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For Ravens fans, Steve Smith's injury puts damper on win amid tough season

Mixed emotions permeated the tailgate lots as fans heated up their grills and cracked open post-game beers after the Ravens beat the San Diego Chargers, 29-26.

If you're a Ravens fan this year, you just can't win.

The team finally pulled out its second victory on Sunday with a game-ending 39-yard Justin Tucker field goal. But one of Baltimore's biggest playmakers, receiver Steve Smith Sr., injured his Achilles tendon, sidelining him for the rest of the season.

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Ravens fans have had no shortage of complaints this season: the team's slow start, its lack of depth at receiver and the referees' officiating. They've even complained about the schedule assigned by the league — just one home game in September and one in October.

But midway through the season, team officials said, indicators such as jersey sales, secondary ticket sales and the stability of the permanent seat license waiting list suggest that fan grumbling hasn't translated into the sort of discontent that could significantly affect the team's financial fortunes.

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Kevin Rochlitz, the teams' vice president of corporate sales and business development, takes a long view.

If the team endured "four years like this," he said, then maybe it would see slippage in its business relationships. But "there aren't many teams that have been in the playoffs as much as we have."

Emotions were mixed in the tailgate lots Sunday as fans heated up their grills and cracked open postgame beers after the Ravens beat the San Diego Chargers, 29-26.

Brian Johnson, 32, of Joppa called Smith's injury "a knockout punch for the season."

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Bob O'Connor, 44, of Middle River has resigned himself to "hoping for the first pick in the draft; let's see what Ozzie [Newsome, the Ravens general manager] can do with that."

But others remain optimistic.

Vicky Downes of Centreville said the win might "get the monkey off their back."

Smith's injury was "obviously a loss," she said, "but I think it makes [quarterback] Joe [Flacco] look around a little more for somebody else to throw the ball to."

Leslie Smith of Owings Mills bristled at the idea the 2-6 team won't make the playoffs.

"I've seen teams go in at 9-7," she said. "I'm not going to write them off until they're mathematically out."

After six playoff appearances in the previous seven seasons — including a Super Bowl victory in 2013 — the team believes it has accumulated enough good will to withstand a dry period.

Since the overwhelming number of tickets have already been sold, "any tangible effects of a slow start have less impact at the box office," said Baker Koppelman, senior vice president of ticket sales and operations.

"We could see less interest in the small number of tickets returned by visiting teams prior to each game, and we could also expect to see an increase in fans trying to resell their tickets, but we monitor that very closely and have not seen it so far," Koppelman said. "We are not getting calls from angry fans now. Fans are disappointed, but they are still proud of our success in the last seven years and they see how hard our guys are trying to win."

Here are some indicators:

The renewal rate on the permanent seat license waiting list: Capped at 3,000 fans, the waiting list has been holding steady at about 2,800 in recent years.

Permanent seat licenses are akin to an initiation fee for season-ticket holders. They are owned by fans, not the team, provided that the seats are renewed each season.

The club says it is currently renewing the members of the list, and that 95 percent have committed so far.

The secondary ticket market: Two days before Sunday's home game against the San Diego Chargers, a few dozen tickets were being offered in the upper corners and upper end zones on StubHub, the online marketplace, for less than $60 — a bargain.

That could indicate a degree of fan frustration. It could mean that sellers overestimated the strength of the market — and the team's performance — when they purchased the seats.

"It depends on the game, the seat location and the goals of the seller," Koppelman said. "Sometimes sellers are just looking to get something back, and sometimes they look to get a big profit."

Jersey sales: Last year's season-ending Dick's Sporting Goods jersey report, which tracks sales at the store and its website, said Flacco's jersey was the eighth-highest-selling in the league.

This season, Flacco's jersey is down to 13th. The Ravens as a team were ranked 11th in jersey sales and are now 14th.

Last year, the Ravens reached out to their sponsors — courting them anew — after Ravens running back Ray Rice knocked his then-fiancee, now his wife, unconscious in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino.

This year, it's "business as usual" with corporate partners, Rochlitz said.

"We have many long-term partners that have been with us for many years," Rochlitz said.

Chris Donofrio, 44, came from Frederick on a bus with friends. The group picks one game a year to tailgate together, he said. Donofrio, a season ticket holder, was one of two who actually went into the stadium to watch the game.

The season has been frustrating, he said, but only because the team's recent dominance has spoiled Ravens fans into expecting the postseason every year.

"We've been in almost every game," Donofrio said. "I'll still come out to the rest of them.

"This one wasn't going to make a difference, but I still came out."

Luke and Kelly Casagrande of Timonium went to the game Sunday to celebrate Kelly's birthday this week. Regardless of the season's fortunes, they said, game day is always a good time.

"We're not coming to the game for a draft pick," Luke Casagrande said. "We're coming to see them win."

How will the Ravens fare through the rest of the season?

"My heart says 9-7," Luke Casagrande said. "My head says 6-10."

Larry Bloomer of Catonsville said he's disappointed by the team. He said the Ravens need more of the kind of leadership on defense that was provided by now-retired Pro Bowlers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

But no matter how badly they play, Bloomer said, he wouldn't miss it. He gestured at his daughters, standing with him in the stadium parking lot.

"I have my family here," he said. "This is what it's all about."

O'Connor, sitting in a lawn chair in the parking lot, tried to keep it all in perspective.

"You've got to live with the good and the bad," he said. "It's OK. It happens.

"I could be a Redskins fan."

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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