2-0 start is a clear contrast with 2015
‘This year we made the plays’ to win, Harbaugh says
Ravens coach John Harbaugh and his players have distanced themselves from last season. They aren’t interested in answering questions about it or discussing the lessons learned from a trying year. But as they celebrated Sunday’s 25-20 comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns, the contrast with 12 months ago was unavoidable.
When the 2015 Ravens flew home from Oakland after Week 2 last year, they were 0-2, having lost two games by a total of 10 points. Top pass rusher Terrell Suggs’ season had already ended with a torn Achilles tendon, and starting left tackle Eugene Monroe was dealing with a concussion. The next two games on their schedule were tough divisional matchups against the Cincinnati Sunday, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 1
Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.
When this year’s Ravens landed back in Baltimore late Sunday night, the team had no unwanted baggage. The Ravens would have liked to play more consistently against the Buffalo Bills and the Browns, but they were good enough when it counted, winning two games by 11 total points. They’ve achieved the team’s first 2-0 start since 2009, and the next three teams on their schedule, starting Sunday on the road against the winless Jacksonville Jaguars, are a combined 1-5.
“However you want to compare it, any way you want, this year we made the plays that won the two games,” Harbaugh said Monday. “We feel a lot better about winning the two games, but really, in the end, the task at hand does not change. You have to get ready to play the next game. You have to get better. You’re not done, and you can’t play the way you played in this [ last] game, whether you won or lost t his game, and have any chance to win next week or four weeks f rom now. Everybody gets better as the season goes along. You have to continue to get better. We have to get better this week. If we’re not getting better, we’re getting worse.”
Ravens players are off Mondays, but Harbaugh said that 28 of them were in the weight room by 10 a.m., and every one of those players had already reviewed tape of the Browns game at least once. Many had met with their position coaches as well.
The areas where the Ravens need to improve are obvious. Despite an offseason focus on fixing their running game, the Ravens are averaging just 81.5 yards per game on the ground through the first two weeks. That ranks 23rd in the NFL, and their 3.0 yards-per-carry average ranks 29th. Their offense has had extended dry spells in each of its first two games.
Defensively, the Ravens were dominant in the season-opening victory against the Bills, but gave up three touchdowns in just more than five minutes of the first quarter against the Browns. The inconsistency has resulted in two uneven, yet ultimately effective, performances.
“We’d like to be pretty. Everybody wants to be pretty, but maybe we’re just not that pretty,” Harbaugh said Monday. “We never really have been. That’s really never been our calling card. But I don’t really care. We have to get better. That’s the bottom line. It’s not about being pretty or ugly. It’s about just getting better and being efficient and executing. That’s what we’re chasing.”
The Ravens understand there is some skepticism about their 2-0 start. The Bills are winless and have already fired their offensive coordinator, Greg Roman. The Browns started their backup quarterback and have a roster littered with rookies, and they experienced three more significant injuries during Sunday’s game. Awinthis week likely won’t impress pundits either, given the Jaguars trailed the San Diego Chargers 35-0 heading into the fourth quarter of a 38-14 road loss Sunday.
But the players believe there is something to be said for the way the team has flipped the script from early last season.
“We fought our way through it, and that’s the difference between us last year and this year,” middle linebacker C.J. Mosley said after his interception of Josh McCown helped seal Sunday’s victory, in which the visiting Ravens came back from 20 points down. “We couldn’t pull those close games out at the end.”
In last year’s road opener against the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, the winning points came on Aqib Talib’s 51-yard interception return for a touchdown. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco drove his team down the field in the waning seconds, but he threw an interception in the end zone that sealed a 19-13 loss.
A week later against the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens took a three-point lead on a field goal by Justin Tucker with just over two minutes to play. But the defense allowed the Raiders to drive the length of the field and score the go-ahead touchdown with 26 seconds remaining. One play before Derek Carr’s game-winning touchdown pass to Seth Roberts, Ravens safety Will Hill was thought to have The Ravens’ Mike Wallace beats the Browns’ Joe Haden for one of his two touchdown receptions Sunday. made the game-securing interception, but he was flagged for defensive holding.
“Wehave seen progress,” Harbaugh said. “I feel like we’ve improved all through the offseason program, the preseason, from game to game, practice to practice we’ve gotten better. They’ve worked really hard and most importantly, they’ve found a way to win games. Part of that is not losing games either. We haven’t made mistakes down the stretch that have cost us. That’s really important.”
Asked following Sunday’s game what the difference has been in the team’s ability to win close games, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. said, “Wedon’t have 21guys on[injured reserve]. That really helps. It’s a lot of components to it. It’s having the right ingredients. You don’t always know how it’s going to turn out, and this year it’s turning out well for us.”
Not only have the Ravens not sustained any significant injuries through two games, they should get running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) and pass rusher Elvis Dumervil (foot) back relatively soon, and tight end Darren Waller is two games away from returning from a suspension. The team’s health situation has only added to the improved outlook.
“We’re going to go to work and improve the things that we have to improve on, learn from the things that don’t go right,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all about getting ready for the next challenge.”
“We fought our way through it and that’s the difference between us last year and this year.”