Despite Monday's ugly loss, Ravens are still better than a year ago

October 29, 2011|Peter Schmuck

So, another great former Raven will be in the house Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Todd Heap will return for the first time since he was released by the team last summer. Derrick Mason already has been back twice in different uniforms. Kelly Gregg stopped by during the preseason.

It's great to see the ghosts of seasons past, because they remind us of who the Ravens used to be — for better or worse — at a time when they are having some trouble figuring out exactly who they are now.

In the wake of Monday night's dismal offensive performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it's certainly tempting to think that the outcome might have been different if Joe Flacco had the two guys he used to depend on to bail him out of tough third down situations. Maybe it would have, but that misses the point.

The Ravens are a better team than they were in 2011. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets are pretty sure of that, so you should be, too. The issue isn't the quality of this Ravens team. It's the nature of it.

The defense might be as good as the one that led the franchise to its first Super Bowl title 11 seasons ago, but — for some reason — everybody would rather agonize over the inconsistent offense than revel in the fact that the Ravens are once again living up to their long-held, well-earned reputation for defensive dominance.

Get used to this: The Ravens aren't a run-first team. They aren't a pass-first team. They are a punch-first team, and that's not a refernence to the momentary lapse in judgment by Brendon Ayanbadejo during Monday night's game.

Don't misunderstand. The Ravens have plenty of work to do on the offensive side of the ball to be the true Super Bowl contender everybody thought they were after that stunningly one-sided victory over the Steelers in Week 1 and a decisive win against the the other team in last year's AFC championship game, the Jets. They can't have a clinker like Monday night's performance rattling around in the closet when they get to the postseason.

But it's amazing what one inexplicable collapse has wrought. I mean, Monday night at 8 the ESPN pregame crew was saying the Ravens were probably the best team in the AFC. By 8 the next morning, the message board maniacs were ready to throw John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco under the bus and then tell the bus driver to back up and see what he hit.

Maybe the Ravens were better off when fans just accepted that the offense lived in the shadow of Ray Lewis and Co.

The good news, of course, is that the Ravens came right home after Monday night's fiasco to prepare for an Arizona Cardinals team that should be the perfect opponent to put everybody back in a positive frame of mind. The bad news, of course, is that a great performance against the Cards won't really mean a whole lot.

The only way this game will tell us much is if the Ravens find a way to lose it. The oddsmakers have them as the biggest home favorite of Week 8, so they can't really prove anything until they get to Pittsburgh for next week's nationally televised Sunday night showdown.

That's a pretty scary proposition right now. The Steelers are still smarting from that 35-7 beatdown last month, and they're going to be highly motivated to salvage a split of the head-to-head series for obvious reasons.

Harbaugh insisted there was no emotional letdown Monday night, but here's hoping that's the main reason the Ravens looked totally out of sync on offense and made some mental mistakes on defense and special teams. It's a lot more palatable to believe they simply got caught up in the Monday Night Football hype and didn't take the struggling Jaguars seriously enough than to believe they could be bullied by a third-tier opponent.

They won't make the same mistake against the Cardinals — not in front of the home crowd — but we'll still be wondering about all of this a week from now.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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