An 8-0 finish?
The chatter among players began moments after the win over San Diego and has only been amplified with a bye week to rest their bodies and minds. Despite a 2-6 record that has them standing 13th out of 16 teams in the AFC entering Week 10, the Ravens still have their sights set on the playoffs as they trail current No. 6 seed Pittsburgh by 2 1/2 games.
Few outside the Baltimore locker room think qualifying for the postseason is anything but crazy talk, but that’s perfectly fine with the Ravens.
“That’s why it’s going to feel so much greater when we finally make it,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “Coming back from this type of record and this season and the first eight [games], it’s going to feel that much greater when we make the playoffs. Let’s make some history.”
Unrealistic? Absolutely. Insane? Perhaps.
But I still like it.
Recent Ravens teams haven’t exactly oozed swagger like those from yesteryear, and that was even before they lost their two most demonstrative leaders — Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith — to season-ending injuries in the first half. Players know the odds are wildly against them, but believing you’re good enough fits into that winning equation — whether you actually are or not in the end.
Doubting talent and coaching is fair, but questioning the effort of these Ravens doesn’t mesh with all six of their losses coming by just one possession and a combined 30 points. A team that’s mailed it in doesn’t compete on a weekly basis, making the post-bye confidence an encouraging sign for better results with a more favorable schedule in the second half.
Of course, how much better is the real question, and that can only be answered on the field.
“We have to earn our way to have that conversation for sure,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But I expect our guys to have high expectations. The standard here has been high. We’ve set a high bar here for a long time, and we’re proud of that. We have high expectations, so we’re not going to let those expectations go. We’re not pleased with where we are — just like the fans aren’t pleased, coaches aren’t pleased, players aren’t pleased. Nobody in the organization is pleased with where we are, and we’re very determined to turn it around.”
We’ve all heard how the Ravens could be better than their 2-6 record. Given the small margin of defeat in those six losses, it’s fair to acknowledge the possibility, but let’s not forget those two victories could have easily turned into defeats as well. The eternal optimist would be stretching further to say the Ravens could be 6-2 or better than the pessimist would be in pointing to the possibility of a winless record through eight games.
Even if you believe that the Ravens were unlucky in the first half of the season, that doesn’t mean a run of good fortune is on the way. With Baltimore having a poor defense and an average offense lacking reliable pass-catchers — even before Smith’s Achilles injury — for Joe Flacco, predicting much better than a .500 record in the second half of the season would be based more on blind optimism than what we watched in the first half of 2015.
But players and coaches certainly don’t have to feel that way.
“The mindset is 1-0. Take care of what we have to take care of this week,” said running back Justin Forsett, who “definitely” thinks the Ravens can still make the playoffs. “We’ll just do our part and control what we control. Hopefully, at the end, we’ll be where we want to be.”
Even if the Ravens were to somehow run the table to finish 10-6, there’s no guarantee of even that being good enough as they needed help in Week 17 a year ago to make the playoffs with that same record. Rebounding from 2-6 is an incredible long shot, but who said the Ravens or their fans need to be grounded in reality, especially with eight games to go?
Does Harbaugh think the Ravens can make history as the first team to start 1-6 and make the NFL playoffs under the current format?
“Of course we can. We’re planning on it,” Harbaugh said. “We’re very optimistic about what’s in front of us, our future. We love our players, love the way they work, love the enthusiasm that they had today coming back and getting ready for Jacksonville.
“We’ll take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”
That’s all the Ravens can do, but some extra bravado can only help their near-impossible cause.