LONDON — In September 2017, a few hours before a nightmarish game, Michael Pierce started to dream.

The Ravens were bussing over from their team hotel to London’s Wembley Stadium ahead of a Week 3 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Pierce, then a second-year defensive lineman, was tired. The Ravens had arrived in London only two mornings earlier for the franchise’s first-ever international game. The five-hour time difference was taking some getting used to; Pierce recalled that his sleep schedule was “screwed.”

“When you don’t sleep, everything’s kind of off,” Pierce said Friday.

On the 45-minute ride over to the stadium, Pierce dozed off. “A deep sleep,” he called it.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

When he realized he’d conked out just hours before a game in which he’d collide with 300-pound offensive linemen and chase after No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette, “I knew I was kind of in trouble.”

Nothing could jolt the Ravens out of their torpor that day. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey, then a rookie, recalled recently on his podcast that “it was like we were just moving in slow motion.” The Ravens’ 44-7 loss to the Jaguars is still the team’s biggest margin of defeat under 16th-year coach John Harbaugh, who a day later told reporters in Owings Mills: “Don’t plan on going over there anytime soon to play again.”

Team officials had six years to formulate a new plan. When the Ravens learned this spring that they’d be returning to London for a Week 5 game against the Tennessee Titans, they channeled their inner George Costanza: Why not do the opposite? they thought. Why not fly out as early in the week as possible?

“It’s mostly driven by the fact that we didn’t do well [in 2017],” Harbaugh said Friday, three days before the team left for its Monday morning transatlantic flight. “There’s no data — and we looked for it — to say when you should go out there and what’s the ideal thing. I’ll say this kind of in jest: ‘What’s the science on that?’ As often is the case, they really don’t know. That’s just the way it is.”

When the Ravens flew to London in 2017, time management proved an issue. They’d practiced hours earlier at their team facility, following their normal midweek schedule. With an evening departure, the team’s sleeping window was its seven-hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

A Baltimore Ravens fan and Jacksonville Jaguar fan pose together ahead of the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on Sept. 24, 2017 in London, England. (Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

But not all the Ravens slept — or at least, not all of them slept well. On his podcast, Humphrey said “everyone” was tired when they arrived. Players didn’t have time to rest, either. “Don’t go to sleep! We got practice in an hour!” Humphrey recalled the team being told. “I’m like, ‘Freak.’”

“There was preparation as far as how to get your sleep back and get used to the time zone and everything like that, but it was tough,” said defensive lineman Brent Urban, then a fourth-year veteran. “It was tough to adjust to. As soon as we landed, we were practicing. It just felt like the whole time, we were trying to adjust to the time zone, you know what I mean? It was a learning experience.”

Added Pierce: “That was kind of the hardest thing to deal with.”

Pierce acknowledged being “naive” about how the time change would affect him. When people travel across several time zones, their circadian rhythms, which regulate their body’s internal 24-hour clock, notably their sleep-wake patterns, need time to adjust.

Jet lag can have a profound effect on athletic performance. According to a recent narrative review of the importance of circadian rhythm published in the scientific journal Heliyon, a “body of literature indicates that the peak performance of essential indicators of sports performance is primarily in the afternoon hours, and the evening of actions occurs roughly at the peak of core body temperature.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Ravens’ game Sunday at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will kick off at 2:30 p.m. local time, as it did six years ago. This time, the hope is that it should actually feel like an afternoon start.

“Hopefully, in a week, we get in pretty good shape,” Harbaugh said. “We’re playing basically at 9:30 in the morning [the kickoff time in the Eastern Time Zone]. … We’ve slept there [in London] six nights; you’d like to think we’ll be pretty well ready to go. I think that’s probably a big part of the decision to try and do it this way. Other teams go in there and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to mess with it. We’ll just stay on our own clock and play at 9:30 and we’ll get in and out. We don’t have to deal with it.’ It’s just kind of two schools of thought.”

The Titans, like the 2017 Ravens, are flying out after practice Thursday. By the time they touch down in London, the Ravens will have already spent three nights at their team hotel and practiced twice at Tottenham’s training facility.

Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars breaks through the Baltimore Ravens defense during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on Sept. 24, 2017 in London, England. (Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Tuesday was a day off for the team; players could explore the city, hang out with family, whatever they pleased. On Instagram, quarterback Lamar Jackson published a short video of a London street, a stream of passersby unaware that a one-time NFL Most Valuable Player was in their midst. Rookie offensive lineman Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu shared a photo from the London Eye, one of the tallest cantilevered observation wheels in the world. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman went shopping. Left guard John Simpson dined out for a meaty lunch.

And a few teammates, undoubtedly, took a good nap.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“We just got there so close to the game [in 2017], I feel like we were just trying to catch up on sleep the whole time,” Urban said. “Where this time, we’re leaving really early. I’m looking forward — we got a day off in London to kind of get used to the sleep schedule, ease into practice, meetings, that whole thing. It will be nice to kind of do it like a regular week. We’re just in a different place.”

Baltimore Banner reporter Giana Han contributed to this article.

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

More From The Banner