The Ravens still rule the AFC North.
For the second straight season, Baltimore clinched a division title with Thursday night's convincing 42-21 victory over the New York Jets. It's the fourth division title of Head Coach John Harbaugh's 12-year tenure, another significant accomplishment for the winningest coach in franchise history.
For a team that has rattled off 10 consecutive wins, capturing the AFC North is not the ultimate objective. However, the Ravens' second straight division crown shouldn't be taken for granted.
Many people labeled the Cleveland Browns as the best team in the division back in September. The Ravens haven't forgotten that. They remember those who doubted Lamar Jackson. They remember those who doubted their defense after losing key players from last season.
Now Jackson is the frontrunner for MVP and the Ravens (12-2) need just one victory in their last two games to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC. After Thursday night's game, many Ravens wore AFC North Champions hats in the locker room, and Head Coach John Harbaugh walked into his postgame press conference wearing the hat as well. But Harbaugh didn't wear the hat for long. The Ravens aren't settling for hats. They want rings.
"Congratulations to the Ravens, to the players, to the coaches, to the fans," Harbaugh said. "The Ravens are the AFC North champs and we're very proud of that. That's a great accomplishment. It's a great division and it's our first goal. That's done. We move on and we'll get to work."
The Ravens will get some much-needed rest this weekend before visiting the Browns in Week 16 with a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed. Cleveland was the last team to defeat the Ravens back in Week 4, when Baltimore was a 2-2 team searching for consistency. The Ravens haven't lost since that Sept. 29 game against Cleveland – more than two months of undefeated football. Veteran running back Mark Ingram II thinks that loss to the Browns was the turning point of the season.
"At that point we were 2-2, we had lost two (straight) and the season could've gone one way or another," Ingram said. "It says a lot about the character of this team, our coach, guys believing in each other. We decided that we wanted to be great."
As division champs, the Ravens have no intention of letting up. Veteran safety Earl Thomas III signed with Baltimore as a free agent this offseason, leaving the Seattle Seahawks after nine seasons where he won one Super Bowl, nearly won another and made the Pro Bowl six times. Thomas knows a special team when he sees it, and the Ravens look championship worthy. But Thomas believes it's important for Baltimore to capture the No. 1 seed.
"Very important," Thomas said. "I've been on a team where we got that (No. 1 seed) and we went to two straight Super Bowls."
This AFC North championship feels different to the Ravens than last year. They clinched the 2018 division title on the final day of the season, beating Cleveland and making the playoffs by winning six of their last seven games.
In 2019, the Ravens have been dominant. They have won five games by at least 20 points, and Thursday was the fifth time they scored at least 40 points. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda is playing in his 13th season, and he has already won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. He recognizes that this team is capable of winning another.
"We've won 10 games in a row," Yanda said. "Obviously, we've never done that here. This is definitely the best team I've ever been on. We've won 10 games in a row. That's all I need to say."
However, the mission is not accomplished. Nobody outside the Ravens' organization may have seen this type of season coming. But outside linebacker Matthew Judon sensed something brewing early in the season. He liked the chemistry of this team. He liked the attitude. He loved it when the Ravens kept adding defensive talent, trading for cornerback Marcus Peters and signing free agents like Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort, Jihad Ward and Domata Peko.
Judon wasn't satisfied when the Ravens clinched a playoff spot by beating Buffalo. He's not satisfied with a division title, either.
"We got into the playoffs last year," Judon said. "That wasn't enough. We're not done yet. We ain't done yet."
His teammates feel the same way, and their championship T-shirts said the same: "The North Is Not Enough".
"It feels great to get another division title with this group," wide receiver Willie Snead IV said. "But to have the entire AFC playoffs come through Baltimore? That's everything we need to get to Miami. We just have a really good nucleus of guys this season. We just went to work. We weren't worried about anyone else. Now they seem to be worried about us."