Don't sleep on these Ravens just yet

Posted Dec. 12, 2012 @ 4:22 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

People love the 9-4 Colts’ story this season, and why wouldn’t they?

The 9-4 Packers remain Super Bowl front-runners, especially in the suddenly shaky NFC.

But the 9-4 Ravens? They’re being sold off like Facebook stock. Treated like fool’s gold. Almost no one is getting behind them.

Consider their support staff one larger than it was previously. I’m buying low, fixing to sell high with a big, fat “I told you so.”

All things related to evenhandedness, of course — I remain a working member of the media and do not root — but people are giving up on them too soon, it says right here.

You understand some of the reasons why. In recent weeks they have:

Not exactly the salad days, I understand.

But great teams often emerge from dark places. And often late in the season. They fight through turmoil, injury and heartbreak to find their greatness.

No one understands this more than John Harbaugh. (And Lewis … and Joe Flacco … etc.)

Harbaugh remains one of the NFL’s finest coaches, remember, and he should be credited with a bold move, removing Cam Cameron as OC. Cameron, by most indications, is a good football coach. But this team has stagnated offensively. A change had to be made.

Jim Caldwell appears to have Flacco’s trust. They can revive the no-huddle if they want, just as Caldwill did when he coached Peyton Manning — let Flacco do his thing. Two of the final three regular-season games are at home, where the no-huddle has functioned best, and the playoff game — assuming the Ravens win the AFC North — will be in Baltimore, too.

The Ravens have been through a gantlet lately and remain standing. Since the bye, they have faced a stiff challenge almost every week (except against the hapless Raiders) and have won 4-of-6. Their two losses were by three points apiece.

We’ll find out how they stack up in a serious trio of tests down the home stretch. Denver this weekend. The Giants in two weeks. Week 17 at Cincy. Doesn’t get much tougher than that. Each of those teams has something left to accomplish, assuming the Bengals hang in the race.

Let’s say for a moment the Ravens stand toe to toe with the Broncos and Manning this weekend. If they face off again in a month, regardless of the first result, the Ravens will know they can win the rematch.

Sure, the Ravens were thumped by the Texans this season. But that was back in mid-October. You watched Houston Monday night — did that look like the same team? The Texans don’t have nearly the same bite now.

And the team that clobbered Houston, the Patriots, lost to the Ravens earlier this season and have had trouble matching up with them in recent years. I might mention that Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff and Sterling Moore would be nowhere near a Patriots-Ravens rematch in this year’s playoffs.

In some ways, the Ravens remind me — distantly — of the 2007 and ’11 Giants. Both of those teams were left for dead late in the season, even later than now. They had a talented but erratic quarterback capable of big performances but also big clunkers. A run game that ran hot and cold. A defense that disappeared for stretches but reminded you with glimpses of their greatness. A head coach that often looked stubborn and unyielding but more often than not had his team ready to play in big moments. Leadership. A good mix of young and old. Players you just don't feel comfortable betting against in the clutch. The comparisons are there.

It’s far too soon to write the Ravens’ obit. They can get hot offensively. The highly confident Flacco believes it. Rice can be reintroduced to the fourth quarter. The defense could get Suggs and Lewis back on the field. Haloti Ngata could pull a 2011 Vince Wilfork and just will his team to a Super Bowl. Maybe Ed Reed can summon up one more great January. The pieces are there. Harbaugh knows it.

The problem is not enough people are recognizing it now. The Ravens have one gasp left. Expect it to be a pretty big one.