Pittsburgh Steelers fans were probably feeling optimistic this evening after they were able to squeak out a come-from-behind victory against the Indianapolis Colts, the first win of the season against a quality opponent. Knowing that the Baltimore Ravens were entering the day with their toughest assignment on their entire schedule, this was a golden opportunity to pick up ground in the division race.
But Baltimore had other plans. Like establishing itself as a legitimate contender, not in the near future, but now. The Ravens took down the New England Patriots in impressive fashion, and did so without even playing mistake-free ball, spotting them 10 points off of turnovers. New England’s vaunted defense crumbled before the first serious challenge it had seen arguably all season.
And now the Ravens at 6-2 are in position to secure a bye week, riding a four-game winning streak in which their last two have come over quality opponents. Prior to taking down Tom Brady in Baltimore, they traveled west and beat the Seattle Seahawks in their own home stadium.
There was scoffing as to the Ravens’ legitimacy at the beginning of the year as they stomped a hapless Miami Dolphins team and then took down the Cincinnati Bengals. Between the two of them, the former finally scored their first victory yesterday, over Le’Veon Bell’s one-win New York Jets.
They then proceeded to lose two games in a row, getting handled by the Cleveland Browns. Both were 2-2 at that point, but they have gone in exact opposite directions since then, the former 6-2 and the latter now 2-6. Their first rebound was a fortunate overtime victory against the Steelers in which they lost their second-string quarterback due to a concussion.
But after the past two games, it is inarguable that the Ravens are playing like championship contenders right now. That doesn’t mean they’re going to win, but they look like they have the capability of doing so. With a creative offense and a defense capable of being selectively opportunistic—and a neutralizing special teams unit—Baltimore has become a scary team to plan for.
And it should go without saying that I take no joy in writing this. I was confident that they would lose to the Seahawks. I knew the Patriots would beat them. I was wrong. If Lamar Jackson can do just enough as a passer, and he has often enough so far this year shown that he can, then this is a team that can make a run.
That’s not what the Steelers want to hear. They only need the Ravens to lose one more game than they do in order to make the season finale a winner-take-all, provided that they don’t lose any more division games than the Ravens do. But the hopes of that happening continue to fade as they make their mark against quality opponents to whom Pittsburgh has already lost.