ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Maybe before the creation of the salary cap nearly 20 years ago, a loss like this one would be a good indication of where the team was headed.
But that's no longer the motto of the NFL.
This is: On any given Sunday, any team can be as inept as the other, and it was clearly evident as the Ravens lost to the Buffalo Bills, 23-20, at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
As poorly as the Ravens (2-2) played, Buffalo was almost as horrific which was why an ugly, god-awful game remained competitive until the end. The theory used to be that good teams beat downtrodden ones like Buffalo, which has a first-year coach.
But that doesn't happen anymore.
There will be depression around town Monday morning but where there is disaster, there is hope. And that's why the Ravens' loss was just another Sunday in the NFL.
In the 1970s and 1990s, you could turn games against poor teams into automatic wins for established franchises like the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers or even Buffalo at one time.
But there aren't any great teams in the NFL any longer. It has become too watered down, especially in the AFC. Who is the top team now? Denver Broncos? Maybe, but quarterback Peyton Manning won't be the same in January in the cold weather when that old body gets tired.
Quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots don't have any receivers and the Indianapolis Colts have no defense. Again.
Pittsburgh, one of the league's model franchises, traveled all the way to England to remain winless against the previous winless Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and the Cincinnati Bengals, which have more offensive talent than any team in the NFL, lost to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Imagine that. The hottest team in the AFC North is Cleveland and the Browns have won two straight.
"We don't always play well, but we always play hard," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
That's one of my favorite quotes. Here's another:
"We don't always look pretty, but that's not our style around here," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco often says.
Translation: "We're inconsistent, inept at times, but so are the rest of the teams in the NFL. But if we play harder, we will win most of our games, even make the playoffs. And if we are lucky, too, win a Super Bowl, just like last year."
The Ravens almost pulled it off Sunday. But Flacco, the $120.6 million man, threw five interceptions. The Ravens rushed only nine times for 24 yards against a team which had one of the worst run defenses in the league.
They committed eight penalties for 59 yards and the Bills ran all over them for 203 yards and had nearly a 13-minute advantage in time of possession. But the Ravens could have won because the woeful Bills had 11 penalties for 99 yards.
They couldn't make the big play like when tight end Lee Smith, wide open, fell down at the goal late in the third quarter, or when receiver Robert Woods could not get his second foot down in the back of the end zone to complete a touchdown pass late in the fourth.
And of course, the Bills tried to choke. They shanked a punt late in the game or committed holding penalties to negate first downs after big runs. There was the fumble by quarterback EJ Manuel late in the game, and then facing a third-and-11 at their own 19 with 2:37 remaining and holding a three-point lead, Buffalo handed off to running back Fred Jackson.
They are losers. The Bills aren't used to winning and they have no killer instinct. That move was nothing more than raising the white flag, but also a sign that the Bills thought the Ravens offense was no threat.
They were right, and that's the NFL.
A week ago, the Ravens physically took apart one of the best teams in the Houston Texans , but a week later they got shoved around by the Bills. Unbelievable.
Some will say this was a trap game because the Ravens were due for an emotional letdown after the Texans game. Sorry, there are no excuses. Right now, they are as inconsistent as every other team in the NFL.
They get rolled by Denver and then they rolled Houston. They were decent against Cleveland, but awful versus the Bills. And they do have some pressing issues.
The Ravens brought in highly respected assistant Juan Castillo during the offseason to improve the running game, and now they can't run. Guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda were two of the best in the league, but now they are just mediocre. Right tackle Michael Oher hasn't played well and left tackle Bryant McKinnie's best block this season was on receiver Jacoby Jones during his birthday celebration last week.
And then there is Flacco. Ugly, just ugly. He has been inconsistent all season.
The Ravens were just as poor on defense. Jackson and fellow running back C.J. Spiller looked like O.J. Simpson during his playing days. The Ravens got little penetration from their defensive line and inside linebackers Daryl Smith and Josh Bynes often over ran ball carriers, or allowed them to run free because of arm tackles.
The secondary was lost again, allowing receivers to run free and uncontested.
It was shameful, embarrassing at times.
But all is not lost. In the old days, you could say this team was headed in the wrong direction. But if you say that about the Ravens, you could say that for the other 31 teams in the NFL.
On days where there are big losses and depression, there is also hope.
It is the norm in the NFL.