The final score alone wouldn’t have been surprising with the Ravens often making things difficult on themselves over the years, especially when playing on the road.
But falling behind 20-0 to the lowly Cleveland Browns less than 11 minutes into the game?
That’s the kind of nightmare start that makes everyone take pause as you ponder how many teams against which the Ravens could have afforded to do that and still come away with a win. The 25-20 victory was the second-largest comeback in franchise history, but the overall performance still leaves observers asking how good the Ravens truly are despite starting 2-0 for the first time since 2009.
In the end, you’d much rather apologize for an ugly win than pump your chest out about a pretty loss or moral victory any day of the week. John Harbaugh’s team knows it has a lot of work to do, regardless of what the record indicates.
But Sunday represented another example of how 2016 might be different than last year’s 5-11 nightmare.
How many times did fans lament the Ravens’ inability to make game-changing plays to swing the momentum in the opposite direction last year?
That’s exactly what Lawrence Guy provided by blocking Cleveland kicker Patrick Murray’s extra point, leading to rookie Tavon Young’s return for a defensive two-point score that transformed an expected 21-0 deficit into a 20-2 score in the first quarter. The three-point swing not only stopped the first-quarter hemorrhaging, but it provided the pep in the step that the Ravens desperately needed after an emotional Saturday mourning the death of beloved defensive assistant Clarence Brooks.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace has provided the ingredient that the passing game had sorely lacked since the departure of Torrey Smith. The veteran newcomer caught two more touchdowns from quarterback Joe Flacco on Sunday and is providing the speed to open up the short-to-intermediate portion of the field for Dennis Pitta, who led the way with nine receptions for 102 yards.
Even the defense brushed itself off from a nightmare first quarter to make the game-saving play as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley picked off a Josh McCown pass at the 1-yard line with 13 seconds to go. How many times was the Ravens defense unable to make a play in a critical spot last year?
The Ravens were also fortunate on Sunday, which isn’t a bad thing. Both Super Bowl runs in franchise history were accompanied by some good luck along the way. Baltimore had little of that last season, ranging from the many injuries to a questionable holding call against Will Hill in Oakland’s final drive and a missed false start call that gave Jacksonville the chance to make the game-winning field goal on the final play of the game.
Harbaugh and the Ravens were the beneficiaries of an absurd taunting call against Terrelle Pryor after the Browns receiver had made a terrific 20-yard reception to put the ball on the Baltimore 10 with 20 seconds remaining. With an official right behind Lardarius Webb when Pryor harmlessly flipped the ball in that direction after the catch, how could anyone consciously throw such a flag in that critical moment?
You can only imagine the outrage in Baltimore had such a call come against Wallace or Steve Smith in that spot. The penalty wiped away the 20-yard gain as McCown threw the pick to Mosley on the next play.
It tainted an exciting finish to a close game, but the Ravens shouldn’t care as long as they and their fans remember this one the next time Baltimore comes up on the short end of an all-too-common officiating gaffe in the NFL. You know it will happen sooner or later.
Like their close season-opening win against a Buffalo team that’s already in disarray, the Ravens didn’t earn style points for such an uneven performance against a Cleveland team with 17 rookies on the roster. But they are exhibiting positive traits that just weren’t there last season.
On Sunday, they made big plays when they needed to and had a little bit of luck at the end.
That’s good enough for now.