Steelers won’t face Ravens’ stars
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Having already accomplished all their goals for the regular season, the Baltimore Ravens will play the finale against Pittsburgh this Sunday without quarterback Lamar Jackson, eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda and several other key starters, including injured running back Mark Ingram.
The Ravens (13-2) extended their winning streak to 11 games and clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs with a 31-15 win over Cleveland on Sunday. Ingram left in the fourth quarter with a calf injury, but should be ready when Baltimore opens the playoffs at home during the second weekend in January.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Ingram has a “mild to moderate calf strain” and would probably be unavailable against the Steelers even if the game mattered to Baltimore.
“We’d be looking for him to be ready in two weeks,” Harbaugh said.
Ingram has rushed for 1,018 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. The Ravens will use Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill at running back against the Steelers (8-7), who are still in the playoff hunt.
Jackson will get a well-deserved day off after running for 1,206 yards and throwing 36 touchdown passes over the first 15 games. Jackson has nothing left to prove, and losing him to injury in a meaningless game for the Ravens would be catastrophic.
Robert Griffin III will start, and it’s possible that third-stringer Trace McSorley could make his NFL debut.
Safety Earl Thomas and defensive tackle Brandon Williams will also be rested, said Harbaugh, who expects to expand that list as the week goes on.
Harbaugh understands the potential downside of having some of his star players going three weeks without game action, but hopes spirited practice sessions will fill the void.
“It’s a solid decision,” Harbaugh insisted.
The Ravens haven’t lost since Sept. 29, when Cleveland ran for 193 yards — including 165 by Nick Chubb — in a 40-25 victory. In the rematch, Baltimore limited the Browns to only 49 yards rushing.
“Our front did a great job,” Harbaugh said. “Our run defense was really solid.”
It’s a good thing, too, because the Ravens didn’t get their first touchdown until late in the first half.
“We do not go out there thinking the offense is going to take care of the game for us,” linebacker Josh Bynes said.
What needs help
Harbaugh could use some guidance figuring out what the NFL looks at when a pass interference call is challenged. Jimmy Smith was flagged in the end zone on a pass that appeared uncatchable, but the call stood and the Ravens lost a timeout.
“I thought the contact was minimal, and then the ball was four feet over his head,” Harbaugh said. “What are you going to do? It’s crazy.”
Tight end Mark Andrews had another sensational day, catches six passes for 93 yards and two scores against the Browns.
The former third-round pick out of Oklahoma leads the Ravens with 64 catches, 852 yards receiving and 10 TDs.
Wide receiver Willie Snead was targeting only once and held without a catch. Over his past two games, the former New Orleans star has one reception for 15 yards.
Though Snead has scored five touchdowns this season, his 28 receptions pale against the team-leading 62 he had last year. Over the first 15 games, he’s twice been held without a catch and caught just one pass on three occasions.
The Ravens felt fortunate that Ingram’s injury wasn’t serious, and that he’s got plenty of time to heal. Harbaugh’s reaction to the diagnosis: “Yeah, it’s good news.”
13: The Ravens have tied the franchise record for wins during the regular season, matching the total of the 2006 team. That squad closed the season with four straight wins but followed a first-round bye with a loss to Indianapolis.
The Steelers can earn a playoff berth with a victory and a loss by Tennessee, but the Ravens don’t intend to make it easy for them.
“Our intention will be, and our plan will be, all hands on deck to win the game with all those guys who will be playing,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a rivalry game. It’s the Steelers. They have everything to play for, and we recognize and will be looking to put our absolute best foot forward.”