When the Ravens played in Cleveland Monday night, the shortcomings of a (now) 4-7 team were displayed for a national audience – the defense giving up big plays, the offense committing turnovers and struggling on third down, the lineups decimated by injuries.
But also on display, for the full 60 minutes, was the Ravens' finest quality – their fierce competitiveness, which simply doesn't wane.
Their 33-27 victory ended dramatically, on a blocked field goal return as time expired, giving everyone from the players to the coaches to the fans a much-welcomed chance to shout out loud in the midst of this season gone awry.
Yet some in Ravenstown probably didn't join in the fun, at least to its full extent, because the victory didn't fit the popular narrative that the Ravens should be "playing for the future," which is code for losing as often as possible to improve their draft positioning.
Can we please give that a rest?
Oh, I get that the Ravens desperately need an influx of bona fide stars and playmakers, and if you draft in the first few slots, you have a chance to haul one of those in. The Ravens certainly have fared nicely when picking in the top five slots, going 3-for-3 with Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware and Jamal Lewis, all members of their Ring of Honor.
But I think sound judgment is just as important as good positioning, actually probably more important, when it comes to drafting talent. The Ravens picked Ray Lewis at No. 26 in the first round, Ed Reed at No. 24. Their 2012 Super Bowl-winning backfield was led by a No. 18 overall pick (Joe Flacco) and a second-round choice, No. 55 overall (Ray Rice). The top blocker on that team was a third-rounder, No. 86 overall (Marshal Yanda).
I could go on with such examples, both here and elsewhere. The reality is you can find stars and playmakers anywhere in the draft as long as your scouting and judgment are sound (and you can waste high picks if those qualities elude you). With that in mind, I just can't go along with the idea that the Ravens' future depends on whether they win or lose a few games here at the end of the 2015 season.
My two cents, it's more important going forward that they continue to stoke their competitive flame and keep it burning, as it did Monday night.
If you missed the game, the Ravens built a 14-point lead, fell behind by a field goal, came back to lead by a touchdown and seemingly had a win in hand before a defensive meltdown and turnover pushed them to the brink of defeat. I'm sure a lot of people thought another disappointing ending was in the offing. It's been that kind of a season.
But the mood was different on the Baltimore sideline. The players had battled all night through the various ups and downs. As the final play began, linebacker Elvis Dumervil said he was hopeful because the Ravens had been blocking a lot of kicks. Sure enough, Brent Urban rose up and deflected the ball, and Will Hill scooped it up and ran it in for a touchdown. As the sideline erupted, safety Kendrick Lewis howled at Harbaugh, "We never quit! We never quit!"
If they ever do, or even if their effort and intensity just wane a bit, that's when the Ravens would have a problem.
I'm not congratulating them for playing hard; they're pros, paid to do that. But let's face it, the Ravens have tapped a deep wellspring of heart and guts, whatever you want to call it, for a long time. Quite simply, Head Coach John Harbaugh demands it.
They weren't the NFL's best team when they won the Super Bowl three years ago, but their fierceness, both physical and mental, put them over the top. They were no less fierce, just not as talented or good, when they fell to 8-8 in 2013 and then rebounded to make a decent playoff run last season.
When they trot out their "Play Like a Raven" motto, people know what it means. If they can live up to it, win or lose, for the rest of this season after suffering so many losses and injuries, it's an encouraging sign going forward, a key to their recovery efforts, and more important – way more important – than moving up a few slots in the draft.