Amid outbreak, depleted Ravens surprisingly hang tough before falling

Robert Griffin III showed at times the explosion that made him the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, but it wasn't enough against the Steelers. AP Photo/Don Wright

One of the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks left the Baltimore Ravens without nine starters, seven Pro Bowl players and the reigning NFL MVP.

But the Ravens showed their decimated roster still had an unwavering amount of resolve.

Baltimore surprisingly kept it close with the NFL's only undefeated team Wednesday night before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 19-14, at Heinz Field.

The defense put the Ravens in position for the upset with three defiant stops in the red zone. But the offense couldn't get enough out of the passing game with a hobbled Robert Griffin III to pull off the win.

While no one proclaimed a moral victory, Ravens coach John Harbaugh applauded the resiliency of his players to push one of the best teams in the NFL to the brink despite being short-handed.

"Whatever happened, they didn’t blink,” Harbaugh said. "That was our goal. We’re not going to be pushed around by something that we can’t control. That’s the real test. I think that’s the type of adversity that great things are built on."

This wasn't supposed to be a game that came down to the final minute of the game. The Ravens were without Lamar Jackson, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thanksgiving. Baltimore had just two walkthrough practices over the past nine days. That's why the Ravens were 10.5-point underdogs, tying the biggest point spread in head coach John Harbaugh's 13 seasons.

But the Ravens' defense intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone and held Pittsburgh to two field goals on the first three red-zone drives. It wasn't until early in the fourth quarter that a worn-down Baltimore defense gave up its first touchdown and then couldn't get the Steelers off the field in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the game.

“We’re going to be solid,” safety Chuck Clark said. "We’re just going to win games from here on out. That’s all it takes. We know what our goal is, and that’s the ultimate of being a champion and winning a championship. Whether that takes 10-12 [wins] to do, I’m not sure, but we can do it.”

The Ravens (6-5) have now lost three straight games for the first time since midway through the 2018 season. Baltimore, the two-time defending AFC North champion, has officially been eliminated from the division race.

Still, the Ravens made the Steelers sweat even though they had seven Pro Bowl players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews, defensive end Calais Campbell, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, running back Mark Ingram, fullback Patrick Ricard, and long-snapper Morgan Cox.

There is still playoff hope for Baltimore. The Ravens, who face only one more team with a winning record, still has a 77% chance of making the postseason.

"There’s a lot of fight in this team. This team is fighters,” guard Bradley Bozeman said. "We’re going to get a lot of guys healthy back. We’re going to just build from here. This is just the beginning."

Describe the game in two words. Near upset. Coming in for the injured Griffin, Trace McSorley threw his first touchdown -- a 70-yarder to Marquise "Hollywood" Brown to get the Ravens to 19-14 with 2:58 remaining. But the Ravens couldn't get the ball back from the Steelers. It was an impressive effort by the Ravens, who had a projected 35.5% chance of winning by ESPN's Football Power Index.

QB breakdown: In his second start in four seasons, Griffin struggled mightily in the passing game. He was 7-of-12 for 33 yards, the fewest of his 44 NFL starts. Griffin led the Ravens with 68 yards rushing, even though he injured his left hamstring in the second quarter. He was pulled midway in the fourth quarter and had his left hamstring heavily wrapped. Griffin got off to a rough start, who fumbled an exchange with running back Gus Edwards and threw a pick-six in the first seven offensive snaps of the game.

"I just feel like they needed me to be ‘RG3’ today, and just as I was starting to do that and helping us win the game -- or being in position to win the game -- I let them down,” Griffin said.

Pivotal play: In the final minute of the first half, the Ravens drove to the Steelers' 1-yard line and came away with no points. On second-and-goal, Edwards was stopped short of the end zone with 21 seconds remaining. The Steelers were slow getting off the pile, causing 18 seconds to tick off the clock before Baltimore was able to snap its next play with 3 seconds remaining. Instead of spiking the ball and take a field goal, Griffin floated the pass to tight end Luke Willson, who was unable to hold onto the ball in the end zone as the first half expired. Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who didn't have any timeouts, had pointed at the officials for a delay of game penalty on the Steelers but didn't get one as Baltimore went into halftime trailing 12-7.

"I just feel like if you’re laying on the ground like that, you’re either injured, or it’s delay of game,” Harbaugh said. "So, that’s [a] pretty clear cut-type of a deal, and that’s how we felt about it.”

Up next: Tuesday vs. the Dallas Cowboys, 8:05 p.m. Jackson is expected to return as the Ravens look to avoid their first four-game losing streak since 2016. Baltimore is 4-1 against teams with losing records this season.