The Streak was nearly snuffed seven years ago before it was a streak at all — before there were even back-to-back wins.
Up by a point, the Indianapolis Colts lined up for a two-point conversion with less than four minutes left, but Stephen Morris’ pass was picked off by Ravens Anthony Levine Sr., who ran it back 99 yards for two Baltimore points and the lead — and it took seven years for anyone to catch him.
That was Aug. 20, 2016. It was the Raven’s second win of the preseason, the time of year when the wins don’t count.
But maybe, when you stack seven years of wins together, they somehow matter.
One of the most curious streaks in football finally ended Monday night, decided on a razor’s edge. Joey Slye avoided being iced by his own coach to nail a 49-yard field goal to give the Commanders something that no team has claimed in the previous 24 preseason meetings with the Ravens: a win.
That Washington coach: Ron Rivera, who presided over the Carolina Panthers, the first team to fall to Baltimore when the streak began in 2016.
One of the other returning characters from that first game was Ravens QB Josh Johnson: Since he played quarterback in that 22-19 win (even throwing a two-point conversion), Johnson played for a number of NFL teams — including Washington — and in several other leagues on his long loop back to Baltimore.
“It’s one of those things you look at and you go, ‘Wow, how’d that happen? How did something like that take place?’” Coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s pretty remarkable. What are the odds?”
Let’s be honest: By the streak’s end, it had gained a kind of national attention, but as a sideshow akin to the world’s largest Ball of Twine.
Sure, it’s the biggest. But what does that signify exactly?
Those who met The Streak with a sense of humor did not find an agreeable audience in Harbaugh, who left FedEx Field with a stony expression after the loss. He later lectured that media members who belittled The Streak couldn’t fathom the serious affair of playing pro football.
“You were never fighting for a spot,” he said. “And yet you have the audacity to say that the effort that someone puts into that — to fight and win something like that — was meaningless. Tell me that was meaningless out there, what you just saw. If you like football, was that a meaningless football game? I can’t respect anyone that says that, because the effort is what I’m proud of.”
Harbaugh’s passion feels a little outsized: It’s not like the Ravens are going to hang a banner, or put those preseason standouts in the Ring of Honor. But still, there’s something there — something hard to quite articulate — behind all those wins that, separately, mean little, but together seem to mean a lot.
The Streak begins to have meaning when you realize how many times it came close to ending.
There was that night in Indianapolis, when Levine’s unlikely two-point return (and a missed 62-yard field goal by Pat McAfee, who you might forget was a kicker before turning into a media maven). The next year, the Ravens sweated out another missed kick in a one-point win over New Orleans — a 59-yard attempt by Will Lutz (earlier in the game, he had a kick blocked by a defensive lineman named Patrick Ricard).
The Ravens won five games by one point in The Streak. Four times, their wins were decided by stuffing the opponent on an attempted two-point conversion — the last such game was earlier this month in a one-point win against the Eagles, who we had last seen playing in the Super Bowl. Before Slye’s field goal, they were on track to win by a failed two-point attempt again, thanks to Kyu Kelly’s goal line stuff.
In between nail-biters, the Ravens also dominated opponents: They only shut out one team (a 29-0 win over Jacksonville in 2019), but they had five games of 30 or more points, and seven games where they held opponents to a touchdown or less. The Ravens outscored their foes by 291 points during The Streak, an average of 12 points per game.
So much has changed since The Streak began. Only Ronnie Stanley and Justin Tucker have remained on the playing roster throughout the entire stretch. Current standouts like Marlon Humphrey, Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews all flashed early hints of their brilliance to come.
The opportunity to win and shine, Tucker said, was something the team — through hundreds of different players across seven years — always tried to seize on.
“These games do mean something to us,” he said. “Anybody who says otherwise just does not know the experience.”
It is tempting to infuse The Streak with all kinds of significance: about the hit rate of the franchise’s front office, or its coaching stability under Harbaugh, or the culture that’s been handed down by players for longer than The Streak itself. Maybe it’s a tribute to Tucker, who has provided the deciding points whether the results count or not. It may say something about how teams play in the preseason, and how the Ravens don’t beat themselves.
It’s likely a mix of all of those things.
Here’s maybe the most telling detail: When Slye’s kick sailed through, Tucker said he didn’t feel some profound sense that The Streak was coming to an end. He was feeling disappointment that the Ravens were about to lose at all.
“I would hope if you’re a true professional, you’re thinking about this moment in time, this play, this football game,” he said. “And that’s probably a big part of the reason why we were able to win so many of these games. And why we, as an organization, had a lot of success — not just in the preseason, but in the regular season.”
The Streak surely meant something, if only that the Baltimore Ravens fight like hell to win every time they’re on the field.
That’s one thing you can take from the preseason — even if you can’t take the wins themselves.