The sports fairy tale, made popular by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, is that a team takes its lumps in the playoffs and then fights its way over the hill and to a championship.
That’s nice in theory, but it doesn’t always happen. Especially in the NFL.
Two seasons ago, the Baltimore Ravens got to the playoffs with then-rookie Lamar Jackson and lost in the wild-card round. Last season, they went 14-2 and were stunned by the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.
The Ravens had a lot coming back, added a few more key pieces, and it looked like this could be their year. Instead, they’ve already exceeded last season’s loss total. If there’s a hard-earned championship coming, the Ravens are going to have to get a lot better before January.
Baltimore looked bad on Sunday night against a New England Patriots team that is having its worst season since 2000. Jackson, the MVP last season, is nowhere near that award this season. The Ravens hung around because the Patriots aren’t equipped to blow a good team out, but they still lost 23-17.
The Ravens aren’t bad, but they’ve taken a step back. And offensive coordinator Greg Roman might start to feel heat for it.
Ravens offense is struggling
There have been gripes about the offense in public ways. Marquise Brown tweeted his displeasure at his role, though he predictably deleted that. Jackson made a startling comment that defenses were calling out what the Ravens were going to run.
“They know what we’re doing,” Jackson said on “The Rich Eisen Show.” “Sometimes stuff won’t go our way if they’re beating us to the punch.”
If there’s a coach who can take advantage of a predictable offense, even with a defense that’s undermanned, it’s Bill Belichick. Brown was absent from the offense again. Jackson ran more than he has in some games this season, but didn’t get any big plays with his feet.
When the Ravens tried to get tricky, it didn’t make any sense. The Ravens have the quarterback who holds the single-season rushing record at his position, and on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, they ran a wildcat formation. Running back Mark Ingram couldn’t grab the snap, he had to fall on it and the Patriots took over. Later in the third quarter, when the Ravens hit a long pass to Mark Andrews, it came back because of illegal formation penalty for not having enough players on the line of scrimmage. It was a sloppy game for the Ravens, and not entirely because of the rain.
Roman had a great 2019. The Ravens ranked first in points, second in yards and set an NFL single-season record for rushing yards by a team. He has done great work through his career, especially with mobile quarterbacks. However, even with most of the key pieces back aside from retired guard Marshal Yanda, the Ravens’ offense looks nowhere near what it was a year ago. It’s stale, and a lack of execution by Jackson and everyone else hasn’t helped. We’ll see if more fingers start being pointed, and if Roman gets the brunt of it.
Patriots do enough on offense to win
The Patriots’ offense isn’t exactly unpredictable anymore. They have very little in the passing game. New England needs to run on most of its plays to have any hope for success. And the Ravens still couldn’t stop it.
Baltimore gave up yards in chunks to Damien Harris, New England’s latest back off their assembly line. The Patriots hit the one key pass they needed, a trick throw from receiver Jakobi Meyers to running back Rex Burkhead for a 24-yard touchdown right before halftime.
The Ravens had chances to win it in the fourth quarter but couldn’t put a drive together. One crucial drive stalled after another bad shotgun snap flew past Jackson and he had to fall on it for a huge loss.
The Ravens are 6-3 but haven’t been efficient in any way, at least compared to last season. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 9-0 with a win over the Ravens, and that seems like an almost insurmountable lead in the AFC North.
The Patriots probably aren’t going anywhere in a tough AFC. They’re 4-5 after Sunday’s win, at least alive after a couple wins in a row. It seems like the Ravens might not be going very far either. The Ravens blew a great chance last season. Despite the popular myth, it’s not a given that the next step for a team after playoff failure will be forward.
Bill Belichick through his career
CIRCA 1995: Defensive Coordinator Bill Belichick of the New York Giants in this portrait circa 1985. Belichick was an assistant coach for the Giants from 1979-85. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) February 5, 1991-Berea, Ohio: Bill Belichick talks to reporters as he is announced as Cleveland Browns head coach.
PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 18: Head coach Bill Belichick of the Cleveland Browns looks on from the sideline during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium on December 18, 1994 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Browns 17-7. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS – JANUARY 20: As Patriots coach Bill Parcells is the first one off the team bus, heading into practice at Tulane University, Bill Belichick, assistant head coach, follows behind. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
27 Jan 1997: Defensive coordinator Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots prior to the Pats’ 35-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI at the Superdome in New Orleans, LA. (Photo by Sporting News/Sporting News via Getty Images)
HEMPSTEAD, NY – FEBRUARY 4: Bill Belichick, former assistant coach of the New England Patriots, appears at a press conference at the New York Jets training facility 04 February after being named the new head coach of the team. It was also announced that former Patriots head coach Bill Parcells has been hired as a consultant to the Jets . AFP PHOTO/Malcolm CLARKE (Photo credit should read MALCOLM CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NY – DECEMBER 19: New York Jets’ defensive coordinator Bill Belichick hugs Jets defensive end Anthony Pleasant at the conclusion of the Jets’ 17-10 win over the Buffalo Bills to clinch the AFC East championship at Orchard Park, NY 19 December. Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw two touchdown passes for the victory. (Photo credit should read WAYNE SCARBERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
HEMPSTEAD, NY – JANUARY 4: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New York Jets resigns from the job at a press conference just one day after accepting the position at Hempstead, New York on January 4, 2000. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA – AUGUST 14: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks with his starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe as back up John Friesz watches during Monday afternoon’s practice session in Foxboro. (Photo by John Bohn/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Staff photo by Gregory Rec — Thursday, January 31, 2001 — Bill Belichick listens to a question during a press conference on Thursday. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 18: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds a sideline meeting with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s NFL preseason game with the Carolina Panthers played in Charlotte. (Photo by John Bohn/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, UNITED STATES: New England Patriots’ players (L-R) Anthony Pleasant, Tebucky Jones, Ty Law and Tedy Bruschi douse head coach Bill Belichick (C) with ice water at the end of the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers 27 January, 2002, at Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh. The Patriots beat the Steelers 24-17 to advance to the Super Bowl. AFP PHOTO/Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, UNITED STATES: New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with head coach Bill Belichick (R) after their win over the St. Louis Rams 03 February, 2002 in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Patriots defeated the Rams 20-17 for the NFL championship. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : US President George W. Bush (L) and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick (R) are joined by the 2002 National Football League Super Bowl Champions New England Patriots in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC 02 April 2002. Between Bush and Belichick is Patriots cornerback Terrell Buckley. AFP PHOTO Luke FRAZZA (Photo credit should read LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES – OCTOBER 19: Football: Closeup of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick upset during game vs Miami Dolphins, Miami, FL 10/19/2003 (Photo by Tom DiPace/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (SetNumber: D72840)
UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 14: Football: Closeup of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick during game with snow, weather vs Jacksonville Jaguars, Foxboro, MA 12/14/2003 (Photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (SetNumber: X69824 TK5)
UNITED STATES – FEBRUARY 01: Football: Super Bowl XXXVIII, (L-R) New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, David Givens, and Tedy Bruschi victorious after game vs Carolina Panthers, Houston, TX 2/1/2004 (Photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (SetNumber: X70040 TK4 R6 F47)
HOUSTON, TX – FEBRUARY 1: Bill Belichick holds up the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the game. New England Patriots face the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX on Feb. 1, 2004. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds the two Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophies during a victory rally held for the team in Boston, February 3, 2004. The Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers 32-29 on Sunday was their second Super Bowl victory in the last three years. REUTERS/Jim Bourg JRB
New England quarterback Tom Brady walks off the field past coach Bill Belichick in the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh on October 31, 2004. REUTERS/Pam Panchak JC/JDP
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (L) and linebacker Willie McGinest celebrate after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 41-27 in the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 23, 2005. The Patriots will meet the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Florida on February 6, 2005. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith JM
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates a fourth quarter Patriots’ pass interception by safety Rodney Harrison on a Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovon McNabb pass, during Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Florida, February 6, 2005. The Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four seasons, defeating the Eagles, 24-21. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine REUTERS GAC
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy as he celebrates his team’s Super Bowl XXXIX victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Jacksonville, Florida, February 6, 2005. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2005
U.S. President George W. Bush (front row, 3rd L) poses for a group picture with players and officials from the New England Patriots football team, including team owner Robert Kraft (2nd L) and head coach Bill Belichick (front row C) during a welcoming ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 13, 2005. The Patriots won the 2005 Super Bowl earlier this year.
New England coach Bill Belichick watches from the sidelines during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania September 25, 2005. The Patriots beat the Steelers 23-20. REUTERS/Pam Panchak
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reacts during the second quarter of the NFL’s AFC Championship football game against the San Diego Chargers in Foxborough, Massachusetts January 20, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES)
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick listens to questions during media day for the NFL’s Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona January 29, 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best (UNITED STATES)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches his team during the first session of their NFL football pre-season training camp in Foxborough, Massachusetts July 30, 2009. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES SPORT FOOTBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)
New England head coach Bill Belichick watches his team play against the Baltimore Ravens during the NFL AFC wild-card playoff football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts January 10, 2010. The Ravens won the game. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick yells to his players during a break in the second quarter of their NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 30, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media at the University Place Conference Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, January 29, 2012. The New York Giants will play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI on February 5. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
NFL coach Bill Belichick arrives with Linda Holliday at the Time 100 Gala in New York, April 24, 2012. The Time 100 is an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the last year complied by Time Magazine. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES – Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SPORT FOOTBALL)
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick speaks to players on the bench, against Buffalo Bills in the first quarter of their NFL football game in Orchard Park, New York September 30, 2012. REUTERS/Doug Benz (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Nov 23, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick congratulates wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) after a touchdown during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 28, 2015; Chandler, AZ, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick smiles as he answers questions during a press conference at Chandler Wild Horse Pass. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (right) celebrates with quarterback Tom Brady (12) after defeating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) holds a replica jersey he was given as he plays host to the reigning NFL Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, including head coach Bill Belichick (center L) and team owner Robert Kraft (center R), on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington April 23, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Nov 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
FOXBORO, MA – JANUARY 22: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is interviewed by Jim Nantz after his team victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)