There is no worse fate in the world than being above average. This is doubly true for football teams. Are you a great team? Congratulations: Enjoy a steady stream of ego-stroking from balding, bespectacled pundits, and, in your spare time, bask in the hatred of other teams and fans, who probably do legitimately hate you but also, deep down, are a tiny bit jealous. Are you a terrible team? Well, that is unfortunate, but here is a consolation prize: Other coaches will trip over themselves to sell you as being good right before they play you, fans of other teams will spend less time ripping on you than sympathizing, and there will hardly be any mention of your woes in the national media, mostly because the national media will have better things to talk about. Are you average? Rejoice! All of your losses are justifiable, and all of your wins are “a sign of things to come.”
But … wait, you’re an above average team, Baltimore Ravens? Oh, well, then you can just go have sex with yourself. And don’t bother coming back until you have actually done something MEANINGFUL.
That’s how it is, and, I have to say, it’s not totally unfair.
I know a few people will take issue with my description of the Ravens as an above average team, but as the great Tuna once said, “You are what your record says you are,” and the Ravens have won nine of 13 games this season. I’m not interested in a debate on if the Ravens are good or not. In a league that manages to be both top-heavy and full of parity at the same time—full of teams like the Dolphins and Browns and Cardinals and Jets—the Ravens are above average, and if that is only because the average is fairly bad, I’m fine with that. No, I am here to tell you that being above average is much worse than being an obvious stud or dud, because being above average makes you Icarus. When other teams are either stuck on the ground or flying in spaceships, the Ravens are putting on wax wings and praying they don’t melt off week after week. Earlier this season, it was a strategy that worked; there was definitely some luck involved in our getting to 9-2, but, to give two more aphorisms, luck is the residue of design, and good teams tend to make their own luck. But now that this luck has apparently run out, the errors we could gloss over and forget about are suddenly magnified.
There are no words to describe my disappointment after this loss to the Indigenous Chesapeake Persons. It had been three years since we lost back-to-back games, and this was an all-around team failure. Each time I work toward blaming the offense, because the line is in shambles, receivers can’t get open, Flacco has no pocket awareness and Cameron calls plays like someone who picked up “Madden” for the first time 10 days ago, I remember that it put up four touchdowns and, at times, looked like a well-oiled machine. Each time I work toward blaming the defense, because for the second week in a row—unfathomably, just fucking unfathomably—it lost the game to a back-up quarterback, I remember that for almost the entire second half, it made The Great Bob Griffin III look human, and that was without Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb on the field and with Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed playing injured.
But, patchwork defense or not, there is no excuse for letting Kirk Cousins, a rookie benchwarmer exactly one day younger than I am, win a game. There is also no excuse for an offense looking unstoppable one second and barely being able to muster first downs the next. Yes, I’m sure the Cheseapeakes made adjustments, but the fact remains that there is no rhyme, reason or rationale to this offense. There is no killer instinct, either, and that comes from the coaches. It was EXTREMELY telling that with about a minute left before halftime, and with two time-outs, Cameron called a shotgun draw to Rice—for no gain. And it was even MORE telling that both Harbaugh and Flacco went over to bitch at Cameron after the play failed. If Flacco hated the play so much, and if he is SO ELITE, why didn’t he audible out of it? (But that’s probably asking too much, given that he refuses to even audible protection toward obvious blitzers.) And if Harbaugh wanted to be aggressive there, why not communicate that to the offensive coordinator? Harbaugh is the head coach! I mean, really: Can you imagine the top coaches of this league being in such disconnect at that moment? Harbs’s only defense is that, in fairness, most offensive coordinators WOULD NOT EVEN HAVE TO BE TOLD to be aggressive when given a red-hot QB, a crappy opposing defense, and a great long-range kicker.
According to several metrics, the Ravens are more than 99% assured of getting a spot in the playoffs this year, for the fifth year in a row, and that is even if we lose all three of our last games. I don’t want to be an ingrate: Truly, it is an achievement for Harbaugh, Flacco and the rest to have fought amongst the top 12 teams in the league for five years running. But top 12 out of 32 is just above average, and I am starting to get tired of the wax wings.