After weeks of seeming tense and uncomfortable in front of the media, coach John Harbaugh was far looser Monday.
Maybe it’s the fact that at 3-5, the Ravens have little to lose and can just go play for now as they try to get back into the playoff race. Maybe he’s adopting a different persona with the team, as well - one which eases the tension on the players and allows them to not feel the burden of their current three-game losing streak.
Either way, Harbaugh was far more verbose than he has been in recent weeks, and his main point of the day was that he still has hope for this season.
“As it stands, we’re in a tough spot, but I believe in our guys - coaches and players - and I know we have what it takes to be a very good football team the second half of the season,” Harbaugh said. “We are where we stand with the record. What we do in the first half does not determine what we do in the second half. We have opportunities to accomplish everything that we want to accomplish. We understand that and now our focus will be on just one game, and what we need to do is win one game. That’s what we have to do.
“Momentum is a crazy thing. You’ve got to stop theirs and build yours. You’ve got to make a play, you’ve got to win a game. Once you do that, you have a chance to build on that. So that was our task last week, that was our task the week before and it will be our task this week. Over the course of the last three weeks, we just haven’t been good enough to get that done and we acknowledge that. We thought we would be, we hoped we would be, we worked to be good enough. And we weren’t good enough compared to the team that we played that day. We have to get good enough. We have to get better and that’s what we’ll go to work doing once again.”
As Harbaugh has said often while his team dropped four of the last five games, the organization is trying different things and making changes where it deems necessary as it searches for the right cocktail needed to get back on a winning track.
Harbaugh contested the idea that the team is staying the course in how it plays the game during the ongoing struggles.
“Is that what we’re doing? I don’t see it that way. We’re not just staying the course,” he said. “We’re staying the course philosophically. We’re staying the course by understanding the fact that we have to continue to improve, that what we’re searching for is the things that we can do the best. Special teams-wise, you watch the play and we played well. But you can’t drop a punt and you can’t mis-hit a punt. ... And also I would say on the kickoff. That ball is supposed to be driven down the field inside the 20-yard line, the squib kick at the end of the half. Those are things that have to be done better, but that doesn’t reflect the whole thing.
“So we’ll stay the course with what we’re doing and try to execute those things better. The same could be said for every phase. We’ll try to minimize our mistakes and try to maximize our playmaking ability. So you’re always going to make mistakes. You’re not going to be 100 percent out there. It’s just too hard of a game. But we’ve got to minimize our shortcomings and overcome them with our positive plays. But we haven’t done that enough right now to win games. So we’ll keep chasing that. If that’s staying the course, then yeah, that’s what we’ll try and do.”
This marks the fourth time in Harbaugh’s six seasons that the Ravens have lost three games in a row. Baltimore has never suffered a fourth straight defeat during that time.
So the stat geek’s way of putting it would be that the Ravens are 3-0 the game after a three-game losing streak in Harbaugh’s first five years as coach. That number will be at stake Sunday when first-place Cincinnati comes to Baltimore.
“We’ve just got to focus on the next game, get the next win, put a stop to it and all the things that go into that,” Harbaugh said. “To me, the biggest thing is let’s focus on our job. The best players are the best players because they play the best, and they do that by dominating their job. So if you want to be a really good player, really good coach, just dominate your job. Just focus on that, stop that, make that part of it the best it’s going to be.
“And if we all do that and get a little bit better all the way across the board, then we’ve got a chance to get over the hump and win the next game, and then build momentum from there. And that’s what we’ve got to do. The biggest thing about those kind of situations, three-game losing streaks, is to stay out of them. We’re not looking to be in these kind of situations and we’ve fought like crazy to not be in them, but we haven’t been good enough the last three weeks to win.”
Harbaugh and the Ravens need to hope that they’re good enough Sunday against the first-place Bengals, who are 6-3 and lead Baltimore by 2 1/2 games in the AFC North.
Part of the reason Harbaugh still believes the Ravens have a chance is that they’re yet to play Cincinnati this season, and thus face the division frontrunners twice in the final eight games.
“Absolutely, and to me, that’s the point. There’s half the season left to play and there’s going to be a lot of football played, and there’s a lot of games out there for us to win,” Harbaugh said. “We need to go stack some wins and it’s all about this next game, which obviously, Cincinnati is leading the division, so this is an opportunity for us.”