When fans bemoaned the absence of receiver Anquan Boldin from the Ravens offense in 2013, they mostly envisioned Boldin's marvelous contributions to the team's Super Bowl run the year before. He piled up big plays, caught huge passes, scored touchdowns.
Yet there were times during Boldin's three-year stint in Baltimore when he was fairly quiet.
Yes, he had plenty of big performances and was always a crucial influence in the locker room, but there also were times when some fans expressed disappointment about his inability to gain separation from defenders, get downfield and impact games.
Boldin had piled up five thousand-yards seasons and three Pro Bowl invitations when the Ravens traded for him in 2010. Here, he never surpassed a thousand yards and never went to the Pro Bowl, but left on the highest possible note, after helping the Ravens win a Super Bowl.
The Ravens have still never sent a wide receiver to the Pro Bowl.
Steve Smith Sr., in his first four games in Baltimore, is not only getting downfield but also averaging 6.25 receptions and 107 receiving yards per game. The Ravens thought they were adding a nice complement to Torrey Smith when they signed the 35-year-old Smith, but so far, they're getting a reprise of the No. 1-caliber receiver Smith was in Carolina.
Of course, the chess match is just beginning. You can be sure some of the Ravens' opponents, after watching tape, will game-plan around not letting Steve Smith beat them; I wouldn't be surprised to see Chuck Pagano try that strategy Sunday in Indianapolis. It will be up to Ravens Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak to adjust.
But if quarterback Joe Flacco continues to get the ball to Steve Smith at anything approaching the current rate, the Ravens might finally send a wide receiver to the Pro Bowl.
With his unit ranked sixth in the league in total offense, a dizzying height the franchise has seldom experienced, Kubiak is the toast of Ravenstown.
But Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees also warrants some huzzah-huzzahs.
Pees has dealt with a lot of subtraction and change. One of his top cornerbacks has barely played. His defensive line depth was shattered by injuries. Four of the 11 guys who will start on Sunday are first-year starters in Baltimore. The secondary has struggled at times.
Yet after a quarter of the 2014 season, only one team has allowed fewer points per game than the Ravens. Pees' unit is ranked first in the league in red-zone defense, seventh in rushing defense and 13th in total defense.
Those numbers will be tested Sunday; the Colts might have the NFL's best offense, especially at home. The Ravens secondary will be under intense pressure. It yielded badly on the road in Cleveland on Sept. 21, then rebounded nicely last Sunday, allowing just one score against Carolina.
Speaking to reporters this week, Pees set a high bar for his unit if it can cut down on one thing, giving up big passing plays.
"That's been the one thing this year that we just have to keep improving on," he said. "Last week we played so well, and we gave up just one easy touchdown. To me, they shouldn't have scored any. We gave up just an easy one, and we have to quit doing that. If we can quit doing that, we could really be a top defense."
File this one under "things don't always work out like you expect."
On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals get their reward for winning the AFC North title a year ago – a game against the New England Patriots, winners of the AFC East last year. Each NFL team has two such "unbalanced" games every year, squaring off against teams that finished in the same place in other divisions. The goal is to achieve parity by making winning teams play each other while lesser teams do the same. Because they finished third a year ago, the Ravens play a game later this year against the AFC East's third-place team from 2013, the Miami Dolphins.
But are the Dolphins really an easier opponent than the Patriots? One would think so, but when those teams met in Week 1, the Dolphins won. Both are 2-2 now, and the Patriots are reeling, coming off a lopsided loss in Kansas City.
It could be that playing a third place team from a year ago is tougher, or at least no easier, than playing a defending division champ. Go figure.