The Baltimore Ravens have been unlucky. They've been mistake prone. Quite frankly, they've been the most disappointing team in the NFL this season.
But the Ravens aren't the worst team in the league even though they have the worst record. Based on the last-minute defeats week after week, Baltimore has become the NFL's best worst team ever.
The Ravens (1-6) are the first team in NFL history to lose six of their first seven games by no more than one score, the Elias Sports Bureau confirmed. This is far from the mark that a Super Bowl contender like Baltimore wanted to make this season. This does show that the Ravens remain competitive at a time when other teams are falling apart.
The Ravens' six losses have been decided by a total of 30 points. Compare that to the Detroit Lions, whose six losses have been by 64 points, or the San Francisco 49ers, who have dropped five games by a combined 99 points. It was just last Sunday when Houston and Cleveland each lost by 18 points.
"Obviously [we're] 1-6, so people are going to come in and look for us to quit," said wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., who has exuded the Ravens' fighting spirit in games. "We just have to stay the course and not do that, and expect and understand that's what teams are going to want us to do."
What these close losses say is there is no margin for error for the Ravens. There have been officiating gaffes. There have been strange twists like kicker Justin Tucker hitting a sinkhole in the Levi's Stadium turf and Chris Johnson running for 62 yards after it looked like his forward progress was stopped.
The brunt of the worst start in franchise history still falls on the Ravens themselves. Baltimore has had a chance to tie or win the game in the final two minutes of every game, and that's little consolation considering the Ravens have already matched their loss total from last season. With the injuries and disappointing play of some key players, the Ravens can't afford Jeremy Ross' fumbled punt deep in Baltimore territory and untimely penalties in the red zone (both on offense and defense).
"One thing about us right now, we're the kind of team that has to minimize mistakes and we have to execute," coach John Harbaugh said. "We're going to be forced to develop the ability to do that with perfection. That's the kind of team we are right now. In the long run, that's going to be good for us. We just have to fight through it."
The Ravens' offense has been out of sync. Receivers are having trouble getting open, and Joe Flacco isn't hitting them in stride when they do get separation downfield like Chris Givens on Monday night.
The defense has looked like a shell of its glory days. The secondary gives up too many big plays in the passing game and the missed tackles are starting to become a recurring problem.
That's why it's surprising that the Ravens have been able to stay in games. The Ravens are getting no contribution from their top two draft picks (wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams) due to injuries and slow development. The offensive line, specifically left tackle Eugene Monroe, has regressed. The secondary is a patchwork one again, plugging in cornerback Shareece Wright into the lineup four days after signing him and starting Brynden Trawick, the team's fifth safety who got pushed into a bigger role because of injuries to Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks.
While no one is projecting the Ravens to go on a historic run and make the playoffs, some believe Baltimore can regain some respectability over the final nine games (which includes six home games). The simulation by Football Outsiders give the Ravens a 49 percent chance of ending the season with a 6-10 record or better.
"A lot of teams would fold in this situation, but not the Ravens. That's not going to happen," Harbaugh said. "We will be writing the story, and it's going to be a really interesting story to read before it's all said and done."