For the Ravens, the first game of the 2018 season has been a long time coming in more ways than one.
They have been training since mid-July, which special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg pointed out Thursday is equivalent to “half of a college season.” They have been waiting for a chance at redemption since New Year’s Eve, when the Cincinnati Bengals knocked them out of playoff contention with a stunning 49-yard touchdown in the final minute of their season.
Ask rookie offensive lineman Orlando Brown Jr. and he’ll tell you he has been waiting for this moment his whole life.
“To be at M&T Bank Stadium to play for pretty much the team I grew up with my whole entire life, I’m excited to get out there and experience it,’’ said Brown, whose late father played six seasons in a Ravens uniform.
Football is an emotional game under any circumstance, but Orlando Jr. said earlier in the week that there will be a lot driving him to succeed when he takes the field against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium in his professional football debut.
His love for his father. His love for a troubled city. His love for the Ravens.
“All of it,’’ he said. “Obviously, my dad is part of my motivation and this city and what it has been through is part of my motivation. I grew up here. I have a ton of respect for the franchise and the organization. I just want to do my best to be the best that I can be.”
New receiver Willie Snead IV played three NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints before signing a two-year deal with the Ravens. But he got so little action after serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy last year that he also feels like he has been waiting forever to start over with the Ravens.
“I think I’m just going to be really excited to get out there,’’ he said. “I know there’s going to be a lot going on. I’ve just got to slow down within myself and I’ve just take it one play at a time. I haven’t played football in a long time — consistent football — so it’s going to be exciting for me to get out there and make some catches and be involved.”
Brown, Snead and their fellow first-year Ravens — both rookies and veteran free agents — can’t personally identify with what the rest of their teammates have been carrying around with them since Tyler Boyd caught that heartbreaking 49-yard touchdown pass on a desperate fourth-down play Dec. 31.
The Ravens missed the playoffs for the third year in a row, which turned up the pressure to get off to a big start in 2018 and leave nothing to chance in what just about everyone outside the organization assumes is a make-or-break season.
Coach John Harbaugh could probably tell you exactly how many days it has been since the Bengals stole his lunch, but he said Wednesday he wouldn’t play the redemption card heading into the season opener against the Bills. The Ravens know what’s at stake.
“I think all that kind of stuff is what it is, so to speak,’’ he said. “If you try to play it, I don’t think that’s genuine. There’s no motivation that’s clichéd that works. So, it’s never going to be erased for me. It’s always going to be there. This is a new season, and let’s roll.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco agrees. He has never been one to spend a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror. He just knows he’s as healthy has he has been in a couple of years and has a seriously upgraded receiver corps to target this season.
“I just feel really good about where we are,’’ he said. “I’ve felt really good about where we are every phase that we’ve hit so far. You have the offseason workouts, you have training camp, you have preseason games, and each one of those stops along the way, I’ve felt better and better about where we are as a team.”
It’s been a long, hot summer, but ageless linebacker Terrell Suggs said he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We didn’t look at it like a long preseason,’’ Suggs said. “We looked at it as we just had a significant amount of time [and an] opportunity to become a better football team.”
Cornerback Brandon Carr said the Ravens succeeded.
“We set the bar extremely high for ourselves each and every year and this year is no different,’’ Carr said. “The sky’s the limit.”