PRESTON: There's no sugar-coating it, the 0-2 Ravens are in deep trouble
As soon as the final whistle sounded, the look on coach John Harbaugh's face told the story. He shook his head, looked at the ground and then looked at the scoreboard.
And then he shook his head in disbelief again.
During his eight years with the Ravens, Harbaugh has had to get his team to dig itself out of some holes, but none as deep as the Ravens found themselves in Sunday after losing to the Oakland Raiders, 37-33. They call this stadium the black hole, and that's where the Ravens are right now.
They are in deep trouble.
The Ravens are winless in their first two games and about 10 percent of the teams that started 0-2 since 2007 have made it to the playoffs. No one wants to throw in the towel this early in the season and the Ravens certainly won't, but Sunday's game against Oakland was as close to a "must-win" as possible.
"You can say it's challenging being 0-2, but it can also be challenging going 2-0," Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr. said. "We still have to go out there, we still have opponents. Despite our record, our opponents and dates are set. And we have to show up. We can't pack it in; we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to go out there and make plays, we have to play better and be grown men."
Five of the Ravens' first seven games are on the road, and now they face a stretch of three straight AFC North opponents — Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. If that wasn't trouble enough, the Ravens then go back out West to play consecutive games at San Francisco and Arizona.
In the past, whenever the Ravens were in trouble, they could always count on defense. They had Ray Lewis and they had Ed Reed. They could intimidate opponents with toughness and swagger, and shut down the opposition's offense until their own offense came around.
But that's not the situation anymore.
If it were, the Ravens would have blasted the Raiders, which had just 183 passing yards and 63 rushing yards in a season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals a week ago. Instead, the Ravens made Oakland second year-quarterback Derek Carr look like former Raiders great Daryle Lamonica and Michael Crabtree like Fred Biletnikoff.
The Raiders had 448 yards of total offense and scoring drives of 80, 80, 84 and 80 yards, the last of which started with 2:10 left that served as the game winner. It's one thing to lose to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos defense, but another to lose to Oakland, a team threatening to leave the city for a new stadium in Los Angeles. The Raiders haven't had a winning season since 2002.
What's even more disturbing is the way the Ravens lost. They spent a great deal of the offseason trying to upgrade their secondary by signing cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Kendrick Lewis. They were hoping that starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb would bounce back from major injuries a year ago. But they all got toasted Sunday.
In press coverage, Smith allowed rookie receiver Amari Cooper to get off the line of scrimmage cleanly and catch a 68-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Webb? He folds like aluminum foil every week. Arrington struggled to get off blocks on quick screens.
Some will blame the inept defense on the absence of Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was lost for the season last week after suffering a torn Achilles tendon. But that's a joke. Suggs can't play cornerback or defensive tackle. Suggs wasn't even playing that well.
It's almost like the Ravens worked in reverse from a week ago. In the loss to the Broncos, the defense played well and the offense was a no-show. But deep down, there was always a belief that the offense just had a bad day and it was going to get better.
After watching the Ravens defense Sunday, there isn't that confidence. The group will improve, but not like we're used to seeing in Baltimore.
Offensively, there was significant improvement from a week ago. As expected when he plays poorly the week before, quarterback Joe Flacco played well. He spread the ball around, got other receivers — Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and tight end Crockett Gillmore — involved in the offense. Backup running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was a good replacement for Justin Forsett in the second half, especially when the Ravens needed to run with power and use some time.
Were the Ravens that good on offense and Oakland that bad on defense? That's a tough question, but at least the Ravens showed improvement.
"We have to take it one game at a time," Flacco said. "We're not going to be able to get to 2-2, 3-2, 4-2, along the week. We have a tough road ahead and we to take it one week at a time. We have to take it one back, one back, one back and claw your way into it. We've been in tough spots before; we just have to make sure we keep our head down. We have to stay tight knit."
The Ravens won't give up. It's not an impossible task to get into the postseason. In fact, they will work harder because this franchise has always had resolve and Harbaugh has thrived in times like these. But the Ravens have never been in a hole this deep during the Harbaugh tenure.
It's hard to get out.