Faced with more shocking injuries, the Ravens are determined to overcome them.
That's the mindset heading into the 2021 season-opener Monday night against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Ravens were understandably shaken by Thursday's season-ending knee injuries to Marcus Peters and Gus Edwards, which occurred during practice within minutes of each other.
Practice ended, with players needing time to process the unfathomable. It was an especially cruel blow for a team already dealing with season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill and L.J. Fort.
Some will conclude that the 2021 Ravens can no longer accomplish their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl. But the players have regained their focus, determined to make this season special, for the teammates who will play, and for those who no longer can.
All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley hopes the Ravens are already being written off.
"I feel like that plays to our advantage more than anything, because I've always felt, even personally, I want people to underestimate me, in thinking that they're not going to get something that they're going to get," Stanley said. "So, guys can think whatever they want. The Ravens are going to be the Ravens. We're going to step up."
The Ravens still have one of the NFL's deepest rosters, led by Lamar Jackson, one of the game's most dynamic players. But some unexpected candidates will be thrust into prominent roles.
Ty'Son Williams, who entered training camp fighting just to make the roster, is now the lead running back and will play his first regular-season game in the spotlight of Monday Night Football. Latavius Murray, who was the No. 2 running back with the New Orleans Saints just a few weeks ago, is expected to play in Monday night's game after being signed Friday and participating in his first practice.
It's going to take a collective effort by the coaches, players and front office to find recipes for success featuring several new ingredients. It's a challenge they're up for. Head Coach John Harbaugh can draw from many experiences during his 13 seasons in Baltimore, situations where his teams responded positively when hit with adversity. This is another test, but he firmly believes the Ravens have what it takes to pass it.
"We mourn for a day, and we fight today – that's what we do," Harbaugh said." Our hearts go out to those guys, because it's just tough for the guys. That's who you hurt for. We have a really good team with a lot of great players. We've brought some really good players in, you can see that, and we could move forward. The train is moving fast. We're excited to go play Monday night. The game is going to go off at 5 o'clock pacific time, and we're going to be there right on time – we won't be late. Our whole team will be there ready to go."
From a football standpoint, there are some intriguing questions to answer. Will the Ravens, the NFL's top rushing team the past two seasons, run the ball as often without Dobbins and Edwards? Jackson is the most electrifying running quarterback in NFL history, but will this be the season when he throws more than he ever has?
Losing Peters was a huge blow to a defense that expects to be one of the NFL's strongest. Peters' 31 interceptions lead the NFL since he entered the league in 2015, displaying his uncanny knack for reading quarterbacks as if he can hear what they’re thinking.
With Peters playing opposite All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens had an elite cornerback duo that gave them freedom to blitz frequently, knowing that Humphrey and Peters could be left to handle top receivers one-on-one. Anthony Averett is expected to take Peters' place opposite Humphrey, but how much will the Ravens dial back their blitzing, if at all? Will the loss of Peters also mean fewer turnovers created by the defense?
The answer to those questions will play out as the season progresses. But if you're wondering if the Ravens are feeling sorry for themselves, or if they've lost confidence, you can stop.
"Yesterday, it was kind of heavy air, thick air, but today, we're back at it," safety Chuck Clark said before Friday's practice. "Everybody is in good spirits, and we're ready to get going."
The Ravens didn't need any extra motivation for this season, and they certainly didn't need more injuries. But by Friday's practice, the Ravens had regrouped and returned their focus to a season they have anticipated for months.
They won't have Peters, they won't have Edwards or the other players who have been lost for the season. But the Ravens believe they still have more than enough. The season in front of them is their chance to prove it.
"We have leaders everywhere" Harbaugh said. "We lead one another in our relationships. So, it's us. It's us together. We've got us; I like us. I like everything about us, and I'm excited about us going forward into this season. I can't wait to get the season started."