Ravens' morale-crushing loss affects shot at division title

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens hadn't allowed a touchdown for the entire game, yet still needed one more defensive stand to beat the rival Pittsburgh Steelers and stay on course to win the AFC North.

Forced to carry the load on a team with an offense that has struggled for weeks to get into the end zone, Baltimore's overworked defense wilted down the stretch against Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.

After going 59 minutes without reaching the end zone, Pittsburgh took its first lead of the game Sunday night when Pickett connected with Najee Harris with 56 seconds remaining to provide the Steelers with a 16-13 victory.

“Poor performance by us. Didn’t get the job done,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Very disappointed. We’ve got to play better than that.”

The morale-crushing defeat left the Ravens looking for help in their bid to enter the postseason as division champions.

Sure, Baltimore (10-6) has already clinched a spot in the playoffs, for now as a wild-card entrant. But the path to the Super Bowl would have been a whole lot easier as AFC North champions.

If Cincinnati beats Buffalo on Monday night, then the Ravens will be eliminated from the division race and next week's game on the road against the Bengals will be virtually meaningless.

Unfortunately for the Ravens, the first touchdown they allowed at home since Oct. 23 will likely deprive them from playing at home when the playoffs begin.

Even though the Steelers marched 80 yards in 11 plays for the game-winning score, it's tough to blame the Baltimore defense. After all, the offense generated only 15 first downs and just three points after halftime.

Yes, Tyler Huntley started a fourth straight game for injured quarterback Lamar Jackson. He's not to be compared with Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, but the backup threw for only 130 yards and heaved a late interception that ended any hope the Ravens had of making a comeback.

His target on that pass?

“Somebody,” Huntley said. “Somebody to make a play.”

That's a desperate state of affairs, but that pretty much sums up an offense that has scored more than 17 points just once in its last six games. Baltimore's only TD in this one was on a second-quarter pass from Huntley to Isaiah Likely.

“We didn’t do a great job of finding a way to make plays. We had a few here and there,” Harbaugh lamented.

The Ravens frittered away a 13-3 lead and had two straight three-and-outs to start the fourth quarter. The first time, Baltimore lost two yards after Justice Hill took a kickoff 56 yards to the Pittsburgh 40.

“Very disappointing,” Harbaugh said. “That was a big drive for us right there. We could have put the game away.”

Baltimore got just one first down over the final 15 minutes. The team has lost many a lead in the fourth quarter this season, mostly because the defense collapsed. In this one, the offense had an opportunity to keep the defense off the field, but couldn't get it done.

“We just got stopped, didn’t convert third down, got behind the sticks a little bit,” Huntley said. “The Steelers made good defensive stands two drives in a row, kept us out of field goal range and we had to punt.”

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David Ginsburg, The Associated Press