Warning: This is going to come off as some sappy praise article. If it’s too melodramatic for your taste, I get it.
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” — Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man: Epistle I
Back in August at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Maryland, said hope of a successful season for the Baltimore Ravens was omnipresent. Fans were back in the practice stands after a year away from the facility. Small placards welcomed the press corps back to the media room, with a full array of treats and sweets.
This was a nice touch to start off training camp. This sign was placed on each seat in Ravens media room.— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) July 27, 2021
Thank you Ravens PR! pic.twitter.com/J4caXKLIad
Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee truck, along with other vendors and pop-up tents along the walkway were in full sales-pitch mode. Photos were being taken with Poe and the shield logo had long lines.
Even with the news of quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Gus Edwards missing the first part of training camp due to COVID-19, there was a sense of real excitement. Baltimore was considered an AFC superpower. They’d just drafted two exciting prospects in the first round, a polished wide receiver in Rashod Bateman and a violent outside linebacker who, according to Ravens Outside Linebackers coach Drew Wilkins, delivered the best workout he’s ever witnessed: Odafe Oweh. That, too, was a story, as the rookie decided to embrace his first name and requested the media to follow suit.
Ravens OLB coach Drew Wilkins said to defensive coordinator Don Martindale that Odafe Oweh had, "the best workout I've ever seen live, ever."— Kyle P Barber (@KylePBarber) April 30, 2021
Odafe Oweh said it feels good to go by his first name for the first time since he was 7 years old.— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) May 15, 2021
This continued through the preseason. Fans saw Bateman make plays against All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Tight end Mark Andrews was operating at full speed in practice and carving up just about anybody assigned enough to defend him. By the first preseason game, Ravens fans were, like Lamar Jackson, focusing on the ultimate goal.
Ravens fans came back to M&T Bank Stadium with Super Bowl on their minds (as well as their heads) pic.twitter.com/pTsuthTd14— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) July 31, 2021
Fast forward a few weeks and the hits began. The exciting rookie, Bateman, suffers his first career injury and needs surgery on his groin. All that was ‘small potatoes’ compared to what was approaching.
Running back J.K. Dobbins goes down in the final preseason game. It doesn’t look good. He’s virtually carried off the field.
Here’s the JK Dobbins left knee injury.— Matthew Betz (@TheFantasyPT) August 28, 2021
Forceful hyperextension. MRI will tell us the story. Until then, we hope ligaments are spared pic.twitter.com/Da321F2U16
I’m trying to be optimistic about JK Dobbins’ injury but seeing this makes it difficult. pic.twitter.com/fwXXphp0oH— Kip Smithers (@Chughes612) August 28, 2021
The injury was the worst news: torn ACL. In a tune-up game, Dobbins’ season ended without a single regular season snap. A player who had sky-high expectations entering the season was now gone.
Fortunately, the Ravens had, quite arguably, the best “backup” running back in the NFL with Edwards. In three seasons with the team, Edwards had never rushed for fewer than 700 yards and was among the most physical runners in the NFL. They also had running back Justice Hill, a decent backup with good hands and a strong skillset both on offense and special teams. Everything was going to be okay!
Nine days later, its announced Hill tore his Achilles and will be out for the season.
Three days after Hill’s injury announcement, Edwards suffers the same season-ending fate as Dobbins. The football gods deemed that wasn’t a great enough sacrifice, either, removing cornerback Marcus Peters with an ACL tear, too.
The Ravens went from one of the best rushing units in football to just Lamar Jackson and fourth-string Ty’Son Williams in under two weeks.
Nonetheless, the games must still be played. Four days prior to the season opener in Las Vegas on Monday night, the Ravens signed running back Latavius Murray and went to work.
In the back-and-forth contest, the Ravens suffered an overtime defeat. Some parts looked exceptional. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown caught all six targets thrown his way for 69 yards and a touchdown. Murray rushed for a touchdown and overall, the defeat hurt but it happens.
