By Chris Schisler
The Ravens Flock needs to appreciate what John Harbaugh has accomplished this season. There’s no coach in the NFL that would have the Baltimore Ravens in contention of the AFC North crown with what he’s had to deal with. Bill Belichick may not even be able to make this work.
Don’t get me wrong, Harbaugh drives me crazy. I wasn’t in love with either two-point conversion attempt. He makes decisions that get me throwing my Ravens hat on Sundays. It’s the amount of vitriol that Harbaugh gets from pockets of this fanbase that I don’t get. I’m not talking about irrational anger at the moment – every Ravens fan felt that when a two-point try was unsuccessful against the Packers. Some fans just don’t appreciate what we have and social media can become ugly.
Think about what went wrong this season. All of it. Ronnie Stanley missed all but one game after coming back too quickly from his injury last season. Marcus Peters, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill, and L.J. Fort didn’t get to play a regular-season snap before they went down to injury. During the season, the Ravens have had to shuffle their offensive line due to injuries and it’s never been a strength. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Marlon Humphrey suffered a torn pectoral muscle. The Ravens lost Deshon Elliott about halfway through the season. Nick Boyle has missed most of the season, and now Pat Ricard is missing time hurt. Forgive the long paragraph but you can’t fit every bit of adversity the Ravens have faced in a normal chunk of words, not even this one.
The Big Picture vs. the Ravens three-game losing streak:
The fact that the Ravens have had 21 players on injured reserve is astounding. The fact that this isn’t a miserable and hopeless repeat of the 2015 season (The only season with comparable injuries) is astonishing. This should have been a losing season from the jump. We just watched Browns fans complain about being shorthanded against the Raiders – when it pales in comparison to the pressure that bad fortune has inflicted on the Ravens.
John Harbaugh went for two against the Packers. Don’t let the outcome sully the actual story here. The fact that the Ravens were in a position to either tie or take the lead at the end of this game is incredible. Against Aaron Rodgers, who arguably is the best quarterback in football, the Ravens were as strapped for corners as they’ve ever been. The 2014 secondary that gave up two 14 point leads to the New England Patriots, almost felt sorry for this unit.
Every pundit under the sun predicted a Ravens loss. Almost every pundit under the sun thought it would be a blowout or at least a 10 point win for the Ravens. A significant Covid reserve list + an extensive amount of injuries created an insurmountable mountain for Baltimore… Harbaugh had his team scale the dang mountain. The Ravens were right there. I didn’t love going for two there. I admit it. That being said, Harbaugh was one play away from the greatest regular season upset in Ravens history.
2021 Ravens: Making the best out of the worst
When you consider the fact that almost every game has been decided by a razor-thin margin, you have to be impressed with the grit of this team. In the Ravens’ three-game losing streak, the Ravens haven’t lost by more than two points. The Ravens have only been blown out of the water once. The Cincinnati Bengals dominated the Ravens. That’s it. End of list. Every other game has been a brutal fight worthy of at least a little admiration. Harbaugh has his team bought in.
The 2021 season feels like the best possible worst-case scenario. Harbaugh has built-in excuses. His energy level hasn’t dipped. His effort on a weekly basis hasn’t dipped. In fact, it looks like he’s getting more involved with his coordinators -eschewing one of his biggest faults, his unwavering trust in the play-caller. If Harbaugh’s biggest crime is letting two games come down to one final play – and both times it didn’t work out – fine. He’s earned a little latitude.
I remind you that this isn’t a moratorium of the 2021 season. John Harbaugh has a lot of work to do. The goal is to get his franchise quarterback back up and running for the all-important game against the Cincinnati Bengals. If the Ravens beat the Bengals, this season is back on track. If Lamar Jackson can return to the MVP style of play from the first half of the season, the Ravens can become dangerous once again.
The Bottom Line:
The AFC North doesn’t know a team with more adversity faced than this version of the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns are a distant second in the bad luck department. Still, the Ravens are right in the thick of things. Give this pile of adversity to Mike Tomlin, Zac Taylor, or Kevin Stefanski and their teams would have worked themselves out of the mix.
I’ve heard so many times this season that the Ravens are lucky. They won their eight games in unbelievable fashion. Five comebacks in the fourth quarter were tallied. Justin Tucker hit a 66-yard field goal. There was a bit of magic earlier this season, but calling this team lucky would be like calling a giant a dwarf. The Ravens have created their own luck by fighting through a frustrating pile-up of injuries.
If you are able to see the problems the Baltimore Ravens have had as inevitable… dominoes falling, a chain reaction that you can’t quite control, a video game set on extreme difficulty… whatever your metaphor of choice is, you can’t see Harbaugh as part of the problem. Harbaugh came into the season with a powerful sportscar right off the lot. He’s ended up with a nearly totaled ride that he’s had to completely rework.
Harbaugh would probably say “It isn’t pretty, but it’s us.” It’s odd that I feel a surge of pride in this team after a painful three-game losing streak, but I’d say this is a season that reaffirms what “Play like a Raven” means.