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The Ravens are reeling, and they have themselves to blame

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco speaks at a news conference after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco speaks at a news conference after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
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BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens didn’t exactly have the Pittsburgh Steelers right where they wanted them, but they were pretty close.

On a perfect fall Sunday afternoon inside M&T Bank Stadium, the Steelers were clinging to a seven-point lead when events left them facing a second and 20 from their 5-yard line.

One of those events was Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger going down hard near his own sideline on a 12-yard scramble. The 36-year-old quarterback was slow to get up, so Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin turned to backup Joshua Dobbs.

Dobbs’s career NFL stats before taking what turned out to be one of the crucial snaps of the game: two carries, minus-four yards rushing (both kneel-downs), zero pass attempts.

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He completed his first NFL pass a moment later, a 22-yard strike over the middle to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger, who said after the game he had had the wind knocked out of him, came back in. But the damage had been done.

Ravens safety Eric Weddle, who had coverage of Smith-Schuster on the play, was asked whether he knew who Dobbs was.

“Of course I knew who he was,” Weddle said. “He’s their backup quarterback.”

Who hadn’t thrown an NFL pass yet.

Weddle shrugged. “He’s an NFL quarterback. It was an easy read. We held them to a field goal.” Weddle, normally one of the Ravens’ most forthcoming players, paused before adding, “It was a big play.”

The Steelers drove from there to the Baltimore 11 and took 5:49 off the clock, and Chris Boswell kicked a 29-yard field goal with 8:26 left to extend the lead to 10 .

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The Ravens countered with a field goal, but Roethlisberger effectively snuffed out any further notions of a comeback with a pair of third-down conversions on his next drive, sealing a 23-16 Steelers win.

“They played a very good game and deserved to win,” Coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll try to get healthy and fresh during the bye week and come out swinging the last seven games and try to make the playoffs.”

That won’t be an easy task after the Ravens dropped to 4-5. It was their third straight loss and fourth in five games. They trail the Steelers (an AFC North-leading 5-2-1) and the Bengals (5-3), who come to Baltimore in two weeks. With a December schedule that includes games at Atlanta and Kansas City and against the Chargers, the road to postseason looks daunting.

The Ravens are banged up, especially on the offensive line, and drawing a late bye hasn’t helped things. But the pressure is building on Harbaugh, including a pregame NFL Network report that indicated the Ravens could change coaches during the bye.

That would be surprising; that kind of move in-season has never been the Ravens’ way of doing business. But if the Ravens miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season, Harbaugh is probably gone.

Team owner Steve Bisciotti admitted in his post-mortem after last season that he thought about firing Harbaugh after the Ravens missed the 2017 playoffs by blowing a late lead in the finale to Cincinnati. He insisted Harbaugh was not under a “postseason or bust” edict, but with Ozzie Newsome retiring as general manager and Eric DeCosta taking over, another season without playoff football could force a change.

If the Ravens do miss the playoffs, losses such as this one will haunt Harbaugh. On their second possession, they faced third and five at the Pittsburgh 5. Lamar Jackson, who came into the game often in the first half at quarterback in what amounted to a wildcat offense, flanked left, went in motion and ran to the right corner of the end zone with no Steeler close to him.

Quarterback Joe Flacco missed him, instead throwing through the end zone, with John Brown the only Baltimore receiver near the ball.

“We were kind of rushing there,” Flacco said afterward. “It didn’t get off perfect, and [Jackson] is like the last [option] out of five guys out there on the play. Maybe if I’d held on to it a little longer, I would have been able to get it to him.”

Flacco was under pressure for much of the afternoon, shortening his drops to gain more time to get the ball off.

Each team had two sustained drives in the first half. The Steelers got touchdowns, the Ravens two field goals. “That’s the name of the game right there,” Flacco said. “It’s frustrating when you don’t get touchdowns in the red zone. They did in the first half. We didn’t.”

It was 20-6 after the Steelers drove 75 yards and killed 8:14 on the clock to start the second half, though Boswell missed the extra point. The Ravens answered that score, finally getting in the end zone on a one-yard run from Alex Collins to make it 20-13. Then came an exchange of punts as the third quarter ended, followed by the Steelers taking three penalties in four plays.

Then Roethlisberger took a hit, and Dobbs showed up. And now the Ravens go into the bye banged up physically, mentally and emotionally.

“Tough day,” Flacco said, standing by his locker. “Tough three weeks.”

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