Ravens no longer convincing anyone this season’s going to be different

October 28, 2018 | Luke Jones

Keep reciting the Ravens’ numbers and resume to try to convince yourself.

A top-ranked defense, an improved offense, a convincing victory at Pittsburgh, and a record-setting performance at Tennessee. Baltimore still has the NFL’s third-best point different (plus-60), which is supposed to be an indicator of future results. Even after last week’s tough loss to New Orleans, many still believed the Ravens were markedly better than last year.

But after Sunday’s listless 36-21 defeat at Carolina to finish off a 1-3 October — which follows last season’s 2-3 October and a winless October the year before that — the Ravens have returned to their post-Super Bowl XLVII home. John Harbaugh’s team is 4-4 at the midway point for the third straight season. It’s the fifth time in six years the Ravens have failed to have a winning record through eight games, and you know how those campaigns turned out.

“Overall, when you look at us, you would think that we are pretty good,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw two interceptions in what was arguably his worst game of the season. “But when you look at each individual game for what it is and each individual situation and the reasons why we lost some of those games, then it is what it is.

“There is no lying in this league. You are what your record says you are, and that’s the bottom line.”

There’s no sense belaboring what happened against the Panthers when there’s so much blame to go around. From the moment rookie Lamar Jackson threw a wounded duck short of a wide-open Willie Snead on a third-and-1 gadget play on the second offensive drive, the Ravens fell apart in all three phases of the game. Baltimore was thoroughly outplayed and outcoached as Carolina would score 27 straight points from late in the first quarter until the final seconds of the third period, transforming a 7-0 lead into a 20-point deficit.

Flacco struggled behind a makeshift offensive line missing two starters, his receivers dropped passes, and the offense committed too many costly penalties. A poor running game finished with flashy numbers for once, but Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love came untouched as he blew up an Alex Collins run and forced a fumble in the second quarter, leading to a touchdown. After such a promising September, the Ravens averaged just 18.5 points per game and Flacco only 5.9 yards per passing attempt in October, signs that being so one-dimensional is really beginning to catch up with the offense.

Three turnovers did the defense no favors on Sunday, but the group allowed a 99-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter and an 85-yard touchdown drive after the deficit was trimmed to 13 at the end of the third quarter. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale had no answers for quarterback Cam Newton, who had his way with the Ravens both through the air and with his legs as the Panthers finished 4-for-5 inside the red zone.

In addition to failing to record a single sack, the defense had no takeaways and has only one since Tavon Young’s first-quarter interception in the loss at Cleveland in Week 5. No matter how shiny the rest of the numbers might be, the last two weeks have reflected how difficult it is to win a close game or spark a comeback without a game-changing play from your defense.

After so much was made of Justin Tucker’s stunning missed extra point last week, perhaps the pep talks needed to go to everyone else.

“We just didn’t have it,” Harbaugh said. “We weren’t there in terms of what we needed to do — coaching, playing. It starts with me. It’s on my shoulders completely. I’ll take responsibility for it.”

You hoped the Week 7 defeat to the Saints would serve as a lesson about the need to finish in the fourth quarter, but the Ravens instead responded with their worst performance of the year. It was hardly the worst loss of the Harbaugh era, but it was the kind that makes you question what’s underneath the hood of this football team.

Where was the energy and urgency?

As was the case right around this time last season and the year before that, the season is far from ruined. The Ravens won’t play on the road again until December and play their next two games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the two teams they’re chasing in the AFC North. Consecutive wins would put them back on track and leave them feeling better about their playoff chances at 6-4.

But another slip-up ahead of December road games at Atlanta, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers would leave anyone doubting this team’s ability to go on the kind of run needed to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. You’d certainly expect them to need plenty of help from other teams under that scenario.

“Always more, never less” is the 2018 team slogan, but it doesn’t apply to the Ravens’ annual margin for error down the stretch. It’s all-too-familiar territory, but Baltimore stills hope for a different outcome this time around.

Those prospects have become less convincing over the last two weeks as these sure look like the “same old Ravens” after all.

“We’re an average team at this point, but everything’s still right there,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’ve got eight games, divisional games coming up, a lot of home games. It’s there for us to go get it if we want to go get it. If we get it done, it will be on us. If not, then we weren’t good enough.”

The Ravens certainly weren’t on Sunday.