At the beginning of a Ravens season that would defy their expectations, test their patience and end where their last campaign had fallen short, coach John Harbaugh seemed to see the future.
“Is anything normal in 2020?” he said days before the season opener. “I guess we’ll find out.”
The Ravens’ season ended Saturday night in a playoff game that was anything but normal, a 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills that tested the limits of predictability.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson hadn’t thrown a red-zone interception in his brilliant NFL career. Then he threw a pick-six that all but doomed the Ravens to their second AFC divisional-round exit in as many years.
Kicker Justin Tucker hadn’t missed two straight field-goals since 2018. Then he knocked his first field-goal attempt off one upright inside Bills Stadium and his second off the other.
The Ravens had clinched a playoff berth, completing a desperate climb back from the depths of the NFL’s worst coronavirus pandemic and a midseason slide, with a five-touchdown blowout and Jackson looking like an All-Pro once more. Now they’ll enter the offseason with no touchdowns and Jackson smarting from a hit that knocked him into the NFL’s concussion protocol and out of the game.
With the loss in Orchard Park, New York, the fifth-seeded Ravens were denied their first appearance in the AFC championship game since 2012. The Bills advanced to their first since 1993; they’ll face either the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs or the sixth-seeded Cleveland Browns for a shot at the NFL title.
In three quarters, Jackson was 14 for 24 for 162 yards and added nine carries for 34 yards. He was outdueled by Bills quarterback Josh Allen, a fellow 2018 first-round pick and All-Pro selection, who was 23 for 37 for 206 yards and a touchdown.
The game hinged on two third-quarter drives. For a game featuring two of the NFL’s top seven scoring offenses, it took a while for someone to reach the end zone. After punting three times in the first half, and going without a drive longer than 38 yards, Buffalo started the second half by covering 66 yards over 11 plays, the last a 3-yard touchdown pass to All-Pro receiver Stefon Diggs.
The Ravens’ response was methodical — until it collapsed at the worst possible moment, with the worst possible outcomes. On a second-and-goal play from the Bills’ 9-yard line, Jackson’s throw to a wide-open Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, running free across the middle, fell short under pressure from defensive end Jerry Hughes.