At the quarter pole of the 2011 season, the Ravens appear to be in a pretty good spot.
They’re sporting a 3-1 record. They’ve got sole possession of first place in the AFC North and hold the tiebreaker over the Steelers courtesy of the Week 1 victory over Pittsburgh. They’re tied for the best record in the conference, and this is after playing the two teams who were in the AFC title game last year.
In a perfect world, the Ravens would have taken care of the Titans back in Week 2 and would be undefeated entering their bye week. But perfection in the regular season is nearly impossible, and truly means nothing. Tom Brady is all too aware of that fact.
What’s important is that, overall, the Ravens are playing solid football and are carrying legitimate momentum into their week off.
“Great momentum,” running back Ray Rice said. “No need to say it, but there’s a lot of football left to play and we’re only a quarter of the way through. But it does give you extra motivation to go into the bye week 3-1. It feels great.”
The Ravens are in this position largely because of the play of their stars. Rice has churned out yardage on the ground and in the passing game, and ranks fifth in the NFL in total yardage by non-quarterbacks. Safety Ed Reed has forced three turnovers (tied for second in the NFL), linebacker Terrell Suggs has terrorized opposing quarterbacks and already has four sacks, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is emerging as one of the most dominant defensive players in the game.
But on top of that, the Ravens are getting contributions from guys who haven’t had major roles in previous seasons.
Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta have played well, and have made Todd Heap’s departure much easier to stomach. New offensive linemen Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode have filled in admirably given how late in the preseason they came aboard. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger has come on nicely, and rookies Pernell McPhee and Torrey Smith have made their presence felt, as well.
“We’ve got some guys that are on the team that hadn’t been playing that are stepping up (and) we’ve got a bunch of rookies that are playing and stepping up,” Reed said. “This organization, this team, we’re going in the right direction. We’ve just got to continue to build on it and be smart about what we’re doing.”
All the success, all the points scored and turnovers forced through the first four weeks doesn’t guarantee anything. A playoff spot still can’t be secured for a matter of a couple months and a deep postseason push is certainly not guaranteed.
But through the first quarter of the season, given the competition faced and the injuries this team has suffered, you couldn’t have asked for much more.
“It’s exciting,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We told the guys (Monday), and I really believe this, we are only going to get better, but getting better is a choice. We will decide if we’re going to get better or not based on how hard we decide to work.
“There are 1,000 things that go into it, but I am excited, and I am proud of our guys, yet, hey, we have a long way to go.”