The Ravens talked about the tremendous sense of urgency they need to play with from here on out. They discussed the weight and disappointment of carrying an 0-2 record and the many challenges they'll face the rest of the season.
What they didn't say — and in some cases, seemed to intentionally avoid — was describing Sunday's matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at M&T Bank Stadium as a must-win game.
Quarterback Joe Flacco came the closest, but he wouldn't crack either.
"Is there any more urgency with this game because we are 0-2? I don't know if it should be that kind of game or it shouldn't be, but it probably feels a little more like it is than it doesn't," Flacco said. "It doesn't feel good in the NFL when you lose a football game until you get out there and win another one and another one. I know that we don't want to be in a situation where I'm sitting up here next week talking about the same stuff, so …."
With that, Flacco smiled, knowing that he had astutely dodged the question like an A-gap blitz.
By now, the Ravens' players have certainly heard the numbers. Since 1990, only 24 of 205 teams to start the season 0-2 have made the playoffs. Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. was on one of those teams, the 2013 Carolina Panthers, though he joked that he's forgotten about that season.
During that same span, only three of 124 teams — and none since 1998 — have qualified for the postseason after starting 0-3. All the Ravens will have to do to avoid those circumstances is beat a team that has given them and their quarterback more problems than any other in recent seasons.
The Bengals come into the game winners of three straight against the Ravens and four of the past five. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has lost one September home game in eight seasons at the helm and that was to Cincinnati last year.
"We have to be able to shift the momentum onto the Baltimore Ravens' side," Smith said. "That's really the part that counts. All that other nonsense, if it doesn't improve us or make it better or make us make plays, it's just noise."
When Harbaugh met with his players Wednesday, he stressed the positives. In the season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos, the offense did next to nothing while the defense knocked around Peyton Manning. In last Sunday's shocking loss to the Oakland Raiders, the defense couldn't stop anybody while the offense racked up 493 yards.
"It gives me a lot of hope for the fact that if we put it all together on both sides, we can be a very good football team. But that's the thing: you have to put it together on the same day, you got to be clicking on all cylinders," Harbaugh said. "You can't be playing with one arm tied behind your back in the game. You need to spread it out on both sides and you have to find a way to put it all together."
Harbaugh also reiterated that the Ravens technically aren't on foreign terrain, even if they've never been 0-2 during his tenure. The Ravens have actually now had losing streaks of two games or more six times under Harbaugh. In four of those seasons, they've lost three consecutive games. During their Super Bowl season in 2012, they dropped three in a row and four of their final five regular-season contests.
But their poor start has been magnified, not only because the team entered the year as a chic Super Bowl pick, but because of what lies ahead on the Ravens' schedule.
"Right now, we think we're good enough to do it. I believe we are," Flacco said. "We just have to go out there and prove that. Over the course of the season, if we can't prove that, then it obviously meant that we weren't good enough to do it. We didn't do fundamental things. We weren't disciplined enough. A lot of things go into that. It's about being good. It's simple and put in easy terms, but we believe we are."
Starting Sunday, the Ravens will face all three of their AFC North foes in a 15-day span, a stretch that includes a four-day turnaround between the home game against Cincinnati and a prime-time road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Following an Oct.11 home matchup with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens head out to the West Coast again to play the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals in back-to-back weeks.
Of course, the Bengals have earned the Ravens' undivided attention, and Cincinnati players said the Ravens have the same respect from them despite their 0-2 record.
"It's the Ravens," Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert said during a conference call with the Baltimore media. "It's the Ravens and Bengals, and that's always going to be a tough game, especially there. So, no, we don't look at it any differently."
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, the architect of the Ravens' record-setting, Super Bowl-winning defense in 2000, has beaten his former team 14 times in 24 tries. Cincinnati has done it in recent years by turning Flacco into a mistake-prone and erratic quarterback.
Flacco has thrown 18 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes in 14 career regular-season games against the Bengals. That's five more picks than he's thrown against the Steelers and Browns combined.
"They are a good football team," Flacco said. "They play aggressively. They have good corners. They have a good front. They get to the passer. They've had a group that has played together for a pretty long time now. They feel confident with each other, they know what they're doing. But it still comes down to the core things: they get after the passer and they can stop the run. When you can do those things, it makes it difficult."
Of the Ravens' three AFC North rivals, none has given quarterback Joe Flacco more trouble than the Cincinnati Bengals.
|Opponent||Rec||Comp.-Att.-Yds||TDs||INTs||Yds per game||QB rating|
Note: Statistics are from regular season games only