Five Things We Learned from the Ravens’ 44-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars

1) This humiliating performance can’t help but reset expectations for the season.

The Ravens will spend the coming week talking about how they must look forward, how one defeat — no matter how catastrophic — never defines a season.

Those who were around in 2012 might look back to their 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 7 of that Super Bowl season.

But this was a sobering all-systems failure for a team that fancies itself a playoff contender.

Give the Jaguars some credit. They’re more talented than they’ve been in a long time, especially on defense. But they also gave up 37 points at home the previous week. So these weren’t the 1985 Bears making the Ravens look like a high school team.

The Jaguars overwhelmed a tattered Baltimore offensive line in the first half, and Joe Flacco played perhaps his worst game as a professional quarterback. He moved uncomfortably, threw inaccurately and was even unlucky on a back-shoulder throw that bounced off Jeremy Maclin’s hands and became an interception.

We expect the defense to bail the Ravens out in these situations, but it was nearly as bad, lapsing in coverage and losing more battles than it won along the line of scrimmage. As a result, much-maligned Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles played like Aaron Rodgers Jr.

In the first two weeks, the Ravens built early leads and buried their opponents beneath cascades of turnovers. The same thing happened in London, but it happened to them.

Was this just a weird snowball event, with injuries and bad bounces all slamming into them in the same 60 minutes?

Maybe. But with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town Sunday and a trip to Oakland looming the following week, a 2-3 start suddenly feels quite possible.

2) Donald Trump has created a new normal for the Ravens and the NFL.

The president tried to shove NFL players and owners into a corner when he said those who kneel in protest during the national anthem should be fired.

Whatever individual players might think about Colin Kaepernick or others who’ve knelt, Trump’s rhetoric wasn’t going to go unanswered.

These are proud men, raised on an ethic of pushing back when pushed.

Thirteen Ravens knelt during the anthem, including some of the strongest and most respected personalities on the team — Terrell Suggs, Mike Wallace, Tony Jefferson, C.J. Mosley. They were joined by the longtime face of the franchise, Ray Lewis. Others linked arms in solidarity.

Owner Steve Bisciotti, who’d said he was uncomfortable with Kaepernick’s methods of protest, issued a supportive statement, calling their actions “democracy in its highest form.”

The Ravens had been a conservative actor in this drama until Sunday. No member of the team had joined in Kaepernick’s protest, despite the fact that Freddie Gray’s death in police custody hit close to home. Bisciotti was lashed by Kaepernick’s supporters when the Ravens backed away from their interest in signing the quarterback last summer.

But Trump essentially dared them to protest, and they joined a wave of players and owners around the league who did just that.

Kaepernick began sitting during the anthem in hopes of calling attention to the inequality in our nation. What we saw on Sunday was broader. Players were essentially protesting to state their right to protest.

Lewis’ participation was particularly telling, given that he’d criticized Kaepernick for not sticking to football.

This standoff won’t end soon. Any thought that the NFL could exist outside our ongoing culture war is gone.

3) Without Marshal Yanda, the Ravens could be crippled by a subpar offensive line.

The Jaguars came in with a league-leading 11 sacks, so we knew they would offer a stiff test for a line suddenly bereft of its best player.

The Ravens failed that test starting with their first possession, when Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler raced around tight end Nick Boyle to slam Flacco to the ground.

On the other side, Jacksonville’s star pass rusher, Calais Campbell, tortured Ronnie Stanley and anyone else who tried to block him. He reached the Ravens’ backfield almost at will as Flacco and Co. began the game with four straight three-and-outs.

The Jaguars actually sacked Flacco just twice, but that was in part because the Baltimore offense was so inept it hardly had the ball.

The Ravens’ rushing numbers — 134 yards and 5.4 yards a carry — ended up looking OK. But that was misleading, because they couldn’t run with any consistency in the first half, when the game was still competitive.

Jacksonville’s front-seven defenders were simply better than the men trying to block them.

The Ravens’ offensive line, weakened by injuries and the retirement of John Urschel, was worrisome even with Yanda on the field. Without him, the unit’s lack of high-end talent is a problem that could undermine the offense all season. The Ravens have scrambled to add fresh bodies but to no avail. Tony Bergstrom, who was expected to replace Yanda, apparently impressed the coaches so little that he was a healthy scratch Sunday.

Offensive line play is a problem for many teams around the league, so don’t expect Ozzie Newsome to conjure a savior from some unseen corner.

4) As soon as it stopped creating turnovers, the Ravens’ defense became rather ordinary.

We saw the seeds of this in Week 2, when the Cleveland Browns connected on a string of 20-plus-yard plays. But the Ravens created five turnovers, several of them exceptionally well-timed, so those lapses didn’t much matter.

But the script flipped in London, where the Baltimore defense was frequently forced to guard a short field and was unable to bail itself out with those magical interceptions and fumble recoveries.

Cornerback Brandon Carr, who’d played brilliantly the first two weeks, was beaten by Marquise Lee for a 35-yard catch on Jacksonville’s first possession, and that set the tone for the day

On Jacksonville’s second scoring drive, Bortles duped rookie linebacker Tyus Bowser with an elaborate fake, and tight end Marcedes Lewis was left to jog into the end zone.

Ravens defenders couldn’t do anything to make Bortles uncomfortable.

Playing without Brandon Williams in the middle, they also struggled to bottle up rookie running back Leonard Fournette during the Jaguars’ early barrage. The Ravens were outgained 169 yards to -1 in first quarter.

Now let’s take a step back. I’m not saying a defense that looked sensational throughout the preseason and the first two weeks is suddenly junk. The Ravens have too many talented players at all positions for that to be the case.

But turnovers are an unreliable mistress. And we’ve now seen that without them and without the all-important Williams, this defense is more vulnerable than many thought.

5) Marlon Humphrey again stood out with his confident style.

When the Ravens picked Humphrey in the first round, analysts who liked the choice focused on his impressive physical traits and his Alabama training.

He’s a gifted athlete for sure, but I’ve been more struck by how fun Humphrey is to watch. He gets right up on his man at the line of scrimmage and doesn’t let the opponent breathe as he stays locked on him step for step.

It’s a brash approach we haven’t seen from Ravens cornerbacks, even the smoother Jimmy Smith, in recent seasons.

Humphrey played well again Sunday, though he did draw a 29-yard interference penalty in the second quarter, when he briefly hooked his man’s arm during otherwise-exemplary downfield coverage.

Such mistakes are inevitable given his hyper-aggressive style. He’ll probably also get beaten on a few deep balls. But I can’t imagine the Ravens tamping down Humphrey’s combative instincts. They make him special.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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