Mike Preston

Mike Preston: Ravens should relish new role as underdogs | COMMENTARY

The Ravens are in an enviable position, possibly one of the best in sports.

At the beginning of the season, they were one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. And now they are barely the favorite to win the AFC North.


The general assumption is that even if the Ravens get into the postseason, they won’t go far. It’ll be one-and-done.

That’s why this season has become fun. The pressure is off.


To keep this all in perspective, consider what the coaching staff has done to keep the Ravens in first place in the division with four regular-season games remaining after losing two starting running backs and a Pro Bowl left tackle.

And that’s just on offense.

On defense, the Ravens are currently without two starting defensive ends, two starting safeties and two Pro Bowl cornerbacks. So, in at least three of the four remaining games against the Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens will probably be underdogs.

This city will embrace that role. Baltimoreans love being underdogs and that “us against the world” mentality. Part of drinking the sugar-laden purple Kool-Aid is to walk around with that chip on your shoulder.

From now until the end of the season, Ravens coach John Harbaugh should use every one of those old corny slogans, like “Why Not Us?”

The Ravens are in that position. Despite the unpredictability and mediocrity of the NFL, few are giving the Ravens (8-5) a chance of knocking off the Packers (10-3). Even the Ravens know it’s an uphill battle facing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a weird guy who loves drama but can chuck a football better than anyone. And he has one of the best receivers in the NFL in Davante Adams.

Combined with the injuries, the erratic pass rush and the No. 31 ranked pass defense, this game has doom written all over it for the Ravens.

“I think it’s just handle the series of events,” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said when asked about defending Rodgers, a three-time NFL Most Valuable Player. “We continue to talk about that. We’ve talked about that for the last four years. This is one of those quarterbacks … just like the players want to talk about [Michael] Jordan, LeBron [James], Kobe [Bryant] — whatever order you want to put it in — I think that with [Peyton] Manning, Rodgers, [Drew] Brees, they’re on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks in this league.


“It’s just one of those things; you’ve got to know that he’s going to make plays. It’s part of this league. I have nothing but respect for this league and for what he’s done in this league. And it’s his offense. It’s definitely his offense, and he runs it, and he runs it really well.”

Worse yet, the Ravens could be without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, who missed all three practices this week with a sprained ankle. A healthy Jackson would certainly increase the Ravens’ chances of upsetting the Packers, but at this point it’s just another hurdle to clear.

It’s backup quarterback Tyler Huntley’s chance to shock the world.

“It’s just the NFL; you have to understand that things like this are going to happen,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said of the team’s injuries. “You don’t blink, and you just try to make the best decision you can and adjust accordingly. I mean, really, when we start every season, I kind of have a talk with myself saying, ‘Hey, reminder — all those 11 guys you just practiced with today, they might not be out there every game. So, you better be prepared for that in a lot of different ways.’ It tends to happen in bunches, for whatever reason, and this is one of those years. But I love the guys, [and] I love their attitude. We have everything we need to get it done.

“Opportunity is what it’s all about. Everybody doesn’t take advantage of their opportunity, but [Huntley] certainly has — that’s the key in pro football.”

Huntley appeared ready for the challenge a week ago, completing 27 of 38 passes for 270 yards as the Ravens almost came back from a 24-3 deficit to upset the Browns in Cleveland. Green Bay, though, is a much better team.


The Bengals (7-6), despite lacking toughness, will be a challenge next week in Cincinnati in a key divisional game. The Rams (9-4), with quarterback Matthew Stafford and the league’s No. 3 passing game, won’t be an easy opponent when they visit Baltimore on Jan. 2.

That leaves only one remaining game, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn’t going to end his career in Baltimore without a fight. He could have a chance to knock the Ravens out of postseason contention.

The Ravens are stumbling around like a punch-drunk fighter. They have too much pride to throw in the towel, and they’re hoping to land a couple of haymakers to get them into a title match.

They are somewhat like the New England Patriots. No one predicted coach Bill Belichick’s team would be good at the beginning of the season, and now they are one of the most solid, competitive clubs in the NFL. The Ravens used to be in that class, but not anymore.

They’re hanging around, though, trying to re-establish themselves.

Why not?


They’ve got nothing to lose.