Schmuck: Too soon to give up on Ravens, but beleaguered fans need to prepare for worst

During my misspent youth, I used to wear a clever button that testified to my indifferent attitude toward the expectations that oppressed me and the innumerable frustrations presented by the world at large.

It read: “Since I gave up hope, I feel much better.”

The sentiment is absurd, of course, but it might soon be the only option for a lot of disconsolate Ravens fans who have watched the bloom come off what appeared — less than a month ago — to be shaping up as a very rosy season.

The mountain they have to climb to reach the postseason is beginning to look like Everest and there are reports that quarterback Joe Flacco might not play next Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals because of a hip injury suffered in last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens were already licking their wounds during a bye week that might have arrived too late to help them end their three-year playoff drought, and the Ravens faithful are again left to wonder why everything keeps going so wrong with their once-beloved football team.

This is understandable but unproductive. Whether the team rebounds with a string of victories or continues to fall into a competitive abyss, there is nothing to be gained by jumping into that dark place ahead of them.

The Ravens are, like most of the teams in the NFL, a flawed franchise prone to bursts of momentum and bouts of inconsistency. They are currently at a juncture in this pivotal season that could turn them in either direction and bear heavily on the future of the coaching staff and front office.

It’s too soon to wonder if John Harbaugh will become the third high-profile coach or manager in a 40-mile radius to lose his job in the space of a few months. But that conversation will ramp up if the Ravens lose at M&T Bank Stadium next week to the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs in front of the home crowd in Week 17 last season.

Clearly, now that three straight losses have dropped the Ravens under .500, the smart money is on the wrong side of the ledger, but that doesn’t mean that anything is inevitable — at least not yet. The roller coaster has not come to a complete stop and the Ravens probably are not finished playing with our emotions.

This is, after all, the same team that all but played the New Orleans Saints to a draw at the beginning of this losing streak, and a lot of people think Drew Brees and the Saints are going to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

The bye week might turn out to be an elixir for a team that started the season with a road-heavy schedule. And the Bengals, who beat the Ravens in Week 2 in Cincinnati, might be the perfect division opponent to help lift them out of their funk.

That would be a start, but the reason 4-5 looks so bleak — even with so many teams living in the same competitive area code — is because of the way the schedule shapes up over the next several weeks.

Though the Ravens are hoping to benefit from a late-season schedule that has them at home for two winnable games in the last three weeks, they still have three tough road games ahead against the 8-1 Kansas City Chiefs, the surprising Los Angeles Chargers and the explosive Atlanta Falcons. That’s quite a challenge considering they probably need to go at least 5-2 the rest of the way to have any chance of reaching the postseason.

It could happen, but only if the Ravens take care of business next week, perhaps behind rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. This is one of those times when the time-worn one-game-at-a-time mantra rings true.

If not, it will be time to give up hope, but I don’t know if that will really make you feel any better.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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

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