If the Ravens wanted, I suppose they could blow off this miserable debacle and pretend like it never happened. They could chalk it up to a bad night all around, they could burn the film, and then get a good night's sleep and a head start game-planning for Arizona. No need to sound the alarm or push the panic button. Sometimes in the NFL, a team just has a bad week. One awful game doesn't hint at larger trends. Problem is, the Ravens have already been through this once this year. They already used up their mulligan against the Titans. As observers, for the most part, we bought into what the Ravens were saying after their game in Nashville. From John Harbaugh on down, we were repeatedly told that Titans were actually a pretty good football team, no matter what anyone believed going in. Baltimore didn't overlook them at all, or so we heard. They just got outplayed one random Sunday on the road, which can happen to anyone in the NFL, no matter how good they are. But when you view that Tennessee game in retrospect, and you combine it with what happened Monday night in Jacksonville, you can pick up on a larger trend, and it's unsettling. This Ravens team is obviously very talented, but they clearly aren't disciplined enough to play their best football if there isn't a larger motivation in play. Think about it. In Week 1, they managed to channel five months of pent up rage into a butt whipping of the Steelers. Then in Week 2, they laid an egg against the Titans. (The loss looks even worse in retrospect because, as it turns out, Tennessee isn't even very good. Just ask Houston, who beat them 41-7 this past Sunday.) In Week 3, motivated by the Titans embarrassment, they crushed arguably the worst team in the NFL in the Rams. In Week 4, they thumped a Jets, in a game that might as well be described at this point as a sibling rivalry. After a bye, they held on for a win against a good Texans team, albeit one without its two best players, and then threw up an absolute dud against Jacksonville. Sense a theme? The Ravens are fine in big games, especially when no one has to manufacture their emotions. They can make mistakes and often overcome them because they're locked in mentally. But when they're forced to handle matters like businessmen, to go on the road and beat a random opponent when there the onus is on them to find a reason to play hard, they struggle. I don't want to hear about how good Jacksonville's defense is either. That rings hollow when the Bengals dropped 30 points on them two weeks ago. I always find it interesting when television cameras focus on Ray Lewis giving his pre-game war chant before a game like this against a bad team. I rewound it several times Monday prior to the Jaguars game. It's still great theater, but you can often tell when the players are actually pumped up to play, and when they're just going through the motions for Lewis' benefit. Motivation in football is never as simple as television often tries to make it seem. Ray Lewis can scream in a player's face all he wants, before or during a game, but that player isn't able to motivate himself to play hard and play smart, it won't matter. Harbaugh likes to say that it's not about emotion, it's about "execution," and he's right, even though that's a very "football coach-y" thing to say. But what is execution, really? It's being mentally sharp enough to make the right reads, the right blocks, the right audibles, the right throws, and then physically using the right technique to beat your opponent. All of that is easier when you don't have to motivate yourself to do it right every time. This team has its share of issues that need to be corrected, and we'll talk about them in a second, but first and foremost, the 2011 Ravens need to realize talent and potential isn't good enough. The season is a grind, and you only get one mulligan, maybe two at the most. In the NFL, you have to be disciplined enough to win games in when it's not your best day, and right now, the Ravens don't have that. Period.
Lloyd Fox, The Baltimore Sun