Eisenberg: Anything Is Possible for the 2021 Ravens

101921-Eisenberg
QB Lamar Jackson

The Ravens have made quite a statement with their five-game winning streak, which peaked Sunday as they dismantled the Chargers, another first-place team.

Anything is possible this season.

Yup, I'm saying what you think I'm saying.

It's NOT that there has already been so much weirdness and improbability that the range of potential future developments truly is limitless. (Although that's true.)

When I say anything is possible, I mean the Ravens are good enough in 2021 that they can go far.

Saying the words out loud is hard because we're barely one-third through the longest regular season in NFL history, so there's plenty of time for early assessments to go awry.

But even taking that boilerplate caveat into account, I feel confident placing the Ravens in the top rank of Super Bowl contenders.

The standings certainly say they belong. At 5-1, they have the best record in the AFC. In the entire NFL, only the unbeaten Cardinals are better.

Still, the Ravens' high perch is hard to fathom because just seven weeks ago their season seemingly was spiraling in the wrong direction. Remember that depressing day when a run of injuries culminated with running back Gus Edwards and cornerback Marcus Peters going down in a non-contact practice?

The Ravens lost their season opener a few days later, and a week after that, they were about to go 0-2 as the Chiefs headed for a likely game-winning score late in a back-and-forth contest.

How did the Ravens go from the verge of 0-2 to being leading contenders?

For starters, rookie linebacker Odafe Oweh forced a fumble to save that game against the Chiefs, giving the Ravens a chance to stay upright while they sought to adjust to their injuries.

Then they kept finding ways to win while many of their rivals for AFC supremacy coughed and sputtered and showed surprising vulnerabilities.

Finding ways to win, by the way, is code for playmaking, a quality the Ravens have in abundance with Lamar Jackson, Justin Tucker, Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown and others. You don't go 5-1 by accident.

Yes, like those other contenders, they also have vulnerabilities; who doesn't? But after five straight wins, it's evident the Ravens have more going for them than many teams.

They're built around a dynamic quarterback who, hard as this is to fathom, has improved since he was the league MVP in 2019. Jackson is playing with more confidence and poise in tight situations, a better all-around understanding of the pro game and a relentless drive to reach the top.

He elevates the Ravens into rare air by himself. But they're hardly a one-man team. They can beat you in multiple ways.

They beat the Chiefs and Chargers mostly with a powerful ground game. They beat the Broncos with a suffocating defensive showing, which they reprised against the Chargers. They beat the Colts with a record-setting passing performance. They beat the Lions with a special teams miracle.

Not many other teams have so many ways to dominate and/or win games.

We know now, I think, that if Edwards, Peters, J.K. Dobbins and L.J. Fort hadn't gone down, Ronnie Stanley and Nick Boyle had made it back from their 2020 injuries and Rashod Bateman's debut hadn't been delayed by groin surgery, the Ravens really would've been something.

But they still are.

Injuries are part of the game, helping shape the arc of every team's season. The question is how you handle them and all of the adversity baked into a season.

Tough-minded, talented and deep, the Ravens are built for such challenges.

They had mostly played wild, semi-ugly, close games until they whipped the Chargers, in the process revealing that they do, indeed, have a high ceiling. Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley called them "a championship-caliber team."

Indeed, they haven't abandoned their philosophy of winning with defense, a strong running game and an all-world kicker; they've just added an MVP quarterback and all that comes with that.

A slate of tough games lies ahead, beginning Sunday against the much-improved Bengals. There won't be many blowouts. There could be some disappointments mixed in with the wins.

But there's no doubt now that anything is possible.

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