Carlos Manning, 33, Cedric White, 32, and Darell Strawther,… (COLBY WARE, BALTIMORE SUN )
Ravens fans have grown accustomed to making the playoffs under coach John Harbaugh — three times in three years — but they've also gotten used to January disappointment, leaving many apprehensive.
As the Ravens prepared this week for their first-round matchup against Kansas City, fans were especially concerned about some of the team's troubles in closing out games, even in eventual victories.
"They might win the first week, but beyond that they got nothing," said Darell Strawther, 33, a fan who was sipping a beer and picking steamed shrimp at Federal Hill's Cross Street Market on Wednesday night. "New England is going to hand it to us."
Other supporters said they are as excited as they've ever been during the playoffs, and confident the Ravens can turn it on at the right time. Strawther's friend, Carlos Manning, 33, was more enthusiastic
"I love the Ravens," he said. "I hope they pull something out of that hat, and I'll be like, 'I told him so.' "
During a "Purple Friday" event, fans gathered at locations around Baltimore to meet both Poe the mascot and the actual live birds that inspired it, and to take pictures with the Ravens cheerleaders and chant along with the Ravens' marching band.
"Everyone is so pumped up," said Jennifer Gross, 28, of Odenton, who came to the pep rally at the State House in Annapolis with cousin Courtney Brooks, 24. They had attended two other rallies earlier that day in Glen Burnie.
She showed off video from her phone of the mascot at the Giant grocery store in Glen Burnie. "It's Poe dancing around in the produce," she said, waiting outside in the chilly weather. As the marching band passed over the brick sidewalk to the State House steps, Gross counted her pieces of Ravens "flair," including a Ray Rice T-shirt, earrings adorned with the Ravens logo with a matching necklace and a black feather bracelet.
The Ravens have been able to put together a few impressive wins, including defeating the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, but even that game became a nail-biter as the team blew its ninth fourth-quarter lead.
And during the Ravens' final regular-season game, fan confidence was shaken with a closer-than-expected 13-7 win over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals.
"There's been a lot of skeptics because of this Sunday's offense," said Jody Martin, 53, referring to the win over Cincinnati.
Martin, who sat at the bar inside Ryleigh's Oyster in Federal Hill on Wednesday, said, "I think to be in the playoffs is a huge accomplishment. The question is going to be, will the offense be able to achieve its potential? Will the offense be able to do the job when necessary?"
But, he said, "playoffs are a whole new season. … It's all about the next game. I think they can do it." However, as for the following playoff weeks, he said, "Pittsburgh and New England will be tough. We'll see."
At a rather quiet Mother's Bar and Grille, which was adorned with purple Christmas wreaths, Matt Buschman, 24, confidently said, "Everybody is excited. We are going to see more purple jerseys out. It's a huge goal to make the playoffs. Anytime we make the playoffs, we have a chance to win the Super bowl," adding, "We beat the Patriots last year."
At a nearby table, Teresa Saia and her husband, Derek, ate dinner, and they agreed that the win over Cincinnati was a little difficult to stomach.
Teresa Saia, 30, said she planned to watch Sunday's game at home, but she still had to decide which jersey to wear — Joe Flacco, Ed Reed or Ray Lewis. Derek Saia, 29, said he would have to work during the game, but he plans to remain glued to a small TV inside the office.
"I think they are going to win against Kansas City," he said confidently, but after that, "that's when it gets good."
"We need Joe Flacco to throw the ball and not hold on to it," he said. But his wife chimed in, "We're always happy to go to the playoffs."
At Towson's Bill Bateman's Bistro on Wednesday, Brittiney Little, 23, showed similar confidence, saying, "None of the games we've been blown out. We should've beaten New England," this year, she said. "We should've beaten Atlanta and I had to go to work in the morning. I stayed up for that," she said.
Her friend, Tonian Howell, 23, agreed that this past season has brought some disappointments that are still fresh for fans.
"For me, it's always going to be 'they always get so damn close.' Every fourth quarter they give you a heart attack," Howell said.
But despite the disappointments, Little said she's still planning to invest in a Ravens jersey — she has to narrow down which one to buy.
Redskins fan Russell Howard, 28, of Towson said he's still hoping for a better season for his team, adding that Ravens fans should count their blessings.
"Ravens fans want to complain all the time. Flacco this and Flacco that," he said. "They are at 12 and 4" this season. "I'd be happy to get 8 and 8." He added that the relatively younger team and its fans "are getting to go to the playoffs every year."
While he conceded that "they could be better," he added, "Every team could be better." He did agree with some of the most loyal fans' skepticism. "I can't see them beating Pittsburgh and New England. They've just got to play a lot better," Howard said.