After the Ravens obliterated the Miami Dolphins to open the 2019 season, I’m pretty sure most of Baltimore’s football fans still weren’t ready to emotionally invest in them as serious contenders.
Root for them? Sure. Absolutely. But believe they were good enough to go far? There was some skepticism. And honestly, it was understandable.
The Dolphins were easy fodder, and more importantly, the Ravens had cultivated resolute doubt around here after making the playoffs just twice since their Super Bowl 47 win.
Fairly or not, after events such as Antonio Brown’s finger-roll touchdown in 2016 and Andy Dalton’s fourth-and-12 miracle in 2017, fans distrusted good news because, well, bad news always seemed to come along and trump it.
A narrow win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 didn’t help the situation, and back-to-back losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns in Week 3 and Week 4 seemingly confirmed all doubts about the Ravens’ true measure as contenders.
I’m pretty sure that even after they upped their record to 4-2 with an overtime road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5 and a slightly edgy home win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6, a healthy percentage of the fan base still feared they were pretenders. Shouldn’t they beat the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers and winless Bengals more easily?
But since that game, the Ravens have gone to Seattle and beaten the Seahawks, then hammered the unbeaten New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium. I can’t remember them scoring a better pair of back-to-back regular-season wins.
Do Baltimore fans still doubt whether they should emotionally invest in the team? Are they still reserving judgment as to whether the Ravens are serious, big-time contenders for playoff glory?
I would respond to that question this way: If you haven’t emotionally bought in yet, what are you waiting for?
The time has come.
The Ravens didn’t just beat two of the NFL’s best teams. They whipped the Seahawks by 14 points and the Patriots by 17 points. Lamar Jackson deservedly dominated the headlines, but the offensive and defensive lines dominated and the defense featured a nasty streak of opportunism while forcing less-than-stellar outings from two of the league’s top quarterbacks.
It was good stuff. Very good stuff.
Those wins weren’t flukes. To the contrary, they were comprised of important qualities that suggest more good days lie ahead.
Hey, the Ravens gave the Patriots 10 points with turnovers Sunday night and still won by 17. Things could have gotten out of hand sooner if not for a muffed punt that halted Baltimore’s early momentum.
With Jackson leading the way, the Ravens have raised their game significantly, joined the league’s elite class.
I’m not saying they’re now so formidable that every game will follow that imprint and they’re just going to run the table. Please. Anything is possible, but let’s be realistic.
In a sport played by humans, as opposed to bots, it’s possible you have bad days now and then. Or a bad matchup. In the fiercely competitive NFL, your opponent is always dangerous in some way, and some matchups are tougher for you than others, regardless of records. The Ravens always have a tough time with the still-winless Bengals, for instance. They play Sunday.
Bottom line, I don’t know how the Ravens’ season will proceed from here -- their schedule is challenging. But after these past two wins, we no longer need to ask whether the Ravens can match up with top opponents. A better question is whether those opponents match up with the Ravens.
Yes, you can still scrounge up reasons to doubt them if you want. Jackson has only made 15 pro starts, so issues of inexperience or inconsistency could arise. (Actually, they already have, and his good qualities have easily offset them.) Also, he’ll never be a classic pocket passer. (Which is precisely why he is so effective, but whatever.) The defense was remade on the fly in recent weeks.
But those feel like reaches at this point. It’s time to acknowledge that a very good thing is happening.
The Ravens are for-real contenders with a shot to go far, confidently perched on the shoulders of a unique, playmaking quarterback for whom NFL defenses currently have few answers.
If you still aren’t buying it, I mean, what more do you need to see?