One very bad night won't sink the Ravens' playoff hopes

Admittedly, it was tough to watch the Ravens get undressed on national television Sunday night, but that ugly loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers — much of it self-administered — was not a symptom of some irreparable flaw in the team or the organization.

It was just another manic NFL Sunday.


The Ravens committed a couple game-changing turnovers, and they let their frustration get the best of them while Ben Roethlisberger was carving up their depleted defensive secondary. But one stinky game in Pittsburgh is not going to submarine their playoff hopes or define them as anything but a good team that had a very bad night.

There's a lot of that going around this season. Just ask the San Diego Chargers, who were sitting atop a lot of NFL power rankings a few weeks ago and were crushed by the Miami Dolphins, 37-0, in their third straight loss Sunday. Or check with the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts, who recently were scorched for 51 points by Big Ben and the Steelers.


Call it parity if you want, but it's more complicated than that. The Ravens clearly have playoff-caliber talent, but the past two games have fully exposed their depth problem at cornerback with Jimmy Smith sidelined and Lardarius Webb struggling to re-establish himself as one of the elites at that position.

There are real problems that John Harbaugh and his coaching staff need to address, but it's important to understand that, on the brightly-lit NFL stage, perception quite often trumps reality.

Case in point: The perception at this moment is that the Ravens lost their composure in front of every football fan in America on Sunday night and are reeling after back-to-back division losses that hurled them into last place in the AFC North.

None of that is factually incorrect, but it's too easy — and not often productive — to view the future through the prism of the immediate past.

Obviously, the Ravens didn't acquit themselves well on Sunday Night Football, but it's not like they were trounced the week before in Cincinnati. The Bengals are a quality team and that game was decided by an offensive pass interference penalty.

The loss to the Steelers did drop the Ravens to the bottom of the division standings, but it's important to keep in mind that the week ended with the Ravens having the same number of victories as the first-place Bengals.

If you're worried about that performance at Heinz Field bleeding over into the home game against the Tennessee Titans this Sunday, the oddsmakers aren't. The Ravens are posted as the second-biggest favorite (-10) on the Week 10 slate, behind only the Denver Broncos, who are expected to roll over the winless Oakland Raiders.

The short-term outlook is good. The Ravens can move to 6-4 heading into their bye week if they take care of business against the Titans, which means they will have some serious down time to get some people healthy for the final six games of the regular season.

The long-term outlook is a bit cloudy. The remainder of the schedule appears favorable, with four of the last seven regular-season games at home and four of their remaining opponents currently at or below .500. But the distribution of the Ravens' four losses has put them at an early disadvantage in several tiebreaker scenarios.

Their two losses to the Bengals certainly could come back to haunt them, and the best they can hope for is a 3-3 finish in the division if they can beat the Cleveland Browns in the regular-season finale. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that their conference record (2-4) is currently the worst of any AFC team with legitimate wild-card aspirations.

The playoff equation remains a simple one, however. If the Ravens win more games than the Bengals, the Steelers and the Browns the rest of the way, they will finish — at worst — in a tie with the Steelers for first place in the AFC North. The way each team's remaining schedules lay out, that is far from out of the question.

There is no sense looking beyond that in the crazy, momentum-fueled NFL. The Steelers and the New England Patriots look like super teams at the moment, but both spent the first quarter of the season looking very average. The Broncos opened the season as the Super Bowl favorite, but they lost to the Patriots by a bigger margin Sunday than the Ravens did to the Steelers.


The Patriots are now the odds-on favorite to win the Lombardi Trophy and the AFC North is getting no respect from the Vegas types. No team in the division is listed at better than 30-1, and the Ravens are currently listed as a 50-1 long shot to win their third NFL title.

Whether that's perception or reality remains to be determined.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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