I know some Ravens fans who are disappointed with the team's 3-4 record but not as upset as they might normally be because, well, the team won the Super Bowl in February. Their basic outlook is, "How upset can you get with a team that just took you to the mountaintop?" Summoning the usual despair is proving problematic.
It's fine for fans to feel that way. But needless to say, players can't take the same approach. Being satisfied with what you've accomplished is, in this case, pretty much the definition of what is known as a Super Bowl hangover. It's a dangerous mindset, precarious psychology.
Head Coach John Harbaugh has been determined for the Ravens not to succumb to it. Almost from the moment his players hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the Superdome, he has sought to put the accomplishment in the rear-view mirror. Within a week of the game, he said, "The word repeat means nothing. You go back to work. You sink the pilings deep. You do the same thing you do every year."
I think his stay-hungry approach has worked. I haven't seen any sense of self-satisfaction in the Ravens. I've seen a team that has played as hard as ever but struggled to run the ball, committed key mistakes and lost a handful of close games. A number of issues have conspired to give them a losing record at the bye. But a Super Bowl hangover isn't among those issues.
It shouldn't be a surprise. More than a third of the guys on the team (18) are new to Baltimore and didn't earn Super Bowl rings last season, so they aren't even candidates for self-satisfaction. And as for those who did experience the triumph of 2012, Harbaugh has made it clear that if they value their jobs, they had better not get caught reflecting back.
"I think our coaches do a great job of creating an environment around here where you can't be content with what we've done," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said before the season. "You just kind of go to work, and you grind every day. You don't really think about what's happened in the past because you have to be so locked in to what we're doing now just to get through and to do it well."
The Ravens will continue to utilize that businesslike approach, which has served them well. But with a 3-4 record, they could benefit from a dash of old-fashioned, hair-on-fire panic. Terrell Suggs called for it when he declared "a state of emergency" after last Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh. Harbaugh seemed to agree when asked about Suggs' comment earlier this week. "A sense of urgency is a good thing," he said.
Some fans are struggling to summon their version of that urgency in the wake of the Super Bowl triumph, simply because it remains such a satisfying memory, far happier than, say, an excruciating loss in the AFC title game. The forces of human nature can be undeniable.
But what matters is whether the players can turn back those same forces, dig deep and summon that hair-on-fire urgency when New Orleans remains such a relatively fresh and satisfying memory for so many.
The 2012 Ravens had a lot in common with the 2011 New York Giants. Both struggled during the season while dealing with key injuries. Both got relatively healthy just in time for the playoffs. Both rolled though the postseason and won the Super Bowl.
This year's Ravens are also dealing with injuries to key players such as Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice. They're not alone. It almost seems as if every team is dealing with an injury bug this season.
With the bye upon them, many Ravens talked about using the time off to recharge and "get healthy." That's certainly on the list of things they hope to accomplish before playing the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 3.
But the lesson of the past two Super Bowl champions is that it's important to be healthy in January, not November. The key is to win enough games as you go along, while you're injury-plagued, to give yourself a chance once those injuries are healed and you're close to full strength.
A late-October break is helpful, but what develops on the injury front after the bye is more important.