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ExtremeRavens: The Sanctuary

Ravens Insider: Ravens’ John Harbaugh says Chiefs had better plan, laments lack of rushing attempts in AFC title game loss


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There was a lot to digest from the Ravens’ season-ending news conference with general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh on Friday in Owings Mills, which lasted just over 40 minutes. But for a fan base looking for answers five days after Baltimore was embarrassed by the Kansas City Chiefs, 17-10, in the AFC championship game at M&T Bank Stadium, there was little to ease the pain.

One number that continued to stick out like a sore thumb less than a week after the Ravens’ season came to a stunning yet familiar end: six.

That was the number of carries Baltimore running backs had in the game, with half of those coming in the first quarter alone. Incredibly, the Ravens ran the ball just 16 times compared with 37 passes, a stunningly disproportionate ratio for a team that, with a dynamic and explosive quarterback and strong ground game, had bullied its way to the NFL’s best record, the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage.

“That’s not the number you want to have,” Harbaugh said. “When you look back at it, that’s not going to win us an AFC championship.”

It was also inexplicable for a team that led the league in rushing yards and indefensible against a Chiefs team that ranked 25th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed and had just surrendered 182 yards on 39 attempts against the Buffalo Bills the week before.

Harbaugh said that running the ball, including several run-pass option plays, was a big part of the Ravens’ game plan but that the Chiefs took it away by lining up to stop the run and by putting Baltimore in a hole, dominating time of possession and scoring on each of their first two possessions.

“It’s not an excuse,” he said. “Sometimes you want to run the ball more. Sometimes you gotta be willing to get big and run the ball that way. We just didn’t want to do it that way in the game.

“You want to run the ball against the Chiefs.”

And yet, the Ravens did not.

Justice Hill had just three carries, two of them coming in the first quarter. Gus Edwards also had three, including one he popped for 15 yards in the first quarter on the Ravens’ second possession of the game.

Ravens running back Gus Edwards, left, runs against Chiefs Justin Reid in the first quarter. The Chiefs defeated the Ravens 17-10 in the AFC Championship game. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)
Ravens running back Gus Edwards, left, tries to get past Chiefs safety Justin Reid during the AFC championship game. Edwards had just three carries in the loss. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Then there’s Jackson.

Four years ago, he led the league in touchdown passes and set a single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback on his way to being the unanimous choice for NFL Most Valuable Player. The Ravens went 14-2 in the regular season but fell on their face in a divisional round loss at home to the Tennessee Titans in which Jackson had three turnovers.

Sunday, after another presumptive MVP season, he was on the precipice of his first Super Bowl and armed with the best collection of talent he’s had in his six years in Baltimore. Jackson ran the ball eight times for 54 yards, though there were plenty of opportunities in which he chose not to, instead opting to stay in the pocket. He also had two turnovers, with a fumble on a strip-sack after holding the ball too long and an interception after throwing into triple coverage in the fourth quarter.

Harbaugh said he spoke with Jackson by phone Thursday and the two were in “lock step” on their plan of attack moving forward.

But the stench of this loss will likely linger in Baltimore for months. Instead of playing in his first Super Bowl, Jackson and the Ravens were again bounced out of the playoffs in remarkably similar fashion to the way they were in 2019 and 2020, when the Ravens lost to the Bills, 17-3, in the divisional round.

“Definitely a fair criticism because that’s what you see,” Harbaugh said. “You look at it, and it’s not the same. It wasn’t a 30-point win over a division leader, obviously, and that’s the result of it. It was the same team, it’s the same guys. It was the game plan that was devised against that particular team that day, but we didn’t play better than the team we played. They played better than us. They had a better game plan. They executed their game plan better. They made plays. They made some great throws, [and] great catches [and] a few great runs in the first half, especially, and they scored those points. Their defense came up and made plays. They tackled well. They kept us bottled up. They covered us well.

“We didn’t come up with those great plays. That’s really the difference. So, in that sense, it’s not the same team, but the sense of the effort, the preparation, what we were bringing to the table, schematically, was exactly the same team, it was just a different result. Every single team in the league is going to have that feeling after losing in the playoffs. I get it, I feel the same way. I’m telling you, I’m heartbroken. I’m heartbroken. The fact that we didn’t win that game at home in front of our crowd for the first time in all these years and get a chance to play in the Super Bowl.”

Instead, the Ravens now turn their focus to the offseason sooner than they hoped yet again.

That started with replacing defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who earlier this week was named head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. As has often been the case, they promoted from within, with Harbaugh naming 31-year-old inside linebackers coach and former Ravens player Zach Orr to the position Thursday.

“What made Zach so good as a player was [that] he had a great instinct for the game,” DeCosta said. “He was very, very quick to key and diagnose, and he played with a passion, and he was just relentless to the football. Those qualities make a great coach, so I have no doubt that Zach is going to be a great defensive coordinator and probably, if I had a crystal ball, a head coach someday.”

What that means for associate head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver remains to be seen.

Weaver, 43, has been passed over for the job twice. He also interviewed for the Washington Commanders’ head coach opening before they hired Dan Quinn, and he remains in the mix for the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator job.

“If he gets that job, I’ll be happy for him, if he takes the job,” Harbaugh said. “But he’ll be a great head coach.”

Meanwhile, DeCosta, who was at the Senior Bowl all week scouting college prospects, has already moved on and turned his attention to the Ravens’ more than 20 free agents and preparing for April’s draft.

Most notable among Ravens players set to hit the open market is defensive tackle Justin Madbubuike, who led all interior linemen with 13 sacks this season. If the team uses a franchise tag on him, it would cost about $20 million.

Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the AFC championship game against the Chiefs in Baltimore. (Jerry Jackson/Staff)
Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike sacks Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the AFC championship game. Madubuike is a pending free agent after a standout season. (Jerry Jackson/Staff)

But DeCosta said he learned a lesson when handling Jackson’s contract negotiations last year and was mum on what his plans are for the 26-year-old rising defensive star and others, such as inside linebacker Patrick Queen. The Ravens didn’t pick up the 2020 first-round draft pick’s fifth-year option last year, meaning Queen will be an expensive free agent after posting a career high in tackles and being selected to his first Pro Bowl.

“You never know,” DeCosta said when asked if he regretted that decision. “If you pick up an option, that’s less money you can spend on somebody else, so how do those dominos fall? Really hard to say. I can say that Patrick … he had an excellent season, a Pro Bowl season. His future is extremely bright.”

What the Ravens’ immediate future looks like, however, is a bit more murky, given staff departures, free agency and their history in big moments in recent years.

Harbaugh is optimistic, of course. He has no other choice.

“Unless you don’t make the playoffs, your last game is not a success unless you win the Super Bowl,” Harbaugh said. “When you don’t win the last game, especially at home, AFC championship game, which is so rare and so hard to get to … is it success [or] is it a failure?

“Lamar Jackson is a phenomenal success. … There’s nobody better in this league, especially nobody better for the Baltimore Ravens and for this organization and for this city and just from a historical perspective. I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about taking this offense to the next level next year.”

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