To go from AFC Championship to a 4-4 start in the next season could be pretty depressing to the fans of a certain NFL team. Well, that’s exactly what has happened to the Baltimore Ravens. People who look at how the Ravens’ 2009 season has unfolded halfway through could say that this team could realistically be 6-2 If things had fallen their way. Saying this could be misleading, because through 8 games, any team could be 8-0 If things had “fallen their way.” But really, this Ravens team has not had the best of luck thus far in a long NFL season. Let’s take a look at how the Ravens have gone from one game away from the Super Bowl and NFL elite to a .500 team.
Baltimore was off to a hot start when they started 3-0 with one of those wins coming on the road against the San Diego Chargers. The following game, the Ravens were down by six with the ball, at Gillette Stadium In New England, poised to score the go-ahead score with time running out. On a fourth down play, quarterback Joe Flacco targeted Mark Clayton only to have Clayton drop a perfect pass, giving New England a chance to kneel the rest of the time out. A play or two before, Derrick Mason dropped a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. If either of those balls had been caught, It would have been a go-ahead touchdown or a fourth down conversion to keep the drive alive. That loss dropped the Ravens to 3-1. The next week, the Ravens lost another close game against the Cincinnati Bengals, 17-14 at home, to fall to 3-2. The Bengals’ Cedric Benson, rushed for 120 yards, which was the first 100 yard rusher against the Ravens in 40 games.
Now going on the road against the Brett Favre-led Vikings was a real test for Baltimore. The game was within reach when the Ravens lined up for a game-winning field goal with only a few seconds left. Only kicker Steven Hauschka missed the attempt wide-left to send the Ravens to three straight losses. With the team now at 3-3, their next game was a tough one at home against the 6-0 Denver Broncos. Joe Flacco completed 80% of his passes to lead the Ravens to a 30-7 win. Coming off of a game like that, you would think Baltimore would come out firing on all cylinders against the Bengals, who they had lost to at home In week 5. Only the Ravens came out flat with Joe Flacco throwing two Interceptions and losing 17-7, to drop both games against their AFC North rivals.
With the team now at 4-4, everybody that Is curious about this team would start wondering what exactly is wrong with them. With a game-winning field goal against the Vikings sailing wide left, and two crucial dropped passes in the final minute against the Patriots, the Ravens just aren’t finishing games in which they should have or could have won. Looking at something that is running through my mind, the Ravens used a three-headed-monster last year In the running game with La’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice. Starting this season, the Ravens used McGahee and Rice exclusively. McGahee had 5 TD’s In the teams’ first 3 games. Since then, 0 TD’s and 11 yards in 5 games. Rice has stepped up as the lead back with 5.3 yards per carry and 4 games with 75+ yards. Joe Flacco is close to exceeding his statistics from last year with 12 TD compared to 14 all of last season.
But here is the thing, the Ravens lost defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to the Jets, when he became their head coach. They also lost linebacker Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard to New York, as well. Perhaps the loss of those three cornerstones of a defense has affected the team. But not so fast; the Ravens still rank 9th in the NFL in points per game given up on defense. But on the flip side, they are 19th in the NFL In pass yards allowed. The offense Is becoming the strength of the team, as opposed to previous years. When It comes to points per game, total yards per game, pass yards per game, and rush yards per game, the Ravens rank 9th, 10th, 10th, and 13th, respectively in each category. It’s hard in sports to say “what if”, but I’m sure the Ravens and their fans are floating around those words when they start talking about games earlier In the year that have resulted in their 4-4 start. A missed field goal and a few dropped passes are the difference in .500 and being tied in first place with the Bengals at 6-2.
The NFL season is a long road for any team. Halfway through, with the team 4-4, anything can happen. They made the playoffs last year at 11-5 but with almost the same amount of losses this year In 8 games as they did last year in 16, it might be time to hit the panic button. But really, I don’t expect the Ravens to do that. They have games against Cleveland, Detroit, and Oakland. Those are games that this team should win, with the way those teams are playing right now. A game apiece against Green Bay and Chicago are roadblock games. But then again, two games against Pittsburgh, and a game against Indianapolis are going to be real tell-all games. With 8 games remaining, like I said, anything could happen. Down the stretch, If the Ravens want to make the playoffs again, they will need to prove that the loss of Rex Ryan hasn’t changed this teams’ defensive attitude and the offense will have to keep up the balanced passing and rushing attack. We’ll see what happens the rest of the way.