Such a strange, twisted start to this season for the Baltimore Ravens.
Nobody really expected a loss against the worst team in the NFL playing with a rookie quarterback and first-time head coach on the road – so any win over the junior varsity could only feel so good. It kinda felt like the game against the Houston Texans on Sunday in Baltimore was won before it started.
Sure, it was a little more difficult than that – and it was a good thing this “fourth preseason game” that counts came against the lowly of the lowliest, where you’re not punished for your mistakes and miscues – but nobody looked or felt like a winner after this costly 25-9 victory over the Texans.
You need good luck to win a Super Bowl. Lots of good luck. I wrote two books about that kind of good fortune and the team’s best players being on the field for the biggest games in January. We’re 60 minutes into this marathon and the Ravens have already had a long September.
We’ll get to the penalties and many on-the-field issues and “things to fix” in Week 2 against the Bengals in Cincinnati, where it looks like they might have even bigger structural problems in The Jungle. (Who Dey foolin’ after losing to the Browns like that?)
The excruciating loss of J.K. Dobbins to an Achilles tear will take time for all of the players – and other starting running backs without contracts in the NFL – to process. In regard to the game, its promise, pain and torture for a young man who is trying to compete and having it taken away from him. Watching linebacker Patrick Queen almost break down at the podium talking about it tells you all you need to know from a humanity aspect.
On the field, that will be a massive loss but Luke Jones has also been bullish on what he’s seen from Justice Hill, who will be filling that void. The Gus Bus got loose, too, on Sunday and that’ll be needed. And the disappearance of the Lamar Jackson run play and the few times he was sacked and chased early up the gut showed us some tape on some changes in the new offense.
But the injuries started early and kept coming. It’ll be all we talk about this week. Now, we’ll add up the damage after the MRI results and try to piece together who will be available against Joe Burrow in Cincinnati next Sunday.
Any real bad news on the knee of Ronnie Stanley would make the Dobbins injury only the second worst news of the day. It’s very hard to envision the Ravens winning a Super Bowl playing a full season without their left tackle, who knows the pain of the trainer’s room more than anyone on the roster. Then, Tyler Linderbaum went down and the grimace never left the face of head coach John Harbaugh despite the good news final and 1-0 start.
The defense was not immune. The early Marcus Williams injury was brutal for a secondary that was already light without Marlon Humphrey.
Oh, and Mark Andrews was in street clothes but not really needed against the Texans. Gonna be an interesting week for those injury reports on the WNST Text Service brought to you by Koons Baltimore Ford on Security Boulevard.
The game itself – the volume of penalties, the new Todd Monken offense, the promise of Zay Flowers, the fairly-decent pass rush most of the day and the coming out party for Justin Madebuike – seems secondary to the infirmary and how to start plugging holes this early in a season where there are 16 more train wrecks coming.
Harbaugh put the bubble wrap around ALL of them in the preseason. Then, the first half was a fire drill and sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. But that’s what you get when you don’t play real football until the stadium is full and the whistle blows for real. Everyone should’ve expected that.
This is not the first or worst of the Ravens injury problems that have beset the modern Harbaugh roster. They’ve had bad injuries in other years – including losing Lamar Jackson two years in a row, which wipes out all real judgment. But this is the first week of the season. You know there are more coming in this brutal sport and you can only have so many in the NFL whack-a-mole games with Patrick Mekari at left tackle and Isaiah Likely at tight end and Justice Hill at running back until your ceiling changes dramatically.
Marlon Humphrey. J.K. Dobbins. Ronnie Stanley. Tyler Linderbaum. Marcus Williams. Mark Andrews.
If I told you on Memorial Day that all of these guys would have issues getting on the field in Week 2 in Cincinnati, you probably wouldn’t have felt as good about the Ravens as the factor they’ll need to be. But they can also make the Bengals 0-2 in a few days.
This is a veteran team with veteran leadership. Next man up will work in the short term but it’s more about the squad’s struggle to play a disciplined brand of football and its overall effectiveness in the offense that will be the next measurement in Cincinnati, where the vibe is truly funereal after that turd in the rain against DeShaun Watson. (Hey, it was a good enough week overall for Cincinnati to just sign a real football superstar to a legitimate contract before kickoff.)
The Ravens have problems and questions. Every team in the NFL does after the first 60 minutes. (Today is a good day to call your friends and relatives in Western Pennsylvania and see how the kids are doing going back to school!)
The best news on the field was the quality overall defense the men of Mike Macdonald flashed against the Texans’ quarterback C.J. Straud. Clowney. Queen. Smith. Names we need to hear all season. David Ojabo got a strip. Odafe Oweh was seen. The Mad Dog got a sack. Nice to see some pressure.
But, that was a gruesome Texans offensive line and a rookie quarterback who seemed fearful to throw the ball down the field on Sunday.
Joe Burrow won’t be shy on the banks of the Ohio River on Sunday at 1 o’clock.
The Ravens need to get better – and get healthier.
The season is here.