The Schmuck Stops Here Peter Schmuck's musings on the local and national sports scene

Schmuck: It's pretty simple — Ravens' road win at Bengals created potential for fast start

In the heady aftermath of their shutout victory in Cincinnati on Sunday, there was a rush to analyze just what aspect of the Ravens’ season-opening performance was most important to the survival of the species.

Was it the healthy and successful return of Joe Flacco? That certainly rates right up there and undoubtedly evoked a huge sigh of relief for Ravens fans who were fretting about all the practice and playing time he missed during the preseason.

The running game? Members of the coaching staff on that side of the ball might be forgiven for leaning in that direction after Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson University) and Buck Allen combined for 151 yards and the Ravens pounded out the second half to erase the memory of all the games they couldn’t finish last year.

The overwhelming defense? It certainly lived up to the preseason hype and showed that it has the potential to be one of the most stifling in the league.

Well, John Harbaugh was asked that question at his weekly news conference Monday and he didn’t specify any of those happy outcomes. What did he like most about one of the most uplifting Ravens games in recent memory?

“I was happy about the victory,” he said. “That’s the goal. It’s a team game … a team win. You try to find a way to win the game by whatever means necessary, so I was happy we found the means to win the game and that’s what it boils down to.”

Sure, that’s kind of what you’d expect him to say. He doesn’t have to play favorites when just about everything went right for the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium, but in this case, the simplest answer might have been the most relevant.

The thing the Ravens needed most was to win their first game and change the subject after last year’s disappointing ending, and the significance of the victory does not stop there.

If you analyze the schedule over the next few weeks, there are several obstacles that stand between the Ravens and the kind of start that will buoy the fan base and show the rest of the division they are not last year’s injury-ravaged team.

They’ve got to make sure they don’t treat next week’s home opener against the Cleveland Browns as a gimme, though it probably is one. They’ve got to fly to London the following week to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, who all but routed the Houston Texans on Sunday. Then they return to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4 and travel across the country to play a very good Oakland Raiders team in Week 5.

That challenge looks completely different than it did when the Ravens took the field three days ago. You had to think that they needed to find a way to take one of the two games against the Bengals and Steelers to put themselves into good position to have a winning record over that imposing five-game stretch.

To get that against the Bengals in a stadium where they had not won since the 2011 season checks off that box and gives the Ravens a good chance to be undefeated when they host Pittsburgh on Oct. 1. Then, if they go on to split the games between the Steelers and Raiders …

Hold up. We’re not assuming anything over the next two weeks. If the Ravens are going to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender this year, they have to take care of business against the Browns and Jaguars.

Both of those teams looked better than expected in their openers. The Browns put up a real fight against the Steelers and the Jaguars served notice that they had better not be taken lightly. There should be no danger of that for a Ravens team that just got a taste of what it used to feel like when they were the bully on the block.

Those two games are proof that it’s an iffy business trying to predict how good teams might be this early in the season. But if the Ravens can win the two games they’re supposed to and continue to play stout defense, they will host Pittsburgh with a chance to make a real statement in the first quarter of the regular season.

Of course, that is then and this is now, but the victory over the Bengals could be the key that unlocks a promising season.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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