The Baltimore Ravens find themselves in unfamiliar territory -- last place in the AFC North. This is the first time since 2007, the year before coach John Harbaugh arrived, that the Ravens are at the bottom of the division in the second half of the season. The Ravens looked like the most complete team in the AFC North when they won five of six games and sat atop the division at 5-2. But losses at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh dropped the Ravens to fourth place. Defense has been the Ravens’ barometer this season. When the Ravens give up 20 or more points, they’re 1-4.
Midseason MVP: Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Even though the offense has struggled recently, no one has had more of a positive impact on the Ravens. Joe Flacco is on pace for career highs in passing yards and touchdowns. The running game has gone from one of the NFL's worst (No. 30 in 2013) to one of the best (No. 10), even after abruptly parting ways with Ray Rice. The offensive line went from allowing 48 sacks (tied for fourth worst) to not allowing a sack in four of the first nine games. Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme and emphasis on intermediate throws has the Ravens on track to end a stretch of 16 straight seasons without a top-10 offense. That's tied for the fifth longest streak in NFL history.
Biggest disappointment: The secondary. Lapses in the defensive backfield have cost the Ravens at critical times. It started in the season opener, when Chykie Brown was beaten by A.J. Green for a 77-yard game-winning touchdown. In Week 8, safety Terrence Brooks got turned around on a 53-yard pass to Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, which set up the winning score. This past Sunday, the Ravens took turns in allowing six touchdowns to Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. The defensive back who epitomizes the frustration is safety Matt Elam, who is the coverage safety rated the worst by Pro Football Focus and who leads all NFL defensive backs in missed tackles.
Best moment: Flacco makes NFL history in Tampa. In a rare bright spot on the road, Flacco threw five touchdown passes faster than any quarterback in modern league history. He connected on touchdown passes of 15, 9, 17 and 19 yards in the first quarter. His fifth touchdown pass -- a 56-yarder to Steve Smith -- came just 16 minutes, 3 seconds into the game. His five touchdowns were a career best and matched the franchise high. Flacco’s passer rating of 145.9 was also a career high. How improbable was this performance? Flacco has thrown only three touchdowns in his other four road games.
Worst moment: Meltdown in Pittsburgh. Although the Rice scandal made the Ravens the center of the football world for all of the wrong reasons early in the season, the team’s biggest embarrassment on the field was losing its composure to its biggest rival on national television. Two turnovers, 10 penalties and six touchdown passes allowed led to a 20-point blowout at Heinz Field in Week 9. It was the most points the Ravens had given up to the Steelers since 1997. For the first time, it prompted questions of whether the Ravens are a playoff team.
Key to the second half: The Ravens have to win at least one of their last three road games if they want to reach the playoffs. It’s assumed the Ravens will take care of business at home. The four teams coming to M&T Bank Stadium (the Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns) are a combined 4-13 (.235) on the road. If the Ravens win those home games, they’ll get to nine wins. In order to reach 10 victories -- which typically gets teams into the postseason -- they’ll have to win at New Orleans, Miami or Houston.