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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: Ravens set up for failure if they keep winning ugly | COMMENTARY

The ugly can get uglier.

That pretty much sums up the Ravens’ 13-3 win against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

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It was so exciting that “Real Fan Dan” took his shirt off and led cheers after field goals. He was a no-show in the first two quarters after the Ravens took a 3-0 lead, so he had to show out in the second half because he knew his face time was going to be limited.

It was that kind of day.

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It might get worse over the next two weekends when the Ravens (7-3) play the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) on the road next Sunday and host the Denver Broncos (3-7) the following week.

Ew. Nasty.

I can’t fault the Ravens because they didn’t make the schedule, but I was looking for some style points Sunday instead of walking away listening to fans say “a win is a win.”

Good teams crush bad ones like Carolina (3-8), and while there are seven more games for the Ravens to improve, they had 10 days to prepare for the lowly Panthers. Baltimore’s defense showed up, but the offense was still on a bye.

Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn sacks Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson during the third quarter of Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium.

I expected the Ravens’ defense to dominate. Carolina is one-dimensional with a good running game, but quarterback Baker Mayfield couldn’t hit the ground if he dropped the ball.

The Ravens held the Panthers to 36 rushing yards, which forced Carolina to turn to Mayfield, the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2018. That was a recipe for disaster.

Mayfield needs to learn how to turn his baseball cap backward, hold a clipboard and chart plays as he prepares to become a backup in the NFL.

He stares down receivers. He gets nervous feet in the pocket because he is so indecisive. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 196 yards and two interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 54.6.

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The Ravens’ offense was almost as inept. It’s hard to believe they had nearly two weeks to prepare because they couldn’t catch, couldn’t run, couldn’t throw and couldn’t pass block. It was sad.

So when “Real Fan Dan” had a chance to rip off his shirt, he let it fly.

The offense is a major concern over the next couple of weeks. The Ravens need to begin providing some excitement, and that starts with domination.

The Jaguars are similar to the Panthers, but they have high hopes because of second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the top pick in the 2021 draft. Like Carolina, Jacksonville entered Sunday with a good rushing offense (ranked No. 7) but a lackluster passing game (No. 17). They can stop the run (No. 8) but can’t stop the pass (No. 24).

The Broncos are the opposite. Denver has an outstanding defense (No. 2), including the league’s best against the pass. But offensively, they can’t run the ball and have an average passing game.

And what about Pittsburgh? The Ravens have two games remaining against their AFC North rival, but the Steelers are ranked No. 28 in offense and No. 27 in defense.

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At least Cleveland (3-7) and Pittsburgh (3-7) are going to play hard against the Ravens. They are division rivals. The Ravens, though, have to find a way to bring their A-game every week.

They can’t win postseason games in January with their offense playing like this. The Ravens couldn’t get to the edge on running plays against Carolina, and that’s supposed to be their forte. Their receivers couldn’t get any separation. Jackson played dink-and-dunk Sunday, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, but this team will need to stretch the field in the playoffs.

After 10 games, the Ravens are still looking for some continuity. With the soft upcoming schedule, this is the perfect time to win and build some confidence.

But if the Ravens play like they did on Sunday against Jacksonville and Denver, they are setting themselves up for a big fall.

Winning ugly eventually catches up with a team. It’s been that way in Baltimore for three of the last four years.


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