At 0-2, Ravens face unprecedented challenge under Harbaugh
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh has dealt with all sorts of challenges during his eight-year tenure as coach of the Baltimore Ravens — none of which involved digging his team out of an 0-2 hole.
That's the unique and unwanted situation he's in now after a miserable trip west resulted in defeats at Denver and Oakland.
The Ravens returned home Sunday night after a 37-33 loss to the Raiders that left Baltimore alone in last place in the AFC North. The Ravens haven't been 0-2 since 2005, and never have been 0-3.
"We're going to have to work from the position we're in and improve and find a way to win," Harbaugh said Monday.
The two successive losses aren't the only unprecedented facet of this season for Harbaugh. Instead of bringing the team home after the Denver game, he held practice in California — a first for this organization — to prepare for the Raiders.
Harbaugh said the team might reconsider its original plan to stay out west next month between successive games at San Francisco and Arizona. Baltimore faces the 49ers on Oct. 18 and Arizona on Monday, Oct. 26.
"If we go, it will be because us and the players think it's the best thing. If we don't, it will be because we'd rather get back in our home confines," Harbaugh said. "If it was a short week, it would be a no-brainer to stay out there. When it's a long week, it becomes a little bit of a decision."
Next on the schedule: A home game against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals, who handled Oakland 33-13 on the road before defeating San Diego on Sunday.
"Obviously the games don't get easier," guard Marshal Yanda said. "We've got Cincinnati coming to town and they're playing good football."
The Ravens reached the postseason in six of Harbaugh's first seven seasons despite enduring significant stretches without several key players — including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Jimmy Smith. Last year, there was the Ray Rice suspension to deal with.
This season, the challenge is to get over the loss of Suggs — who tore his Achilles tendon in Denver — and bouncing back from 0-2.
"We've got to go forward," Harbaugh said. "We have every opportunity to accomplish what we need to accomplish. We just have to get better."
The perplexing aspect of the two losses is that they featured alternatingly poor performances by the offense and defense. Against Denver, the Ravens failed to notch a touchdown on offense. At Oakland, Baltimore put up 493 yards and made 29 first downs.
But the defense couldn't come up with a key stop.
"We had missed tackles, we had missed assignments, we had breakdowns in coverage, we had missed alignments. We played about as unsound as you can play in a lot of different ways," Harbaugh said. "If we're going to have a chance to be a successful football team, our defense is going to have to step up and play the way the Ravens play. We expect to play great defense around here, and that's just not what we did on Sunday."
The Ravens made a move to enhance the pass defense Monday by acquiring cornerback Will Davis from Miami for a seventh-round draft pick. Davis is a third-year player who has been slowed by injuries and has yet to start an NFL game.
It would be convenient for the Ravens to blame their lapse on the loss of Suggs, a sack-specialist who is lost for the season. But the players won't use that as an excuse.
"Even if he was there we still would have needed to do a little more to get the job done," safety Will Hill said.
The schedule-maker did not do the Ravens any favors by putting them on the road in back-to-back games to open the season, and it doesn't get any easier in the weeks ahead.
After hosting the Bengals, Baltimore faces Pittsburgh on the road in a Thursday night game. Then there's a home game against Cleveland, followed by those consecutive games against San Francisco and Arizona.
The reward is that six of the last nine games are at home. But that won't do the Ravens much good if they don't put themselves in position for a stretch run.
"We've got to get better as a team — and fast," Yanda said. "That's the bottom line. There's no magical formula."