There are those, most nationally but some locally, who claim that the Ravens' win over the Steelers on Sunday doesn't accurately portray the true landscape of the AFC North because the Steelers were without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
If the suspended Roethlisberger had been in the lineup, those people say, the Ravens would have dropped another game at Heinz Field and would currently be 2-2 instead of 3-1 and sitting atop the division.
Sorry, folks. It doesn't work that way.
You can only play the guys that the other team lines up. Big Ben had to spend another week on his couch instead of in pads? I don't mean this to sound harsh, but too bad.
"Whoever they throw over there, whoever lines up against us every week is who we're going to play against," head coach John Harbaugh said yesterday. "And the next guy comes in and wins games for you, or he doesn't."
Charlie Batch didn't.
Would the Steelers have been better off with Roethlisberger under center than Batch? Is that a real question? Of course they would have. But to make the claim that the Ravens' win somehow isn't legitimate because of a player's absence is silly.
"We were without a lot of players, [too]," Harbaugh noted. "And that's just the way it works in the National Football League."
Harbaugh makes a good point. The Steelers weren't the only team without a quality player in uniform. The Ravens were missing starting defensive end Cory Redding, offensive tackle Jared Gaither, and some guy named Ed Reed, who has a tendency to make a big play from time to time.
While we're at it, if we're going to play the "What would have happened if so-and-so had played" game, can we add Ray Rice into the mix? Yeah, Rice got eight carries against the Steelers, but the Ravens' running back was limited by a knee bruise. What would have happened if the Pro Bowler had been fully healthy?
And what about the hangnail that Derrick Mason had that caused him to drop that pass at the goal line in the fourth quarter?
OK, now I'm being ridiculous. The point is, you can't think about the "what ifs" in the NFL. Roethlisberger didn't play, so Batch had to step in. The veteran QB played well, but not well enough.
The result was a Ravens win and a Steelers loss, and that's just the way it is.