With the exception of their Week 3 game against the Chiefs, there isn’t really a game on the schedule that the Ravens could win this season that would be very meaningful to Ravens fans.
To be clear, that’s not a knock. That’s an absolutely incredible statement about where this organization is. Our expectations are so sky high that they can’t surpass them. Of course, the Ravens will probably end up losing a game we don’t expect them to (although it would be nice if they didn’t). We’ll wildly overreact to that when it happens because, you know, that’s sports fandom. But when they win games our reaction will largely be, “Cool, that was fun, now can they do it in the playoffs?”
Like Billie Jean King said, “Pressure is a privilege.” The Ravens have earned this burden based on their incredible success throughout the last season and a half. So when they opened the 2020 season with a largely expected 38-6 rout of the Cleveland Browns, the response was less “pure jubilation” and more “appreciative acknowledgement.” It was pleasant, it was fun, it was good that disaster hadn’t set in. But after the game was over, it was over.
Sure, that’s in part because the Browns are the Browns and rarely has winning a game against such a moribund bunch been particularly pleasurable. Playing the Browns has historically been far more like a trip to the dentist. In what way can it be enjoyable? Even if everything goes well (and almost everything went well in Week 1), it is merely “a thing that happened” on your schedule that week. It can only possibly be memorable if it goes poorly.
Maybe the Browns will end up being half decent as they get more time with new head coach Kevin Stefanski. But there’s nothing that suggests they’re decent now — this despite having solid (to exceptional) skill players surrounding quarterback Baker Mayfield. I’m sure the fine folks in Cleveland had to appreciate their football team providing them some much needed “normalcy” in such a tumultuous year, however.
It’s important for us to acknowledge all of this. We shouldn’t pretend like winning a home game (or the 2020 equivalent of a “home” game, anyway) against a franchise with far more insurance company TV commercials than on-field accomplishments is akin to winning a Super Bowl. Yet we also need to give the team their credit in the process because it would be so easy to slip into the trap of the mundane.
You see, the Ravens as a franchise are keenly aware of all of their circumstances. They know to a man that nothing will truly matter (again, save for the Kansas City game) in terms of winning until we reach January. They know just how “unimportant” the majority of these games are.
And yet, despite there being about as much reason to be excited for a game against the Browns as there is for “Egg Salad Sandwich Day” in your office’s cafeteria (I mean, back when “offices” and “cafeterias” were things anyway) and the most bizarre offseason in football history, the Ravens still managed to be completely focused, sharp in absolutely every facet of the game and get the job done … again.
They’ve won 13 straight regular season games, and with the exception of the first (a brutal game they gutted out in Pittsburgh), there hasn’t been even a single “letdown” game they’ve been forced to survive. It would have been easy for the pandemic, protests, the Earl Thomas drama, some personnel changes, a lack of “atmosphere” in the stadium, strange procedures during practice, etc. to lead to a flatter performance — even if the Ravens ultimately survived against a lesser opponent.
But that didn’t happen. They overcame all of that AND the mundane nature of the circumstances to deliver just another brilliant performance. Sure, we can nitpick the stretch run defense in the first half. It was troublesome, particularly considering how much emphasis the team put on stopping the run in the offseason. Game circumstances forced the Browns away from the strategy for the most part, but the Ravens will need to improve as the season goes on. And we can again question just how long Lamar Jackson should be on the field and dropping back to pass in the fourth quarter of a blowout, but that isn’t really a question germane to the team’s ability to succeed as much as it is about how best to ensure it.
The win against the Browns was largely inconsequential. And that’s part of what makes it amazing. We know this season will be defined by what happens in the playoffs. And performances like that fortify our trust that this team will have the opportunity to do just that because there’s simply no reason to think they’ll fall short of getting there.
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