OWINGS MILLS – Yankees legend Yogi Berra, who passed away Tuesday, once said, “It gets late early out here.”
It has gotten late early for the Ravens (0-2). Too much of their young season has been about losing. Losing close games. Losing linebacker Terrell Suggs for the season. Quickly losing ground in the AFC North to the Bengals (2-0), who visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The Ravens need to reboot their season, and it needs to start Sunday. Win this game, and the Ravens can travel to Pittsburgh next Thursday night and face the Steelers carrying a little swagger. But lose Sunday, and the Ravens will be 0-3 and desperate.
“We all understand the situation,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “We’ve lost two games in a row before, we’ve lost three games in a row before, and we’ve overcome it. But we’ve never done it at the beginning of the season, so it feels a lot tougher. Until you win your first game, you always have in the back of your mind, ‘Can we win a game?’ Of course you can, but you have to win one.”
The Bengals are coming to town confident, playing well, and owning a three-game winning streak against the Ravens. Nothing about the Ravens, or their home crowd, intimidates the Bengals, who sense a chance to demoralize a division rival.
“It’s not often there an opportunity to go up - after three games to be up by three games on a team in your division,” said Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert during a conference call. “We’ve definitely noticed that, and we want to go in there and play well and get a win.”
It’s too early to panic about the Ravens, not when they haven’t played a home game. But if they lose Sunday, Ravens’ fans can panic. The last NFL team to make the playoffs after starting 0-3 was the 1998 Buffalo Bills. Joe Flacco was 13 years old.
Flacco is 30 years old now, and while he wouldn’t call Sunday a must win, the Ravens’ quarterback didn’t dance around the importance of the game.
“I know we don’t want to be in a situation where I’m sitting up here next week talking about the same stuff,” Flacco said.
Stuff like the Ravens’ offense being unable to score a touchdown in Week 1. Stuff like the Ravens’ defense giving up 37 points to the Raiders (the Raiders?) in Week 2.
Are the Ravens really contenders? Or was Suggs’ season-ending injury an indication that this just isn’t their year?
We’ll find out plenty on Sunday. As Berra would say, it has gotten late early for the Ravens.