BALTIMORE — Basking in the euphoria of Sunday’s 56-19 bludgeoning of Miami to clinch the AFC North title and the conference’s No. 1 seed, the Ravens easily could have dismissed postgame questions about 2019.
Four years is a long time in the NFL, and only 11 players from that 14-2 outfit are on the 2023 team. Even much of John Harbaugh’s coaching staff has changed, including his offensive and defensive coordinators.
But those who remain have lived with “the hard truth,” which was the way cornerback Marlon Humphrey described that stunning 28-12 loss to Tennessee — who was a 10-point underdog — in the 2019 divisional round.
Time has dulled the disappointment as some media and fans have even attempted to downplay the greatness of those 2019 Ravens, who carried a 12-game winning streak and the NFL’s best point differential since the 2007 New England Patriots into January. The Super Bowl run anticipated by so many — in Baltimore and elsewhere — was over before it started after 60 disastrous minutes of football.
Of course, this will be the Ravens’ third trip back to the playoffs since that 2019 loss. They even toppled the Titans on the road the following year, but it’s taken four years for Baltimore to get back to this exact position, owning the NFL’s best record and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Dealing with plenty of adversity over the last four years, the Ravens must seize the moment, knowing how fleeting it can be.
“We remember 2019. It’s not something we’re going to forget,” said Harbaugh, noting the need to maximize their extra preparation time for the divisional round. “You’re not going to take it for granted. Not that we ever would, but it’s one more thing that makes you who you are at this point in time. We haven’t forgotten that.”
Lamar Jackson hasn’t forgotten either as he closes in on his second MVP award after a sensational performance against the Dolphins that included a perfect passer rating and five touchdown passes, the first time the superstar quarterback accomplished either feat since his magical 2019 season. Taking nothing away from his brilliance in his first full season as a starter that included a league-high 36 touchdown passes and 1,206 rushing yards, this is a different Jackson, who has thrown for a career-high 3,678 yards and averaged a career-best 8.0 yards per pass attempt. The soon-to-be 27-year-old doesn’t run quite as often as he used to — especially when it comes to designed runs — but he enters Week 18 leading the league in yards per rushing attempt and remains the best scrambling quarterback in football.
But more importantly than all that to the Ravens’ success, Jackson is healthy and under contract for four more years, which is something he and the organization couldn’t say the last two years at this time. This team always has a chance with Jackson on the field.
“The last two seasons, I wasn’t able to fight with my team,” Jackson said. “I had to do it from the sideline and just cheer guys on, but I’m grateful for the opportunity and [that] we’re the No 1 seed now. We just have to finish this season how we’re supposed to.”
And that’s to win a Super Bowl. Period.
You can’t finish the regular season — excluding Saturday’s finale against Pittsburgh that’s of no consequence to the home team — in the dominant fashion the Ravens just did and shortchange their expectations the rest of the way. This is the best team in the NFL, and anything short of at least making it to Las Vegas would be a major disappointment.
Four years later, Baltimore has a more seasoned Jackson playing incredible football, its best defense since the days of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and a roster that should be mostly healthy by the third weekend of January. To borrow the Harbaugh family mantra, nobody has it better than the Ravens right now.
But 2019 reminds that they still have to go do it. If the Ravens aren’t at their best, other AFC contenders will be ready to take advantage just as the Titans did on that Saturday night in January four years ago. The veterans who remain will surely be sharing that sentiment with anyone getting ahead of themselves these next few weeks.
“It’s very rewarding to have the season we’re having, but it’s still the regular season and it doesn’t mean anything quite yet,” said fullback Patrick Ricard, who caught one of Jackson’s five touchdown passes in Sunday’s win. “We’re in a really good spot. We just have to stay healthy, keep learning, and keep getting better.”