The Ravens knew they dug themselves a big hole when they fell to 3-5, but they certainly weren't ready to declare the season a total loss. Not only was there too much of the season to play, but there was so much mediocrity in front of them.
Heading into last week, there were four teams that were directly between the Ravens and the 5-4 New York Jets, who currently occupy the sixth and final playoff slot, and another team (the Oakland Raiders) that had the same record as the Ravens. Of those five teams, one of them (Cleveland Browns) was on bye, and the other four (Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and Raiders) lost.
The Ravens have their own set of issues and they did little to make you feel better about any of them in their 20-17 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. But because there are so many mediocre or bad teams in the AFC and the Ravens have the Jay Cutler and Charles Tillman-less Bears this Sunday and then three straight home games against teams with a combined 10-17 record, it's easy to conclude that the Ravens are actually in decent position. Of course, anything less than 3-1 over their next four games would change that dramatically.
Coach John Harbaugh's response to the question about whether he has considered replacing struggling Ray Rice with Bernard Pierce as the featured back was predictable. Harbaugh said he doesn't view that as a solution and the team will need both to be successful.
He then pointed out that the most productive running back would get the brunt of the carries. That's the way it should be. It doesn't matter who takes Joe Flacco's first handoff of the game. What matters is who is in the game when the outcome is on the line and the Ravens need to sustain drives to win.
Against the Bengals, it was mostly Rice despite Pierce showing more burst and having a bit more success (eight carries for 31 yards compared to 18 carries for 30 yards for Rice). One of the Ravens' only sustained drives came late in the first quarter against the Bengals, ending with a Justin Tucker 36-yard field goal. On that drive, Pierce had runs of four and nine yards, and a catch for 12 yards.
However, Rice was in at running back on the Ravens' next possession, rushing three times for three yards and making one catch for no gain. It will be interesting to see going forward if the Ravens will be more apt to stick with Pierce if it looks like he has something going. Harbaugh's comments Monday seemingly indicate that they will.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe hasn't been flawless since the Ravens acquired him from the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he has been pretty solid and he's certainly been an upgrade at the position. At the very least, he's shown enough to be considered a potential long-term answer at left tackle.
A lot could change over the next couple of months but it's already pretty obvious that the Ravens' much-maligned offensive line is headed for an offseason makeover. Both Monroe and right tackle Michael Oher are free agents. Left guard Kelechi Osemele will be coming off back surgery. Center Gino Gradkowski hasn't been consistent enough yet to suggest that he's the long-term answer at center.
Trying to replace two or three spots along the offensive line in one offseason is extremely difficult, especially for a team that faces annual salary cap concerns. That's why it would make a ton of sense to try to reach agreement on a long-term deal with Monroe sooner rather than later. Monroe, of course, would have to be interested in such an arrangement and after he played his first four-plus seasons in Jacksonville, you could hardly blame
him if he was intent on testing the market and picking his landing spot.
If you were wondering why veteran safety James Ihedigbo has emerged as one of the Ravens' defensive leaders despite being with the organization for less than 15 months, go back and watch a replay of how he reacts to the Hail Mary play. Ihedigbo knew he made a mistake on the A.J. Green 51-yard, game-tying touchdown as time expired and didn't need a reminder.
However, when fired-up cornerback Jimmy Smith launched a verbal tirade in Ihedigbo's direction on the sideline as the Ravens prepared for overtime, Ihedigbo didn't return the verbal fire, get in Smith's face or add to the scene. He took it, let cooler heads prevail and then went out and made a play to get the Ravens the ball back.
On the 4th-and-2 play in overtime, Ihedigbo read the screen pass to Giovani Bernard perfectly. However, while he slowed the rookie running back, he wasn't able to get him to the ground. Bernard cut entirely across the field with Ihedigbo, who quickly got up off the ground after missing the first tackle, giving chase the whole way. Cornerback Corey Graham corralled the slippery Bernard and then Ihedigbo finished him off.
It was a great display of hustle by a player who went from being the hero of the game with two interceptions to very nearly the goat on the Hail Mary.
The Ravens have enough issues without consuming themselves with the status of a popular former teammate but I'd have to think some players are feeling for Ed Reed, whose time with the Houston Texans has recently gone from bad to worse.
Reed, who left the Ravens after 11 seasons to sign with the Texans in the offseason, missed Houston's first two games after having offseason hip surgery. He returned to the lineup, made little impact and now he's been demoted to the third safety role.
Following the Texans' loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Houston's seventh straight defeat, Reed said that his team was "outplayed and out-coached," a comment that couldn't have gone over well in Houston.
I'd never begrudge a player for wanting to get one more payday – and the Texans rewarded Reed handsomely with a three-year, $15 million deal – and going out on their own terms. Reed's earned that right. However, it would have been so perfect for Reed to go out in February after winning his first Super Bowl in his home state with the only NFL organization that he had ever known.