Ravens Must Get Over Loss Quickly Because They Still Top AFC North and Steelers Are Coming
The theme coming out of the Ravens locker room after Sunday's embarrassing 44-7 thumping by the Jacksonville Jaguars was the team needs to turn the page and not allow one loss, no matter how big the margin, define the season.
It may have been cliché, but it's true.
By the time the Ravens deplaned their 7.5-hour flight from London, they knew the rest of the AFC North lost all its games. That means Baltimore still remains tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the division with 2-1 records, with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals tied at the bottom with 0-3 starts.
With folks questioning whether the Ravens' 2-0 start is just a byproduct of playing two winless teams, Baltimore can make a statement that the "London Letdown" was a one-game fluke and not the beginning of a downward spiral.
"[T]he team we saw the past two weeks simply didn't show up in London," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck. "In the blink of an eye, Ravens fans went from fantasizing about a 4-1 start to wondering if their team will wake up in time to play the Steelers next weekend."
"This has to be a contender for the most stunning loss in franchise history," added Childs Walker. "It's not the most devastating, because the Ravens are still 2-1 with plenty of weeks to do better."
The NFL can be a funny league. A really bad game can happen to anybody at least once in any given season. The Ravens thought back to their blowout loss to the Houston Texans the year they went on to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots were manhandled in Week 1, but have bounced back with two wins (they needed a 92-yard game-winning drive to beat the Houston Texans yesterday).
Head Coach John Harbaugh said that how his team responds to adversity will define it, and the Ravens have a big opportunity this week. With a win over the Steelers, Baltimore can take sole possession of the AFC North and rid itself of this bitter taste.
With a loss, the season won't be over, but things will get increasingly difficult with a Week 5 trip out west to meet a strong Oakland Raiders (2-1) team, who lost to the Washington Redskins Sunday.
"The Ravens could easily be looking at 2-3, with their strong start perhaps just a memory," wrote Press Box's Bo Smolka.
The Ravens have defeated the Steelers in four-straight home games, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn't left M&T Bank Stadium victorious since 2010.
"You got to keep guys' heads up," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "So much of this game is confidence and going out there and getting it done. If you let one of these kinds of games creep into your mind and debilitate you, then you'll be in trouble. So we just got to make sure we keep our heads up and keep going."
How Much Did Jet Lag Play Into Loss? It's Unclear, but No More Ravens Games in London, Please
Head Coach John Harbaugh said he didn't know how much traveling across five time zones played into his team's poor performance. He said it didn't matter either. What's done was done.
"Baltimore had better hope jet lag was the reason for this epic disappointment, and this is not an ominous sign of what's to come," wrote ESPN. "The Ravens looked slow and lost in their first game played outside the United States. The result: A loss that matches the worst margin of defeat in the Ravens' 21 years of existence."
Wouldn't it be nice if everything could be blamed on the travel? That sure would make life simpler. Unfortunately, that likely isn't the case.
"There will be plenty of talk following this one about injuries, jet lag and altered and unfamiliar routines," wrote The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "But there is absolutely no excuse for the Ravens to put forth a performance as bad as this one. They stunk in every phase. … There should be plenty of looking in the mirror that goes on at The Castle this week."
While everything can't be blamed on London, notching the worst loss in the Harbaugh-Flacco era won't lead to too much excitement about a potential future return.
Can Loss of Brandon Williams and Marshal Yanda Hurt That Much?
While the game was being played in London, there was a debate on social media about how much the losses of defensive tackle Brandon Williams and right guard Marshal Yanda hurt the Ravens.
"Seriously? It's WAAAAAAY more than that," Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi responded.
"Did they miss Williams and Yanda? Sure, but those two aren't worth 37 points," added Russell Street Report's Derek Arnold.
Along the offensive line, the Ravens only have one remaining starter from last year with 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley. Outside of Stanley, the starting offensive line featured three former undrafted rookies in James Hurst, Matt Skura and Austin Howard, and a sixth-round pick in Ryan Jensen.
The starting lineup was the result of previous season-ending injuries (Alex Lewis, Nico Siragusa, Yanda) and the unexpected retirement of John Urschel. In a somewhat surprising move, the Ravens activated (and started) Skura over Tony Bergstrom, who replaced Yanda after his injury last week.
"We were competing all week," Skura told reporters after the game. "The coaches said they were going to give both of us the opportunity to play. I thought I played OK for my first start, but I'm sure once we get on the plane and start watching film, there will be a lot of stuff to work on."
Jermaine Eluemunor, the London-born Ravens fifth-round pick who got his first NFL snaps in his hometown, rotated in for a few series.
"I'm not sure too many other rookies can say that they made their debut in their hometown," Eluemunor told reporters. "Being able to come back to England and play at Wembley Stadium is something I'll remember forever. … When I first got here and I walked outside, I teared up a little bit. Growing up, you just dream about playing in that stadium. I didn't think it was going to be playing American football for sure."
On the defensive side, it was more surprising to see the unit give up 166 rushing yards and 410 overall. The Ravens have a deep defensive line, and seemed ready to give a better effort without Williams.
Losing defensive end Brent Urban to a foot injury before halftime didn't help matters. Carl Davis filled in for Williams alongside Michael Peirce, who thought he tried to do too much to help compensate.
"I think I played OK, but did some things that I don't usually do," Pierce said. "I might have been pressing a little trying to make something happen because Brandon wasn't out there. It's hard to replace the $50 million man, but I should have been more patient."
What Happened to the Defense?
After creating 10 turnovers in the first two games, the defense was showing that it could live up to its preseason hype as one of the best in the league and in Ravens history. But giving up 44 points stopped that talk dead in its tracks.
"As soon as it stopped creating turnovers, the Ravens defense became rather ordinary," wrote Walker.
"We saw the seeds of this in Week 2, when the Cleveland Browns connected on a string of 20-plus-yard plays. But the Ravens created five turnovers, several of them exceptionally well-timed, so those lapses didn't much matter. … Now let's take a step back. I'm not saying a defense that looked sensational throughout the preseason and the first two weeks is suddenly junk. The Ravens have too many talented players at all positions for that to be the case. But turnovers are an unreliable mistress."
Pro Football Focus' Top 5 Graded Ravens
While most of the game wasn't pretty, there were some standout Ravens performers. Below are Pro Football Focus's top-graded players from the game.
CB Jimmy Smith: 89.4 overall grade
C Ryan Jensen: 85.0
DT Carl Davis: 79.2
CB Marlon Humphrey: 77.9
S Eric Weddle: 77.8
"Not all Ravens forgot to take their playing shoes to the UK," the PFF analysis team wrote. "CB Smith can be one of the better cornerbacks in the league on his day, and this was definitely his day. While Marqise Lee had joy during the game, he had none when matched up with Smith who blanketed him to the tune of three attempts, zero completions and two pass break ups. On a bad day for the defense he was outstanding."
Could Running Back Terrance West Lose Starting Job?
Smolka wonders if one of those jobs could be running back Terrance West's.
West hasn't played particularly bad this season, but he had a fumble Sunday, and more people are jumping on the Alex Collins train.
"Perhaps the only positive aspect of the game was running back Alex Collins, who carried nine times for 82 yards," Smolka wrote. "Terrance West carried six times for 26 yards and lost a fumble. That is usually a fast track to Harbaugh's doghouse.
"With Collins running well, and with Allen used as the primary pass-catching back, it's possible West's role will be reduced going forward."