BALTIMORE—The Ravens’ 49-point margin of victory over the Miami Dolphins was impressive Sunday, but there were other encouraging signs.
The Ravens tried hard not to provide the Dolphins with any bulletin board material last week before heading into the game, but they knew Miami was terrible. In fact, the Dolphins were much worse than the Buffalo Bills team that the Ravens trounced, 47-3, in the season opener last season.
There has to be a caveat placed next to the Ravens’ 59-10 win against Miami, but the underlying story is that this team didn’t get cocky and start talking a lot about this “revolutionized offense” or the sudden emergence of Lamar Jackson as a top quarterback.
They handled the win like a team with a purpose, and that’s unusual for a team so young. There probably was some loud partying on the plane ride home, but at least the Ravens appear to have bigger plans about going deep into the playoffs in 2019.
They get it.
“Like I told the guys, I said now people are going to mark you,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “They are going to look for ways to stop our guys, what they do well, and so we have to keep growing and improving to stay ahead of the challenge because that’s the way the NFL works. I mean, nothing stands still. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. We have to keep moving.”
There was some euphoria in the locker room after the game, which is to be expected from winning the first game of the season. In the past, the Ravens have struggled to win on the road and against lesser caliber teams.
There were a lot of good signs on the field, even if it was against the Dolphins. Jackson was more accurate, fundamentally sound and had a better touch on the long ball than a year ago.
Running back Mark Ingram gave the Ravens power, rookie receiver Marquise Brown added speed and tight end Mark Andrews showed that he is a big threat inside the red zone.
On defense, the Ravens showed superior speed to the Dolphins and the secondary got some good licks on Miami receivers after catches, which hasn’t been the case in years.
But the players also demonstrated humility and professionalism.
On the sideline, veterans like Ingram and safeties Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson were constantly talking and working with teammates. Their chatter was nonstop.
Jackson and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III were in constant communication with offensive players in between each series, and it was Jackson and Ingram who were keeping teammates jacked up after halftime.
That’s not to say the Ravens from last year lacked chemistry, but often new players like Thomas and Ingram don’t take charge right away for fear of being too controlling too early.
Jackson’s behavior and leadership are not surprising. He has that type of personality where he gets along well with everyone, not just select players. He works hard, and that rubs off on others.
After the game, he had an opportunity to take shots at his critics, but he didn’t. He was smug in a sense, calling his performance “not bad for a running back,” but you can’t succeed in the NFL without being a little cocky.
But one response summed up how he feels, and it is genuine.
“We just got to move on now,” Jackson said. “We can’t dwell on that win. It’s the first game. I just want to win.”
Brown had a similar moment. Asked if he had any touchdown celebrations planned after he turned his first two catches into touchdowns, Brown said: “I just thank God every time I touch the end zone. Without him I couldn’t be doing this.”In these days of Antonio Brown, it’s refreshing to hear these kinds of responses. The Ravens have played only one game, but it appears as if they have a solid foundation in place to grow. It will still come down to how well young players like Jackson, Brown, right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., receiver Miles Boykin and linebackers Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young and Tyus Bowser develop.
The other three teams in the AFC North lost Sunday, but the Cincinnati Bengals were impressive in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh will stay in contention because the Steelers have Mike Tomlin as coach and Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Cleveland played poorly Sunday, but the Browns have talented players. They will rebound.
It’s not where you start in sports, but where you finish, and Harbaugh has gotten that message through to his team. It’s apparent that the Ravens grew up some from last year.