"When a team is determined to get the ball out fast, then you’re not going to get a lot of hits – quarterback hits – and you’re not going to get a lot of sacks," said John Harbaugh on the team's lack of a pass rush. (Kevin Richardson)
Every one of the players dissected the tape on their five-hour flight home from Oakland. John Harbaugh and his staff studied it again Monday morning.
But by the afternoon, less than 24 hours after their stunning 37-33 loss to the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens had forced themselves to look ahead. That's the discipline of the NFL, even when you've begun the season 0-2 and raised serious doubts about your playoff chances.
"We're going to have to deal with it and work from this position we're in," Harbaugh said to kick off his Monday news conference at the team's training complex in Owings Mills. "You have to go forward. We have every opportunity to accomplish what we need to accomplish. We just have to get better."
It's a position Harbaugh has never been in as a head coach. The history for 0-2 teams in the NFL is gloomy, and the Ravens' path will get no easier as they prepare to host the AFC North-rival Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener on Sunday.
Harbaugh acknowledged his team is hunting for an identity after the offense sputtered in an opening loss to the Denver Broncos and the defense collapsed against the Raiders.
"I guess you can look at that from either a negative or a positive perspective," he said. "What are we capable of being? What are we really? We're going to find out over the course of the next few weeks."
Players conceded nothing about the fate of their season in the losing locker room at Oakland.
"If we hang our heads, we're done," said defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who drew a critical roughing penalty on the Raiders' game-winning drive. "That's not even an option, you know what I mean?"
"The kind of guys we've got, I know the type of guys we've got," said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who also made several key mistakes on Oakland scoring drives. "They're going to come back tomorrow to get ready to get ahead on the next guys. … We're 0-2 right now, but I promise you everybody on this team will come back fighting. I just know it. We've just got to believe in one another and keep playing."
They can perhaps draw modest comfort from the 2014 Indianapolis Colts, who started 0-2 and rallied to make the AFC Championship Game. In 2013, the 0-2 Carolina Panthers, with Steve Smith Sr., rebounded to win the NFC South. The Ravens also aren't the only popular Super Bowl pick in the winless boat. They share it with the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.
But over the past 25 years, 12 percent of teams that have started 0-2 have gone on to make the playoffs. Those odds are downright cozy compared to the chances for teams that start 0-3. Five in history have begun with three straight losses and made the postseason.
That makes Sunday's home opener against the Bengals about as critical as early-season games come.
The Bengals are hardly the pushover opponent the Ravens might covet. Not only are they 2-0, they're the only team to beat a Harbaugh squad at M&T Bank Stadium in September. The Ravens are 2-4 against Marvin Lewis' team over the last three seasons. Quarterback Joe Flacco has a far lower passer rating against the Bengals (69.6) than against the Ravens' other two divisional foes.
"I do believe it's the most talented team in the league," Harbaugh said of the Bengals. "We've seen that over the years."
Even if the Ravens beat the Bengals, they'll have just four days to prepare for another critical test on the road at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Later in October they'll face another double trip out West against the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.
"The games don't get easier," guard Marshal Yanda said after Sunday's loss. "I know we've got Cincinnati coming to town, they're playing good football. We understand we've got to play better, way better, than we did today to win. There's no magical formula. We all have to work at it and take this thing head on."
Harbaugh faced questions about everything from his team's inability to rush the passer without linebacker Terrell Suggs to his decision to keep the Ravens on the West Coast for a week between the losses in Denver and Oakland.
He made no effort to downplay his disappointment with the defensive performance against the Raiders, who gained 448 yards against the Ravens after being soundly beaten by the Bengals in Week 1.
"We played about as unsound as you can play in a lot of different ways," he said. "We had effort, for the most part. But I'd even say we didn't have the kind of effort we need to have on defense, the kind of all-out, flying-around effort we expect from a Ravens defense. … If we're going to have a chance to be a successful football team, our defense has got to step up and play like the Ravens play. That's the expectation. That's where the bar is set."
The defensive collapse — marked by poor secondary play, sloppy tackling and a nonexistent pass rush — seemed particularly puzzling because the Ravens had stifled Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Week 1. They lost vocal leader Suggs to a season-ending torn Achilles in that game, but Harbaugh said Suggs' absence was not the key to their weak rush against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
"When a team is determined to get the ball out fast, then you're not going to get a lot of quarterback hits or a lot of sacks," he said. "What you have to do is defend those quick throws. And we didn't defend the quick throws as well as we needed to do because of some missed tackles and some missed alignments. … That's the No. 1 issue there."
Whatever the glitches, the Ravens know they don't have long to lick their wounds. Veteran defensive end Chris Canty acknowledged the players were dejected after Sunday's loss and out of sync in all phases of the game.
"We got to face the reality as a football team that we're not playing well enough to win right now," he said. "We've got to fix it. We got to get better in a hurry. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us."