a fanbase that wanted nothing more than to eliminate the Steelers from the playoffs, but the game had one disappointment in it. The Ravens played rookie quarterback, Trace McSorely, just one play (a two-yard rush for a first down). Many hoped that he would get a few snaps at quarterback to showcase his developing skills, but it was not meant to be. Overall though, the Ravens proved the team’s talent is present all over the roster, which may prove to be Baltimore’s greatest strength this January.