The Ravens have been a popular pick to win the Super Bowl, which Terrell Suggs called the "kiss of death."
In former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' eyes, losing Terrell Suggs could be that kiss of death. Without their locker room leader and general on the field, Lewis is now wondering whether the Ravens can even with the AFC North.
Lewis was watching when Suggs went down and because of their history together, Lewis said he knew immediately that his former teammate had a "real problem."
Asked point-blank by Sirius XM's Stephen A. Smith if the injury will cost Baltimore the division title, Lewis said:
"Yeah, yeah. I think it’s definitely at risk.
"It's going to be a really tough division with how well Cincinnati's playing. Pittsburgh is looking OK until they get their rhythm going. I'm telling you, in this division, you need somebody to get after Big Ben. You need somebody to get after these quarterbacks."
The Bengals opened the season with a convincing win over the Oakland Raiders – the same team Baltimore plays in Week 2 – crushing them in every facet of the game, 33-13. But the rest of the division started the year off with an 0-1 record. Both the Ravens and Steelers fell to playoff-caliber teams in Denver and New England, respectively. The Browns got blown up, 31-10, by the New York Jets.
Lewis said that not only division teams, but all NFL teams, have to change their offenses and specifically game plan for Suggs. He called the founder of Ball So Hard University a "game changer."
"Big blow, big blow, big blow," said Lewis. "You have to take your hat off to the way our defense played yesterday – but losing someone like this who is the fire on that team, it's hard to replace a Terrell Suggs. I know our motto there, I know their motto there, is about next man up, but I'm telling you, that man is an animal."
As much as Ravens Nation loves and respects their future Hall of Fame linebacker, they are crossing their fingers and hoping he is wrong. And they have plenty of reason to believe the Ravens can prove him wrong.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley detailed Baltimore's history of overcoming significant injuries to marquee players. "The loss] [doesn't necessarily put an end to Baltimore's postseason aspirations," he wrote.
Hensley starts by going all the way back to 2001 when the team lost starting running back Jamal Lewis to a torn ACL in training camp. Jamal was the Ravens' cash cow on offense, and they still advanced to the divisional round with little-known Terry Allen and Jason Brookins toting the rock.
How about in 2012 when the Ravens didn't have Suggs for the first six weeks? And then just before he returned, Lewis himself was lost for the season in Week 6. Lewis eventually returned in the playoffs, but the Ravens got there with Dannell Ellerbe filling in at middle linebacker.
"The turmoil over Suggs' injury almost pales in comparison to the pain and distractions in 2014," Hensley wrote.
Last season, the Ravens lost starting cornerback Jimmy Smith, starting running back Ray Rice, and starting tight end Dennis Pitta, yet still advanced to the divisional playoffs. They did it with previously unknown Rashaan Melvin and Justin Forsett. Owen Daniels proved to be a huge veteran addition.
"This isn't diminishing the loss of Suggs. He's the best pass rusher in franchise history. He's an underrated run stopper. And he's a vocal and emotional leader," Hensley wrote. "But the Ravens have shown that they are more than one player."
Webb's Raw Reaction To Losing Suggs Is Telling
When Lardarius Webb was speaking to the media after Sunday's loss in Denver, he still hadn't heard about Suggs' fate for the season. CSNBaltimore.com's Brent Harris unknowingly broke the news while the cameras were rolling, and Webb's reaction was very telling.
He tried to give the standard "next man up" answers, but he was clearly shocked.
"This is my first time hearing it, man," Webb said. That's big. Sizzle's gone."
His facial expressions and breathing said even more.
Raiders Beat Up, QB Carr's Status In Question
The Ravens weren't the only ones to sustain big injuries Sunday.
The status of three Raiders starters is in question as they get ready to host Baltimore this week: starting quarterback Derek Carr (thumb) and starting safeties Nate Allen (knee) and Charles Woodson (shoulder).
The Raiders were apparently ready to call free-agent Christian Ponder to be a backup, but ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Carr had an encouraging MRI and he is yet to be ruled out. So, Ponder remains on the open market. Carr left Sunday's game against Cincinnati and didn't return with a hand injury.
"Head Coach] Jack Del Rio said he [does not know if Carr will be ready to play Sunday, when the Raiders host the Baltimore Ravens, but he said the team was 'relieved' by the test results," wrote ESPN's Bill Williamson.
"Carr's availability this week will depend on the extent of swelling in his hand, but Del Rio said the swelling has already started to subside."
Meanwhile, they may also be without their starting safeties, says Williamson. The team fears Allen tore his ACL and agent Carl Poston told ESPN that Woodson has a dislocated shoulder.
If neither safety can play Sunday, it should help Joe Flacco rebound from a tough start to the season … as long as he's protected …
Never Seen QB Pressured As Much As Flacco
Head Coach John Harbaugh was critical of his offensive tackles' play from Sunday.
"Our tackles, they've got to do a better job," he said Monday. "They have to set square and they've got to punch on time. When they do that, they'll do well against anybody. When you don't do that, you're not going to do well against anybody. I think that really was an issue for us through the course of the game."
Bad technique and elite Denver pass rushers made things extremely difficult for Flacco. The line ranked dead last in Pro Football Focus' Pass Blocking Efficiency, allowing pressure on 22 of Flacco's 34 dropbacks. That's a whopping 64 percent of the time he stepped back to pass.
The biggest culprits were tackles Rick Wagner (negative-6.4 pass block grade) and James Hurst (negative-10.6 pass block grade). Hurst was filling in for starter Eugene Monroe who left the game with a concussion on the first offensive drive.
"I have never seen an offensive line annihilated in a must-pass situation as badly as the Ravens' was at the end of the game," wrote PFF's Michael Renner. "I'm not sure there was a play where Joe Flacco could have taken more than three seconds to throw and not gotten sacked. … You'd be hard-pressed to see a quarterback pressured more than he was Sunday."
What A Difference A Year Makes In Secondary
As poorly as the offensive line played, the secondary was a shining star just one year after being deemed the Achilles heel of the team.
"It's amazing how big a difference a few starters in the secondary makes," wrote Renner. "The last time we saw the Ravens, cornerback Rashaan Melvin was giving up over 200 yards on his own to the Patriots in the divisional round. With cornerback Jimmy Smith back healthy, they didn't even allow 200 yards to Peyton Manning in the entire game. Smith allowed 7 of 11 targets for 60 yards, and had a pick-six early in the second half."
In addition to the return of Smith, safeties Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis were difference makers. PFF released the top-graded performers from Sunday with two of the top five coming from the secondary:
CB Jimmy Smith (plus-3.4)
DE Carl Davis (plus-3.2)
S Will Hill (plus-3.1)
ILB C.J. Mosley (plus-2.9)
RG Marshal Yanda (plus-2.4)
Hanging with @JForsett also doing some scouting for @Utah_Football vs @Cal game Oct 10..... #utahutes pic.twitter.com/WB0NnzQwYQ — Steve Smith Sr.(@89SteveSmith) September 14, 2015