Down 10 with less than five minutes to go in regulation at San Diego on Sunday, the Ravens proceeded to score the final 13 points of the game to pull out a 16-13 overtime win.
Clinging to a three-point lead in Pittsburgh the week before, Baltimore’s defense compensated for the team’s inability to move the ball in holding off the Steelers 13-10.
After racing out to an early 14-0 lead in Cleveland two Sundays prior, the Ravens gave it all back and fell behind by one in the fourth quarter. But they scored 11 points over the last 4:33 to earn yet another close victory, 25-15.
The Ravens have had six games decided by three points or fewer, one more decided by seven and the Nov. 4 Browns game by 10.
On the way to opening the season 9-2, the Ravens have shrugged off the fact that they’re statistically unimpressive. They haven’t received consistent offense or defense. Their special teams has been quite special throughout, but the two units a team depends on most have been in the middle to bottom of the league rankings all year.
Yet, Baltimore heads into Sunday’s visit from the Steelers with a chance to clinch the AFC North with a quarter of the season to play.
Some might blame parity in the NFL. Some might say it’s luck. Others might say the Ravens just know how to win, considering this is their fifth consecutive season with at least nine victories.
Baltimore has the 16th-ranked offense and the 24th-ranked defense in the NFL. But the team has succeeded where it counts - on the scoreboard, where it stands ninth in points for and seventh in points against.
“We’re finding out a way to win and I think that’s what champions do,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We figure out a way to pull off a victory. If it’s ugly, it don’t matter. When it’s raining or when it’s snowing, you can’t go throw the ball 60 times a game. That means pounding the ball, getting the ball back to your defense, allowing them to play defense.
“That’s why we have kickers, to make the field goal to get three points. So we can’t continue to harp about all these points and all of this or all of that. This is not basketball, and sometimes it might look like a soccer match every now and again or baseball game, but that’s OK.”
Considering some of the miraculous plays that have gotten the Ravens this far, with Ray Rice’s fourth-and-29 screen pass being the most memorable, the Ravens seem a little charmed. Even if they struggle for lengths of time, they get themselves together right when it matters most.
Coach John Harbaugh doesn’t buy into the notion of magic or charms, but he senses something different about this group.
“It’s hard to pick out the teams of destiny until destiny expresses itself. I don’t know about all of that,” he said. “They are special because of the way they interact with each other - that’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way they handle adversity, the way they work with each other, the way they care about one another - all those intangible things that it’s really hard to quantify.
“Everybody just kind of wants to shrug their shoulders at and say, ‘What is that?’ If you have ever been on a team - like most of us have at one point in time or another - you really have a feel for that, and you kind of know what that means. When you’re inside of that, that’s what you try to express somehow. It’s hard to explain, but that’s what I’m talking about.”
Harbaugh has had plenty of chances to see his team overcome adversity throughout the season. Major injuries haven’t fazed the squad much in the win-loss department, even if the defense had difficulty playing without linebacker Terrell Suggs and then in the first week it was without linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb.
Both times the Ravens suffered defeat this year, they roared back with four-game winning streaks, the latter of which is still going.
Baltimore blew a late lead to fall to the Eagles by one in Week 2 and then won its next four games. The Ravens then took a 43-13 waxing at Houston the week before the bye, and they haven’t lost since.
But Harbaugh said he noticed the team’s ability to handle adversity before this year.
“The starting point of that idea was probably the AFC championship game last year and the way our team was in the locker room,” Harbaugh said. “And that had started long before that moment, too, where the team was at that point to handle that adversity. And then to let that brew for the whole offseason and through training camp and to build on that and to build on the adversity that we faced throughout the season and to become better through all of that - that’s what I’m talking about.”
Because the Ravens have overcome so much to start 9-2, Rice is somewhat OK with the fact the team wins ugly.
“Sometimes when you win, it’s not pretty,” he said. “I think there is such a saying as an ugly win, but an ugly win still goes down in the win category. We aren’t going to sugarcoat it. I’ve said it before: This team is a pissed off 9-2 because we feel like we can get so much better. I’ve been around five years and this year just feels totally different, because we are 9-2 and nobody is satisfied.
“Nobody is satisfied with the way we are playing on offense; nobody is satisfied with how we are playing on defense; nobody is satisfied with the way we are playing on special teams. Week in and week out, coach Harbs and the team - whether it’s one little thing a week that we are going to work on to get better ... That’s what’s special about this group.”