De­spite the frus­tra­tions, sea­son so far of­fers highs as well as lows

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

The Ravens’ un­of­fi­cial first half of the sea­son started with three wins and ended with four losses. An up­lift­ing Septem­ber mor­phed into a dread­ful Oc­to­ber that sum­moned flash­backs to last year’s 5-11 de­ba­cle.

In­juries hit again. Mis­takes mul­ti­plied. Frus­tra­tion peaked.

Yet as the Ravens en­ter their bye week, op­ti­mism re­mains. They’ve been in ev­ery game un­til the end. Most of their in­jured starters are ex­pected to re­turn in time to face the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers on Nov. 6. At 3-4, the Ravens are just a game be­hind the first-place Steel­ers (4-3) in the AFC North.

Prepa­ra­tion for the first of two matchups against Pitts­burgh will be­gin in earnest when play­ers re­turn to the team fa­cil­ity early next week. Be­fore the fo­cus shifts, The Bal­ti­more Sun doles out first-half su­perla­tives and low points. Big­gest vic­tory: The Ravens showed met­tle and re­silience in a 19-17 road vic­tory over the Jack­sonville Jaguars on Sept. 25. They led 16-7 early in the third quar­ter

be­fore the Jaguars took a one­point lead mid­way through the fourth. In the fourth quar­ter, the Ravens had four sacks, in­ter­cepted two passes and blocked a field-goal at­tempt. Yet they still needed Justin Tucker’s 54-yard field goal with 1:02 re­main­ing to get the vic­tory. Worst loss: Fall­ing short against the lowly New York Jets might have been the most hum­bling set­back, but the hard­est one to swal­low was prob­a­bly the 16-10 home de­feat against the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins on Oct. 9. The Ravens were shut out over the fi­nal 44:56. The of­fen­sive per­for­mance was so bad that co­or­di­na­tor Marc Trest­man was fired the next day. The losses to the Oak­land Raiders and New York Giants hurt, but los­ing at home to your NFL neigh­bors stings a bit more. Defin­ing mo­ment: It ap­peared mid­dle line­backer C.J. Mosley would give the Ravens the lead when he in­ter­cepted a pass from the Red­skins’ Kirk Cousins and sprinted to­ward the end zone. But as Mosley lunged to­ward the goal line, the ball slipped out of his right hand and went through the side of the end zone. The Red­skins re­gained pos­ses­sion and got a field goal on the en­su­ing drive. The Ravens, mean­while, lost the game and lost Mosley for sev­eral weeks be­cause of a ham­string in­jury suf­fered on the play. First-half Most Valu­able Player: Justin Tucker had game-win­ning field goals in two of the Ravens’ three wins. He’s 18-for-18 this sea­son, in­clud­ing 4-for-4 from 50 yards and be­yond. In a first half in which the of­fense has strug­gled might­ily, Tucker re­mains the Ravens’ best and most con­sis­tent weapon. Hon­or­able men­tion goes to wide re­ceiver Mike Wal­lace and safety Eric Wed­dle. Top rookie: Cor­ner­back Tavon Young, a fourth-round pick out of Tem­ple, was beaten by the Giants’ Odell Beck­ham Jr. for the gamewin­ning 66-yard touch­down pass in the fi­nal two min­utes. But Young has sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions and shown a pen­chant for be­ing around the ball. He has two in­ter­cep­tions, a fum­ble re­cov­ery and a 2-point re­turn of a blocked Mike Wal­lace heads into the end zone for a touch­down in the sec­ond quar­ter of the Ravens’ win over the Bills in Week 1. The score, off a 66-yard pass from quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, was the dif­fer­ence in the game. ex­tra-point try that spear­headed the come­back vic­tory over the Cleve­land Browns. Big­gest dis­ap­point­ment: Take your pick, but we’ll go with the play of vet­eran quar­ter­back Joe Flacco. The Ravens en­ter their bye week ranked 25th in points per game. The of­fen­sive line has played poorly and the run­ning game has been spotty. How­ever, Flacco has done lit­tle to lift his team­mates. He’s thrown more in­ter­cep­tions than touch­down passes, and his 75.4 quar­ter­back rat­ing ranks him bet­ter than just