In the NFL Network documentary, “America’s Game: The 2012 Baltimore Ravens,” John Harbaugh has a simple and memorable quote to sum up what his feelings were on the eve of the 2012 AFC Championship: “The days are long, but the years are short.” He’s of course referring to Baltimore yet again heading up to New England to take on the very same Pats team that had stunningly knocked them off a game away from the Super Bowl a year prior to that.
Six years later, the Ravens longtime head coach can again use that refrain. This time it’s not in reference to a conference title game, but instead an eerily similar scenario that will decide if Baltimore’s season will continue into January.
As recently as about six weeks ago, Harbaugh’s job security was very much hanging in the balance. If you consider the context, people were right to think this way.
A 3-1 start had given way to a ton of familiar problems from the last few years; a lack of creativity on offense, uninspired play on D that cost the team late in games, and some bizarre coaching decisions that would cause fans and the media to put the cross-hairs directly on the Super Bowl winning head coach. However, it was one decision he made at the absolute peak of the hysteria surrounding Baltimore’s three-game losing streak that has them in the position they’re in now.
What made that decision possible? A week 17 game almost 365 days ago which stunned them in every sense of the word and sent them into a soul search which ultimately led to this position.
“Ravens trying to end it here, Dalton steps up, Dalton throws... It’s complete, caught by Boyd! Tyler Boyd, touchdown! Remarkable! The Cincinnati Bengals, have stunned this crowd!
The above broadcast call by Ian Eagle of CBS is one that Ravens fans will always remember, for all the wrong reasons. All Baltimore’s defense had to do was make one play on fourth down and 12 to stop the Bengals and win a crucial game that would put them into the playoffs as a wild card.
We all know the story, and there’s no need to continue re-living what was one of the worst days in recent memory for the fanbase. However, considering what’s happened since, it’s critical to understanding the 5-1 win streak the ravens have (almost miraculously) ripped off.
While hypotheticals are more just a fun exercise rather than something actually meaningful, allow me, the humble writer, to posit a pretty important one for you here: If the Ravens defense does step up in that spot and that team made the playoffs as they really should have, what are the reverberating effects the fans would’ve felt in the spring? My guess, as I’m sure many of yours would be, is that they don’t consider change at the quarterback position for at least another year.
Instead, Tyler Boyd ripped our hearts out on New Years’ Eve 2017, which allowed this to happen:
Lamar Jackson was not a perfect draft prospect, which is why he fell to 32nd overall. He’s also not a perfect NFL quarterback right now; a lot of work will be required in the next offseason to help continue his progression as a pro player.
However, it’s simply hard to imagine Baltimore going on the run they’re on right now without them drafting Jackson back in April, and inserting him into the starting lineup when they did. His unique rushing ability coupled with his innate sense to make just the right amount of plays through the air when needed are a perfect compliment for what the Ravens want to do to have success.
Run the ball, control the clock, and set the defense up to close things out late in the contest. In a way, Saturday’s win over the Chargers was a microcosm of this as they ran it consistently well, Jackson hit a perfect throw to Mark Andrews for a long touchdown, and the defense came through in the clutch with yet another late touchdown.
That win, coupled with some help from the New Orleans Saints and JuJu Smith-Schuster has the stage set for week 17. Win and you’re in as division champions; lose and you go home.
So what’s different from this year to last? Or the year prior when Antonio Brown reached over the goal line to ruin Christmas for us?
Well, we’ve already mentioned the difference in offensive philosophies which is of course a huge factor. However, there does seem to be a bit of a sea change in team morale since the change at quarterback was made. This could be evidenced by what’s turning into a common refrain that was being shouted after the win in L.A. and began after Lamar’s first win over the Bengals in week 11:
I recently wrote an opinion piece discussing why the Ravens are making the right move in hitching their wagon to Harbaugh. That ran before the Chargers game and I’ll still believe that regardless of what happens this weekend.
The above video, as well as the swagger they’re currently playing with are good examples of why. That’s the attitude they’ll need to take into their upcoming matchup against Cleveland.
The stage is set, and the stakes are the same as last year. A week 17 home game against a Browns team, who have certainly shown promise, but ultimately have nothing to play for in this one.
Win and you’re in? Good. There won’t be any excuses offered up, or moral victories handed out no matter what happens in this one.
There’s only one thing left to do: Go win a game.