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