As soon as word spread about Terrell Suggs tearing his Achilles tendon, you could hear the collective cries from Ravens Nation. It's very easy to tear up the playoff tickets right now or want to hand over the AFC North title to the Steelers. But losing Suggs doesn't mean the Ravens should lose hope on the season.
There's no question that it will be difficult to replace Suggs, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and career franchise leader in sacks, whether it's for the entire season or a good chunk of it. He was all over the field in 2011, becoming the only player last season to record at least five sacks, five passes defensed and five forced fumbles.
The Ravens, though, can overcome Suggs' absence. Why? Because they've done this before.
In 2010, safety Ed Reed spent the first six weeks on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after offseason hip surgery. Baltimore went 4-2 without him.
Last season, linebacker Ray Lewis was sidelined for four games with a toe injury. The Ravens were 4-0 without Lewis, including victories over San Francisco and Cincinnati.
That's 8-2 when the Ravens didn't have two future Hall of Fame defenders in the lineup. There is an argument that playing without Suggs is different. Lewis and Reed aren't in the prime of their careers, and Suggs is just hitting his stride at age 29.
But there's another argument that Suggs wasn't the most valuable player on the Ravens last season, just the most timely one. Suggs recorded nine sacks and five forced fumbles in three games (season opener against Pittsburgh, Thanksgiving night against San Francisco and Dec. 11 game against Indianapolis). For the other 13 games, he managed the rather ordinary numbers of five sacks and two forced fumbles.
This isn't to minimize Suggs' talent. He always draws the most attention from offenses, which frees up his teammates to make plays. He's a tone-setter in terms of his emotional play. He's up there with the best pass-rushers in the game right now. Left tackles will sleep a lot better knowing Suggs won't be on the field for an extended period. But the statistics from last season show that the Ravens don't need Suggs to make plays in order for them to win.
The challenge is replacing Suggs' presence in the pass rush, especially this season. Look at the quarterbacks on Baltimore's schedule: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer and Matt Schaub. This is the season when the Ravens needed Suggs the most.
The Ravens need Paul Kruger (career-high 5.5 sacks last season) to continue his progression. They need Haloti Ngata (five sacks) to collapse the middle of the line. They need Pernell McPhee (six sacks) to avoid a sophomore slump. They need Sergio Kindle to get on the field. And they need second-round pick Courtney Upshaw (15.5 sacks past two seasons at Alabama) to make an immediate impact.
Baltimore is a stronger and more fearsome defense with Suggs chasing down quarterbacks. But the Ravens' defense won't flinch without him.