So, the Baltimore Ravens – the same ones who limped to a 5-11 finish last season – have begun this 2016 campaign with renewed optimism and have been perfect through the first 120 minutes and two wins over the downtrodden of the National Football League.
Sure, the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns might only win six games combined over the next 15 weeks, but the Ravens found some fortitude on Sunday on Lake Erie after a start so dreadful that even Joe Flacco acknowledged that the offensive guys were “MFing each other” similarly to you and your friends, wherever you were watching the game. You never want to spot a team – even a team as dismal as the current Brownies – a three-touchdown advantage.
But, the Ravens dug out and the defense tightened up after a few dramatic gaffes, including allowing rookie Casey Coleman to get behind the defense and then a Isaiah Crowell 85-yard scamper through the middle of the field that had the Browns faithful believing an upset was brewing on a beautiful day in Cleveland.
But, alas, there are very few beautiful days in the Land of Cleve – especially when it involves the Browns.
The two-point block by Lawrence Guy and the long runback by Tavon Young after the second Coleman TD grab not only put the Ravens on the board, but in the end it proved the difference in a tight game when the Browns needed a touchdown – not a field goal – in the final minutes of the game.
That phantom taunting call on Terrelle Pryor was also a massive factory in keeping defeat and sadness on the factory of losses by Lake Erie. Sometimes just being the Browns gets you the Charlie Brown treatment.
Flacco and the offense kept chipping away. And the Ravens found some ways to move the chains and get back in the game.
The inspirational story of the weekend involved the loss of longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks to cancer on Saturday morning before the team boarded the plane to Cleveland. He was a larger-than-life figure for players than spanned the Ravens timeline from Rob Burnett to Haloti Ngata to Brandon Williams. He was also a tremendous person, coach, leader and gentleman.
But the story of the young season on the field so far involves a decorated Ravens veteran who is showing that his comeback is for real. Dennis Pitta led the team in receptions and yards on Sunday, showing his old ability to create seams in the defense and making a perfect target for Flacco in tough 3rd down spots.
A month ago, we were wondering if Flacco would have any healthy targets beyond Kamar Aiken. Now, he’s almost a forgotten man in an offense that has seen Steve Smith get back into the action, along with Pitta, and the emerging speed of Breshad Perriman has made for more weapons than we imagined.
Again – these are two, visibly bad football teams the Ravens have victimized over the past two Sundays. And Jacksonville, now 0-2 and reeling after another offseason of expectations of improvement, is waiting next weekend in North Florida (or is it South Georgia?).
The Ravens surely can’t “prove” much in beating bad football teams.
But, the wins are now stacking up and the Ravens own a piece of first place in the AFC North, while the Cincinnati Bengals will now play from third place after a stinging loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
They’ll get their cracks at their might division rivals but this isn’t a bad recipe to have a few games against the JV while the others slug it out among themselves for a little while. Besides, the Ravens need some seasoning and some time to begin to gel as a unit. At least they lined up properly and for the most part avoided penalty issues.
And defensively, there is potential. If you’ve seen the difference in the middle of the field with Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley and Brandon Williams, then you know better days could be ahead. (Just eliminate all memories of that Crowell run!)
Perhaps Terrell Suggs will get better and find some semblance of his old form. The young offensive line still needs to open up some holes in the running game. It’s also been two games of Flacco taking as much punishment as you’d want to see him take, especially after the knee injury last fall.
And anything inside the 38-yard line feels like an automatic three points for Justin Tucker, who through a handful of kicks has done nothing but instill confidence in winning close games.
So if you’re a Ravens fan, this is no time for skepticism.
The team is 2-0. They’re playing another 0-2 team this weekend.
I’m not sure if they’re a Super Bowl contender at this point but they don’t need to be. Not until January, anyway. And right now, there’s nothing to suggest that this team can’t win 10 games this season and be involved in the tournament.
It’s as good of a start as is possible.
The Ravens are perfect so far.
So my fellow purple friends, simply enjoy the prosperity. I remember last season when there was none to enjoy.