As Ravens were dropping like flies this afternoon, the question kept getting whispered throughout the press box: “When is John Harbaugh finally going to pull his starters?”
But despite multiple starters limping off the field with trainers by their side, Harbaugh opted not to call on his backups.
And his players fully supported the decision.
“Why? We didn’t have the game won,” said wide receiver Derrick Mason, when asked if he thought the starters should have been allowed to rest. “Why pull the starters when we’re not consistently going down the field? We wanted to go out with a win and go into the playoffs with momentum.”
They ended up getting the win, which the players and coaches said all week was important to them, regardless of the Steelers outcome.
The momentum? Not so much. I’ll have more on that in the coming days.
But at the time, the thought was that with the offense struggling, the coaches wanted to give the starters a chance to try and hit a groove. And once the first-stringers were told they’d be staying in the game, they weren’t going to hold anything back or ease up to try and prevent injury.
“Football is a game that’s not like basketball or baseball,” center Matt Birk said. “You just can’t take it easy. Regardless of what it means or doesn’t mean, you have to play hard. You have to play your butt off, because if you don’t, bad things happen to you, and to your teammates. I think it’s just kind of the way we’re made as football players. You never have the pads on and just go out there and go through the motions.”
Some players were joking after the game that there was no way that they were coming out of the game even if Harbaugh had asked them to.
Playing against a division rival who had beaten them three straight times coming into the day, the Ravens were fired up to give the Bengals a little payback, even if the result didn’t mean anything as far as playoff implications were concerned.
“I told Ray (Lewis) that (he was going to be taken out) as a joke, and he looked at me like I was crazy,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said with a laugh. “’Haloti (Ngata), Ray, ya’ll guys are out.’ Nobody’s coming off the field. We’ve got too much pride.
“We needed to beat Cincinnati. They’ve got a good ballclub. They always scrap, and they’ve had our number. Nobody was coming off the field.”