When the Ravens fell at home to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4, I felt that they really had given away an opportunity to separate from the rest of the AFC North. While the Ravens have made the playoffs in seven of John Harbaugh’s 11 seasons as head coach, and have remained in the race until Week 16 in all but one of those seasons, they have never been a #1 seed in the AFC and have never ran away with the division.
A win vs the Browns would have elevated the Ravens to a 2 game lead in the AFC North with the current head to head over Cleveland, who is clearly the 2nd best team in the division with Ben Roethlisberger out for the remainder of the season.
We all know what happened, with the Browns running wild over the Ravens defense. It was about as bad and impactful of a loss as one can have in a Week 4 matchup. A divisional game at home against the much-hyped Browns. A chance to take control of the North. There were even significant off the field ramifications as the Ravens have worked so hard to gain their fans back, and just as the atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium snuck closer to pre-Super Bowl levels, they laid a defensive egg quite unfamiliar in these parts over the past two decades.
Luckily for the Ravens, they had their annual trip to Pittsburgh on tap and a chance to re-gain some of that divisional momentum. John Harbaugh has said over and over during his 12 years in Baltimore that the NFL is a week to week league. He’s always done a fantastic job at keeping the team focused and looking ahead, not behind. For a guy who is much more fiery and competitive than he publicly lets on, that is a major positive and a big reason why he’s back for his 12th year under a new long-term extension.
The opportunity that the Ravens had going to Pittsburgh also came with a downside. A loss would send them to their 3rd straight loss, sending them into, at best, a three way tie in the AFC North at 2-3. Not only that, but it would have given Pittsburgh, left for dead a few weeks back at 0-3 with their backup QB, brand new life. Most of the off-field momentum the organization has generated would have been gone. There would have been tens of thousands of empty seats next week against the lowly Bengals, and the Ravens would have been scrapping and fighting all year against a tough schedule just to get back to the playoffs.
Alas, a fateful bounce and recovery by Marlon Humphrey keeps the momentum rolling in Baltimore. While their defense is certainly not back to what the standard has been in this organization, it significantly improved from the Cleveland debacle and they didn’t give up any huge plays. They made as many moves as one could expect in-season to try to correct their weaknesses, and they took a step forward.
While I still have concerns about Lamar Jackson as a passer, supported by his 3rd and 11 turnover and inexplicable decision before the half, he continues to prove himself as a winner, leading the Ravens on a tying drive in a typical Heinz Field environment.
Bouncing back from a brutal loss? Check.
First place in the division? Check.
Keeping the fans engaged after having worked so hard to bring them back? Check.
Darn near putting the Steelers out of their misery for 2019? I believe so.
As bad as the Week 4 loss, and as scary a thought as a Week 5 loss was, Harbaugh’s team prevailed, and all is well in Baltimore.
With so much on the line, I can’t help but thinking this was about as big of a game and win as a team can have so early in the season.
The “on the field” AND “off the field” situations are dramatically different than had Marlon Humphrey not punched that football out of JuJu’s hands.
With the Bengals coming to down, the Ravens should improve to 4-2 and remain extremely relevant in the AFC.
What a difference a week makes in the NFL.