Oddly enough, while building one of the National Football League's best records this season, the Ravens have dealt with what is best described as a mild case of the blahs among some fans.
Oh, these fans have been buying tickets and watching on television as avidly as ever, tailgating just as hard, caring just as much and shouting just as loudly. But they have been slow to acknowledge this year's team as having the potential to go all the way.
The absence of style points in many of the Ravens' wins has certainly had something to do with it. The defense struggled badly earlier in the season before righting itself lately. The offense has gone in and out. Winning ugly beats losing any day, but a bad loss in Houston to the AFC's top team implied there might be a ceiling to what this team could do.
I think the Orioles' surprising run to the baseball postseason also had an impact, especially in September and October. It distracted fans who root for both teams and exhilarated the city because it came out of nowhere, on the heels of 14 straight losing seasons. The Orioles' success was exciting because it was unexpected. The Ravens' success, meanwhile, was entirely expected.
Does that mean the Ravens have spoiled their public to a degree? I would say yes, that your success is officially being taken for granted when going 53-22 since 2008 and making the playoffs four (going on five) straight seasons isn't enough.
In any case, even the Ravens' organization itself has noticed that the calls to talk shows, online chatter and general attitude have been, well, slightly less effusive in some cases and downright negative in others, despite the team's winning ways.
For the longest time, Sunday's game in San Diego seemed out of the same vein, another road horror show that would have the fans barking. The Ravens scored just three points in the first 52 minutes. Even after rallying, they were down to what seemed a no-hope shot, trailing by three and facing a fourth-and-29 that quarterback Joe Flacco called "a Hail Mary situation."
That's not where any team wants to be, but that's where the 2012 Ravens finally provided a success of their own that was exhilarating and unexpected.
Ray Rice's weaving 30-yard catch and run was the NFL's longest fourth-down conversion in 11 seasons (non-penalty) and is destined for a high place in the franchise's lore. You will be able to tell people you saw it, even if you couldn't quite believe it, as I couldn't.
When Rice later nicknamed the play "Hey, diddle diddle, Rice up the middle," he conjured the old English nursery rhyme about a cat and a fiddle and a cow jumping over the moon, all of which is entirely appropriate imagery. Rice pretty much did the impossible and jumped over the moon himself.
The Ravens went on to make more plays and complete their comeback with an overtime win, and I'm wondering if that was the antidote for the blahs.
The season is certainly coming into sharper focus as December approaches, with the spoils of winning ugly becoming clearer. The Ravens are sitting so pretty in the AFC North that the Pittsburgh Steelers don't need to win Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium because of what it would do for them in the divisional race; they just need a win, period, to bolster their flagging playoff hopes. The Ravens are that far ahead.
Yes, the Ravens still have issues to address on both sides of the ball, but they've overcome fourth-quarter deficits in three of their nine wins, gone 6-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. That doesn't happen by accident. There's such a thing as pedigree, knowing how to win.
Head Coach John Harbaugh suggested Sunday that the Ravens have "something special going on," and after Rice's fourth-and-29 dash, it's hard to argue. That moment may have effectively started the season, shaking out the lethargy some fans felt. It was one of those moments that make you sit up, take a closer look at what you're seeing and perhaps realize that, hey, you know, the view is actually pretty good.