It's a little early for a Halloween tale, but the Ravens are experiencing a recurring nightmare.
They keep getting grabbed by "The .500 Monster," a big, hairy, long-armed thing with flaring nostrils that repeatedly chants the famous Bill Parcells line, "You are what your record says you are; you are what your record says you are," while clutching you tenaciously and refusing to let go.
The Ravens are definitely caught in its grip. They were a .500 team a year ago. They're a .500 team again this year after losing to the Chicago Bears Sunday.
If they had won Sunday, it would have upped their record since Super Bowl 47 to … wait for it … 35 wins and 35 defeats.
Yes, the .500 Monster has gripped them tightly for awhile.
For some franchises, it isn't a nightmare. You know the ones. They've been down for so long that the glimmer of respectability is welcomed. No, they don't win enough games to make the playoffs. But nor do they lose so many that their fans tell jokes.
The Ravens aren't in that category, though. Since they started playing in 1996, only six franchises have at least 200 regular-season and postseason wins. The Ravens will become the seventh with their next victory. That puts them in the top quarter of the league, with a pair of Super Bowl triumphs to boot. It's quite a record.
But that's why .500 doesn't sit well – not with the fans, coaches or front office, and certainly not with the players.
"There's nothing more disappointing in the world than mediocrity," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has known better times, after the team came up short in overtime Sunday.
The Ravens still envision themselves as better than a "mediocrity" and many around the league still hold them in high esteem, knowing how difficult it is to forge such a successful track record.
But the staying power of the menacing .500 Monster, parroting Parcells' infamous line, paints a less complimentary picture – that of a Ravens team that has lacked the consistency to sustain success.
A year ago, they opened the season with three straight wins, then lost four in a row. This year, they opened with two straight wins, then lost two in a row.
Sunday, they had a great chance to improve to 4-2 and loosen the .500 Monster's grip a bit. Frankly, games don't get much more palatable than playing at home against a 1-4 team led by a rookie quarterback making his first road start.
I thought they probably would win, and they lost.
But I also thought they probably would lose their opener in Cincinnati, and they won. I thought they probably would beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3, and they lost. I thought they probably would lose in Oakland in Week 5, and they won.
For me and, I suspect, many others, the whole season has been an exercise in "Huh?" Both positively and negatively.
But the bottom line is just what the Ravens didn't want, a continuance of the .500 narrative that seemingly now haunts the franchise like, yes, a leering Halloween goblin.
Could things be worse? Absolutely. Ten teams in the league have losing records; they long for the clutches of the .500 Monster. At 3-3, the Ravens are in the middle of the AFC playoff picture.
"Spinning your wheels right now, being .500, is in the hunt. We are very much in it," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
But that's a fleeting measure of solace. "We are going to need to go more than .500 the rest of the way to accomplish what we want to accomplish," Harbaugh added.
If that's going to happen, the offense has to get a passing game going and the defense needs to stop the run more consistently. Things certainly go better when the Ravens score first and lead early.
None of it is beyond reach, and as Harbaugh noted, there's "plenty of season left."
But the .500 Monster is one stubborn creature. He had settled in to his Baltimore digs.
In "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy only had to toss a bucket of water to melt the wicked witch and end her nightmare.
The Ravens wish it were so easy to end theirs.