Based on Stephon Tuitt's pre-game tweet, the Pittsburgh Steelers expected to flatten a Baltimore Ravens squad missing a boatload of players, including its MVP quarterback, top two running backs, No. 1 tight end, several high-caliber linemen on both sides of the ball, as well as many depth players. Instead, Baltimore created a dogfight.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called it a "junior varsity" effort by his team Wednesday. The flipside of that view is that the undermanned Ravens battled to the end, giving the last undefeated team in the NFL a fight instead of rolling over.
"I appreciate our players [and] the way they fought through this," coach John Harbaugh said, via the team's official transcript. "It was a challenge, but they fought through this really unique deal. From that sense, I'm proud of those guys for doing that. So, thank you to them, and thank you for your efforts. This is a crazy year in a lot of ways. [There were] a lot of people involved to make sure this game happened, and we're very appreciative to all of them for their efforts."
Few expected the Ravens to stay in the contest. The offense struggled to move the ball behind a makeshift offensive line. With Robert Griffin III at the helm -- until injury forced the Ravens to go to third-stringer Trace McSorley -- the passing attack accounted for a net of 13 yards. The Ravens didn't generate a first down in their first four drives of the game.
Nevertheless, a muffed punt set up a TD to keep the Ravens in the game early. Were it not for a botched end-of-half sequence, which Baltimore believes should have resulted in a delay of game penalty on Pittsburgh, the Ravens could have been leading at halftime.
"The guys showed a lot of grit and determination today, a lot of toughness," Griffin said. "I want to commend the guys on how they fought. There are no moral victories in this league but I'm proud to be a Raven."
After RGIII went out, McSorley pulled Baltimore within five points with a pass to Marquise Brown, who weaved his way past defenders for a 70-yard TD.
The Ravens defense, missing a plethora of players up front and sustaining injuries to the secondary as the game wore on, held Pittsburgh to 334 total yards, including just 68 rushing, stuffed two fourth downs, and held the Steelers to just 1-of-4 in the red zone.
The loss pushed Baltimore to 6-5, a game out of a playoff spot, but the experience showed players they can battle in any circumstance.
"We're going to be solid," safety Chuck Clark said. "We're just going to win games from here on out. We're going to get in, and we can do it."
Moral victories are for the birds, but often losses can be teachable moments. The Ravens lesson is that they can compete with good teams despite not being at their best. When their starters return off the COVID-19 reserve list and they're at full force, keeping the mentality they fought with Wednesday could get them back into postseason position.
"There's a lot of fight in this team," offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman said. "This team is fighters. They came in, they came into the fight, they were ready to roll. We're going to get a lot of guys healthy back. We're going to just build from here. This is just the beginning. So, we're ready to work."