What The Ravens Are Is A 3-And-4 Team
We, the Ravens, have a vision of who we are and who we will be.
We're chasing the highest level in our NFL world: Super Bowl championships.
We believe we will get there again and then win more after that.
But, here is today's reality. We are a team with three wins and four losses, and we are in the middle of the pack in the league.
Bill Parcells said it famously: "You are what your record says you are."
5-2 A Year Ago At This Time
A year ago at this time, we owned a 5-2 record. That's a difference of two victories from today.
Basically, that variance can be seen in comparing the scores from the first seven games in our Super Bowl winning 2012 season – and I love writing that – and what has transpired so far in 2013.
Last Sept. 23, we earned a dramatic, come-from-behind 31-30 victory over the visiting Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium. This season, we dropped a 19-17 decision at home (Oct. 13) to the Packers. We got Tom Brady and Co. in 2012. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack did us in this year.
In 2012, we won, 9-6, at Kansas City on Oct. 7 to a Chiefs' team that finished the year with a 2-14 mark. We lost, 23-20, at Buffalo a month ago (Sept. 29).
Of course, we went to Pittsburgh two weeks ago and were defeated, 19-16. We didn't stop their late drive, and the Steelers kicker beat us on the last play of the game. Almost a year earlier in the same week, the Cowboys missed a last-second field goal in Baltimore, and we escaped with a 31-29 triumph.
"We weren't luckier a year ago. Those close victories in the first seven games were earned. And, we're not unlucky now because we've lost 3 games by a total of 8 points."
We are what we are.
(Excuse me for digressing for a moment. When we earned our ninth win of last season with "Hey Diddle, Diddle, Ray Rice Up the Middle" in the 16-13 overtime victory at San Diego, this is what I heard on Baltimore radio the next morning. "Hey, the Ravens might be 9-2 right now, but they just as easily could be 1-10. Take a look at their games. They've been lucky."* *
That pissed me off so much that I didn't go back to that show until the week before the Super Bowl when I was curious to see if the host was still talking about how lucky we were.)
At 6-3, the Bengals are currently the team to beat in the AFC North. Commentators can't give enough love to Cincinnati right now. At halftime of the Bengals' 22-20 loss at Miami last night, the NFL commentators predicted a Super Bowl appearance for Marvin Lewis' team. In essence, Cincy is one game ahead of the Ravens with nine games remaining for us and eight for them. We lost last-minute games to Buffalo, Green Bay and Pittsburgh. The Bengals won back-to-back road games at Buffalo (27-24 in OT) and at Detroit (27-24) on last-second field goals by Mike Nugent.
The Bengals weren't lucky. They earned each of their six wins. You could say that they've won the close games that we haven't.
That's the difference. The Bengals are 3-2 in games decided by four or fewer points. We're 1-3.
It's Not About Luck
We're not unlucky. We are 3 and 4, period.
What are we going to do about it?
The good news is that we're relatively healthy right now. Also, through our first seven games, we have had a lot of new players grow in our schemes. We should get better.
In John Harbaugh's first season as our head coach (2008), we lost three in a row and fell to 2-3. We then won seven of our next eight on our way to an 11-5 record and an eventual spot in the AFC Championship. In 2009, we dropped to 3-3, won five of the next eight and earned the playoffs again. And, we all remember what happened a year ago – when we won the Super Bowl – we lost three of our last four, including a blistering 34-17 home defeat to the Broncos.
Historically in the last five seasons, we have gotten better as the NFL campaign progressed.
"I'm always optimistic," Coach Harbaugh said this week. "I know how hard we work. I know what good people we have – coaches and players – and I really believe in where we're going schematically. I think we understand how to solve problems.
"And that's what football is – it's a problem-solving business. I'm confident we have the people to solve problems."
"I believe we'll catch on fire," Harbaugh said with enthusiasm.
Here's what former Ravens receiver Derrick Mason said on the NFL Network this week: "I think regardless of the way they've played up to this point, I think Joe Flacco always finds a way. Coach Harbaugh always finds a way to rally his teams and make sure they put themselves in position to get to the playoffs … leadership with [Terrell] Suggs, Haloti Ngata and [Elvis] Dumervil. I think this is the dark horse in the AFC."
Love ya, Mase.
We're a different Ravens team this season. In some ways, we've been immature. We knew there would be growing pains – and those close losses really hurt. But Eugene Monroe is settling in at left tackle. Jacoby Jones is back. The running backs are healthier. Jameel McClain got his feet wet against the Steelers and wants to jump from the highest board right now. Chris Canty and Dallas Clark are finding their grooves as new Ravens. Daryl Smith and James Ihedigbo are making plays. The rookies – Matt Elam, Brandon Williams and Arthur Brown – have finished their initiations.
We're ready for the next steps.
The first one will be hard. The Browns defense is good, ranking in the Top 10 in almost every important category. They're stopping the run, not allowing big plays, and they're beating up quarterbacks. QB Jason Campbell put Cleveland in position to beat the undefeated Chiefs last Sunday when the Browns scored on three consecutive possessions in the second half. This will be a tough, AFC North battle.
The Browns' star corner, Joe Haden, said yesterday that "The Ravens aren't the Ravens of old."
Haden's right. We're not. As Harbs said: "Let's see how good we can be this Sunday."
Can't wait. Let's beat the Browns.
Talk with you next week,