Ever been on a rollercoaster that you celebrated while it was happening?
Ever been on a rollercoaster that you just wish was over?
Sometimes, like the Baltimore Ravens this year, their season is like a rollercoaster, and when they are in the midst of playing a game that has dramatic ups and downs some players, coaches and fans don’t enjoy it. Coaches like to set a steady path, have a team that methodically goes about its business and uses the regular season to earn a playoff berth and set them up for success in the postseason.
I suspect that John Harbaugh would like to have that kind of season.
This year, he doesn’t.
His Ravens have had more twists and turns along with highs and lows than the most dramatic ride at an amusement park. Their season has been a series of successes that had them apparently destined to defend their best record in the NFL from 2019, to a team that would struggle to beat even a weak opponent.
They opened this season with a romp victory over the much improved Cleveland Browns, 38-6, and won five of six games before entering their open date on October 25.
Baltimore came out of their bye week with a narrow loss to the then still undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, missing a chance to catch them in the standings and instead falling two games back in the AFC North Division. That result, suffered greatly by virtue of turning the ball over three times, was highly significant. When two quality division opponents meet and one team in the game is up in the standings and alone in first place, the team in second place almost always wins. Even more likely to pick up a victory when playing on their home field.
The Ravens were at home, coming off a bye week, and one game back of Pittsburgh, and lost. When a team doesn’t win in that spot, something is off.
Despite a win the next Sunday over the talented Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens season went off the rails in succeeding weeks while they lost three straight games while suffering widespread virus outbreaks. Their losses included a defeat in their second meeting of the season against rival Pittsburgh.
This rollercoaster of a campaign was not at all enjoyable for the defending AFC North Division champions.
Only a skeleton crew of players were available during their losses, but the return of last year’s league MVP, Lamar Jackson, was enough to end their losing streak when they hosted the Dallas Cowboys. After beating Mike McCarthy’s team, 34-17, the Ravens faced the challenge of the year when they met the Browns for a second time this season last Monday night.
Cleveland, which had won four consecutive games coming into Monday night’s home meeting with the Ravens, and were coming off a 41-35 road triumph over the talented Tennessee Titans, were perfectly poised to atone for their one-sided season opening loss to Baltimore. This was the Browns chance to prove their 9-3 record was a true reflection of how good they were in Kevin Stefanski’s first year as head coach.
A win here, over a division rival and on national television, would go a long way to erase the Browns reputation of inept play.
The game had all the excitement of a rollercoaster ride that left some pale in fright and others laughing in joy. The Browns scored first against Baltimore, and the Ravens countered with two touchdowns for a 14-7 lead. Before the half was over, the Ravens put up two more touchdowns, and took a 21-14 lead to halftime.
That advantage had ballooned to 34-20 entering the fourth quarter while both teams missed conversion attempts after scoring touchdowns. Then, a player that has proven to be necessary for the Ravens to compete, quarterback Lamar Jackson, surrendered to reported cramps and left the field for the locker room.
When he returned, during the two-minute warning, his team had fallen behind, 35-34, and faced a fourth-and-five at midfield. Like Superman bursting on the scene just in time as backup QB Trace McSorley lay on the field with an injury, Jackson used the fourth down to toss a touchdown pass and give the Ravens back the lead.
Then, like this year’s Browns and none in recent years, Cleveland responded with a quick touchdown to tie the score with a one-point conversion after Baltimore had completed a two point opportunity after their late touchdown.
Superman struck again, quickly moving the Ravens into field goal range and regained the lead 45-42 with two-seconds left on the clock. The three point road favorites then got the point spread win when the Browns desperation last play ended in a safety.
Like I said, one group was laughing in joy and another pale with disappointment after this game. That included not only the players and coaches, but also the fans and most assuredly, the bettors.
So, what happens next for the Ravens?
Does their dramatic win on Monday leave them vulnerable for an upset loss this week?
It could … but more likely this team has already come to grips of what the abyss looks like when their season is on the brink of not producing a postseason date. I’m betting the Ravens are prepared to sweep the table to earn a playoff slot, and that includes a romp win against the overmatched Jacksonville Jaguars this week.
Qoxhi Picks: Baltimore Ravens (-12½) over Jacksonville Jaguars