OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- After Sunday's 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh told his players inside the locker room that the team had just dropped its third straight game.
"What does that mean we need to do?" Harbaugh asked.
The players responded, "We need to win three games in a row." But others, especially the vocal fans lashing out on social media, might have given a much more critical reply.
The Ravens' free fall has plummeted them to 4-5 on the season, inciting questions about Harbaugh's future and Joe Flacco's hold on the starting quarterback job.
"There are seven games left in the season -- there’s a lot of football left to be played," Harbaugh said. "It’s not a nine-game season, it’s a 16-game season. We’ll determine our own fate."
Let's address the most pressing questions facing the Ravens at the bye:
Would the Ravens really consider firing Harbaugh during the season?
Only one person can answer this question, and that's owner Steve Bisciotti. That being said, the removal of Harbaugh midway through the season would go against Baltimore's reputation as one of the most stable franchises in the NFL. The Ravens have had three head coaches in 22 years. Even the transition at general manager -- from Ozzie Newsome to Eric DeCosta -- was announced one year ahead. This isn't a knee-jerk organization.
There has been mounting pressure on the franchise since the end of last season because of increased empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium and a three-year playoff drought. If Bisciotti believes a spark is needed to save this spiraling season, the firing of Harbaugh could be seen as the swiftest way to do so.
Parting ways with Harbaugh during the season would be a nearly unprecedented move. The only time a team has fired its Super Bowl-winning coach during a season was 1972, when the Baltimore Colts removed Don McCafferty after five games.
Is there any way Harbaugh survives and coaches the Ravens in 2019?
Sure, but it seems a long shot at this point. Harbaugh has to think he needs to get to the playoffs at the very least and perhaps win a postseason game to keep his job for a 12th season. The Ravens have essentially been eliminated from winning the AFC North (6.9 percent), but their chances of reaching the playoffs are at 36.8 percent percent, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
By no means is this an impossible feat. Baltimore is 1 1/2 games back of Cincinnati (5-3) for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. The Ravens' remaining schedule is ranked the eighth-easiest. The most challenging games are home against the Bengals and on the road against the Atlanta Falcons (4-4), Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) and Los Angeles Chargers (6-2).
Will the Ravens bench Flacco and replace him with Lamar Jackson?
Not until Baltimore is eliminated from the playoffs, and there is no certainty that a change will occur at that time. Harbaugh said Sunday that he wants Jackson to be on the field more. But there is a big jump from increased playing time to taking over as the starting quarterback.
Flacco's performance has declined during the losing streak. He has completed 59.1 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions as well as missing some open targets in the red zone. His 77.3 passer rating ranks No. 29 over that span. Jackson, though, hasn't shown enough consistency and accuracy to convincingly prove he's ready to be an every-down quarterback. Switching to Jackson would raise a white flag on the season.
How likely would Harbaugh fire offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg?
If the Ravens make a move, this is the most logical one. Harbaugh has dismissed two playcallers during the season: Cam Cameron in 2012 and Marc Trestman in 2016. The offense has been a problem during the three-game skid, ranking No. 24 in yards (313.7) and No. 17 in offensive points scored (20.0).
But Harbaugh didn't seem inclined to make any drastic moves after the game. Asked if changes needed to be made to the coaching staff or personnel, Harbaugh said, "I don't see that."
The degree of difficulty in running the Ravens offense has increased with the lack of continuity and execution. Injuries have forced the third different starting offensive line in as many weeks, and Ravens receivers have dropped 18 passes (tied for third-most in the NFL). If Mornhinweg was let go, Baltimore would presumably turn to assistant head coach/tight ends coach Greg Roman.
"We’ve got seven games left. There’s still an opportunity, and nobody knows what’s going to happen, right?" safety Eric Weddle said. "I know this team, this coaching staff, we’re going to continue to work and strive to win games. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we play is for a chance at the playoffs, and we’re not eliminated yet. We’re in a hole, but we’ve got to dig ourselves out."