MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Uh-boy …

In a matter of seconds – 12 to be exact – the Baltimore Ravens’ season came crashing to an end in a flashing turn of events that essentially proved to be a microcosm of the entire frustrating season that is now mercifully over.

In the fourth quarter of a 17-17 NFL wild-card game, the Ravens, who had actually played quite well once they survived the first quarter, were once again knocking on the door with their second first-and-goal inside the Cincinnati Bengals 5, when on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, quarterback Tyler Huntley, who was playing his best game in relief of injured quarterback Lamar Jackson, attempted to leap the pile to extend the football over the plane of the end zone.

The ball was knocked loose, though, and Cincinnati defensive end Sam Hubbard caught it out and ran 98 yards for a touchdown, the longest fumble return touchdown in NFL playoff history. Tight end Mark Andrews gave chase before finally getting blocked in the back (no call) and, despite Baltimore having three more possessions, the Bengals were on their way to a 24-17 win to end the Ravens’ season.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game that the play wasn’t executed well and that Huntley was supposed to go low on the play, rather than over the top. Huntley initially thought he’d cleared the goal line, but replays showed that he wasn’t really close.

The Ravens had first-and-goal for the second time in as many possessions in a 17-17 game, but never scored again and lost the game and their season because of it. Missed opportunities, mental errors, questionable clock management and atrocious play-calling, that has become the standard, all played out on Sunday night like a broken record and the Ravens are evermore holding a big bag of nothing to show for their troubles.

Up to that point, Huntley had played well, the defense had played well and the running backs, the strongest position on the team, were finally intact for the most important game of the season and played well.

Running back J.K. Dobbins finished with four receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 62 yards on 13 carries. The Ravens offense had 10 plays from inside the 5-yard line and Dobbins got one touch (no carries) of those 10, and scored a touchdown. He should’ve gotten more, as he volunteered himself after the game.

“(Huntley) should never have been in that situation,” Dobbins said of the play that will live in Baltimore sports infamy. “I should be the guy. I’m tired of holding that back. I’m tired of that. Twelve (carries), it’s the playoffs. I’m tired of holding that back. Let’s go win the game. I’m tired of that.”

So are thousands and thousands of Ravens fans. If you build an offense based on the running game, how is it that you rarely (or in this case, don’t) use your very best running back in the most critical of circumstances?

The Ravens are now the second team in the last 15 seasons to lose a playoff game in which they rushed for over 150 yards and allowed fewer than 250 yards. The only other team to have achieved this dubious feat was the 2020 Ravens against the Buffalo Bills.

Change is on the way. There is no way there won’t be change, not after this one, which put the big bright purple bow on the package that was the entire 2022-23 season.

How much change and what changes? Is offensive coordinator Greg Roman gone? Likely.

Is head coach John Harbaugh on his way out? Very unlikely, unless owner Steve Bisciotti (and won’t it be interesting to hear what he has to say during his annual postseason State of the Castle?) lays down changes in operation that Harbaugh just won’t accept.

Again, that is unlikely to happen, but Bisciotti can’t be pleased here. After all, this ain’t the first time he’s seen this movie.

Has Lamar Jackson played his final game in a Ravens uniform? Impossible to say, although this time, whether it is fair or not, it finally feels as though that could be a possibility. And, frankly, it does feel rather unfair if you want to know the truth.

Only the coaches, the training personnel and the Ravens players inside the Castle know where the truth lies here, and from what cornerback Marlon Humphrey, defensive tackle Calais Campbell and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, among many others, have said, Jackson’s injury and his struggles to rehabilitate it are real.

Only time will tell. The Ravens have until March 7 to sign Jackson to a new deal or to franchise him for next season and then proceed from there, whether that be the status quo or to put together a trade.

Other than that, just about everybody else within the Castle, who will be deemed eligible for a career change, is on the clock. This time, a very fast-moving clock.

Say like 12 seconds?

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT