PHILADELPHIA — With the Ravens holding an eight-point lead and Philadelphia marching down the field late in the game Sunday, cornerback Marcus Peters was mouthing off with officials and players on the Eagles' sideline. It was clear that he had lost his composure and focus midway through the fourth quarter, and Philadelphia was taking him and the Ravens apart piece by piece.
The Eagles beat Peters for completions several times on their last two drives as they pulled within 30-28 with 1:55 to go, but the Ravens tackled quarterback Carson Wentz just short of the goal line on a 2-point conversion attempt to hold on for the victory. The Ravens breathed a sigh of relief as they left Lincoln Financial Field with a 5-1 record, but coach John Harbaugh needs to use this game as a learning tool.
The Ravens might be good, but they aren’t great. Overall play in the NFL has been poor, but the Ravens haven’t been that much better. And they certainly can’t afford to become complacent.
On Sunday, they almost blew a 17-point halftime lead to a team with one win and one regular starter on the offensive line. The Ravens were penalized 12 times for 132 yards, quarterback Lamar Jackson and the offense continued to be inconsistent and the defense had several lapses in coverage that should have resulted in touchdowns.
Are the Ravens elite? Nope.
They are just an above-average team in a below-average league. They can’t afford to get overconfident or cocky or they will end up getting eliminated early in the playoffs, like they did last season in a divisional-round loss against the Tennessee Titans.
No one can forget that. The Ravens had a 14-game winning streak and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. They ended up with the league Most Valuable Player in Jackson, the Coach of the Year in Harbaugh and the NFL’s top assistant in offensive coordinator Greg Roman. And yet, they bombed in the playoffs.
If any team had learned a lesson from how last season ended, it should have been the Ravens. But apparently a severe case of amnesia set in during the second half of Sunday’s game.
“We have to learn to finish, man,” Ravens safety DeShon Elliott said. “We have to learn to finish, continue to work on our communication and tackling. I know it’s early, but when you have a lead like that, you can’t let off the gas pedal. We let off their necks. I feel like we have to be better than that.
"That was a great team out there. They never quit and we have to learn how to finish. But we’re going to get better week to week. We’re going to take a couple days off and get back at it. I just felt like it wasn’t enough; we didn’t do enough. Games can’t be that close if we want to be great.”
The Ravens had similar lapses in a blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season. It’s one thing to get beat physically, but another when complacency sets in, and Peters was the model of it Sunday. He played the final seven minutes as if he didn’t care. Harbaugh has dressed down young players during games, but there was nothing said to Peters, whose head was on Pluto while his body was in Philadelphia.
Quite frankly, the Ravens aren’t living up to the hype, and it’s not just on defense. Jackson is as erratic throwing the ball as he was as a rookie. He’s back to that sidearm motion and not stepping into his passes. There were times Sunday when he released the ball and his receivers didn’t even turn around, or they zigged when he expected them to zag.
The Ravens can beat most teams in the league with an average running game, but they won’t beat the top teams without a quarterback who can consistently make accurate passes outside the numbers — especially one who panics when his team falls behind. After six games, this is like seeing another episode of “Gilligan’s Island” or “I Love Lucy.”
We already know the ending.
'"Yeah, we need to work on that," Jackson said of the lack of explosive plays in the passing game. “Better situations and I feel like we just need better speeds with that and we will be fine. We will be fine with that. When your number is called, just do the rest. That’s all.”
Jackson isn’t solely responsible for the inconsistent offense. Tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. haven’t played well this season. Once again, the interior of the offensive line is struggling with center Matt Skura and rookie right guard Tyre Phillips. The pass blocking has also been a problem; the Ravens allowed three sacks and Jackson was hit three other times Sunday.
A year ago, the Ravens had the best running game in the history of the NFL. Now they aren’t dominant unless Jackson is running around making plays like he did Sunday with 108 rushing yards on nine carries. The mojo of 2019 is missing.
“We want to play so much better,” Brown said. “We want to be so much more consistent. We want to be perfect. We want to be the best offense to touch the field in the world, consistently — play-in, play-out, series-in, series-out. We’re just not there yet. We understand that we’ve got a lot of work to do. But at the end of the day, we’re chasing perfection.
“We’re all still ready to play ball just coming off this long offseason. We’re looking at it as an opportunity to get better this week [and] get ready for Pittsburgh — who’s got an amazing defensive front. We’re really focused on the next game and the next game, and the next opponent — making sure that we’re bettering ourselves to go out there and play our best ball.”
The Ravens won’t win that game if they keep committing penalties. That’s a discipline problem. That’s on Harbaugh and his staff, and so are the presnap penalties, including false starts and illegal formation calls.
“Offensively, we just didn’t move the ball well enough consistently,” Harbaugh said. “We did at times when we had to. Penalties were a big factor. [We had] way too many penalties, especially the presnap penalties. I don’t know about the other ones, we’ll see. Some of them were OK. But the presnap penalties were just not good. We had too much trouble lining up, and we had assignment issues that we are not happy about. Those are things we’ll have to work on.”
After a bye, the Ravens host the unbeaten Steelers before playing at Indianapolis and New England. Then they face Tennessee in Baltimore and meet Pittsburgh on the road on Thanksgiving night.
Like every other team in the NFL, the Ravens didn’t have minicamps or preseason games because of the coronavirus pandemic, so they have to be given ample time to get better. If you listen to the words coming from the team’s locker room Sunday, this was a big win because the Eagles (1-4-1) were desperately looking for a victory and playing at home. In reality, Philadelphia didn’t have several starters on the offensive line and was without its two top receivers, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, because of injuries. This was a team that tied the Cincinnati Bengals, a club the Ravens beat by nearly 30 points a week ago.
Six games into the season, I thought this Ravens team would look more like the one that finished the regular season 14-2 in 2019. Instead, they just look like a team good enough to beat up on the bad ones, but not good enough to go the distance.
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So far, it looks a lot like a repeat of the previous two years.