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The Streak is Dead. Long Live the Streak.

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Demarcus Robinson preseason 2022

It was talked about all week. By fans, the media and especially the opposing team, who at different times mocked it and promised to end it.

It being, of course, The Streak – the Baltimore Ravens’ record 24-game preseason win streak – that came to an appropriately thrilling end at the hands of the Washington Commanders on Monday night.

And oh, what a Streak it was.

As outlined in this excellent article by the Baltimore Banner’s Kyle Goon, The Streak has been absolutely insane. It could have ended any number of times in the last seven years, and it never really would have mattered in the grand scheme of things. But somewhere between wins 14 and 20 – the modern-era and all-time longest preseason win streaks – The Streak took on a legend of its own, for one simple reason: winning the game doesn’t matter.

Before I draw the ire of John Harbaugh, let me be clear: preseason games do matter. They’re vital for players, coaches and the front office in a variety of ways, but none of them have to do with actually winning (or losing). Trying to win matters – provided that it doesn’t risk injury to any key players, which matters more than anything else – but the actual result of an individual preseason game is meaningless in the sense that it has virtually no bearing on the rest of the team’s season. Even going undefeated or winless in the preseason has little impact beyond the slight sense of confidence or despair it can inspire. Winning preseason games matters so little that teams routinely hold out key players, a trend Baltimore has joined more and more in recent years.

So by the time the Ravens won their 20th straight preseason game, The Streak was more just improbable. It became an absurdity, a running joke among local reporters and fans, and a source of fascination for those nationally. How could a team win so many meaningless games in a row, season after season?

There are organizational answers to that question. For example, teams with better front offices will typically have better depth players, who take the bulk of the snaps in preseason games. Teams with better coaches will not only coach up those depth players more effectively, they will also make better in-game coaching decisions that lead to more wins.

The Ravens certainly have one of the best front offices and one of the best coaching staffs in the league, but there’s no evidence to indicate they are head-and-shoulders above their contemporaries in those categories. But none of the NFL’s best-run and most consistent franchises over the last decade have come anywhere close to the Ravens’ preseason dominance.

The Bills ripped off 10 straight preseason wins from 2018 to 2022, but at its conclusion, it wasn’t even half as long as the Ravens’ then-active streak of 22 wins. Andy Reid is notorious for running the NFL’s most grueling training camp in Kansas City, but his Chiefs aren’t preseason world-beaters even though they play their starters, including Patrick Mahomes. Neither Bill Belichick nor Mike Tomlin – both known for pulling semi-miraculous performances from otherwise unheralded rosters – have ever approached their AFC rivals’ preseason success.

The fact is, there’s no real explanation of Baltimorean exceptionalism in preseason football, and that might be the best part about The Streak. It’s completely inexplicable, but it also can’t be just a coincidence, either.

After all, the list of the most revered streaks in sports is littered with names like Ripken, DiMaggio, Gretzky and Unitas. The four longest regular season win streaks in NFL history – all shorter than The Streak, mind you – came from teams that made the Super Bowl in at least one of the seasons in which the streak took place. That’s no accident.

24 straight wins simply can’t be a coincidence – or, as other NFL fanbases began to put it in modern meme format:

But still, it’s the preseason, so who cares?

The Sickos, that’s who.

Preseason football is for the draftniks watching their favorite prospects-turned-pros, the wannabe GMs making their roster cuts and the armchair coaches trying to identify their teams’ scheme and strategy for the season. (Some of us are all three!) In short, it’s for the Sickos.

So it was only fitting that The Streak should go out with a deafening bang, with the Ravens going down the only way they know how: swinging. A week of chippy joint practices set the stage for both sides to come in extra motivated – the Commanders to end The Streak and the Ravens to protect it from their only geographic rival – for a game that didn’t matter.

It was truly one for the Sickos.

Recapping this game feels like a Stefon appearance on SNL’s Weekend Update, because it had everything: turnovers, two-point denials, heroics from random undrafted rookies and even a fight following a Commanders touchdown (and cheap shot). Ravens fans have tried over the last few years to downplay The Streak; after all, the fanbase that endlessly mocked the Bengals’ AFC Championship rings can’t afford to be seen caring about winning preseason games. Some were even openly rooting on social media for The Streak to end, and I’m sure even more surreptitiously felt the same way.

But by the time Monday’s back-and-forth matchup concluded its penultimate quarter, I’d be willing to bet that most, if not all, of Flock Nation was on the edge of their seat, yelling at the television like it was a regular season game.

Like a bunch of Sickos. Like it mattered.

Did it? Obviously not; any hand-wringing about the loss almost immediately faded away, to be replaced by vociferous debates about late-round cornerbacks and undrafted tight ends. More Sicko stuff from a fanbase that, at this point, just can’t help it.

Rooting for the Ravens for the past several years has meant strapping into a vicious rollercoaster that flies off the rails just when you think everything is going right. It’s meant knowing the flaws of the team’s coaching and personnel management, helplessly hoping for them to find a way to overcome it all and resigning yourself to disappointment when those flaws were the ultimate undoing of an otherwise-talented team.

Except in the preseason. In the preseason, we had The Streak, and that we could rely on.

So, on the eve of the Ravens’ 2023 preseason finale against the Buccaneers, let’s pour one out for The Streak, the likes of which we will likely never see again.

But probabilities be damned. A win in Tampa Bay won’t mean anything for the Ravens’ Super Bowl aspirations this year, but, like so countless preseason games over the last five years, it will find a way to mean something. We will find a way to care about it up until the final whistle, at which point the preseason will all but disappear from our minds for 10 months.

And that’s the way it should be.

The Streak is dead. Long live The Streak.

The post The Streak is Dead. Long Live the Streak. appeared first on Russell Street Report.


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