SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Ravens have never started 0-2 under John Harbaugh. This is no time to start.
Calling a Week 2 game a “must win” sounds like panic. But the Ravens (0-1) realize how important it is to beat the Raiders (0-1) on Sunday.
The Ravens’ early-season schedule is a monster, with five of the first seven games on the road. Even after they return home from California after Sunday’s game, the Ravens’ schedule doesn’t let up. In Week 3 they host the Bengals, a team that holds a three-game winning streak over the Ravens. Then just four days later, the Ravens visit the Steelers on Thursday night in Week 4.
Harbaugh knew all this when the decision was made to take the team to San Jose, Calif., to practice between Week 1 and Week 2. Being 1-1 after the first two games would be acceptable. But starting 0-2? That would make the decision to stay in California look bad.
“The wisdom is in the results, as we all know,” Harbaugh said Friday. “If we go out there (Sunday) and take care of business, then it was a good move.”
The Ravens spent the week in San Jose adjusting to losing outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles injury) for the season. That was a major jolt. Sunday will be the first time the Ravens have played a game without Suggs, Ray Lewis, or Ed Reed since 1998.
This starts a true changing of the guard for the Ravens’ defense, especially since defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was also traded during the offseason. The leadership baton on defense has been passed to younger players like cornerback Jimmy Smith and Pro Bowl inside linebacker C. J, Mosley, along with savvy vets like inside linebacker Daryl Smith and defensive end Chris Canty.
Are the Ravens ready for a season without Suggs? I say yes. They signed pass rusher Jason Babin on Tuesday, and while I don’t expect Babin to play at age 35 like he did five years ago, his energy and experience should help.
The Ravens have also taken a hard look at an offensive game plan against the Broncos that was too conservative. Quarterback Joe Flacco will look to attack downfield more often. Even without injured left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) in the lineup Sunday, the Ravens’ offensive line should be able to protect Flacco better Sunday. The Raiders’ pass rush, led by Khalil Mack, isn’t quite as ferocious as the Broncos’ pass-rushing crew led by DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
Bottom line, the Ravens’ sense of urgency will help them avoid taking the Raiders for granted. Put win No. 1 for the season in the books for the Ravens.
Ravens 30, Raiders 14.
Prediction record this season: 1-0.