Joe Flacco knows how hard it is to earn a playoff berth in the NFL, but he’s not so sure that fans get it. Four seasons in the league and he’s headed to the postseason with the Ravens for the fourth straight time. I asked him if he appreciates the accomplishment and he told me, “I do but I don’t know if everybody else does. It’s a tough thing! If we don’t get to the playoffs, I can’t imagine the reaction we’d get from people around here. Thank God, I haven’t experienced that yet.” Flacco also told me that just making the playoffs isn’t good enough- not for him or the fans. In four years of playoff appearances the expectations have risen and it’s Super Bowl or bust. Buckle up for the ride ahead.
And in preparation for that ride- exhale, Ravens fans. You got yourself all twisted up and angst-ridden for about 24 hours over the Ravens’ rough trip to San Diego (and “rough” is a kind description). As Ray Rice said on Tuesday: “The 49ers did us a favor.” Indeed. San Francisco’s 20-3 beating of the Steelers reverts the AFC North to its previous order of the Ravens in first place over Pittsburgh and Baltimore in line to grab the conference number-two overall seed in the playoffs (behind New England) barring any more unexpected outcomes/changes.
My hope is that fans learned a valuable lesson from what transpired, but I’m not so foolish as to think you’re of a mind to be learning lessons when you’re a die-hard, emotional fan. In fact- the very make-up of a fan (from “fanatic”) implies an element of mindless passion. So, forget about lessons. But I’ll suggest one anyway: the NFL is filled with flawed, injured, taped-together teams that has many limping to the finish line of a grueling 16-game regular season. The Ravens (as I’ve been saying all year) are less flawed than most and therefore one of the best teams in the conference, if not the league. As poorly as the Ravens played in San Diego, suffering one of their most thorough thrashings in the John Harbaugh era- it’s just one game. You can add it to the short pile of stinkers that include the Ravens losses at Jacksonville and Seattle and say the Ravens are capable of being an unsightly mess. Sure they are. And they’re also capable of beating the Steelers twice, and beating playoff contenders like the Texans, Jets, 49ers and Bengals. And the overall body of work (i.e. season won-loss) record is what determines playoff seeding (not the aesthetics of how you got your wins and losses). The 13-and-0 Green Bay Packers lost to Kansas City, for goodness sakes! And that happened the week that the Chiefs fired their coach. Are fans jumping out of windows in Green Bay? (Maybe so, but there are so few tall buildings in Green Bay that I don’t think anyone’s going to get hurt).
Back to our lesson: all teams are flawed and all teams lose games, even the good teams like the Ravens. As Joe Flacco said with brilliant plainness Tuesday: “It happens.” Sure it sucks and gets you all twisted up inside. You’re a fan and you hope/want/expect/dream that your team goes 16-and-0. It happened once in history and that’s an anomaly in a league of what I call “pig pile parity.” Look at all the teams limping down the stretch. The Ravens are actually very fortunate in terms of their health relative to others. So many star players standing on the sidelines in sweat suits during big games (see the Houston Texans) and players like Ben Roethlisberger dragging his banged-up carcass up and down the field in an attempt to play. Note to commissioner Roger Goodell: you know that whole idea about playing 18 regular season games? I called it a joke when it was first discussed and the evidence is on display late in every season: TERRIBLE idea. Speaking of terrible, could the AFC North have looked any worse in consecutive nights in prime time? Ravens on Sunday night at San Diego and Pittsburgh Monday night at San Francisco? Two proud franchises outscored a combined 54-17. Ouch. But again- that’s the NFL. As bad as they looked, the Ravens and Steelers are pretty good.
You’ve got a good team, Baltimore. I know you only want the best and that’s why you fret and sweat every play and every result the way you do. I actually admire you for your craziness. But don’t let the occasional angst ruin what is an overall awesome ride. I see that ride taking the Ravens to a Super Bowl this season. Unless something unspeakable happens, like a loss. God forbid.