Reporting Mark Viviano
Give Ravens QB Joe Flacco credit: he’s figured out his Baltimore audience. ESPN Sportscenter displayed a quote from Flacco on Friday in which he claims the national media spends too much time talking about Tim Tebow, and the Ravens are therefore an ESPN afterthought. Flacco is quoted as saying he didn’t see any Ravens highlights on ESPN after his last-minute TD pass to Torrey Smith in the win at Pittsburgh earlier this season. Say it ain’t so, Joe! The Ravens QB has gone to the Baltimore dark side: our town’s tiresome inferiority complex that’s perpetuated by chip-on-the-shoulder comments that claim we’re generally unnoticed and unloved by the rest of the world. It’s both endearing (it’s who we are) and uniformed (it’s just not true).
I’ll give Flacco a pass and credit for being a maestro to a fan base that clings to the “us against the world” script. I haven’t spoken to Joe about whether he REALLY believes the Ravens and Baltimore are disrespected but the sentiment plays well from Dundalk to Randallstown, from Hereford to Severna Park. Baltimore (especially Ravens Nation) thrives on believing it’s unappreciated. The mindset played well a decade ago when the relatively new Ravens were a wild card playoff team and despised nationally because of the lingering stickiness of the Ray Lewis “incident.” Brian Billick orchestrated the P.R. machine that was fueled by a take-no-prisoners defense that defiantly held the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa and the rest of the world HAD to take notice. It was brilliant in its execution and brutal in its unique Baltimore way of getting a job done: ruthless and irreverent.
Fast forward to 2011 and the new Ravens reality. These guys are good and have been since Day 1. Remember the resounding beat down of the Steelers on opening day that had even Billick suggesting that the present-day Ravens may be the best Ravens team of all-time? How about the similar thrashing of the Jets a couple of weeks later that only furthered that belief? These Ravens have earned notice from the start and HAVE been noticed (despite Flacco’s playful claim of disrespect). Wins at Pittsburgh and at home against Houston, Cincinnati and San Francisco have only provided further evidence that the Ravens are a special team. I’ve said from the start that they’re not likely to lose a single home game during the regular season (7-0 with Cleveland to go) and that they are very much the most complete and balanced team in the AFC. If not for the hiccups at Jacksonville and Seattle (as puzzling as they were) these Ravens would be considered right on the heels of the unbeaten and defending Super Bowl champion Packers (note: the Ravens’ loss at Tennessee was nothing to be ashamed of. Baltimore played poorly, yes, but lost to a good team).
So, I’m pulling the “disrespect” card from the deck and discarding it now (sorry, Joe). On a weekly basis, national analysts fall all over themselves in praise of the powerful Ravens, and rightfully so. Watch ESPN more closely–they show the Ravens plenty (around the Tebow talk). The Ravens are on the brink of clinching a 4th straight playoff berth and a likely top seed in the AFC. They SHOULD be on the path to the Super Bowl that I’ve predicted from the start. It would be disingenuous to the talent and efforts of the players, coaches and front office to suggest otherwise. The Ravens have built a powerhouse. Embrace it, Baltimore. Unless the feeling of being a favorite is really that uncomfortable. I understand if so. Buckle up. This should be an intriguing ride.