One problem seemed to worsen for the Ravens on Sunday.
There were about 10,000 to 15,000 fan no-shows at M&T Bank Stadium for the Ravens’ game against the Chicago Bears (announced attendance: a near-capacity 70,616). Critics of the Ravens’ kneeling during the national anthem would like to take credit for the vacant seats, but that’s just the latest of prevailing issues.
Fan enthusiasm has been dipping for years, and it appeared to hit a low point last season when visitors from Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh, adorned in their team’s colors, occupied huge chunks of seats.
The recent debate over whether NFL players should kneel or stand for the national anthem just gave fans another reason to stay home. The biggest problem is that most NFL games aren’t entertaining, especially in Baltimore, where the Ravens have been stuck in mediocrity for years.
They haven’t been to the playoffs in three of the past four years. They’re a team without much appeal. Be honest: Did the Ravens-Bears game get you excited? Really? Neither team has a player with star power. If you were a season-ticket holder who was irked by the recent player protests and wasn’t sure whether you would attend a game soon, there wasn’t much appetite for Sunday’s game.
The NFL has a fight on its hands. The league has become a pig pile of average teams, and the Ravens are in this mess.
In the past, they had superstar players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden and Jamal Lewis in their prime or fading greats like Shannon Sharpe, Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson. Now they have virtually no one.
Who is their star, Joe Flacco? He’s on the downside of his career. C.J. Mosley? He lacks charisma. The most popular jersey being sold right now might belong to Justin Tucker. When a kicker is maybe your most visible player, that’s trouble. It’s even worse when a lot of fans still wear Ray Rice jerseys.
The Ravens need a jolt of energy. They’ve tried the past two weeks with sentimental public-service announcements of associations with various charities during the games, but they’re going to have to do it on the field.
They need to be more entertaining. They need to get back to their old identity of playing tough, dominant defense. They need to win.
Right now, the Ravens are just another boring team in a boring league. Besides lacking must-see standouts, they have one of the worst offenses in the NFL and the No. 31-ranked passing game. The Ravens’ forte used to be stopping the run, but they can’t do that anymore, either.
It’s easy to point fingers at the Ravens, but they aren’t the only team with these problems. The old days of dependable superteams like the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers are gone.
Even the New England Patriots, a perennial Super Bowl favorite, have returned to the pack with one of the worst defenses in the NFL. But at least they have Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
With injuries having slowed or knocked out many of the league’s marquee players — Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr., J.J. Watt — what’s left on game days is even more watered-down football.
We saw that in Baltimore on Sunday. Chicago was bad and tried to give away the game. The Ravens were worse and couldn’t take it. Those kinds of games seem to be the norm in cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Oakland, Miami, Los Angeles, Buffalo and New York.
The league calls it parity. I call it a problem, one of many — concussions, domestic abuse, substance and alcohol abuse, Thursday night games and these offseason minicamps that might be contributing to injury woes.
Now the NFL and the Ravens have fans staying home in protest of their protests. League officials can have all the meetings they want and help provide other means of protests for players, but the best thing they can do is put a better product on the field.
It’s the biggest of all the problems facing the league and the Ravens. Everything else is secondary, but the list keeps getting longer.
Become a subscriber today to support sports commentary like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.