Welcome to Ravens Reality Check, where we leave the national hot takes in the walk-in fridge in neatly labeled Tupperware so we can find them later.

Only … the national takes might not be the hottest ones this week.

Heaven knows I love trafficking in the waffling of high-paid, high-wattage TV pundits such as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who went from saying Lamar Jackson had to prove his greatness in the playoffs to saying he had nothing to prove to screaming that he choked within a matter of months. But heartbreak — like the kind Baltimore fans experienced last weekend — can lead us down odd rabbit holes, like the ones I’m about to highlight.

Ravens fans need time and perspective. Here’s the latter.

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1. The Ravens should have fired John Harbaugh and hired Mike Macdonald to be the head coach!

I’ll admit I was feeling a bit of a knot in my throat when the Seattle Seahawks started sharing videos of Macdonald and his wife walking into the team building, promising, “We’re gonna be here a long time and win a lot of football games.”

It felt wrong. Here was Macdonald, who came of age as a coach in the Ravens organization (albeit going to Michigan for a seasonlong sabbatical). The marriage of Macdonald’s cutting-edge schemes with the Ravens’ defensive identity just felt right.

But fire Harbaugh to promote Macdonald, a move that gained steam among vocal fans in the last month or two? Show me how this makes sense.

At 61, Harbaugh is probably undervalued. First of all, he’s won a Super Bowl. Only seven coaches have won at least one since 2013, when the Ravens last lifted the Lombardi Trophy — four of them have been fired from the teams they won with or retired. There are only 14 head coaches in NFL history who have a higher winning percentage than Harbaugh (.618) and have also won a Super Bowl, and only four of them are active.

It is hard to sustain the level of success Harbaugh has achieved as head coach of the Ravens, much less get to the playoffs as much as Baltimore does. Fire Harbaugh after getting the second No. 1 seed in five years, when the Ravens were a score away from possibly going to the Super Bowl? That is reactionary decision-making at its worst.

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Not to mention that Harbaugh has been down this road before. Zach Orr will be his seventh defensive coordinator, and Macdonald is the third Ravens DC under Harbaugh to be hired as a head coach. Rex Ryan (.480) and Chuck Pagano (.552) had moderate success as head coaches but never achieved the heights Harbaugh has enjoyed with the Ravens.

It’s hard to win in the NFL. Harbaugh’s tenure has coincided with Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, quarterbacks who have spawned dynasties. And yet the Ravens are in the playoffs a lot more than not and this year rose above the toughest division in football for a No. 1 seed. The AFC championship game was undoubtedly a disappointment, but even getting to that stage is an enviable position for most teams.

We are going to find out if Macdonald is the coordinator who outruns Harbaugh as a head coach. But he’s never been a head coach before, a much different job than week-to-week game planning. It would be bad business for the Ravens to dismiss a head coach who has established a consistent culture for two decades to hire a coordinator who is promising but still a gamble.

Best of luck to Macdonald, who earned this opportunity as the youngest head coach in the NFL. But it could not have been head coach of the Baltimore Ravens as long as the one they’ve got is game to keep coaching.

2. The NFL put in the fix for the Chiefs!

Folks, we all watched the same game. We know why the Ravens lost. The offense, which had been pretty great for most of the year, was simply not good enough.

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Yes, you can look at missed calls on Isaiah Likely or Rashod Bateman. Maybe you think the calls on Kyle Van Noy or Jadeveon Clowney were soft (I disagree when you look at the tape). There was a disparity in penalty yardage, 95 for the Ravens and 30 for the Chiefs.

But those plays were not nearly as consequential as Zay Flowers’ goal-line fumble or Jackson’s end-zone interception. The Ravens were indeed one score from pushing the defending Super Bowl champs to the brink but could not cash in. You’d think, also, if there was a fix, the Chiefs would have been able to score one time in the second half – but nope.

In the end, Kansas City did not need the officials’ help.

The idea that the NFL is banking on Taylor Swift traffic to make their little championship game into a ratings bonanza is overblown. Yes, the Chiefs will spark ratings; we know this because of how this season has gone. But the freakin’ Super Bowl always kills the ratings. Last year was a huge spike for Chiefs-Eagles with an average of 112 million viewers — long before Travis Kelce was dating Swift.

The NFL has benefited from the star couple, but let’s not kid ourselves — the league mints money either way, and sure seems to be on pace to reach its goal of making $25 billion in a year by 2027. The idea that the league would undermine the integrity of the game for Swifties to tune in for one Super Bowl (an event the entire country watches anyway) is laughable.

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But the larger point is the Ravens didn’t play well enough to justify this conspiracy theory in the first place. Please put away the corkboard and string.

3. Lamar Jackson will never get the Ravens to a Super Bowl!

As alluded, we live in an era of quarterback greatness. If a quarterback is not Brady or Mahomes, it warps our sense of what he has accomplished.

Peyton Manning was 30 when he first won the Super Bowl. Drew Brees was 31. John Elway was 37. Even Joe Flacco was 28 when he broke through.

Sticking with Flacco for a second: Before his Super Bowl year, he had thrown as many touchdowns (8) as interceptions in the playoffs.

In the NFL, you’re a loser who can’t win in the playoffs — until suddenly you aren’t.

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No one is saying Jackson’s AFC championship game performance is satisfactory. It clearly wasn’t good enough. But Jackson is just 27, and he happened to go against the one quarterback in the NFL who has played in these high-level games a lot. The trouble is Mahomes is not going away, but still, really think about it — the Ravens were one score away from possibly going to the Super Bowl. We know Jackson is capable of playing better because we’ve seen it.

Just not yet in the postseason.

At a certain point, franchises must choose their fighter. Jackson, who is about to win his second MVP and has made history for how great a dual threat he is, is a great fighter to have. He’s evolved into a better passer. He has great tools. He can probably look at the Chiefs game film and diagnose what went wrong.

In the moment, he wasn’t very good. He’s given Baltimore fans no reason to think he can’t get better.

It’s difficult to let an opportunity like the one the Ravens just had slip away. But, in the Super Bowl year, the Ravens were just 10-6 in the regular season, then Flacco and the team found another gear to launch themselves to Super Bowl glory.

For the fans who are frustrated with the feeling that Jackson’s playoff history is repeating itself, it’s conveniently dismissive of the ways that Jackson has grown in his Baltimore tenure. He gives the Ravens a shot to be in big games every year, and thus the franchise has to bank that one of these years could still be his postseason breakout.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum. 

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