Ravens must focus on win, not draft
The Baltimore Ravens need to be more concerned with getting one more victory than moving up several spots in the NFL draft.
This entire concept about losing games and jockeying for a top 5 draft pick is unfathomable. Some think the Ravens should have lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday and then to the Cincinnati Bengals to assure them of such a high pick.
To me, losing is not ever an option. It is acceptable for a short time, but intolerable over the long run. Regardless if it's football, ping pong or horseshoes, winning is always the ultimate goal in professional sports. That's why it is so strange to see so many subdued fans after the Ravens' 20-17 win against Pittsburgh.
A win against Pittsburgh is a cause for celebration and a season sweep merits euphoria. But you can't tell that around here because with the win the Ravens moved down from their No. 3 overall position in the draft to No. 8.
That means they could lose out on a top pass rusher such as Ohio State's Joey Bosa, or a cornerback-safety such as Florida State's Jalen Ramsey. If they want to move up into the top 5 they might now have to give up a draft pick or work some other form of a trade.
But it is not that big of a deal. If the Ravens do their homework, they still should get a top player. It's hard to predict how a rookie will turn out, even in the first round, but that's a problem for the more distant future.
Right now, the Ravens are laying groundwork that could last for years. If they beat the Bengals Sunday, they could use the two victories as a springboard into next season, much like the Carolina Panthers, who won four straight at the end of the 2014 regular season.
Before losing Sunday to the Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers had won 14 straight. Even if the Ravens lose to the Bengals, they still swept Pittsburgh, a team they have owned the last 21/2 years.
"To sweep Pittsburgh is a very valuable thing. It's a very meaningful thing," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "And this team accomplished that. When you have failure in life, sometimes woven into the failure are great successes and great wins. Woven into our season are pretty amazing successes and wins that our players have had [with] the way they have stuck together, the way they've practiced, the way they've improved, even with the injuries."
Regardless of a team's record, it's always good to have a strong work ethic. Opposing teams can be bigger, stronger and have better athletes, but there is no excuse if one team outworks another.
But no one likes to practice hard and not see positive results. Everyone wants to win. You want to see dreams come true because it makes practice so much easier.
It makes looking at film less tedious and it drives a player to put in extra time in the weight room.
And if the Ravens beat Cincinnati, it makes it so much easier for Harbaugh to address his team at the end of the season and tell them how important it is to get into the offseason weight training and conditioning programs.
They need to win now, not next year. It gives young players like running back Buck Allen more confidence going into next season. Others, like defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, have played well in the second half of this season and are finally starting to see the positive results of their hard work.
Maybe the Ravens can discover a young talent like receiver Chris Matthews, and players like linebacker C.J. Mosley and tackle Brandon Williams can establish themselves as future leaders.
The upside is so much greater to win now than to lose just to get a higher draft pick.
"I'm sure that's something we'll talk about after the season is over," Harbaugh said of the team's future core players. "I was very optimistic about this team, as far as record goes. I'm very proud of this team, as far as what I've seen them accomplish this year, record aside.
"I'm very excited about our core going forward. We have a lot of good football players that have a lot of experience. Young players that have gotten a lot of experience this year. Now, we go into the offseason and build the strongest team that we can for next year. But, that's a conversation for later."
That's my conversation now. Despite the record, Harbaugh has done a good job of keeping his team together and working hard. If not, the Ravens could have easily become the New York Giants, who seemed to quit on coach Tom Coughlin in an embarrassing loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night.
If that was the case in Baltimore, then the Ravens would be back to square one in the offseason, trying to build team chemistry. Harbaugh would be preaching work ethic again.
After beating Pittsburgh, the Ravens won't have that problem.
"It was kind of not the perfect game, but it was a nice ending," defensive back Lardarius Webb said. "With this long, long, long season, the way the ball bounced all year, we were close with a lot of teams. [We were] supposed to win a lot of games, sometimes supposed to lose some, but this one means a lot to us. I think we're going to — not think — but we're going to rally from this one and continue this from now into the next season."
Losing is never the goal. Regardless of the level, it is inconceivable that any competitor wants that outcome. That certainly wasn't the attitude of Ravens fans as they left M&T Bank Stadium Sunday.
They were happy. They weren't talking about draft picks, but ridiculing Steelers fans. And the Ravens will still get a high pick in the first round.
But more importantly, they have to build a foundation, and a lot of that comes with winning, not later, but now.