Ravens coach John Harbaugh tried to downplay the significance of routing the Pittsburgh Steelers with some of his core players on the sidelines.
Baltimore had already clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs so it had nothing at stake in the regular-season finale. Meanwhile, the Steelers had everything on the line and still lost 28-10.
“We only sat seven guys out, so it’s not like you’re sitting out half your team,” Harbaugh said. “It’s seven guys, and the rest of the guys played. Jimmy [Smith] didn’t take a lot of snaps because he had a little groin issue, so we didn’t want to play him. That’s really the only guy that didn’t. Marcus [Peters] played the whole game.
“All of the guys – [Matthew] Judon played the whole game. We had to play. It speaks to our offensive line, big time. It speaks to our running backs – really, the whole team, to go out there and play against a team that really had everything to fight for and play and win. To play as hard as we did and as well as we did, it speaks volumes.”
The seven Ravens players that did not play?
— The leading candidate for NFL MVP (Lamar Jackson)
— The team’s leading receiver (Mark Andrews)
— A 1,000-yard rusher (Mark Ingram),
— A Pro-Bowl safety (Earl Thomas)
— The Ravens’ top run-stopper (Brandon Williams)
And the Ravens still ran for 223 yards and allowed just 169 yards of total offense.
The performance perfectly underscores the character of this team.
The Ravens (14-2) set a franchise record for wins and broke the NFL’s all-time single-season rushing record (3,296 yards). Baltimore also became the first team in NFL history to average at least 200 rushing and 200 net passing yards per game in a season, finishing with 206.0 rushing yards and 201.6 net passing yards per game.
“That’s like Joe DiMaggio’s record,” Harbaugh said about breaking the single-season rushing record. “That’s the record that would never be broken, and it just got broken by the 2019 Baltimore Ravens. It feels real good. And [we are] the first team ever to average 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in a season … There are probably a couple more, and that’s nothing to take lightly. That’s something that these guys are going to have, and we’re all going to carry with us for a long time, coaches and players.
“But what it’s not, it’s not a Super Bowl victory either. That’s what they remember you for, so we’ll be trying to get that done one day at a time for the next month or so.”
The last part of that comment is the most revealing insight into the mindset of the 2019 Ravens. They have a myopic focus on winning the Super Bowl and have not once shied away from those expectations.
Jackson has openly deflected any personal praise because his only goal is to bring a Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore. The Ravens are on the correct path and enter the postseason as the favorites to win it all.
There will be challenges.
The Kansas City Chiefs have a high-flying offense capable of keeping pace with Jackson and company, underscored by their 33-28 victory in Week 3.
The Patriots are struggling but they simply cannot be discounted — they’ve risen from the ashes in the past.
And don’t underestimate the Tennessee Titans, who might be playing the best football in the league behind the Ravens.
Buffalo gave Baltimore one of its toughest games this season and Houston should be tough if J.J. Watt is able to get back in the lineup.
Still, Harbaugh has to like the position of his team.
The Ravens enter the postseason healthy and confident. It’s a tight-knit group that shares a common goal.
This is a golden opportunity for a city that is beleaguered with violence and bad press.
The Ravens can’t cure all of those social ills, but they’ve already provided a much-needed sense of pride.
And the journey continues.