Now that the serious business of electing our government officials is over, let's focus on what we all come to sports for – entertainment and fun.
The Ravens' first goal every season is to win the AFC North. With nine of our 16 games completed, we sit in first place, winners of two games in a row. That's a good place to be.
Yeah, the schedule gets harder, but let's congratulate the temporary and bask in the moment of being on top. And, we're getting better. The offense needs to improve more, and we think it will.
And, as Cris Collinsworth said last night: "Don't look now, but that Ravens defense is really good. That's a good place to start when you're fighting to make the playoffs."
Don't let the media experts take away the joy of the Ravens being in the hunt. We're not going to concede any of the games remaining. We're going to show up, and we'll have a real shot to win each time. Under John Harbaugh, except for last season when we had a historic number of injuries, we improve as the season moves along.
The goal is to be there in the end, no matter how you arrive. Then fight your way through the playoffs. It's OK to say you're worried about older players staying healthy, the play of Joe and the offense, whether we should pass or run, blitz or protect the back end – that's part of the fun of being a fan. There's yin and yang.
But, whether you delight in the second guess – the proverbial armchair quarterback – or, you love all that is Ravens, enjoy this.
(Reminds me of Brian Billick doing his weekly radio show, which we made him do. He was late in his Ravens' tenure when a woman called. She told the head coach how much she loved the Ravens and how much her family bonded while watching with her children and grandchildren. She then said: "But I have some issues with your offense. I don't know the game that well, but even I can predict your plays." Brian looked down on the mic, shook his head, looked over at me – and I was indicating, "Easy, be nice" – and he said: "Well, ma'am, you've got a 50-50 chance. We're either going to run or pass." We stopped making him do that show after that season.)
And, when you think it's bad here, and you doubt we can stay in the hunt, check what reporters are saying about some of the best franchises in the league. Read all the stuff about the Steelers and Packers this week, two teams that a few weeks ago were near the top of the polls with some reporters predicting Super Bowl. Look what we did to Ben Roethlisberger, a potential MVP this year, last Sunday. Aaron Rodgers is arguably one of the two best quarterbacks in the league (with Tom Brady). Aaron is a surefire Hall of Famer. See what they're saying in Wisconsin about him and the Packers.
This season is just past the halfway mark. There will be many stories unfolding. Teams will get hot, and some will grow cold. Injuries will change the landscape for others.
Let's start by watching the Cowboys and Steelers play this Sunday. The experts proclaim Dallas, our next opponent, as the NFC's best, and today's predictors have a Cowboys/Patriots Super Bowl in the forecast. And, remember this while you're watching this matchup, the Ravens were up 21-0 in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers had not converted a third down before we played more conservatively on defense and offense and let Pittsburgh hang around to the end.
(And, it's OK to second-guess our strategy. We do the same thing in our study after every game.)
Is there anyone who believes that Dallas is going to easily beat the Steelers? On Monday night, we can watch the Bengals at the Giants. Hey, this is going to be fun watching these games, right? Go Cowboys and Giants!
It's late (or early Friday), and I'm still at M&T Bank Stadium, but off the top of my head, here are some things Ravens fans can embrace in this run to stay in the postseason hunt:
• Marvel at Steve Smith Sr. and Terrell Suggs. These warriors will do everything they can to help us get to the playoffs. Smith loves to compete, can't wait for gamedays, and he still is special. Ask any DB who has to cover him. "Sizzle" is just destroying other team's running game. Torn biceps and all, he manhandled one of the best backs in the league (Le'Veon Bell) last Sunday and terrorized Browns QBs last night.
• Watch the continued development of young studs like Tavon Young, Breshad Perriman, Timmy Jernigan, C.J. Mosley, Ronnie Stanley, Kenneth Dixon and Alex Lewis. These guys could be our heroes for a long time, and they keep getting better.
• Don't take your eyes off the defense. It's ranked first in the league right now, and that's hard to do. The front seven (the D-line and linebackers) is special. If that group stays healthy, teams will continue to struggle to run against us.
• On the back end of that defense, Eric Weddle has made a huge difference. He brings enthusiasm and energy to every game and practice. He loves football. Watch him play with quarterbacks, bopping around before the snap to create confusion and hesitation. He's playing at a Pro Bowl level and so is CB Jimmy Smith, who is healthy and dominating at times.
• No team has a better trio of specialists than our "Wolfpack": Justin Tucker, Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox – all Pro Bowlers. A lot of teams cringe when they call upon their specialists. Not us. And, field position becomes even more important as the weather turns colder.
There's more, but you get the idea. Let's have some fun with this. Don't let the second-guessers get you down. But, as fans, it's OK to question. That's part of it. But, let's be nervous, excited, enthused and rowdy. Let's be Ravens fans.
Enjoy the weekend. Enjoy first place.
Talk with you next week,
P.S. One of the reasons Steve Smith Sr. signed with us is because of the hard-nosed style the Ravens play, "And I liked the crazy atmosphere at your stadium." He thought we needed a boost last night. So, when he found out we were introducing the offense with him coming out last at M&T Bank Stadium, he reached out to Ray Lewis and asked if he could mimic Ray's dance. "He said I could, and I looked on YouTube to make sure I had it right. Then they told me there was music ("Hot in Herre" by Nelly). I started to chicken out, and then I heard the music, and I had to do it. Got my adrenaline going," Smith said this morning. Ray said he had "mad love for Steve" for doing the squirrel dance.