two cur­rent NFL starters. He needs to play much bet­ter for the Ravens to have any shot at sav­ing their sea­son. Big­gest rev­e­la­tion: Zachary Orr, an un­drafted free agent out of North Texas, played pri­mar­ily on spe­cial teams over his first two NFL sea­sons. But he won the start­ing weak-side line­backer job this sum­mer over two sec­on­dround draft picks, Arthur Brown and Ka­malei Cor­rea. Week in and week out, he’s been one of the team’s most ef­fec­tive play­ers. His 63 tack­les rank sixth in the NFL, and he has a game-se­cur­ing in­ter­cep­tion, a forced fum­ble and two fum­ble re­cov­er­ies. Big­gest downer: The Ravens changed their off­sea­son work­out and re­cov­ery meth­ods, hop­ing to avoid the del­uge of in­juries that sank their chances last year. It’s made lit­tle dif­fer­ence so far. Run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon (knee), wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. (an­kle), left tackle Ron­nie Stan­ley (foot), right guard Mar­shal Yanda (shoul­der), rush line­backer Ter­rell Suggs (bi­ceps), strong-side line­backer Elvis Dumervil (foot), Mosley (ham­string) and re­turn spe­cial­ist Devin Hester Sr. (thigh) have missed at least one game with in­juries. The Ravens have 15 play­ers on in­jured re­serve. Best in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance: It was ini­tially be­lieved that tight end Den­nis Pitta’s ca­reer ended two years ear­lier in Cleve­land when he frac­tured and dis­lo­cated his hip for the sec­ond time. How­ever, Pitta punc­tu­ated his im­pres­sive come­back by catch­ing nine balls for 102 yards in the 25-20 vic­tory over the Browns on Sept.18. The Ravens ral­lied from a 20-2 deficit with Flacco find­ing Pitta on sev­eral key third downs. Pitta hasn’t main­tained his earl­y­sea­son pace, but he’s still been one of their more re­li­able play­ers. Best play: It wasn’t a sign of things to come, as Ravens of­fi­cials had hoped, but Flacco and Wal­lace con­nected for a 66-yard touch­down pass that was the dif­fer­ence in the team’s sea­sonopen­ing 13-7 vic­tory over the Buf­falo Bills. Matched up against a safety, Wal­lace got by his de­fender eas­ily and caught Flacco’s pass in stride be­fore win­ning the race to the end zone. Best hit: De­fen­sive tackle Timmy Jerni­gan, who is hav­ing his best NFL sea­son, put a nasty shot on Browns quar­ter­back Josh McCown. It wasn’t clear whether the hit was the one that broke McCown’s col­lar­bone, but it couldn’t have helped. An­other good choice would be Dumervil’s crush­ing block of a Red­skins player on Mosley’s ill-fated in­ter­cep­tion re­turn. Best or­ga­ni­za­tional de­ci­sion: The Ravens’ sign­ing of Wal­lace after his re­lease by the Min­nesota Vik­ings didn’t gen­er­ate much pos­i­tive at­ten­tion out­side Bal­ti­more. But thus far, Wal­lace has been the team’s most con­sis­tent of­fen­sive player. An­swer­ing crit­ics who sug­gested he didn’t have much left, Wal­lace has 35 catches — four fewer than he had all last sea­son — for 490 yards and three scores. He’s also had a pos­i­tive ef­fect in the locker room, men­tor­ing young re­ceivers Bre­shad Per­ri­man and Chris Moore. Worst or­ga­ni­za­tional de­ci­sion: It ap­pears gen­eral man­ager Ozzie New­some and com­pany didn’t do enough to fill the Ravens’ big­gest off­sea­son needs. The team has sorely missed left guard Kelechi Osemele, who de­parted in free agency. The re-sign­ing of Sha­reece Wright hasn’t pro­vided the sta­bil­ity at cor­ner­back the Ravens need. The ros­ter again ap­pears to be short on edge rush­ers, with ag­ing vet­er­ans Suggs and Dumervil deal­ing with in­juries. Best quote: “We’re not good right now. I think that’s the big­gest thing,” Flacco, after the loss to the Jets.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Line­backer Zachary Orr (54) cel­e­brates his fourth-quar­ter in­ter­cep­tion in the Ravens’ road vic­tory over the Jaguars on Sept. 25. His 63 tack­les rank sixth in the NFL.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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