Ow! But still bet­ter than last year

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS -

So, an­other great former Raven will be in the house Sun­day at M&T Bank Sta­dium. Todd Heap will re­turn for the first time since he was re­leased by the team last sum­mer. Der­rick Ma­son al­ready has been back twice in dif­fer­ent uni­forms. Kelly Gregg stopped by dur­ing the pre­sea­son. It’s great to see the ghosts of sea­sons past, be­cause they re­mind us of who the Ravens used to be — for bet­ter or worse — at a time when they are hav­ing some trou­ble fig­ur­ing out ex­actly who they are now.

In the wake of Mon­day night’s dis­mal of­fen­sive per­for­mance against the Jack­sonville Jaguars, it’s cer­tainly tempt­ing to think that the out­come might have been dif­fer­ent if Joe Flacco had the two guys he used to de­pend on to bail him out of tough third-down sit­u­a­tions. Maybe it would have, but that misses the point.

The Ravens are a bet­ter team than they were in 2010. The Pittsburgh Steel­ers and the New York Jets are pretty sure of that, so you should be, too. The is­sue isn’t the qual­ity of this Ravens team. It’s the na­ture of it.

The de­fense might be as good as the one that led the fran­chise to its first Su­per Bowl ti­tle 11sea­sons ago, but — for some rea­son — ev­ery­body would rather ag­o­nize over the in­con­sis­tent of­fense than revel in the fact that the Ravens are once again liv­ing up to their long-held, well-earned rep­u­ta­tion for de­fen­sive dom­i­nance.

Get used to this: The Ravens aren’t a run-first team. They aren’t a pass-first team. They are a punch-first team, and that’s not a ref­er­ence to the mo­men­tary lapse in judg­ment by Brendon Ayan­badejo dur­ing Mon­day night’s game.

Don’t mis­un­der­stand. The Ravens have plenty of work to do on the of­fen­sive side of the ball to be the true Su­per Bowl con­tender ev­ery­body thought they were af­ter that stun­ningly one-sided vic­tory over the Steel­ers in Week 1 and a de­ci­sive win against the other team in last year’s AFC cham­pi­onship game, the Jets. They can’t have a clinker like Mon­day night’s per­for­mance rat­tling around in the closet when they get to the post­sea­son.

But it’s amaz­ing what one in­ex­pli­ca­ble col­lapse has wrought. I mean, Mon­day night at 8 the ESPN pregame crew was say­ing the Ravens were prob­a­bly the best team in the AFC. By 8 the next morn­ing, the mes­sage-board ma­ni­acs were ready to throw John Har­baugh, Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco un­der the bus and then tell the bus driver to back up and see what he hit.

Maybe the Ravens were bet­ter off when fans just ac­cepted that the of­fense lived in the shadow of Ray Lewis and Co.

The good news, of course, is that the Ravens came right home af­ter Mon­day night’s fi­asco to pre­pare for an Ari­zona Car­di­nals team that should be the per­fect op­po­nent to put ev­ery­body back in a pos­i­tive frame of mind. The bad news, of course, is that a great per­for­mance against the Cards won’t re­ally mean a whole lot.

The only way this game will tell us much is if the Ravens find a way to lose it. The odd­s­mak­ers have them as the big­gest home fa­vorite of Week 8, so they can’t re­ally prove any­thing un­til they get to Pittsburgh for next week’s na­tion­ally tele­vised Sun­day night show­down.

That’s a pretty scary propo­si­tion right now. The Steel­ers are still smart­ing from that 35-7 beat­down last month, and they’re go­ing to be highly mo­ti­vated to sal­vage a split of the head-to-head se­ries for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

Har­baugh in­sisted there was no emo- tional let­down Mon­day night, but here’s hop­ing that’s the main rea­son the Ravens looked to­tally out of sync on of­fense and made some men­tal mis­takes on de­fense and spe­cial teams. It’s a lot more palat­able to be­lieve they sim­ply got caught up in the Mon­day Night Foot­ball hype and didn’t take the strug­gling Jaguars se­ri­ously enough to be­lieve they could be bul­lied by a third-tier op­po­nent.

They won’t make the same mis­take against the Car­di­nals — not in front of the home crowd — but we’ll still be won­der­ing about all of this a week from now.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHOTO

Quar­ter­back Joe Flacco gets knocked down in the sec­ond quar­ter against Jack­sonville. Mis­takes aside, the Ravens are still a good team.

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