Here's what we'd love to see.
We beat the Raiders Sunday – and that won't be easy. (For those who think it will be easy, remember, Oakland topped Pittsburgh, 34-31, a little over a month ago.)
Then we all go home and watch the Bears beat the Texans on Sunday Night Football.
Man, that would make for a nice NFL Sunday for Ravens fans. It would also tie us with Houston for the best record in the AFC at 7-2.
It would mark just the second time in Ravens history that we got to 7-2. (This is the third year in a row that we are 6-2. The best start ever for the Ravens was in 2006 when we began 9-2 on our way to a 13-3 mark. And, then, damn, the home loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs.)
Am I wrong, but it feels like fans aren't having as much fun with the 2012 Ravens? What's my barometer for that? Don't like admitting it, but what the media are saying and what I hear on sports talk have influence on me. We are being second-guessed and criticized. I understand that. Comes with the territory.
The place I get the most feedback on the Ravens is from guys with whom I play basketball. Almost all of them are significant Ravens fans. Some have season tickets, and all pay attention to our games. Last week, a couple of these aging athletes suggested that the Ravens should be very careful against the Browns. They reminded me Cleveland had won two of their last three and their stud running back, Trent Richardson, had just ripped the Chargers for 125 yards – and, one said me, "You guys can't stop the run."
OK. Got that, although I didn't go running to John Harbaugh to share the b-ballers' concerns.
And, of course, we beat the Browns on their home field. Won by 10, 25-15 after jumping to a 14-0 lead and then clinched it in the fourth quarter with a big-time drive and a field goal.
So, what did some of the guys say this week? "What happened to your offense in the second and third quarters? You had me scared in the fourth quarter. Did you see the Steelers beat the Giants in New York?" (Actually, they won in New Jersey.)
Let me get this right. My friends warned me about the improving Browns, and then when we beat the Browns, I didn't sense elation. We didn't beat them good enough?
It's About Expectations
Yeah, that's exactly it. It's about expectations. This is not a knock on the Orioles, but we all celebrated their amazing number of one-run victories and earning the playoffs last season. It was fun and exciting to follow Baltimore's other pro team named after a bird. Most didn't expect that type of season from the Orioles – and that made it even more entertaining for all of us.
Because of our recent playoff run – we're the only NFL team to go to the playoffs each of the last four seasons; not only that, we won at least one playoff game every year – all of us expect more, not less. Yes, we – the Ravens – expect more. It is Super Bowl or bust. That's what we are playing to achieve. You want the same thing, and we've worried you with the way we've played so far this season.
You're concerned about the defense. Will it get better? Will teams keep running against us with success? What's going to happen when we face Big Ben twice? What about Eli and Peyton? Do you remember what Philip Rivers did to you last season in San Diego? Yikes!
And, don't get people started about the offense. … What did happen in the second and third quarters in Cleveland? … Give it to Ray Rice more. … Throw more downfield to Torrey. … How about more Jacoby? … What's wrong with the line? … Run more no-huddle. … Go back to smash mouth. … And Cam Cameron – well, if it were not for Mike and Kyle Shanahan, Cam would be the most second-guessed coach in the Mid-Atlantic. (Told Cam he's alright if we go north. Andy Reid is dominating the second-guess north of the Mason-Dixon line.)
We Are Flawed; We Have Issues
Yes, we are flawed, and we have issues. I believe we'll be fine offensively with the ability to win games when our defense isn't what it used to be. And, I think our defense will get better as these young linemen and linebackers get more playing time. (No, Courtney Upshaw, after eight NFL games, is not Jarret Johnson. But Jarret Johnson was not Jarret Johnson his rookie season either – or, as I used to joke with Jarret: "You were a chunky, slow defensive tackle when we drafted you in the fourth round."
We are a team in flux. We're changing. The good news is that we're finding ways to win and stay in the playoff hunt in the meantime. What's going to happen the rest of the season? I don't know. But, I'm going to love finding out. And, when we win, I'm going to celebrate and get ready for the next one. I'm going to have fun watching the 2012 Ravens.
Dramatic Roster Change
Most NFL rosters undergo a 25-to-35 percent turnover every season. How's this for a stat? In John Harbaugh's first season with us in 2008, we finished 11-5 and advanced to the AFC championship game. How many starters from that not-so-distant roster still line up with the first units on our 2012 squad?
Four – I was really surprised when I looked at this. There's one on offense: Joe Flacco. Ray Rice was a rookie in 2008, but he played sparingly behind Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain. Marshal Yanda, also a rookie in '08, started five games and then spent the rest of the season on injured reserve with a knee problem.
On defense in Harbs' first Baltimore season, current players who started include Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. Of course, the now-injured Ray Lewis was lining up four years ago.
Let's Have Fun
So, I guess my message today is to say, "Let's have fun with this Ravens team. It is a new group. We aren't the 2011 Ravens, not the 2008, nor the 2000 team. Let's enjoy these victories. Let's treat it for what it is – the 2012 Ravens. Let's not let comparisons to recent success interfere with enjoying this battling group of Ravens."
And, that reminds me … when we were on the buses after the game going from Cleveland Browns Stadium to the airport last Sunday, Coach Harbaugh turned to Ozzie Newsome and Dick Cass and said: "Isn't this one of the best feelings in our business: the bus ride to the airport after winning on the road?"
Yes, Coach, that is a good feeling. Now, let's try to get another good feeling – our 15th victory in a row at M&T Bank Stadium – the NFL's current best home winning streak. Let's beat the Raiders on Sunday.
Talk with you next week,