The AFC North conversation in recent weeks has understandably been dominated by the Cincinnati Bengals, who had their best seasons in decades. They made it all the way to the Super Bowl, and came to within minutes of actually winning it, if not for an impressive game-winning drive orchestrated by Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp.
But there are two other teams in the division for the Pittsburgh Steelers to face, and it could well still be the case that their biggest challenge in 2022 will be the Baltimore Ravens, who won the AFC North in 2018 and 2019, and won a postseason game in 2020. They held the number one seed in the AFC with six games to play before an injury for quarterback Lamar Jackson virtually torpedoed their chances.
Originally, the outside expectation was that Jackson would not miss much time, after he went down with what looked like a potentially minor ankle injury early in a game against the Cleveland Browns. However, it turned out to be a fairly significant bone bruise that did not heal as originally and optimistically projected.
Not only did he never return to practice for the remainder of the regular season outside of faint early desperation attempts to force his way back onto the field, he had not even resumed work after the season was over, either, until now.
Jackson ‘officially’ began practicing again yesterday, in fact, two days after the Super Bowl, sharing some videos via his Instagram page showing himself throwing on a football field and doing some light movements indicating improvement in the mobility of his ankle.
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The former league MVP had a somewhat average season for him, in 11-plus games played in 2021. He completed 246 of 382 pass attempts for 2882 yards with 16 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, by far his worst touchdown-to-interception ratio thus far in his career. He rushed for 767 yards on 133 attempts, with two scores, so he was on pace to rush for over 1000 for a third consecutive season in that regard, but he was not scoring as often.
Jackson missed one game earlier in the season due to COVID-19, before missing the final four games due to the ankle injury. Tyler Huntley started three of the final four games, missing one himself. He lost those three games, and the Ravens lost all four at the end of the season that Jackson missed, as well as the game in which he was injured early on.
In all, they lost their final six games, going from an 8-3 record to 8-9, the worst run in John Harbaugh’s history in Baltimore. The losing streak began with the first game against the Steelers that ended on a potential game-winning two-point conversion that Jackson could not complete to tight end Mark Andrews.