BALTIMORE -- You can say the Ravens win ugly. You can even say they're lucky. You can rip apart Baltimore's defense for being a shell of its elite self. You can criticize a Ravens offense that has been inconsistent the past couple of games.
The Ravens aren't going to analyze -- and shouldn't have to -- the way they escaped with a 31-29 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. They watched how Dallas ran all over the Baltimore defense. They saw Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant drop the pass on the two-point conversion that would've tied the game in the final seconds. They sweated out Dallas kicker Dan Bailey's potential winning 51-yard field goal sail wide left.
"I don’t know if we necessarily deserve to win this game, but we’ll take it," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown. "We’ll get the hell out of here really quick and go home, fall asleep and wake up the next morning with a win.”
These Ravens are far from a perfect team. They aren't a dominant team. No one on the Ravens would even suggest this.
So, what are the Ravens? They're winners, plain and simple. As New England loses at Seattle, Cincinnati falls at Cleveland and Pittsburgh gets upset at Tennessee, the Ravens shouldn't feel guilty in how they win by any means necessary.
The Ravens are clearly the best team in the AFC North. If they win at Houston in Week 7, the Ravens will have earned the right to be called the best team in the AFC. There's no style points in the NFL these days. With the unpredictability of this league, it's about survival and there's no better team at doing that than the Ravens.
The margin of victory in Baltimore's four-game winning streak is 3.2 points. Whether it's a winning field to beat the Patriots or praying that the Cowboys miss one, the Ravens find themselves as one of three teams in the mediocre AFC with a winning record. Baltimore (5-1) has a two-game lead over the Bengals (3-3) and a 2 1/2-game edge over the Steelers (2-3).
"Was it perfect? Was it pretty? No," coach John Harbaugh said. "And I’m sure that’s all stuff that will get written about, and it’s all fine. But a victory is still a victory. I’m proud of these guys for understanding and figuring out a way to win. We do have a bunch of fighters on this team.”
The difference with how they edged out the Cowboys compared to their other close wins is the issues that have followed. Lardarius Webb, the Ravens' best cornerback, likely is out for the season with an ACL injury, and linebacker Ray Lewis could have a serious triceps injury. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is also nursing a knee injury.
That just adds more concern to a traditionally strong defense that is showing major cracks. After allowing 300 yards passing in three straight games, Baltimore has given up 200 yards rushing in back-to-back games for the first time in the franchise's 17-year existence.
The Ravens allowed a team-record 227 yards rushing to the Cowboys as fourth-string running back Lance Dunbar, a rookie out of North Texas, even broke out for an 11-yard gain.
"We're not happy with how we played defensively," safety Bernard Pollard said. "If we show we can't stop the run, they're going to run. It's not about being physical. We're a physical team. When we get guys wrapped up in the backfield, we can't let him go. When we got guys one-on-one on the edge, we have to make the tackle. I'm a little pissed off. We've got to get better."
What stands out about the Ravens is their resourcefulness. Cornerback Cary Williams, who hadn't had an interception in his first four seasons in the NFL, has picked off passes in three straight games. His interception of Tony Romo led to a 19-yard touchdown from Flacco to Torrey Smith to end the first half.
Jacoby Jones, who hadn't returned a kickoff all season, ran one back 108 yards for a touchdown, tying an NFL record. That staked Baltimore to a 24-13 lead in the third quarter.
And, after no first downs in its first two possessions in the second half, the Ravens' offense responded when Dallas closed to 24-23 in the fourth quarter. Ray Rice's 1-yard touchdown capped a 10-play, 73-yard drive that put Baltimore up 31-23.
"If winning in the NFL was easy, losers would do it," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "It's hard to win in the NFL."
The Ravens' next challenge is playing at the Texans, one of the NFL's two undefeated teams before they played Sunday night. Baltimore has already knocked off two AFC playoff teams from last year in New England and Cincinnati.
But the Ravens know what a win over Houston would mean in terms of perception and potential tiebreakers when the postseason picture becomes clearer in a couple of months.
"I think it is the measuring stick right now," Rice said of the Texans. "We knew last year that team was going to be rolling. They just picked up where they left off last year."
The Ravens also realize they have to play better than Sunday. Baltimore was outgained, 481-316. The Ravens lost the time of possession battle, 40:03 to 19:57.
But the common theme in the Ravens' locker room was: the only stat that matters is wins. No one can blame the Ravens for celebrating a win Sunday that was the result of a dropped pass and a missed field goal. It was only nine months ago when the Ravens lost the AFC Championship Game that exact way.
"We've been on the other end of that obviously, so we know what that feels like," Rice said. "One thing our coaches preach to us is we just have to find a way to win by whatever means necessary."