They have lasted only briefly this fall, shining bright across NFL scoreboards before bowing to this season’s natural order. They occur randomly, sometimes early, sometimes late, but rarely repeating in the same afternoon. They are the NFL’s once-in-a-blue-moon event.
They are, of course, those moments in a season when the Ravens are, incredibly, unbelievably, somehow losing.
Over nine games and nearly 549 minutes of game clock this season, the Ravens have trailed for just 28 minutes, 46 seconds — not far off the average runtime of an episode of “Schitt’s Creek,” which isn’t too far off in describing where most Ravens opponents have found themselves.
By record, the 7-2 Ravens are not the NFL’s best team; the Philadelphia Eagles are 8-1, and the 7-2 Kansas City Chiefs enter Week 10 with the inside track to the AFC’s top seed. By process, however, the Ravens are in historic territory. According to TruMedia, no team since 2000 has trailed for less time over the first nine games of their season. Only five others have trailed for less than an hour.
“My mom always says, ‘Get the lead, keep the lead,’” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “I’m going to stick with that. Mom’s advice is always the best advice.”
The Ravens haven’t had much trouble lately. On Sunday, they waited until early in the second quarter to take the lead on the Seattle Seahawks, then never let up in a 37-3 win. In Week 7, they entered the second quarter with a commanding 14-0 advantage on the Detroit Lions. In Week 6, they inched ahead of the Tennessee Titans with first-quarter field goals before seizing control just before halftime.
Even the Ravens’ last deficit was short-lived. In Week 8, they allowed a first-quarter touchdown to the Arizona Cardinals — the only such score the defense has surrendered this season — on the game’s opening possession. Less than six minutes later, the Ravens answered with a touchdown themselves, their first salvo in a 24-0 run.
A fast-starting offense and stifling defense have made toeholds hard to find and even harder to keep. The Ravens have outscored opponents 62-13 in the first quarter, by far the NFL’s best margin, and 73-32 in the second quarter, the league’s third-best margin. With each passing drive Sunday, the Seahawks’ hopes of catching up to the Ravens seemed to fade, their journey to some far-off summit weighed down with heavier and heavier equipment.
“I believe our whole team is just locked in, every phase — special teams, defense, offense,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said Wednesday. “Each and every week, I believe, we’ve gotten better. There are certain things in the games — when we finish with games — we’re hard on ourselves about. But, at the end of the day, we’re trying to get wins, and I believe, us just knowing each and every week is a championship game to us, that’s pretty much what it is. We’re treating every game like a championship game until we’re finally there.”
The Ravens’ two losses stand as testimony to how rare wire-to-wire dominance is. In Week 3, they struggled to sustain a fast start against the Colts, entering halftime with a 10-7 deficit. The Ravens led for most of the fourth quarter but couldn’t put Indianapolis away. In overtime, they twice took over near midfield, only to lose on a 53-yard field goal with just over a minute left.
Two weeks later, the Ravens led for nearly 50 minutes of their game in Pittsburgh — just not at the end. The Steelers chipped away at the Ravens’ early 10-0 lead until, finally, with 77 seconds remaining, they leapfrogged their divisional rival on quarterback Kenny Pickett’s 41-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens. That was all the time Pittsburgh needed for a 17-10 win.
Outside linebacker Odafe Oweh said the Ravens’ close games have helped instill in the team the discipline to “just dominate our opponent.” Inside linebacker Patrick Queen, who starred on a powerhouse LSU squad in 2019, acknowledged that a second-half comeback in a midseason game against Florida — one of the Tigers’ few competitive matchups that season — helped propel the team to a national title.
“It was just a huge confidence boost for our defense, just knowing that we could actually stop people,” Queen said. “I think, in the beginning of the year, we were letting up scores and stuff. … Florida didn’t score that second half, and then we went on a little run shutting teams down and whatnot. Anytime you just get on a roll like that, you’ve got the confidence rolling and everybody’s communicating, everybody’s flowing on one page, it’s just something special to see.”
How special? Historical precedent suggests the Ravens could be playing for a while. The 2010 Green Bay Packers, who trailed for just 46 minutes over their first nine games, won the Super Bowl. The 2021 Buffalo Bills, who trailed for just 48 minutes, might’ve won it, too, if not for the Chiefs’ clutch 13-second field goal drive in their divisional-round meeting. The 2007 Patriots, who trailed for just 51 minutes, went 16-0 and were a David Tyree catch away from another title.
But fortunes in the NFL change quickly. The Ravens rarely trailed for long over the first half of last season, which they started 6-3. But, after their bye week, Jackson’s knee injury torpedoed the offense. The team limped into the playoffs with a 10-7 record and losses in three of its final four games. Its stay in the playoffs was short.
On Sunday comes another challenge: a 5-3 Cleveland Browns team with a dominant defense and a healthy franchise quarterback. Deshaun Watson missed their first meeting, a 28-3 home loss in Week 4. The Ravens never trailed in that one, either.
“The way we come out to practice, day in and day out, just like today as well as out on game day, just being able to roll from the first snap until the last snap — I feel like, once you do that, you set yourself up for success,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “And I feel like that’s what we’re doing.”
Added Oweh: “We can beat teams — any team.” He reiterated a message defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has given the defense: “You got to finish the play or the game in a dominant position.”
So far, so good. The Ravens have spent most of this season peering down on their opponents.