BALTIMORE — Week 1 of the NFL season is supposed to be a raucous atmosphere for any team, in any season.
The Ravens, with Super Bowl expectations and a reigning MVP quarterback, should’ve played host to one of the loudest stadiums in the league Sunday.
Instead, what followed was perhaps the most jarring moment of the entire atmosphere.
When the Cleveland Browns' orange helmets emerged in the tunnel to run onto the field, M&T Bank Stadium was silent. A few moments later, when the Ravens ran through the smoke out of their tunnel, more of the same followed. The only sound was from entrance music played as background noise.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that was the Ravens’ reality for Sunday’s game against the Browns, in what was a 38-6 win. It’s unclear how long fans will have to wait, or even if they will, be able to return and make their cheers and jeers known.
“It is B.Y.O.E; bring your own energy,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “And that’s what we did today. Coach [Harbaugh] did a good job to get us prepared. We have a lot of guys on the team who took turns bringing the energy for us, and we could feed off of it.”
Aside from a few stadium employees who waved state of Maryland flags at various points of the game and a few members of the Ravens' marching band, there wasn’t anyone in the stands — unless you count the cardboard cutouts of fans that patrolled part of the lower bowl.
In the corner of the end zone in section 146, “Mo’s Rows” were filled with cardboard cutouts of Mo Gaba, the 14-year-old superfan who passed away this summer.
But for the first time in M&T Bank Stadium history, the paid attendance was zero.
“You could hear it way better without the fans yelling and echoing in your ears,” rookie linebacker Patrick Queen said. “You could barely hear the call, but even with fans being there, we’ll still have to communicate. Just having no fans, it was an extra benefit for us to be able to hear calls from each other and know what to expect.”
Not only was the crowd noise, or lack thereof, an adjustment, the Ravens didn’t play in any preseason games either. With a severely hampered offseason and a drastically different training camp, the Ravens’ first live opponent of the 2020 season was the Browns.
Baltimore didn’t take long to assert their dominance and jumped out to a 24-6 halftime lead as it controlled the game from the get-go.
"There were a lot of adjustments,” Campbell said. “A lot of the protocols on the sideline were unique. It was different. We’re used to certain things, and then you have to adjust. And I’m sure that affected a lot of us on the sidelines. I know it [affected] me. But you have to figure it out. There are going to be adjustments throughout the whole year."
When the Ravens hit the road in a week to face the Texans, they’ll be the beneficiary of having a diminished home-field advantage in Houston. And for now, it’s still unclear, if not unlikely, that there won’t be any fans to cheer or jeer when the Chiefs come to M&T Bank Stadium for Monday Night Football.
But the Ravens showed Sunday they didn’t need much of a tuneup to pick up where last season left off.
“It was just an unknown,” Harbaugh said. “It was going to be an unknown. I kind of went into it early on not knowing what to expect. We all did, but [I] told the team before the game and they really kind of set it. We don’t know what the outcome is going to be. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we know we’re going to be bringing it. That’s what the players did and I’m proud of them for that.”