The defeat wasn’t the cause for concern. It was the offensive line, namely franchise left tackle Ronnie Stanley. He’d missed 12 games in 2020 due to an ankle injury, and his return was not the anticipated stalwart stonewall the NFL knew him to be. He wasn’t holding up well against former Ravens pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. According to PFF, he allowed nine pressures upon his return. After the game, Stanley didn’t play another snap, further rehabbing his ankle and eventually shutting it down for the season, needing a second surgery.
The Ravens were filling an injured reserve list with their blue chip talents and the excitement of the season, all that hope of becoming the dominant AFC superpower begun to fade.
Not Dead Yet
The Ravens had played in only one game and were 0-1. It would be crazy to write them off, especially with Jackson and what we know now thanks to hindsight, but things weren’t so warm and bright at The Castle and the next opponent on the schedule were the Kansas City Chiefs on a shortened week. As previously stated, the games must still be played.
The Ravens received and on Jackson’s first pass of the game, on 3rd & 8, Chiefs safety Tyrann Matheiu caught Jackson’s toss and returned it 35-yards for a defensive touchdown. Think this was a truly low moment for the team. They were only three minutes into their second game of the season and it was gut-check time.
Jackson and the offense drove down the field. Hollywood caught a first down. Williams sprinted for a gain of 12. Then, eteran running back Devonta Freeman, who joined the Ravens’ practice squad on September 9, gashed the Chiefs for 31 yards. Then, Williams got down to the one-yard line, fumbled it, and wide receiver Devin Duvernay caught the loose ball and plummeted into the endzone. Touchdown, Ravens.
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
The game would go on in dramatic fashion. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes did his signature move: throwing touchdowns. Jackson responded with his own skillset, finding the endzone twice in the fourth quarter. The Ravens were up, 36-35.
The Chiefs were driving and well within range for kicker Harrison Butker, the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, to bury the game-winner. Then, the rookie linebacker, Oweh, knocked the pigskin loose from running back Clyde Edwards-Eliare’s arms and pounced on it. Ballgame.
For the first time in the Jackson era, the Ravens had defeated the Chiefs.
"GO FOR IT!— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 20, 2021
That's what you did tonight!" pic.twitter.com/2WBqqhqTyL
The Ravens kept it going in dramatic fashion with a Week 3 victory over the Detroit Lions. A 4th & 19 completion from Jackson to Watkins set up a 66-yard field goal attempt for Justin Tucker. He nailed it.
The Ravens went on and took care of business against the then undefeated Denver Broncos.
Going up against the Indianapolis Colts, they led one of the greatest comeback wins in franchise history in what could arguably be the game of the year.
The team followed the narrow victory up with a front-to-back whooping against the superstar Los Angeles Chargers and MVP candidate Justin Herbert. It was never close, taking them down 34-6.
To do what they’d done to this point, without the talent they lost from injury against some of the best in the AFC, was nothing short of incredible. Jackson had buried every single stupid narrative about him from foolish pundits. The Ravens’ resolve was on full display.
.@JFowlerESPN says Lamar Jackson is a sleeper for QB under the most pressure this season— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) August 20, 2021
"There are a lot of people around the league that I speak to ... they say this might be the year that everybody figures out Lamar Jackson." pic.twitter.com/lXP0EUPkUJ
Though a humbling game against the Cincinnati Bengals evicted the fans from Cloud Nine, it doesn’t negate the brilliance of what this season has been for the Ravens.
- Jackson is in competition for his second League MVP award.
- John Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the NFL.
- Hollywood has found his next gear and is scoring touchdowns at an alarming rate.
- Rookies have stepped up and become a source of stability for the present and future.
No matter this seasons ending, what Baltimore has done is brilliant and is due more credit for the madness of the Ravens’ 2021 season. Few teams, be it coaches, players, front office or all three, are incapable of navigating such difficult waters. There’s a reason the Ravens are once again atop the AFC North and boasting a 5-2 record, with their best football still to come.