“There’s no such thing as a bad win in the NFL.”
I understand why we say it.
Fans of college teams like Cincinnati, Ohio State and Alabama might have spent at least part of their weekends thinking something along the lines of “was that enough?” They’re certainly not apologizing for close wins against Tulsa, Nebraska and LSU, respectively, but they know that even those wins could ultimately hurt them in pursuit of a national championship.
It’s not like that in the NFL. Any win at all is truly a good win. Any win at all gets you a step closer to the playoffs and all of your end-of-season goals. And considering just how many tremendous players are on even the worst teams in the league (ask the Bills about facing the Jaguars), any win truly is a good win in the NFL.
Even an overtime win for a team coming off of their bye at home against Kirk Cousins.
And I get the sense that’s how you feel this week. “A win is a win” is a prominent response. “It’s a win but they have to play better” is another. So is “OH MY GOD IT’S 4:42 P.M. AND THE SUN IS GOING DOWN GET ME OUT OF THIS HELL HOLE” but that’s unrelated. I think.
Indeed, most Ravens fans seem to realize that NFL wins are never a guarantee and even though their team looked uninspiring for much of the first half against Minnesota, a loss might have been disastrous and they avoided that. That’s all that matters in the NFL.
And yet, I don’t share in these sentiments. Not at all.
You see, I don’t think this was just another “survival” for the Ravens. Far from it. I genuinely believe this was a quality win over a tough opponent and I come away from it feeling even better about the top team in the AFC North.
Yes, I know it wasn’t perfect. Preexisting defensive issues reared their ugly heads again and things will get no easier with a season-ending injury to safety DeShon Elliott. It’s another blow in what has already been an almost unprecedented season of crippling injuries. It hurts.
But what doesn’t hurt is seeing the Ravens run the ball. With their running backs, even! After just five carries from running backs in the first half, the Ravens seemed to commit to the ground as the game went on. Devonta Freeman averaged better than 6 yards on 13 carries and Le’Veon Bell averaged roughly 4.5 yards on 11 carries.
They did it against a depleted Vikings defense that was not only missing former Raven Michael Pierce but also lost veteran safety Harrison Smith just before the game. But they still did it, despite running backs having barely been part of the offense during the first seven games of the season. That guarantees nothing the rest of the way but still has to be seen as a potential positive sign.
The bar is low, but with Lamar Jackson doing his best Clark Kent impression seemingly every week this season, the Ravens merely need their backs to take just the SLIGHTEST amount of work off of Jackson’s plate (he of course still led the team with 21 carries in addition to 41 pass attempts and getting sacked three times).
Speaking of Jackson, his passing chart from the Week 9 win shows a huge part of what he did in order to bounce back from a tough first half against the Vikings. Two thirds of his completions were within 10 yards, as he traded a desire to look downfield for big plays in exchange for taking what Minnesota’s defense was willing to give him underneath, even throwing three times to fullback Patrick Ricard on the same drive. Such patience should only help keep defenses honest the rest of the way.
And how in the world can you be anything other than encouraged in the play of the team’s top receivers? Marquise Brown has been playing well dating back to the midway point of the 2020 season, but he continues to show more aspects of his game. After just two catches for 13 yards in the first half, Brown didn’t get frustrated or become demonstrative. Instead he quietly went to work and took the game over, making seven catches for 103 yards after coming out of the locker room.
And Rashod Bateman is absolutely ridiculous. While his streak of 11 catches for 11 first downs ended on his 12th grab (perhaps his most remarkable), he continues to impress despite having spent such a limited time with Jackson in practice. He’s even making critical plays when he isn’t catching the football. It isn’t remotely hyperbolic to say this is the most exciting duo of young receivers in Ravens history. It would be hyperbole to suggest there was a duo that was even remotely close.
Yes, it was an imperfect win. But this is an imperfect team that is battling through a catastrophic run of bad injury luck. This has to be one of the more improbable stretches of eight games in NFL history. And they beat a team with great offensive weapons and showed signs of potential growth and progress.
It’s not just that it wasn’t a bad win and that you don’t have to apologize for it. It was a truly encouraging victory that kept the Ravens right in the mix atop the AFC. This should be a celebratory week. Except for the whole “not getting to see the sun anymore” thing.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox