John Harbaugh never really forgets November 15, 2015.
"That's always kind of been on my mind," the Baltimore Ravens' head coach said of a 22-20 loss to the Jaguars that ended with a 53-yard field goal by Jaguars kicker Jason Myers.
The loss wouldn't have happened had defensive end Elvis Dumervil not tackled Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles by his face mask on what would have been the game's final play. That gave the Jaguars an extra play that became Myers' field goal, but Harbaugh's memory isn't why the Ravens are a difficult matchup for the Jaguars this week.
The Ravens after a 5-11 season last season are unbeaten through two games and are averting the slow start that eliminated them early from playoff contention in 2015.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has returned from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him the final six games of last season, and while he struggled early in Week 2 against Cleveland, he has hit just enough big plays to give the Ravens victories over winless Buffalo and Cleveland.
The Ravens can improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 with a victory Sunday.
A couple of statistics stand out when it comes to Ravens-Jaguars. One is that the Jaguars need to hope these teams reverse their September trends; the Ravens are 19-10 under Harbaugh (third in the NFL since 2008) in the season's first month while the Jaguars are 1-11 under Head Coach Gus Bradley in September since 2013. Also, the Ravens enter the NFL No. 2 in total defense and No. 1 against the pass, so if the Jaguars are going to reverse their Week 2 offensive difficulties it will need to happen against a unit that's playing well through two games.
ONE STRENGTH …
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith is 37 and only decided to return this season after missing nine games last season with an Achilles injury. That doesn't reduce the respect opponents have for the long-time playmaker. "To be honest with you, he is one of my favorite players in the league," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said this week. "I love how he competes down in and down out." That has been Smith's reputation for a decade and a half in the NFL – as a competitive, confident brash receiver capable of winning short and intermediate routes as well as making big plays deep – and it remains so in what could be his final season. He has eight receptions for 83 yards this season, and along with Mike Wallace gives the Ravens weapons in an offense that emphasizes the deep pass as much as any in the NFL. "We have to stay on top because he is going to go deep and he is also a very good route runner," Wash said of Smith. "It is going to be a great challenge, but I think our guys are going to learn one way. That is the way you have to play this game. You have to compete if you are going to have success."
… ANOTHER STRENGTH
Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson not unexpectedly this week praised the Ravens' defense, which has allowed just 27 points in four games. The Ravens held Buffalo to a touchdown in the regular-season opener, and one of Cleveland's touchdowns in 25-20 Ravens victory last week came after the Browns intercepted Flacco at the Ravens 27. "They're stacked in the front end and back end," Olson said. "Their front is very impressive: size, power up front." Olson said the Ravens also have been helped by the offseason signing of long-time San Diego Chargers and perennial Pro Bowl free safety Eric Weddle. "He's just got such great instincts as a defensive player," Olson said of Weddle.
Jaguars free safety Tashaun Gipson hasn't been mentioned much this season. Look for that to change when Sunday because few teams get past Flacco without getting significantly tested deep. Wash said that will mean opportunities for the Jaguars' cornerbacks against Smith and Wallace, but as importantly it will mean opportunities for Gipson. Wash said he spoke to Gipson Wednesday and told him this was a matchup that should play to his abilities as a sideline-to-sideline free safety. "There are going to be a lot of opportunities this week against Baltimore for him to be a ball hawk," Wash said. "They're going to take some shots down field. They're going to go at our corners."
"They are known for their shots."
--Bradley on the Ravens' reputation as a team that emphasizes deep passing
"Our guys just kept fighting and clawed their way back in slowly, but surely and never ever gave up on one another. That's probably what you attribute that to."
*--Harbaugh on the Ravens' resiliency rallying from a 20-point deficit at Cleveland Sunday *
"I'm still a dirt bag, so no – that has not changed one bit."
---Smith on whether he trash talks opponents less now than early in his career