You would have expected the Ravens, who spent 60 minutes flattening the Detroit Lions’ case as a contender, to walk into the press room at M&T Bank Stadium preening and crowing as if they were 10 feet tall.
It’s hard to win in the NFL, much less open with a dominating 23-minute sequence that saw Baltimore rack up 28 unanswered points before Detroit got as much as a first down. The Ravens didn’t just beat the Lions; they gave the would-be NFL darlings a wedgie and shoved them into a locker.
But there was no particularly upbeat feel to the postgame press conference or the locker room. The Ravens (5-2) were muted in a way that felt almost inappropriate. After what most would call a “statement win,” coach John Harbaugh was reluctant to call it that.
“You guys can define all that stuff the way you want, and it’s cool,” he said. “We’re just going to define it in terms of what we think we’re capable of playing like.”
On further reflection, it’s not that the Ravens didn’t play incredibly well in a 38-6 win over Detroit, because they certainly did. Grading the performance of the offense, tight end Mark Andrews gave it a 10, while linebacker Roquan Smith gleefully recounted how he told team security to lock the stadium doors because “we’ll decide when we want to let them out.”
The thing is: If you’ve been watching so far, you probably already knew the Ravens could be this good. They’ve shown signs of it, coming up with impressive division wins in Cincinnati and Cleveland. Their losses have been epic, egg-on-their-face performances in games that, by many measures, they should have won. Odell Beckham Jr. said this week: “This is a team in here that’s 4-2; it feels like [we] should be 6-0.”
The “statement” the Ravens are looking for doesn’t come from one good game against one opponent. It’s about playing at this level — or at least close to it — every week.
When you lay out what the Ravens have, and what they’ve done, of course they should be at the top of the league. In Lamar Jackson, they have an MVP quarterback who is again reminding people of his MVP level. The threat of his run kept the Lions off balance, but he can also use his legs as he did in the first quarter, when he scuttled away from pressure and bought nearly 10 seconds to find Nelson Agholor in the back of the end zone.
Think Jackson’s new contract cost a lot of money? Andrews has a new nickname that might reframe that narrative: “Money Lamar.”
“He was slinging it,” Andrews said. “Man, he was on the money all day.”
On the other side, the Ravens’ defense was ready to inflict punishment for slights real and imagined. Linebacker Patrick Queen told The Banner the players were irritated to see chatter that the Ravens’ passing defense, which leads the league in net yards per pass attempt (4.0), hadn’t faced anybody worth sniffing at.
Baltimore chose to see it another way. “That’s what we were preaching the whole time. They never played a team like us.”
After a tedious session of less-than-inspiring play last week, the killer instinct of the Ravens stood out early Sunday. Instead of waiting to defer, they chose to receive, and they went for it on fourth-and-short to get their first touchdown — opening the faucet. Instead of sitting back in coverage, they dialed up pressure early and often. Jared Goff was sacked five times, all in the first three quarters.
That willingness to go for the jugular made a real difference in how high the Ravens flew in their best game yet.
Lions coach Dan Campbell once pledged he would mold the Lions into a squad that would “bite a kneecap off” when pushed down. But, as much as Detroit has improved under its brash leader, once the Lions got under the steamroller, they could hardly bite the Ravens’ ankles.
Maybe the Ravens haven’t played the league’s best quarterback because they have the league’s best quarterback. Maybe they haven’t played the league’s best defense because they have the league’s best defense. That might seem like big talk, but both of those possibilities are on the table given the upside we’ve seen.
As exhilarating as it was to watch the Ravens sandwich three Lions three-and-outs with four touchdown drives of their own, it’s also impossible to look at the bigger picture and not feel some frustration.
How did a defense “without a weakness,” as Smith put it, get so gashed by the Indianapolis run game and give up so many turnovers? How did an offensive as explosive as this one get hung up in Pittsburgh? Evidence continues to suggest that the Ravens play best when they feel they are doubted or disrespected. When the world picks against them, suddenly they’re ready to play.
In that light, it might be reassuring that the Ravens see that beating the Lions — even in impressive fashion — is business as usual. A new challenge comes next week against the lowly Arizona Cardinals. They’re not quite as good at rolling up encore performances.
The Ravens expect to be here. They expect to do this every week. And when we measure progress for how this team is coming along, that should probably be our measuring stick, too.
“When we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, the sky’s the limit for us,” Jackson said. “We just showed a glimpse today, I believe.”