As the Ravens left the field at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, the mood was a somber one — but not for the typical reasons you’d expect after a loss to a rival.
Sure, the Ravens lost 23-17 to a team they were favored to beat. They’d been poor trying to stop the run game and made one too many offensive errors to hang around. It was a continuation of some of the biggest questions that have plagued the Ravens for the last two months.
But the issue wasn’t the numbers on the scoreboard. It was the numbers on the Ravens’ injury report.
They lost three players during Sunday’s game (tight end Nick Boyle, cornerback Terrell Bonds and defensive tackle Brandon Williams) who did not return. That was added into the absence of defensive lineman Calais Campbell, inside linebacker L.J. Fort and cornerback Jimmy Smith.
The Ravens entered Sunday’s game against the Patriots hoping to clear up some questions about the team’s future on the field. Instead, they’ll be littered with them in the coming weeks.
“Those guys are huge,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “They’re great players for us. We need them. They’re starters for a reason. We don’t like to see none of our guys go down. I said that before when Ronnie (Stanley) went down. Nick (Boyle) is our brother. We were hoping he would just be out for the game at least. I don’t even know what to say. (I’m) ticked off.”
Boyle’s injury was the most gruesome and the most impactful, as the tight end will be out for the remainder of the season with a “major” left knee injury.
Known by his teammates and coaches, and many around the league, as the best blocking tight end in the sport, Boyle’s absence cannot be overstated for a run-first team like the Ravens.
“Injuries are a part of the game, but it sucks to see Nick go down, because he’s just a hard worker, and he’s a big part of our run game and everything that we do offensively,” wideout Willie Snead said. “So, it just really sucks to see him go down like that. I said it last time; when Ronnie got hurt, I was up here, and now I’m here when Nick got hurt. It just sucks, man.
The Ravens also lost Williams and Bonds during the game, which only further depleted a defense that was in need of healthy bodies.
With Williams and Campbell out of the mix, the Patriots ran at will on the ground for most of the game as the Ravens were forced to rely on Justin Ellis, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington Jr. much more than normal.
“There isn’t an excuse,” outside linebacker Matthew Judon said. “Whoever is in the game needs to play to a standard. When we let up that many rushing yards from a team, that’s unacceptable. If a team runs the ball like that, you usually lose. So, there’s no excuses.”
In the secondary, the Ravens were already without Smith, Tavon Young, Iman Marshall, Anthony Averett and Khalil Dorsey, which meant that after the loss of Bonds, they were forced to rely upon Tramon Williams — who was in his first week as a Raven.
Injuries along the offensive line impacted the game, indirectly, as losing Stanley at left tackle against the Steelers forced Orlando Brown Jr. to the left side and D.J. Fluker to right tackle. Midway through the game, Patrick Mekari, who started the game at right guard, was moved to right tackle in place of Fluker and Ben Powers took over at right guard.
No matter the schedule upcoming, the health of the Ravens is now the biggest issue facing the team.
“I don’t think it does anybody any good to sit there and say, ‘Well, it’s this degree of a problem,’” coach John Harbaugh said. “Teams have them. Guys are going to have to step up, and they’re going to step up. They’re going to step up and play well, and we’re going to be in good shape. I’m not worried about guys stepping up and playing well. That’s their job and that will be an opportunity for other guys until other guys come back.”
Now, the Ravens will have to add at least one more tight end to the active roster to replace an irreplaceable blocker in Boyle. They may need to find a more permanent answer at right tackle in the aftereffects of losing their All-Pro left tackle. They need to get healthy at cornerback to give the team needed depth. They need their defensive line to get healthy, or risk another brutal showing against the physical Tennessee Titans in less than a week.
So for the first time all season, the biggest problems for the Ravens will lay in the trainer’s office rather than on the field.
“A lot of guys have to step up, and we’re going to find out about ourselves,” Snead said. “We’re going to find out about the mold of this team – offense and defense. I think a lot of guys that are going to have to step up, they will step up, and they will show they can make an impact on this team – whoever that may be.”