The great thing about being a columnist during football season is that because there are only so many games, typically every game can provide us some sort of storyline. We might even say that each game can teach us a “lesson.”
The Baltimore Ravens beat the Chicago Bears, 16-13, on Nov. 21. It was a wildly unpleasant football game for 58 minutes, immediately followed by two minutes so exhilarating that I needed to soak my feet and puff on the tobacco pipe my grandfather gave me when the game was over.
And the biggest lesson I learned from the game was … that as a nation, we should have Catherine O’Hara do more commercials.
In a vacuum, this was an excellent road win. The Ravens had more dudes missing than a 10 a.m. college class in college on the morning a new Madden game came out. Most importantly, they played without their MVP candidate quarterback, forcing an undrafted free agent to make his first NFL start. Winning any game at all given these circumstances is absolutely remarkable.
In a vacuum, the Ravens put together a very solid performance defensively (albeit against a similarly depleted and not particularly good to begin with Bears team) and showed a hell of a lot of heart to get a win that could prove to be helpful when the regular season ends.
In a vacuum, it was a more pleasant day than anyone outside of the organization could have reasonably expected.
And the reason I keep saying “in a vacuum” is because if the next thing you asked me was, “So what do you think this means moving forward?” my answer would be, “I have absolutely no freaking clue.”
I guess the biggest “lesson” we should learn from this type of game is more the intangible than the tangible. The Ravens, facing an ungodly amount of adversity and in the aftermath of one of their worst losses in recent memory, were able to summon up enough to find a way to get by and maintain first place in the AFC North and move into the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture. That’s remarkable.
But we didn’t really “learn” that on Sunday. The Ravens have faced a tremendous amount of injury adversity throughout the season and have rallied from many large second-half deficits. While the Dolphins game was a debacle, this team’s heart was never on trial. Their heart is their calling card. Even if they had come up short in Chicago, there would be no debate about that.
But did we learn anything tangible about the Ravens in their dramatic win?
I’m … I’m just not sure.
It’s hard to read anything at all into the play of the offense without Jackson (and Marquise Brown) on the field. Huntley gave an absolutely valiant effort considering the continued struggles of the offensive line and continued lack of production from the running backs (who combined to average 3.1 yards per carry).
Defensively, they were … better? It’s so hard to tell because the Bears aren’t very good and were missing Allen Robinson and had to switch quarterbacks during the game. The defense probably played better as a whole but still had significant lapses (including, of course, the 49-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin on fourth-and-11 that could have lost the game). There were still open field tackling issues, most noticeable on Darnell Mooney’s 60-yard touchdown catch and run.
That said, they were as disruptive in the pass rush as they’ve probably been all season and they only allowed the Bears to convert 2 of 11 third-down chances. Those are quite promising things! And the defense played fairly well in Miami, too! Will those results against lesser opponents translate as the schedule gets (presumably) tougher the rest of the way?
You’re not going to believe this, but I’m just not sure!
And that’s OK, you guys! Some of you think I’m being a Negative Nathan, but there are games like this in the NFL sometimes! This was a remarkable, truly fun football game and it continues to be a testament to the entirety of the organization that they find ways to win football games. But sometimes, that’s it. It’s just a fun, solid football win.
Win or loss in Chicago, the Ravens’ season was always likely to be defined by what they did in their five remaining AFC North games, starting with the Browns Nov. 28. At the moment, they’ve earned the right to be called the best team in the division. But they have to prove that’s actually true, and it didn’t go so well in their first try.
It’s hard to be particularly confident in what they’re going to do. But it’s impossible to doubt what they might.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox