The Baltimore Ravens moved into the top class of the NFL on Sunday night with a resounding 37-20 win against the New England Patriots.
Now, let’s remind everyone: These are the Patriots with Bill Belichick, the best head coach in the NFL, and Tom Brady, perhaps the best quarterback ever.
These are the defending Super Bowl champions with six rings, and the Patriots entered the game unbeaten and had one of the best defenses in the NFL. And the Ravens put 37 points on them and sent them back to Foxborough, Massachusetts, embarrassed.
The Ravens have been a mediocre to slightly above-average team for the past two or three years but finally moved up in class. The biggest difference is playmakers. The Ravens finally have some.
They have a quarterback in second-year player Lamar Jackson who can make a lot out of nothing with his legs and sometimes his arm. They have a speedy rookie receiver in Marquise Brown who can make a play or two when he gets onto the field. And they have a steady core of tough running backs in Mark Ingram II and Gus Edwards who can punish and wear down defenses.
On defense, the Ravens aren’t great but opportunistic. They’ve got some playmakers on that side of the ball, too, including cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, safety Earl Thomas III and outside linebacker Matthew Judon.
When the season started, the Ravens were a team on the rise, especially after they were eliminated in the wild-card round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Chargers. But there were still a lot of areas for improvement, and the Ravens needed some of their young players to step up.
Jackson has, and so has Brown when he has played. Humphrey, in his third season, has become one of the top players at his position in the game. The Ravens parted way with some young players who didn’t work out but added street free agents like linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort.
It’s hard to imagine that this defense could play as well as it has the past two weeks after playing so poorly to open the season, especially in the secondary.
When this season started, there were two favorites to win the AFC title: New England and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Ravens were in the second tier with teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers and even the Cleveland Browns.
But that changes now.
The Patriots have lost ugly like this before and came back to win titles. The Chiefs have beaten the Ravens twice in two years, and they’ll be better when quarterback Patrick Mahomes is fully healthy again.
But Pittsburgh is struggling and the Chargers are barely average. Buffalo has a good record, but no one fears the Bills.
And then there are the Ravens.
They went into Seattle two weeks ago and beat the Seahawks in a stadium where they rarely lose. That was a statement game. But no statement was bigger than the one the Ravens made Sunday night. They gassed the Patriots and had nearly a 15-minute advantage in time of possession.
There is a lot of football left, eight games to be exact, for the Ravens. They still have to play the San Francisco 49ers, the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFL, as well as the Los Angeles Rams, Bills, Houston Texans and Steelers.
But at this point, it’s no longer a question of whether the Ravens can play with any of those teams, but can those teams play with the Ravens?
The hunters are now going to be hunted. It’s a change that the Ravens and this city have welcomed for years. Football is alive, well and good in Baltimore again.