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Ravens are like their hometown: Challenged but unbowed | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) acknowledges fans as he leaves the field following an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The Ravens defeated the Colts 24-10. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) acknowledges fans as he leaves the field following an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The Ravens defeated the Colts 24-10. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) (Darron Cummings/AP)

Not much comes easily in Baltimore. With success, there is often failure. Crime rates fall but homicide numbers stubbornly do not. Under Armour locates its world headquarters here then hits financial struggles. A major public transit line captures federal funding then the Red Line project is shelved by Maryland’s governor. Rarely does good news last but the hardships of poverty, racial discrimination, drug addiction and broken families sure do. To overcome such disadvantages requires not just hard work and talent but a tolerance for setbacks, for failure, for adversity.

That’s why the 2020 edition of the Baltimore Ravens seems right for the times and for this city. The NFL team is not just on the verge of making the playoffs as a wild-card entry — a win against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday does the trick or a loss by either the Browns or Colts — but it has done so through an unlikely path. Prior to the start of the season, the Ravens were picked as one of the American Football Conference’s top teams, a Super Bowl contender, thanks in no small part to the presence of Lamar Jackson, last NFL season’s most valuable player, at quarterback. But then the team lost to the Chiefs, the Patriots, the Titans and the Steelers twice. By early December, they looked more like a picked-over Thanksgiving turkey than Edgar Allan Poe’s frightening poetic visage or even one of the smartest North American birds.

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The COVID-19 pandemic? The Ravens may have the league’s worst track record with so many players ending up on COVID-19 protocols (23) and so many games rescheduled (just two but the Thanksgiving game against the Steelers was reset three times all by itself) that the NFL recently fined the franchise a quarter-million dollars for failing to comply with league rules on reducing spread of the virus. Even Lamar Jackson seemed more Clark Kent than Superman at various points during the season, his quarterback rating even now hovering around 8th best in the NFL, seven places below where he finished last year. In other words, Baltimore’s undisciplined, underachieving football team seemed destined to fail.

But then came, for lack of a better term, resolve. A victory against the Cowboys, a thrilling win over the Browns, a massacre of the Jaguars, a steady triumph over the Giants. One by one, the Ravens overcame, besting the competition by an average of more than two touchdowns per game these past four, running the ball down the opposition’s throats and sacking their quarterback. Baltimore has taken notice. Ravens flags are flying. The team needed to demonstrate its character and that’s exactly what happened. The players have performed as so many Baltimoreans aspire to do in their own lives — through strength of will and against all odds.

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Here’s a stat you won’t find in a lot of pregame shows: Baltimore has one of the highest concentrated poverty rates of any NFL city. And while some, like tourism mecca Las Vegas, for example, have seen a spike in unemployment rates this year, Charm City’s challenging economic condition is more chronic and long-lasting. So when Ravens coach John Harbaugh applauds the team’s character, fans truly understand what he’s talking about. Now, the team’s fate is in its hands. In pro sports, you can’t ask for much more than that. In life, too.

So as Baltimoreans gather in front of their television sets to cheer for their favorite team, to escape from a year of illness and deprivation, let them recognize the potential that resides in all of us — not to fly down the field like Lamar, juking past a linebacker, perhaps, but to fight, fight, fight against the odds. This isn’t a team of destiny anymore than this is a city of destiny. It’s a team that overcomes.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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