- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 1, 2020

BALTIMORE — In the immediate aftermath of Ronnie Stanley’s injury in the first quarter Sunday, some players knelt. Others put their hands on their helmets, or looked on, momentarily stunned.

But later, once the cart was on the field and Stanley’s ankle was secured in an aircast, the offensive lineman’s Baltimore Ravens teammates gathered around as the All-Pro left tackle was driven down the tunnel.

Two days after Stanley signed a five-year contract extension, Stanley suffered a season-ending ankle injury that coach John Harbaugh described as “severe.” The impact it had on his Ravens teammates was substantial, too, leaving them to try to refocus following a significant loss in a divisional rivalry game.

“Very hard, man,” lineman Orlando Brown said. “That’s somebody that’s helped me throughout my career, someone that did what he needed to do to put himself and his family up for the rest of their lives. And losing someone like that, a leader like that to this team and this offensive line, it’s hard to put into words the effect that takes on you a little bit as [far as] morale. But it’s the NFL, and unfortunately, the mentality is next man up.”

Stanley earned his five-year contract extension for his play on the field — for which he is renowned. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the best pass blocker in 2019, surrendering just six total pressures as he protected quarterback Lamar Jackson’s blindside. And entering the 2020 campaign, the analytics website listed Stanley as the fourth-best overall tackle in football.

But his presence in the locker room may be just as important. The former 2016 first-round pick is someone “everybody looks up to,” wide receiver Willie Snead said.

“We were all happy for him this week, because he got a huge deal,” Snead said. “And I know he was ready to play in this game, because of the rivalry and everything that it means. Just to see him go down like that, it hurts everybody, and we just wanted to go out there and play all out for him. We just wanted to continue to play hard for him, because that’s what he would have wanted.”

After Stanley’s departure — the second offensive line injury Sunday, with Tyre Phillips also exiting with an ankle injury — Baltimore’s front shifted heavily. Brown moved to left tackle, D.J. Fluker slotted in at right tackle and Patrick Mekari played right guard.

The movement created a challenge facing a defense as stout as Pittsburgh’s. 

The Steelers entered Sunday’s contest with the second-best rush defense and puts pressure on quarterbacks at a high rate. While they sacked Jackson four times, though, the Ravens managed 265 yards rushing, by far the most allowed by Pittsburgh this season.

So despite the 28-24 loss — with four turnovers playing a major role — Brown is optimistic about how the Ravens’ offensive line will jell, particularly once they have time to practice in their new roles.

“That’s probably the best defensive front in the NFL,” Brown said. “They’re very good at what they do, and they did what they needed to do today to come out here and win. From an offensive line perspective, man, there is so much room for us to grow, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Still, losing a talent of Stanley’s caliber won’t be easy to overcome, and the shadow of his absence will likely hang over the rest of the Ravens’ 2020 season. 

“That’s our brother,” Jackson said. “We wanted to win this game for him. It was all about him at that point when we saw him go down. He means a lot to our offense.”

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