BALTIMORE — Patrick Mekari walked to the 40-yard line at M&T Bank Stadium, helmet in his left hand, and stared at a scoreboard overlooking the endzone where he and his teammates’ worst nightmare had just occurred.
Mekari turned 180 degrees and looked at the other scoreboard, seemingly hoping it showed a different message instead of the 28-12 score in favor of the Titans as the first one had.
He walked back to the sideline, shoulders slumped, and stared at the purple seats behind the Ravens’ bench. Three hours earlier, those seats were filled with fans waving flags that read, ‘Every Decibel Counts.’
When Mekari looked into the stands, there wasn’t much to stare at except for a handful of fans giving one final salute to their team, no longer waving those same flags that seemed cruel in hindsight. Mekari slowly walked to the edge of the field, then down the steps into the tunnel where he and the Ravens were set to deal with their latest loss, the one that ended their season in the divisional playoffs.
“I was just taking it in,” Mekari said. “Last game of my rookie season, I know the next time I’m going to step foot on that field will be next season in the preseason. I was just taking in the moment.”
The moment, and moments, that just occurred on the field weren’t much to look fondly on for the Ravens. It started on the first offensive possession, when a well-placed Lamar Jackson pass hit Mark Andrews in the hands and bounced right into the hands of Titans safety Kevin Byard. The Titans scored on the ensuing drive.
In a theme of the night, Baltimore shot itself in the foot time and time again with turnovers, costly penalties and untimely mental and physical mistakes.
When it seemed like the team caught a break, Seth Roberts dropped a pass that could’ve sprung him down the sideline for a touchdown. When the Ravens needed a touchdown down 15 points in the third quarter, Jackson was hit from behind and fumbled which led to seven more Titans points.
“You don't ever expect to get into a car crash until you get into a car crash, and I feel like that's what it is,” Matthew Judon said. “We were riding. We were rolling hot, and it hit us.”
It was a loss where there’s not many easy answers, which is why Mekari and some lingered on the field as the game ended and the Titans celebrated.
Bradley Bozeman, helmet on, stopped on the sideline and gave one last look at the fans before a quick wave as he descended into the darkness of the tunnel and the offseason. Sam Koch walked the sideline and waved to fans that stayed till the bitter end, the team’s first loss since September.
The Ravens didn’t mince words. They knew they hadn’t played their best.
“We just beat ourselves,” Jackson said. “We had, I had, a lot of mistakes on my half. Three turnovers, that shouldn’t happen. They came out to play. We just started out slow.”
On Jackson, his performance wasn’t one that time will look favorably on, but it wasn’t one to hang his head in shame about, either. He completed 31-of-59 attempts passing, of which both numbers were career-highs. He threw for 365 yards — also a career-high — a score and ran for 143 yards, but his two interceptions and fumble lost will drown out the box score.
What Jackson did, however, was use sidearm throws and incredible precision down the field to keep the Ravens in the game. One pass in particular, a deep ball to Marquise Brown, in triple coverage, at the end of the first half put the Ravens at the Titans four-yard line.
But on the next play, eight seconds came off the clock as Jackson scrambled and was forced to throw the ball through the back of the end zone. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal and trailed 14-6 at the break.
“I just thought they did a great job up front,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We didn’t convert in the passing game, probably, like we needed to. In the end, you have to complete passes. And a team that’s up there playing good run defense, we popped some runs, but it wasn’t quite consistent enough.”
While the Ravens offense failed, the defense wasn’t put in many favorable situations as it couldn’t contain Derrick Henry all game long.
Henry rushed for 195 yards on 30 carries, and though the Ravens held Ryan Tannehill to just 88 yards passing on 7-of-14 through the air, they had to deal with short fields and a shorter life span as the Titans slowly drained the life from M&T Bank Stadium.
On the same field that the Ravens set the NFL’s all-time rushing record for a team two weeks prior, at the same stadium where Jackson broke the all-time rushing record for a quarterback in a season two weeks before that, the Titans owned the line of scrimmage and beat the Ravens at their own game.
“We knew that we had to be able to stop the run, the cut-back runs, so we could be able to be on the front side and contain him,” Chuck Clark said. ”There were a couple of times that we messed up as a unit, and he got out of it.”
The tone of the locker room, however, wasn’t grim or morbid. There were long faces and disappointed answers, but there wasn’t a sense of finality to what the Ravens had just accomplished. Instead, there was a sense of hope and optimism as the game’s final seconds drifted further and further into the past.
The Ravens look like they’re going to return both their head coach and offensive coordinator next season. The majority of the offense will be back and a handful of defensive starters are set to return as well.
They ended the regular season on a 12-game win streak and had the best record in franchise history. They had the best offense in the league and the best in franchise history with a quarterback likely to win MVP with three years remaining on his rookie deal.
“Just as a team, clearly this was the best regular season in franchise history,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “We have a ton of great talent here, a ton of character. I will say we have a ton of guys that love working and are excited for another opportunity next year.”
But still, the pain of Saturday’s loss to the sixth-seeded Titans won’t soon go away. Narratives will rise about the team as playoff performers as questions will only grow louder as the years move on.
And perhaps the biggest question of the 2020 offseason, Judon and his now-expired contract, is still left to be decided.
Judon, as it turned out, was the last player out the locker room. After his interview concluded, he dapped up members of the Ravens equipment staff and said brief goodbyes before throwing on his backpack and heading for the exits.
Behind him, that equipment staff wheeled out bins toward the training room leaving nothing but empty lockers and a season that ended far earlier than anyone anticipated in their wake.
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