Yesterday's loss was agonizing on a number of levels but at its core, it hurt because not only did the team fight all the way back and take the lead, but the loss had a sense of Week 1 déjà vu. Fourth quarter comeback? Check. Late drive by Cincinnati to take the lead? Check. Bomb to Steve Smith for a touchdown? Chec---well, almost.
While professional narrative creators create their new weekly stories based on the outcome of a single game or even a single play, allow me to apply some perspective.
Division Crown Hardly out of Reach
There's no doubt that two losses to Cincinnati puts us behind the eight-ball for the division crown. What this means is that Baltimore needs to have a definitively better record than Cincy, nothing more. It is hardly out of the realm of the possible. We just won't be winning it on a tiebreaker. A recent example of this would be the 2011 Steelers. They finished 12-4 but two of those losses were to us. Tiebreakers forced them to take the difficult Wild Card route but they were a pretty good team, too. Being swept sucks but when it comes to another strong divisional foe, there is no shame in it either.
As for the Bengals, who now sit on a precarious division lead, their losses to Indianapolis and New England still happened. The bottom line is that even the most cursory examination of each team in the division beyond win/loss records shows that no team has quite run away with anything. With two games yet to play against Cleveland and Pittsburgh each for Cincy, much is going to change in the AFC North landscape in the coming weeks. All we can control is defeating Pittsburgh next week. Should we do that, we'll be in good shape.
AFC is muddled
There is only one thing I can say with categorical certainty right now in Week 9: Denver is the best team in the AFC and the NFL, too. Everything else is completely up for grabs.
Indianapolis, who everyone has been bandwagoning following their domination of Cincinnati if not earlier, just gave up FIFTY to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has blowout losses to Cleveland and Baltimore to go along with uninspiring wins over Jacksonville and Houston. Baltimore has the advanced metrics and balance to suggest we're the most complete AFC North team and yet we are now 0-2 to Cincinnati and another loss to an AFC contender putting us behind the eight ball. San Diego looked like world beaters after defeating Seattle and now is on a two-game losing streak. Cincinnati, who was hailed for three weeks as the class of the AFC, got embarrassed by the Colts and Patriots and needed a Panther receiver to drop a touchdown pass to escape with a tie. The Patriots have been on a hot run following their own primetime tar and feathering by Kansas City just four weeks ago.
What the hell is going on out there? It is simple actually: we know way less than we think we know about football teams. 20 weeks is scarcely enough to know the full picture of a team. Eight weeks is even less and one week is an impossibly insufficient sample size. We just can't know all there is to know about a team based on a win or a loss especially when they often hinge on the razor-thin margin of a single play.
There is a lot of football left to play and all you can really conclude right now is that the AFC is much stronger than a year ago when the division winners themselves were watered down lightweights when compared to the mighty NFC. In 2014, this is a tough conference and no team can stake a claim to anything yet — except maybe Denver. The NFL landscape changes weekly and often abruptly.
A note on the PI call
Because a small segment of insecure fans from the other site have apparently decided to come here and pick fights with some of our commenters here about the call let me just say this. Pass interference is inherently a judgment call. It is a subjective interpretation (informed by individual experience and guidance from the league office) of what constituted sufficient contact.
Therefore, any notions that the call "was obviously OPI" or "obviously not OPI" start with the false premise that such a call can be objectively one thing or another.
The only absolute, incontrovertible truth of refereeing is that one's view of a subjective judgment call tends to fall directly in line with whether it went for or against your team. Believing otherwise is just naïve. Arguing about it is only likely to become an exercise in wasted energy. There's a lot to be said for winning graciously.
Ravens will be fine
At times like this, nothing but a time machine would offer much solace so it might feel trite to examine it from any other perspective but whether we won or lost. But really, we will be fine. Going into this game, we were ahead of the division rivals in advanced metrics and that isn't going to change too much. We just lost 27-24, on the road, while suffering mid-game injuries to half our starters including our best defender, in the final sixty seconds to a team that will almost undoubtedly be in the playoff mix. The Ravens are a very good team and they will be in that mix, too.
The margin between winning and losing in this league is so razor thin that narratives are only made after one game by people who have to fabricate narratives for a living on a weekly basis. The true constitution of a team is deeper than that.
Echoing what John Harbaugh said, if this game is an indicator of the type of team we are, I am fine with that. I would like our chances in a rematch, too.