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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: Ravens are in position to make a run, warts and all | COMMENTARY

The Ravens’ win Sunday not only kept them atop the AFC North standings, but set them up to go on a major winning streak.

No laughter please, this is serious business.

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Despite how ugly the 23-20 victory over the Cleveland Browns was at times, the Ravens have the potential to win another five, six or seven games this season, perhaps consecutively.

There aren’t too many things you could point to that suggest the Ravens have improved much since the season-opening win against the New York Jets, but this is the NFL. Any team can win on any given Sunday.

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That’s my conclusion after Week 7. Except for the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, the rest of the league is a big collection of mediocre to poor teams.

That’s why the Ravens (4-3) were so tickled to come away with a win against Cleveland (2-5).

“It was a must-win situation, big divisional game, a rivalry game,” running back Gus Edwards said. “We have momentum now, and we just have to keep building it up. We’re going to find out about ourselves in the weeks to come.”

Momentum is the big word. Teams thrive off of it. If wins follow, some teams start believing they are invincible, and the Ravens need that type of psyche.

Belief is as much a part of football as blocking and tackling. The Ravens face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night and have basically one day to prepare before they leave Wednesday. But the Bucs (3-4) lost Sunday to the lowly Carolina Panthers, and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is still wishing he had tight end Rob Gronkowski by his side.

After facing Tampa Bay, the Ravens play the New Orleans Saints (2-5) on “Monday Night Football,” followed by the Panthers (2-5), Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5), Denver Broncos (2-4), Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) and the Browns again.

This is not exactly the Murderers’ Row of the NFL.

“I think it helps. It just helps build momentum, and I think what we’ve been going through is just growing pains,” outside linebacker Justin Houston said. “I prefer to go through it at the beginning of the season than the end. We all know, you’ve just got to get hot at the right time. I love our team. I think we’ve got everything we need to win it.

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“We’ve just got to continue to build and grow. That’s what we’ve been doing, and it showed today. We had guys step up on special teams, defense and offense to make plays and get us this victory.”

A lot of things can change between now and the stretch run. The Ravens didn’t show much to get excited about Sunday.

They almost blew another fourth-quarter lead and needed linebacker Malik Harrison to block a 60-yard field goal attempt with 2:09 left with his face to seal the victory.

Cleveland ran the ball down the Ravens’ throats during a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and Jacoby Brissett, a backup for most of his career, completed 22 of 27 passes for 258 yards.

Imagine what Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes would do against the Ravens’ poor secondary?

Offensively, it was another slog. Quarterback Lamar Jackson became a game manager, partly because of his struggles the past three games but also because he was inaccurate and the Ravens couldn’t handle the Browns’ pass rush. Jackson was sacked three times.

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The positive?

Edwards, who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL, LCL and hamstring, rushed 16 times for 66 yards. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley performed well in his third game this season after a long rehabilitation from a fractured ankle.

The Ravens had five sacks Sunday and mounted consistent pass rush after the first quarter. Devin Duvernay proved he can be a weapon as both a wide receiver and return specialist, and kicker Justin Tucker and punter Jordan Stout give the Ravens perhaps the best kicking game in the NFL.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, right, celebrates as running back Gus Edwards (35) scores a touchdown on a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter Sunday against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens have enough weapons to be able to beat a lot of teams in so many ways, but they aren’t consistent and lack game-changers.

Maybe that will come in time.

“To me, the ground-and-pound mentality is the identity of this team,” Stanley said. “I think we are getting back to that, to who we are. But the thing is, I really think we played with the same amount of character and effort even before today. This game was a little bit more detailed, but honestly, we still have a lot to fix. We can be a lot better than this.

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“We are happy to come out with a win, but our goal is to play at a championship level; we won’t be satisfied with anything less, and we still need to clean up some stuff,. We can be a lot better than this. I am not very satisfied with how we did as a whole today; we are very capable of championship-winning football.”

That verdict will come soon enough, in the next month or two.

Week 8

Ravens at Buccaneers

Thursday, 8:15 p.m.

TV: Ch. 2 Stream: Amazon Prime

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Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 1


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