GLENDALE, Ariz. — For all the idle chitchat about how many wins these Ravens really should have, and there has been plenty of talk over the past two months, they will enter November with six wins, which on Sunday seemed to matter a lot and also very little.

After a 31-24 win at State Farm Stadium over the Arizona Cardinals, there was no team in the AFC with a better record. The 6-2 Ravens are in a four-way tie for first, equaled by the Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. The 6-2 Ravens are atop the AFC North. The 6-2 Ravens could stumble down the stretch and still fall backward into a 10-win season and perhaps a playoff spot.

And yet: The 6-2 Ravens did not look like the AFC’s best team, as they had the week before in a demolition of the Detroit Lions. The 6-2 Ravens did not even look like the AFC North’s best team, at least not Sunday. The 6-2 Ravens were outgained by the 1-7 Cardinals, who fell short in knocking off their high-flying opponent but at least managed to send them tumbling back to earth.

“My mom always says, ‘Get the lead, keep the lead,’” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re tied for the lead [in the AFC], I guess, but it’s a long season. As we always say, ‘Nobody’s crowned after eight games.’ There’s a lot of football to be played.”

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The Ravens have earned their first-place perch. Five of their first eight games were played outside Baltimore, and their past month took them from Pittsburgh to London to Baltimore to just outside Phoenix. The travel has not been easy — defensive tackle Michael Pierce, still thrown off by the jet lag of another long flight, said he woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday — and neither has the schedule.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 29: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens throws the ball during the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Lamar Jackson throws a third-quarter pass behind good protection. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Each of the Ravens’ first seven opponents ended Sunday with at least three wins. Only the Cardinals entered Week 8 in a race to the bottom. But, between gut-punch losses and gritty wins, the Ravens have enjoyed a handful of blowouts, a rarity in an era of leaguewide parity. Only the Bills (plus-86), as of Sunday night, had a greater point differential than the Ravens (plus-81) — and 5-3 Buffalo is, for now, on the AFC’s second tier.

All of which made Sunday’s performance difficult to process. The Cardinals had a respectable offense, but the Ravens had made Pro Bowl-level quarterbacks look like second-string journeymen, and here was a second-string journeyman in Joshua Dobbs. The Cardinals had a porous defense, and here was a Ravens attack finally putting the pieces together. What chance, really, did Arizona have?

“I thought we could have taken control of this game and blown this game out,” tight end Mark Andrews said. He added: “They held on, but I think, for us, it was a good game, a pivotal game, and we’re going to work on this and get better.”

It will be a long to-do list, stretching even to special teams. The Cardinals trimmed the Ravens’ lead to 31-24 in the final minute after recovering an onside kick and nailing a 47-yard field goal. Not until wide receiver Nelson Agholor secured the ensuing kickoff with 25 seconds remaining was the game’s outcome secure.

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At times Sunday, the Ravens’ offense looked as overpowering and their defense as airtight as they had the week before, when a 38-6 home win over NFC North-leading Detroit inspired “Lamar Jackson for Most Valuable Player” segments and “Future head coach Mike Macdonald” chatter. But those stretches did not last long, nor did they ever seem to overlap.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 29: Joshua Dobbs #9 of the Arizona Cardinals fumbles the ball while being tackled by Michael Pierce #58 of the Baltimore Ravens during the third quarter at State Farm Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce hits Cardinals quarterback Joshua Dobbs, forcing a fumble. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Ravens finished with just 268 yards, 42 fewer than Arizona, which had allowed over 300 yards in every game since Week 2. Against a Cardinals team with the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense, according to FTN’s DVOA rankings, Jackson went 18-for-27 for 157 yards and a touchdown. After the first quarter, he went just 12-for-20 for 93 yards (4.7 per attempt). His best strategy at times seemed to be seeking downfield penalties on deep shots to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who finished without a catch.

But with even Harbaugh acknowledging the offense’s pass-first approach — “We were throwing the ball quite a bit in the first half” — the running game seemed an afterthought at times. The Ravens rushed for 130 yards (4.5 per carry) and three touchdowns, but they entered the fourth quarter with only 14 carries for 50 yards.

“Everybody knew [at halftime] that we got to get back to the running game,” said running back Gus Edwards, who quieted some speculation about the Ravens’ need for another running back by rushing 19 times for 80 yards and three touchdowns. “Before the game even started, just watching them on film, we definitely saw some stuff on there that we felt like we could run the ball. So I’m glad we were able to get back to that before it was too late.”

After Edwards’ second touchdown, the Ravens led 21-7 late in the third quarter. A 48-yard field goal by kicker Justin Tucker with over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter extended their margin to 17. But a Ravens defense that did not start Sunday’s game convincingly suddenly could not finish it convincingly, either.

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The Cardinals scored 17 points and racked up 175 yards in the fourth quarter. Dobbs (208 passing yards overall) went 15-for-20 for 148 yards in the final period, atoning for earlier interceptions to cornerback Brandon Stephens and safety Geno Stone with two passing scores. The Ravens’ defense had allowed six touchdowns over its first seven games. It gave up three on Sunday.

“What we preach in the defensive room, and kind of what Mike Macdonald [says], it’s about how the process is,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “If they line up and beat us, it’s one thing. But when you’re not getting lined up right, when you’re having fundamentals as far as me getting flags out there — flags are just poor fundamentals. Not lining up, not [getting] checks, the things they did to move the ball, missed tackles, it’s weird. It’s always good to win in the NFL, but the standard we’re kind of chasing, we felt like it was not that today.”

The Ravens could take solace afterward in their win, and their record, and the fact that they are not alone in their imperfections. The 6-2 Chiefs, the AFC’s prohibitive Super Bowl favorites entering Sunday, fell decisively Sunday to the Denver Broncos. The 6-2 Dolphins have a juggernaut offense but a questionable defense, one exposed again in their Week 7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The 6-2 Jaguars have two wins over teams with winning records: one in London over a jet-lagged Bills team, the other on Sunday against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that lost quarterback Kenny Pickett to injury.

The Cardinals' Antonio Hamilton Sr. tackles Zay Flowers of the Ravens during the second quarter. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With a play here, a call there, the Ravens could’ve been 7-1 or 8-0. But they are 6-2, atop the AFC. That’s not a bad place to be, no matter how they got there, no matter how they played Sunday.

“We have tough guys, guys who are willing to win and adapting to adversity, different types of weather, long flights — it’s just crazy,” Jackson said. “But I believe, our team, the sky’s the limit for us. We just have to find a way to fight within all of that chaos.”

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Injury report

Beckham (chest contusion), outside linebacker Odafe Oweh (undisclosed) and cornerback Arthur Maulet (undisclosed) all left the game and returned. Right tackle Morgan Moses did not play all of the fourth quarter, but Harbaugh said it was “a little chance to not have so many reps.” Patrick Mekari took his place.

Pick 5

Stone’s NFL-best fifth interception gave the Ravens a short field for their touchdown drive late in the third quarter. He has recorded a pick in three straight games and has four in his past five outings. Stone matched legendary safety Ed Reed’s franchise-best mark of five interceptions over the first eight games of a Ravens season.

“Geno, he’s getting a pick every week,” Humphrey said. “I was just talking on the sideline and he’s inching into that Defensive Player of the Year [conversation].”

‘Hollywood’ reunion

Former Ravens wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown had six catches on nine targets for 33 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. His late score, on which he beat safety Kyle Hamilton, cut the Ravens’ lead to 31-21.