Toward the end of the Ravens' demolition of the Houston Texans Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, I crossed paths in the press box with a member of the media who, like me, has covered the team since it came to Baltimore.
"Starting to look familiar, huh?" I asked.
He nodded. "Very familiar," he said.
Neither of us had to say more. We understood we were conjuring the same memory.
Almost two decades ago, after mostly stumbling through their first years in Baltimore, the Ravens suddenly jelled late in the fall of 2000. At first, it was hard to believe they really, truly might be formidable enough to make a deep playoff run. After a few more convincing wins, there was no longer any doubt.
The shedding of those doubts was a heady moment, in some ways as breathtaking for the fans as the more famous January run that soon followed.
Holy cow, we're good.
I mean, can anything be more exhilarating than the moment when you realize your greatest dreams possibly could come true?
We're, like, really good.
That's where the Ravens are now, in the process of establishing a new normal for everyone to mull: They aren't fringe contenders who could go either way. Nope, they're among the NFL's elite, the withering opponent no one wants to face.
As they mauled the Texans Sunday for their sixth straight win, I reflected on the first time this magic happened. Popular memories from 2000 include Shannon Sharpe's touchdowns, Tony Siragusa falling on Rich Gannon, Jermaine Lewis' kickoff return, etc. But you know what I also remember? I remember the Dallas Cowboys coming here in November with Troy Aikman and the crew that had won three Super Bowls, and the Ravens battering them senseless.
The final score was 27-0. I don't think Dallas would have scored if the game had lasted 10 quarters. That day, it became clear the Ravens had something special going. How exciting that was.
I also remember the last game of that regular season, a victory over the New York Jets in which the Ravens were outgained by almost 400 yards but still won big because they forced six turnovers and kept making huge plays on punt and interception returns.
It was their seventh straight win, a wild classic, and as the home crowd roared, the Ravens' potential twinkled like a string of holiday lights in the December chill. As the stadium emptied, the fans' anticipation was almost palpable.
Boy, we've got something here.
And so … here we are again.
It's not an exact replica of 2000. There are fundamental differences. That time, the defense led the Ravens' charge. This time, they're following a dynamic offensive star, possibly the league MVP.
Lamar Jackson is steering the Ravens into uncharted waters with his sprints and spins, triggering a fundamental shift in how the franchise is viewed. Suddenly, the defense-first Ravens lead the NFL in offense. They haven't scored less than 23 points in a game this season. Any opponent had better be ready to score more to have a chance to win.
We don't know what will happen going forward. It isn't even December yet. The Ravens have some tough games left. Knowing how the NFL works, there could be a few bumps.
But in my opinion, enough has already gone down to validate big dreams. The Ravens have shown what they can do. They're good enough to make it to the Super Bowl. That's not even debatable anymore, is it? I'm not saying they're definitely going. But are they capable? Absolutely.
The possibilities began to crystallize last month in Seattle. The Ravens trailed in the first half. Things looked iffy. Then Marcus Peters returned an interception for a touchdown. The Ravens haven't trailed in a game since, and they keep blistering quality opponents.
Holy cow, we're good.
Like, really good.
My advice is to watch closely and take good notes, because these might well become indelible moments. It's certainly possible.
That time Lamar spun around a defender in Cincinnati? The day he talked John Harbaugh into going for it on fourth down in Seattle? You might be recalling it all two decades from now, when you're conjuring fond memories that never go away.