As disappointing as the Ravens season has been in 2016 they still control their own destiny. The path to the playoffs through the AFC North seems pretty simple – win your home games against the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles and then beat the Steelers on Christmas night.
It’s that clear cut.
Sure, a lot of other scenarios can and probably will play out but from the catbird’s seat today, this is the most direct path to a ticket for the postseason dance.
And that may be exactly what John Harbaugh needs to secure his future with the Ravens.
Yet despite the easily discernible path to the playoffs and the control the Ravens have of that simple connect-the-dots journey, during his weekly Monday presser yesterday, Harbaugh looked like a beaten man.
When asked about the balance of the season and the fight for the division he said amongst other things, “I’m excited about that. Our guys are as well.”
But judging from the tone in which it was said, the body language in which it was delivered and the weary-eyed expression, you might have thought he was next in line for a root canal and the Dr. was tapped out of Novocain.
Maybe John is just exhausted by the correctible mistakes that never get corrected.
Maybe he’s tired of answering questions about the lack of a running game.
Maybe the same old redundant answers to the same old redundant questions are chipping away at his resolve.
Or maybe he’s concerned about his future.
Harbaugh is fiercely loyal. He’s a man of faith. He’s a man who is totally committed to family and he really loves his team and his assistants. When you talk to the players, despite the adversity they’ve faced and the disappointing underachievement they’ve encountered, the solidarity in the locker room remains strong.
So why does he look like a beaten man?
Is it just the pressure of a season or is it more than that?
The Ravens skipper is under contract through the 2017 season. But rarely does a lame duck manager enter a new season without a contract extension. It is unreasonable for ownership to expect a head coach to guide a team through a season if there are no guarantees, or at least perceived guarantees, that said head coach will return the following season. Without such extensions the leverage in the locker room shifts to the players and if a season spirals out of control, anarchy may follow.
Failure to reach the playoffs would mark the third time since Super Bowl 47 that the Ravens spent the post season at home. Owner Steve Bisciotti did not stroke that big check to Joe Flacco just to fuel up his jet and take off for his Florida home in early January. He didn’t stroke that check for the Ravens to rank 25th in points scored in 2013, 2015 and so far through 2016.
He expects better and he’s paid for better.
And it’s unlikely that he’ll pay any more to Harbaugh without “better”.
Failure is like kryptonite to a self-made billionaire like Bisciotti. It’s not acceptable. But since February 3, 2013 the Ravens are 29-31. That’s unacceptable to an owner who annually spends to the salary cap. That’s unacceptable to a man who is accustomed to winning in all walks of life.
That equals failure and Harbaugh knows it.
Harbaugh’s life may be on the verge of unwelcomed change. The same is true for the lives of his assistant coaches and their families. That wears on Harbaugh. That’s how he is wired. He cares.
As fans, we often forget about these things. To us it’s a game, a pastime, a diversion from the real world.
For them it is their real world.
The heat is on.
Four wins could turn his frown upside down.
The future for many depends on it.