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Mike Preston: Ravens still find hope despite two straight ugly losses

The past two Ravens games weren’t just losses. They were embarrassments.

Regardless, it’s way too early to predict the outcome of 2017 for the Ravens. There are some bad signs. The offense is ineffective and the quarterback play has been bad. There have been no consistent playmakers and they’ve been hit by injuries.

What else?

Some of the veteran players are showing their age, the offensive line play is poor and the Ravens are without their two best players, including guard Marshal Yanda, out for the season with a fractured left ankle.

But after the first quarter of the season the Ravens (2-2) are just as average as most of the other teams. That’s exactly how the NFL likes it.

Only Kansas City (3-0), which played Washington Monday night, is unbeaten. Three teams in the AFC have only one loss and seven, including the Ravens are 2-2.

So despite the past two losses the Ravens are right there in the middle of mediocrity.

“Even though it seems like the season is over we’re 2-2, and it’s only Week 4, and we’ve got another AFC opponent next week, a great team in Oakland,” Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley said.

Twenty or 30 years ago it was easy to predict where a team was headed. But with the invention of the salary cap and players jumping from team to team, it’s hard to gauge which teams will become serious contenders.

Kansas City is a safe bet because of the Chiefs’ overall balance. Because New England has quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots (2-2) will remain one of the top teams in the AFC despite having one of the worst defenses.

It’s hard to pick others who will be strong at the end. There are questions about Buffalo holding up after a 3-1 start, and Pittsburgh wasn’t dazzling in its win against the Ravens. Denver, another 3-1 team, is struggling offensively.

So when the Ravens talk about taking it one game at a time after two straight losses it’s not just coach speak. They aren’t paying too much attention to some fans’ request that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg be fired or quarterback Joe Flacco be replaced by Ryan Mallett.

Apparently, those folks haven’t seen Houston, Oakland, Tennessee and the New York Jets play. Those teams are 2-2 like the Ravens and have similar problems.

Houston beat Tennessee, 57-14, Sunday and the Texans have a poor offensive line. Oakland has no defense, and Tyrod Taylor is still the starting quarterback in Buffalo.

Enough said.

“I just hate losing, especially to one of our rivals and a division opponent,” Ravens safety Tony Jefferson said after Sunday’s game. “But the good thing is that it’s just the first quarter of the season. We finished at .500. Now it’s time to get ready for the next quarter of the season.”

The Ravens have a lot of problems, some of which can’t be masked. Their offensive line, ravaged by injuries, won’t get much better this season. Safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs play hard and are team leaders, but aren’t dominant anymore.

But in some cases, the Ravens just need players to improve a little. Flacco has to play the rest of the season like he did the third quarter Sunday. Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman need to catch the ball and running back Alex Collins has to hold onto it.

Suggs and fellow outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Matthew Judon need to hold the edge better, and weak-side linebacker Patrick Onwuasor has earned more playing time over Kamalei Correa. Communication has to improve in the secondary and the Ravens have to get more production out of young players Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams at outside linebacker and Bronson Kaufusi at defensive tackle

It sounds like a lot, but if everyone steps up a lot of the games on the Ravens’ schedule are winnable. Before the bye Nov. 12, the Ravens play on the road at Oakland, Minnesota, Tennessee and host Chicago and Miami.

This isn’t exactly Murderers’ Row here. And they still close out the season at Cleveland on Dec. 17 followed by home games against Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

“Listen, I mean, we definitely have the ability to be productive, and no matter what anybody thinks, we’re all we have right now, so we’re going to go out there, and we’re going to make it happen,” Flacco said.

In this league, almost anything can happen. There are no expectations here for the Ravens to go to the Super Bowl or even make it deep into the playoffs but they can still be as good or as bad as most teams.

“We still have a lot of season left. It’s only four games,” tight end Benjamin Watson said. “Obviously, there’s a lot we can do better, but we’re not throwing in the towel by any means.”

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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