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SCHMUCK: With rugged road ahead, Ravens' season could unravel by Oct. 1

PETER SCHMUCK
YorkDispatch


Maybe it should be some consolation that the difference between the Ravens being 2-0 instead of 0-2 can be traced to one key play in the season-opener against the Denver Broncos and one near-miss in Sunday's galling, last-minute loss to the Oakland Raiders.

In that context, it's possible to see a way out of the mess they've gotten themselves into, but there's really no way to sugarcoat this predicament.

The Ravens, as you probably have read a few times since Derek Carr carved up their rebuilt secondary, are winless after two weeks for the first time in the John Harbaugh era and the probability of them making the playoffs — based on historical precedent — is around 10 percent.

Factor in that they now must turn their attention to an undefeated Cincinnati Bengals team that torched the Raiders a week ago in Oakland, then play the high-scoring Steelers on the road just four days after that, and it's fair to wonder if their entire season could come unraveled by midnight on Oct. 1.

Admittedly, that's a pretty dreary outlook, but it's hard to think glass half-full when the entire narrative surrounding this team was turned on its head by a second-year quarterback with a sore throwing hand.

Offense, defense both struggle at times: If you recall, the big concern after the loss in Denver was the overall ineffectiveness of the offensive unit, though quarterback Joe Flacco almost overcame the disastrous interception that revived the Broncos and helped avert what could have been a dramatically uplifting road victory.

The defense got high marks for holding Peyton Manning in check and there was a collective sigh of relief after Jimmy Smith and the secondary turned in a solid all-around performance that seemed to augur very well for Sunday's matchup with the supposedly hapless Raiders.

So, if Flacco and the offense had struggled again in Oakland and the defense again had done what everyone expected it to do, it would be much easier to rationalize the loss and — presumably — much easier to figure out how to turn this supposed Super Bowl contender back in the right direction.

Instead, the stark reality is this: Flacco had a great day against a Raiders secondary that also gave up 33 points to the Bengals last week, while the Ravens defense looked almost helpless against an offense that could not do much of anything against Cincinnati. The 37 points put up by Carr and Co. was the most by the Raiders against anyone since Week 15 of the 2010 season.

In other words, there's no guarantee that the offense has been fixed and no way to know which defense will greet Andy Dalton next Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Suggs factor: It's tempting to speculate that things would have been different if Terrell Suggs had not blown another Achilles a week ago and been lost for the season, and there's some logic there. Sunday's game was decided in the final minute by a quarterback who was sacked just once, so it's OK to believe that Suggs might have kept Carr from getting so comfortable throwing the ball.

There had been some debate during the buildup to Week 2 whether the loss of Suggs would affect the Ravens more from an emotional standpoint or a competitive one, considering that he is nearing the end of his great career. It appeared that the answer was both on Sunday, but — to be fair — both sides of that question are unquantifiable. And, anyway, what difference does it make at this point?

The Ravens certainly missed him, as they did the last time he was out for an extended period, but they have a history of overcoming that kind of adversity and they appear to have the depth at his position to do that this year.

They'll have to do that and a lot more if they want to save a season that was put in jeopardy the day the NFL released the final regular season schedule. The Ravens were dealt a grueling early slate that started with the two road games they just lost and include three more road stops in the next five weeks, including the Thursday night game at Heinz Field on Oct. 1 and another set of back-to-back weekends out west to face a formidable Arizona Cardinals team and another potential Bay Area trap game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Nice.

It's probably fair to speculate that if the Ravens don't win three of those five games, the chances of making the playoffs for the seventh time in Harbaugh's eight seasons as head coach will be a lot less than 10 percent.