For the first time since coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco arrived in 2008, there’s a serious gap between the Ravens and the NFL’s elite teams. It shows in the standings. And it shows on the field.
Even in 2013, when the Ravens finished 8-8, they had a chance to make the playoffs in the final week of the regular season. Not this year. Sunday’s gut-wrenching 22-20 loss to the Jaguars was the pin that popped the Ravens’ 2015 balloon. Nobody in their locker room was talking about making a playoff run when this game was over. No matter how bizarre the ending, it only magnified the Ravens' reality.
A team that hasn’t been able to win two straight games isn’t going to the playoffs. A team that loses to the Jaguars and the Browns at home isn’t going to the playoffs.
The key for the Ravens now is to make sure the 2016 season is not a repeat of 2105. So what’s the best way for the Ravens (2-7) to approach the final seven games?
For the players, the job really doesn’t change. They still need to practice with purpose, play with pride, and play to win. Evaluations are being made on who stays, and who goes after this season.
But for the front office and coaches, they need to evaluate the Ravens’ talent far more accurately than they did in August. Everyone in the Ravens’ organization thought they would be a Super Bowl contender. It has become clear that the overall talent on the roster was overrated, not just by many outsiders, but by the Ravens themselves.
Losing linebacker Terrell Suggs in Week 1, not having rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman at all, and losing wide receiver Steve Smith in Week 8 have certainly been major blows. However, look how the Steelers (6-4) are coping, despite quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being in and out of the lineup, without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey , and recently losing running back Le’Veon Bell for the season.
Look at the Bengals, undefeated entering their Monday night game and loaded with young playmakers - wide receivers A. J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu, tight end Tyler Eifert, and running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.
Whether Smith returns or retires, he is 36 years old. Terrell Suggs is 33, dealing with the second Achilles injury of his career. No. 1 running back Justin Forsett is 30 years old. And the Ravens still don’t know what they really have in Perriman, and may not have a clue until next season.
The Ravens need more dynamic playmakers on offense, more speed on defense, and more quality depth overall. That’s not going to change until the offseason. Having a quarterback like Flacco, a proven clutch quarterback, means 2016 could bring a quick turnaround with the right offensive moves. But the rest of 2015 is about playing for pride. That’s not what the Ravens are used to. But it’s where they are.
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