- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2020

At some point, the Baltimore Ravens’ defense was bound to break.

With a depleted line and injuries stacking up in the secondary — and hardly any practice time over the past week — the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 12-play, 61-yard drive to begin the fourth quarter looked something like what had been expected entering Wednesday.

That the game remained close deep into the outing is a credit to that defense, what with Robert Griffin III at quarterback for the Ravens and about a dozen starters out due to the team’s coronavirus outbreak. But the 19-14 result still goes down as a loss all the same, dropping Baltimore to 6-5 while Pittsburgh maintains its undefeated start.

“The guys showed a lot of grit and determination today,” Griffin said. “A lot of toughness being in the situation we were in.”

The Steelers struggled to convert on third downs, managing to make 6-of-14 attempts. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a short-yardage score early in the fourth, though, giving Pittsburgh just enough of a lift to edge its AFC North foe.

Baltimore finished with 219 yards, 70 of which came on a Marquise Brown touchdown catch that proved too little, too late. Yet those difficulties weren’t much of a surprise.

These two teams met on a Wednesday afternoon because of a coronavirus outbreak among the Ravens that postponed the matchup three times from Thanksgiving night. Baltimore had more than a dozen players test positive over the last 10 days.

“There’s a lot of fight in this team,” Ravens offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman said. “We’re just going to build from here.”

The matchup was defined nearly as much by who wasn’t on the field — including Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Steelers running back James Conner — as who was. The outbreak left Griffin under center for Baltimore, a depleted defensive line and an offense without tailbacks Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins.

Making his second start since 2016, Griffin’s functionality was limited, especially after he pulled his hamstring. He threw a costly interception in the first quarter near his team’s own end zone, telegraphing a read. Steelers cornerback Joe Haden jumped the out route and returned it for a touchdown.

“I feel like I let the team down,” Griffin said. “I pulled my hamstring in the second quarter, and I felt like if I hadn’t done that, we would’ve won this game.”

But even amid all the struggles — which might be expected of a team that only had two walkthroughs over the last week — Griffin still showed a momentary flash of the player he was with the Washington Football Team eight seasons ago. Late in the second quarter, Griffin followed his blockers and broke out for a 39-yard gain, rumbling and stumbling into Pittsburgh territory — his longest scamper since 2012.

Eight plays later, Baltimore was on the goal line, a chance to take an unlikely lead into halftime. But on second-and-goal, Griffin handed the ball off to Gus Edwards. He was stuffed. The Steelers took their time getting off the pile, and without a timeout remaining, 18 seconds ticked off the clock.

“I think that’s in the rule book, like delay of game on the defense,” Brown said. “But I’m not a referee.”

There were only three seconds left before the end of the first half by the time Griffin snapped the ball for third down. Still, tight end Luke Willson had a chance to reel in a touchdown grab. He didn’t though, and Pittsburgh entered the locker room at the end of a first half featuring four total turnovers with a 12-7 advantage.

Had Baltimore managed to score there, perhaps the game would’ve been different.

Baltimore was in the game at all because of its defense and a muffed punt from Ray-Ray McCloud. Edwards punched the ball into the end zone to cap that four-play, 16-yard drive.

But no matter how much the Ravens kept Roethlisberger and the Steelers off balance on offense, the fourth-quarter drive that finished with a Smith-Schuster touchdown pushed the contest out of reach. Griffin had next-to-no time to throw the ball, finishing 7-of-12 for 33 yards and an interception to accompany 68 rushing yards.

“I thought Robert played really hard,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He made some plays for us there, especially on the drive before the half.”

Quarterback Trace McSorley entered because of Griffin’s hamstring injury, and his 70-yard touchdown pass to Brown made things interesting late. But the score didn’t amount into anything more than intrigue, with miscues earlier in the game — such as two turnovers and no points scored on that drive before halftime — sinking the Ravens in a game few gave them much of a chance in anyway.

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