I know, I know: I missed doing write-ups on the Packers and Steelers. Sorry about that! But I’m back this week. Just in time to reflect on our third straight loss! … God, this season is miserable.
What can I say about the Ravens at this point that you don’t already know, haven’t already seen with your own eyes (if you haven’t gouged them out yet), or haven’t already read? Long story short: We’re a bad team this year. Just bad. There is something fundamentally flawed on offense, defense, and special teams–so much so that, at this point, raising your own blood pressure as a Ravens fan is not going to do you any good. My advice, then? Accept this season for what it is–nothing special–and don’t let the fact we’ll run on every first down, not use slants or rubs, and only play-action in the most obvious of situations bother you from here on out.
This is one of those years where you sit back and enjoy Ravens games for the entertainment of it all; because you are a fan of the NFL and enjoy watching football; because you want to keep track of how badly Gino or Shipley is doing (who knew Matt Birk was a godsend? Like, literally a man God sent us so we could win the Super Bowl?); because you want to be able to tell your grandchildren that you never gave up on the Ravens during any year and watched (at least some of) every game the team ever played in your lifetime that you were able to. This is the sort of season where you recline with a cold one and stare at the poster of the Flacco Fling that hangs in your den and are simply grateful to root for a historically good and prideful franchise, even if that talent and pride isn’t showing at the moment.
It’s not a season to live and die with every win and loss we have, with every good or bad play we have. That is a recipe for no longer enjoying Ravens football.
At this point, you have to accept that it’s simply not in the Ravens’ DNA this year (was it ever, really?) to stomp teams that we probably could stomp with a bit of ingenuity and creativity to mask all the injuries and new faces we have. That it’s not in our DNA to put Flacco back in the shotgun and let him get in a rhythm and dissect a defense. That it’s not in our DNA to play with clarity and urgency unless we taste blood on our lip because there’s less than five minutes left in a game and we are down by multiple scores. That it’s not our defensive DNA–not this year–to even give Flacco & Co., finally caring about the outcome of a game when it’s almost over, one last shot to pull a Flacco-to-Torrey a la Heinz Field.
I’m following my own advice. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 1,000 times: Watching us win the Super Bowl really mellowed me. And it also helps me understand why it’s so hard to repeat and why the Super Bowl hangover could be lethally real for a team, because it’s happening to me even as a fan. It’s hard to get right back into it when you’ve achieved the ultimate, when you’ve felt the kind of pride and joy that fans of some franchises have never felt, ever. And to do it the way we did it, too? With wins over the Colts, Peyton, and Brady? When it was Ray’s last ride, Ed and Birk’s probable last chance? Joe’s chance to give a big, tall, cold glass of STFU to the Skip Baylesses of the world? There’s no beating it. I get why it might be hard for the Ravens to get back on that saddle after something that magical, because I myself have felt like this whole season is gravy so far. It’s felt like a wacky season of Madden I can reset anytime I want to.
But I’m also not being paid millions to compete on a consistent basis. And that’s why it’s also fair for Ravens fans to be disgusted. I’ll admit that I was one of those fans who laughed and smirked when other people said the loss of Boldin, Ray, Ed, et al. would be a lot to overcome and we’d have a losing season. I still think it was right of me to laugh and smirk at that, too, since most people were probably just saying it because they were haters that liked some team we’d stepped on to get to the Lombardi. But I was wrong not because the absence or departure of those guys necessitated our suckitude this year. I was wrong because I underestimated the lack of focus of our own players and coaches.
I didn’t count on seeing our line block so poorly that we can’t pass because Joe doesn’t have time and we can’t run because Rice and Pierce have no lanes. I didn’t count on Harbaugh, a special teams coach for nine years, fielding a punter who used to punt well but can’t anymore and a returner so bad we cut him until we realized how desperate we were and resigned him only for him to make the pivotal fumble of the Browns game. (To be fair to Doss, he’s done some nice things, too, but really the kid is who he is at this point: a walking turnover who occasionally breaks up a knife fight.) I didn’t count on seeing Rice become a shadow of his former self, to the point I’d be OK if the front office tried to trade him to some sucker team for a couple of mid-round picks. I didn’t count on seeing a defense that got younger and faster, albeit maybe less savvy, UNABLE to leave the field in crunch time.
The Packers, Steelers, and Browns games were all the same sad rerun. We got down early, sputtered pathetically in the middle, caught a few breaks that we failed to take advantage of, made a crippled offense look better than it should’ve (the Packers only had two WRs and we still let Jordy Nelson eat us alive), got hot when were desperate, and chomped at the bit for a game-winning drive that we’d never get to try.
Specifically about the Browns game … there isn’t much to say. Flacco is now 11-1 against the Factory of Sadness, and the Browns have beat us one time in six years. Good for them, I guess. I don’t hate the Browns. It’d be like hating a toothless puppy that kept running into things. But the main takeaway is just that this team needs so much improvement in so many different areas that no game should be an expected win from here on out. Campbell is decent, but when our defense makes him look borderline unstoppable, it’s a problem. When we can’t admit/figure out that Rice has lost “it” and insist upon running him into a wall of fat guys waiting for him twice every three plays? That’s a problem. When our punter forgets how to punt? Problem.
My recommendation? Let Flacco take the reins. Sure, he looked bad in yesterday’s game; worse than he did at Buffalo when he threw four more interceptions. He overthrew Torrey on what should’ve been an easy TD, missed Jacoby all over the place, held onto the ball for too long and took sacks when he didn’t need to. But he’s the $120-million-dollar man and, at this point, it wouldn’t hurt anything. It would actually help us see the future of our receiving corps. And, just like everyone always says Brady, Peyton, and Rodgers make scrubs around them look good, Flacco has showed he can do the same thing. Just check out Marlon Brown and Deonte Thompson. (Hell, even Doss comes through through on occasion.) Sit Flacco back in shotgun and let him sprinkle in Pierce to keep a D honest. Five of our next eight games are at M&T, where he’s thrown zero of his picks this year.