On the eve of another make-or-break game likely determining their playoff fate, the Ravens have apparently seen enough to recommit to 11th-year head coach John Harbaugh.
The organization issued a statement just over 24 hours before their Saturday showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers saying Harbaugh would return next year as the sides “are working on an extension to his existing contract, which expires after the 2019 season.” Winners of four of their last five games since their Week 10 bye, the Ravens currently hold the final wild-card spot in the AFC playoff race and are trying to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2014.
With former starting quarterback Joe Flacco suffering a hip injury in the Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh that dropped Baltimore’s record to 4-5, the coaching staff went to work revamping a pass-heavy offense during the bye week in preparation for first-round rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson making his first NFL start. What’s resulted is a dynamic run-first attack that’s produced at least 190 rushing yards in five straight games, the first time an NFL team has done that since the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. Harbaugh announced last week that Jackson would remain the starter with a now-healthy Flacco officially benched after 10 1/2 years as Baltimore’s franchise quarterback.
Despite being in danger of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, Harbaugh has continued to receive strong support in the locker room with his teams consistently playing hard even when lacking talent at key positions or ravaged by injuries in previous seasons. The 56-year-old arguably would have been the top head coaching candidate around the NFL had the Ravens elected to part ways with him, and many had questioned whether the organization would find a replacement as good as Harbaugh.
Even with the Ravens’ resurgence since the bye, the timing of the announcement is peculiar as a loss to the Chargers would likely mean another non-playoff season for a franchise that has gone just 48-46 and has qualified for the postseason only once since winning Super Bowl XLVII. Owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in February that he briefly contemplated a coaching change after the Ravens’ stunning Week 17 loss to Cincinnati that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, but Harbaugh will now remain head coach as Eric DeCosta assumes the general manager role that will be relinquished by Ozzie Newsome at the end of this season.
With rumors and reports circulating about Harbaugh’s future as the Ravens dropped three straight from late October into early November, the team has responded by winning four games against opponents with a combined record of 19-37 and run defenses ranking in the bottom 10 of the NFL, making the Week 16 tilt against a strong and balanced Chargers team a significant test. This is the third straight year in which the Ravens have entered the penultimate week of the season with an 8-6 record and controlling their own path to a playoff spot.
Harbaugh has compiled a 102-72 regular-season record with six playoff appearances, 10 playoff wins, three AFC championship game appearances, and one Super Bowl title in his 11-year run in Baltimore. The Ravens have won at least eight games in all but one of his seasons.