The 2021 Ravens have already sent the NFL a message. Despite their many injuries, they aren't going away.
They sit alone atop the AFC North at 4-1, riding a four-game winning streak. They are tied for with the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers for best record in the conference.
In the eyes of some pundits, Lamar Jackson is now the frontrunner to win the MVP for the second time, doing historic things at the age of 24.
Those are facts. But the Ravens also have important intangibles that are hard to ignore unless you are oblivious.
To say that a team never quits is a cliché. But with the Ravens, it's the undeniable truth.
Monday night's 31-25 overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts was the third time this season that Baltimore has overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to win. To beat the Ravens, you have to play 60 minutes. You may have to play longer, and that still might not be enough.
Through all the injuries and adversity the Ravens have faced, their belief in themselves has never wavered. Calais Campbell was one of many heroes Monday night, blocking a fourth-quarter field goal attempt that kept the Colts within reach.
Campbell is in his 14th NFL season, he has played in a Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals, and he has reached the AFC championship game with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He knows a legit team when he sees it, and Campbell loves the vibe he's getting from this year's Ravens.
"Football is such a momentum-based game, and you start to believe," Campbell said. "Really, it reveals character – just who we are. The front office did a great job bringing in the kind of guys who never quit, who have so much heart and fight in them. The way we prepare, we know what we're capable of doing. We made a lot of mistakes out there today and put ourselves in a big hole, but we knew to just keep playing football. It's always about the next play in front of us. And we believe.
"I really, truly believe when wins like this happen … that's three of them now. Three of them where it just could have been anybody's ballgame, and we fought hard and made play after play to win it late. When you create that kind of confidence, that kind of belief, it really builds that character you need to have a chance at the end of the year."
Did you really believe the Ravens would win after the Colts went ahead, 22-3, late in the third quarter? Jackson had just squandered a golden opportunity by fumbling at the Indianapolis 1-yard line on the previous possession. Indianapolis was carving up Baltimore's defense, getting chunk plays both on the ground and through the air that could have deflated a lesser team.
Yet, the Ravens are so familiar with adversity, it's almost like they're immune to it. How many teams could withstand the major injuries the Ravens have endured? They have lost key pieces like J.K. Dobbins, Marcus Peters, Gus Edwards and L.J. Fort for the season, and many others like Ronnie Stanley, Derek Wolfe, Nick Boyle, Rashod Bateman and Tyre Phillips have missed significant time.
It seems the injuries just won't stop. Head Coach John Harbaugh gave no update on left guard Ben Cleveland (knee) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring) after Monday's game, but Cleveland was carted off the field and Watkins did not return to action.
Yet, those injuries won't deter the Ravens. Not this team, not this season. They refuse to give in.
"This team is just resilient," rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh said. "We don't flinch. That's our motto for the year; we just don't flinch. We've been through a lot of adversity from the preseason until now, and it feels so good for us to keep pushing and win like that. We've definitely got favor on our side.
"We knew that they were going to try to make plays, and we were going to have to hunker down and really try to stop them. When adversity hit, we strapped our boots up, and we got it done."
Here's a warning for Ravens fans who are worried about their blood pressure when watching this team. They still have 12 regular-season games left, starting with Sunday's Week 6 game against the Chargers.
It's another game that will give the Ravens more insight on where they stand in the early-season AFC hierarchy. But they have already proven they are capable of doing special things. They have a unique player leading them in Jackson. They can come from behind. Their passing attack is more prolific that it has ever been since Jackson arrived. Their defense, even when not playing its best, can create game-changing turnovers.
Collectively, they are a group with exceptional fortitude that refuses to set limits on what they can accomplish, an AFC contender that cannot be easily dismissed despite their injuries.
"Whenever you have that belief, you know as a team that the game is never out of reach, it's never out of hand," tight end Mark Andrews said. "So, for us, it's good to see. It's fun. These games have been … I think they're taking a couple years off my life, but it's been fun."