BALTIMORE, Md. — Remember when fans of the Baltimore Ravens felt as though the sky was falling?
I certainly do. In fact, I couldn’t believe that the sky managed to fall consistently for two weeks in Charm City, but it felt like it did.
Hell, when Miami Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown scored in the first quarter Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium to make things 7-7, I was beginning to wonder if the sky would ever go back above our heads.
Fortunately for everyone, the sky seemed to return to place as the Ravens (6-2) went on to soundly defeat the Fins (4-4) 26-10 to stay atop the AFC North.
Look, I’m not trying to beat Ravens fans up for the insane way they over-analyze their favorite NFL team. Remember, I’m a Ravens fan myself. I’ve been just as guilty at times. Heck, it’s likely at this point that no one analyzes the team more than I do, I just get paid to do it now.
The point I’m trying to make is that Sunday provided a perfect example of why the utter panic that surrounded the team’s narrow 34-31 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 7 was at best unnecessary.
The Ravens proved just 14 days later that they are still clearly amongst the best teams in the entire league.
Sunday was by no means a “Mona Lisa” performance, nor has any performance from the Ravens been any sort of masterpiece this season. The team was downright dismal in the red zone, scoring just one touchdown despite having the ball seven times inside the Miami 20 yard line. Worst of all was the 2nd quarter drive that saw the Ravens take over at the Miami 4, lose 16 yards, then be forced to abort a field goal attempt when punter Sam Koch couldn’t hold on to Morgan Cox’s snap.
The Ravens will see plenty of missed opportunities and “teachable moments” when they look back on the tape of their victory, but there’s something else they’ll see that will be significantly more important.
In this instance, a convincing win.
“I don’t know how many times you will play a perfect game” said future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis. “There’s nothing perfect about this league. Only thing that matters is W’s.”
He’s absolutely right.
The Baltimore Ravens find themselves in a situation that nearly every other team in the league would trade for in a heartbeat. They still control their own destiny to win their division, and with the New England Patriots’ loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday, they’re once again tied for the best record in the AFC.
They may not be playing perfect football, but they’ve been pretty damn good.
Particularly impressive Sunday were the Ravens’ most familiar faces. QB Joe Flacco was 20/27 for 266 yards, 2 TD’s and no interceptions. Pro Bowl RB Ray Rice finished the day with 180 yards of total offense. WR Derrick Mason had four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, Lewis lead the way with 7 tackles while LB Terrell Suggs and DT Haloti Ngata each sacked Miami QB Chad Henne. Fittingly, the game was eventually sealed with an interception from S Ed Reed, his third in two games.
If you had asked the Baltimore Ravens to write a script for how they think they should win games, I’d assume that a number of things that happened Sunday would be included.
It’s hard to quantify just how good the Ravens are right now because there isn’t one area where they are particularly dominant. They’re just doing a lot of things very well.
In past years, good Ravens teams have had a level of undeniable swagger. It’s been evident in their on-field antics and in the way they’ve talked.
This Ravens team doesn’t necessarily show that same level of “swagger”, which might have something to do with why it is difficult for fans to really understand just how good the team is right now. It seems as though the swagger of years past has now been replaced by a toned-down level of confidence.
“We’re just confident” said Suggs. “We’re confident that any given Sunday we can go out there and we can win every game. Every game is winnable, so we just continue to play ball.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Mason. “We expect to win every game. That’s not being cocky or anything. We just expect to win every game that we play because of the guys we have out on the field.”
“We know it’s going to be hard” added Mason, “but we always find a way to win a football game when it counts.”
It’s hard to label any team in the NFL as a prohibitive to win the Super Bowl or even to reach Arlington this season, but it isn’t hard to determine which teams are setting themselves apart as being capable of making that type of run. The Ravens are clearly in the group that is capable of making such a run.
They’re confident for good reason. Despite the pass rush troubles, despite the red zone issues, despite aborted field goals, despite early season injuries, despite some roster shuffling, they have absolutely identified themselves as one of the best teams in the entire NFL.
There’s a pesky trip to the Georgia Dome looming in just days to face the Atlanta Falcons. Should the Ravens find a way to win there, they may well make a statement that they deserve “favorite” status in the AFC.
In the meantime, they’ll maintain confidence, whether it not it means they’ll be one of the last two teams standing at the end of the season.
And in the meantime, it will be nice to know that the sky is back in its normal place.