Now at 3-5 after falling to the Browns, both the Ravens team and its fan base are in an initial stage of acceptance that it is very hard to repeat as a champion in this league. The next shock coming is the sudden realization that the Ravens may not be able to win their division or even qualify for the playoffs in 2013 unless they pull a rabbit out of the hat and run the table the rest of the way.
“It’s going to be a challenge, we are 3-5,” Harbaugh said Sunday when asked about the playoffs. “The math says it’s going to be a challenge. We’ve got our work cut out for us, we are going to have to win some games.”
The Ravens are now in third place in the division. They trail the Bengals (6-3) by 2.5 games and are a game behind the Browns (4-5).
The wild-card standings are not much better.
The Broncos (7-1) have a stronghold on the first wild-card spot, and then the Jets (5-4), Dolphins (4-4), Titans (4-4) and Chargers (4-4) all have better records than the Ravens. The Ravens have a better record than only four teams in the AFC.
“You’ve got to be positive, you have to keep your head and your eyes forward and that’s what we’re going to do,” Flacco said. “You have to stare it right in the face and just meet it. It’s obviously a little frustrating on Sundays and we just have to continue to work.”
A problem for the Ravens this year is that they have come up short in close games, compared to winning tight contests last season. In their current three-game losing streak, the Ravens lost to the Packers, Steelers and Browns by an average of 3.6 points.
They have lost three games this year by three points or less.
“We have to start winning close games,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the number one thing we need to get done. You do that first of all by not losing the game. You can’t put yourself in that position, you can’t make the kind of mistakes that create opportunities for your opponent. We’ve got way too much of that throughout the course of our season.”
They play five of their final eight games at home, and have two games left to play against the Bengals. The Ravens also face the Jets in Week 12, a primary competitor for a wild-card spot.
“I know our players are good enough to win these games, there’s no doubt about it,” Harbaugh said. “We just have to play better, the mistakes have got to get cleaned up. We have to make more plays.”
If only it were as easy to do as merely saying the words.
Meanwhile fans are getting anxious. I picked out a fan post by a regular at Ravens.com NFL site. His name is SteelCityRaven so I assume he is a die-hard Ravens fan who was somehow transferred to the Pittsburgh area. Anyway, here is SteelCityRaven's public rant which I think sums up nicely a lot of fans' disgruntlement with the team right now:
We haven't Run the ball well all year.. in fact I think we are dead last in rushing…
We are average in our passing game at best.
We struggle to stop the run and are average at best right now in that dept.
We struggle to stop the pass and cant get off the field on 3rd down.
We struggled on ST and that led to big changes during the bye week.
You say we need to make plays and I say that we are not cutting it in most areas of the game. The run game is horrible. The pass protection is getting worse.
Dean Peas plays too soft defensively and we can count on one hand how many of our players are playing well—
1. Terrell Suggs… is playing at a DPOY level…
2. Torrey Smith…continues to grow into the superstar he is.
3. Daryl Smith…best offseason pick-up we had.
4. C. Upshaw…losing reps to Dumervil or his stats would be even better.
5. Marlon Brown… very impressive.
that's the short list…
then there are the guys playing okay:
1. Art Jones…. not bad and shows flashes
2. Justin Tucker…. minus his rough start he could make the upper list
3. Elvis Dumervil… shows flashes…
4. Leach…. when utilized???
5. Jimmy & Jacoby…when healthy…
6. Dallas Clark is coming on..
7. Doss (except for that drop)…
8. Lardarius Webb (shakey at times and solid at times not 100% for sure)
2. Corey Graham
3. The entire OL
5. Rich and Bernard Pierce…
6. Josh Bynes
Lost hope for—
1. Ed Dickson
2. Brandon Stokley
3. Jah Reid
Too Early to tell—
2. B. Williams
4. Matt Elam
5. Cody (bc of injury… he was playing well)
6. McClain (inj) "
That's a pretty valid snapshot of what the enthusiastic but disgrunted Ravens fan sees in the team right now. I do like HutHut's take on the problems of the offense and the physical beating Joe Flacco is taking so far this year:
"Ravens wallet sized playbook: Shotgun with RB lined up next to QB. Run-Pass-Pass, then punt. Rinse and repeat."
Then there's The Greek, one of my favorite Ravens fan critics:
"There are more issues with the offense than the zone-blocking. Caldwell has to call better plays that allow Flacco to get rid of the ball before he gets clobbered— like wr screens, quick slants, lining up Rice or Pierce in the slot. rolling Flacco out to buy the receivers more time, 'no huddle' offense etc…etc.. just my opinion…"
This next game coming up with the Bengals at Baltimore could make or break the season for the Ravens. A solid win over the Bengals is almost necessary just to pacify the fan base, some of whom will jump ship if things go badly.