Honestly, here's what I was thinking after the Ravens came from behind to win in Pittsburgh Thursday night:
These games are nuts.
All of them.
The Ravens have played four so far in 2015. They were all exactly the same – close, unpredictable, back-and-forth affairs with a lot of wild swings, big plays and drama. The thinnest of margins, one or two plays, separated the winners from the losers.
The Ravens easily could have won all four. They also easily could have lost all four, and almost did.
If Joe Flacco doesn't throw the pick-six in Denver, I think the Ravens win that game. If Josh Scobee doesn't push two late field goal attempts just wide Thursday night, I think they lose that game. But they lost in Denver and won in Pittsburgh.
They could be 2-2 right now. Or 3-1. We certainly would be having a different conversation.
But they're 1-3, and frankly, that record feels like an appropriate definition of who the Ravens are so far in 2015.
They were widely picked to rank among the AFC's elites, with some analysts even predicting Super Bowl glory for them, but the first quarter of the 2015 season has been humbling. They have issues, more than expected, the running game (until Pittsburgh), the pass defense (before Pittsburgh). They were supposedly better than a team that plays back-and-forth, down-to-the-wire games every week, but things keep coming up. One week, the defense can't get off the field. The next week, they commit a ton of penalties. A run of key injuries isn't helping.
But on the other hand, they have a lot of fight in them. A ton of fight. It's their best quality, and it's valuable in these wild games.
As hard as it is to watch them dig a hole week after week, they keep grinding and usually climb out, leaving the games to be decided by who makes plays in the final minutes, or who makes mistakes.
My two cents, their battling nature is a direct reflection of Flacco, who is never daunted, no matter what happens. Even if he makes mistakes, he keeps firing away. It's what gives the Ravens a substantive chance. Pittsburgh's fans roared when he took a fourth-down sack with two minutes left in regulation Thursday night, but boy, they got quiet when he was back on the field a minute later, after a Scobee miss, the door still ajar. They had seen this act before.
It's great theater, but for all involved, including the fans, it's a tough way to roll. If you reached for your blood-pressure medication Thursday night, you weren't alone.
Talk about a thin margin. If the Ravens had made one or two fewer plays and lost Thursday night, we would be talking about who they should draft and how they can get better in 2016 and beyond. An 0-4 start pretty much kills your season.
A 1-3 start is just one game better, but the difference is marked. By finding a way to win in Pittsburgh, the Ravens have at least given themselves a chance to make something of their season.
Their next two games are at home against the Cleveland Browns and on the road against the San Francisco 49ers. Those are winnable games, although the Browns have talent and any road game is a challenge. If the Ravens were to win both, they would be back to 3-3 with three-fourths of their home schedule still to be played – no longer the direst circumstances.
Of course, what we've learned is the Ravens can't take ANY game for granted, no matter who or where they're playing. They aren't a machine that swallows opponents whole. They're accustomed to winning, but they're also 19-17 in regular-season games since they hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans.
Hold on tight, in other words. More close, grinding, unpredictable games lie ahead. Ray Lewis always called a season a "journey," and that description seems especially fitting for the Ravens in 2015.
In Pittsburgh, they learned they could win a game, learned they could win on the road, learned they could still run the ball, learned they could make big defensive stops and learned they might be developing new playmakers.
That's a lot of learning for one game. But they almost lost the game until, well, somehow they didn't.
Sixteen games of this might qualify as a public health issue. I'm serious.