At some point Sunday morning, a Baltimore Ravens staffer will hang a simple sign above a door inside a crowded Wembley Stadium locker room. It serves as a forever reminder to the players who will walk under it what is expected of them.
“Play Like A Raven” it reads.
Baltimore has taken it everywhere in the NFL, from preseason games to a couple Super Bowl triumphs. This, however, will be its first trip overseas. The Ravens play Jacksonville on Sunday in London, a game streamed live on Yahoo Sports (9:30 a.m. ET).
The sign is usually professionally printed but at times it’s found itself humbly duck-taped to flattened cardboard and things like that. Playing like a Raven doesn’t require much glamor. The beauty is in the beatings.
“I think it’s important to remember ravens do guard the Tower of London,” coach John Harbaugh joked on Wednesday, a nod to the at least six captive birds who live at the landmark and supposedly protect the Crown and all of Great Britain with it.
These Ravens can guard a little too.
[Watch on Yahoo: Ravens vs. Jaguars live from London Sept. 24]
Two games, two victories, mostly because of a defense that has allowed as many points as it has forced turnovers – 10 of each. The franchise has been around since 1996 and captured two Super Bowls, but no group of Ravens has ever claimed a points-allowed/turnover balance like that.
If this is the resurgence of a team that is coming off 8-8 and 5-11 seasons, then it needed to start on defense. It needed to start with a snarling, nasty, physical style of football that it showed thus far against AFC North opponents Cincinnati and Cleveland.
It needed to show these Ravens could play like the old Ravens.
“They take pride in it,” John Harbaugh said. “They look at the historic Ravens. They look at it and say, ‘That’s an obligation. That’s a responsibility.’ When you put that helmet on [you need] to play the kind of defense that has been played here a long time. These guys understand that. And that’s what I like to see.”
For the past few seasons, Baltimore has been living off its reputation. It’s also been stagnant as a franchise.
Joe Flacco remained the quarterback, good enough to win with a lot of help, but forever stuck in some strange “is he elite?” debate the rest of the time. Usually, of late, he hasn’t been. Never the most accurate passer, he threw 27 interceptions (against just 34 touchdowns) the past two seasons.
“We want to be a ferocious defense,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs, who will play his 200th game with the franchise Sunday. “We want to be a pressure defense.”
Suggs cautioned though that it’s just two games. They started 3-0 last year and didn’t make the playoffs. The turnovers forced are nice and all, but a postseason spot hasn’t been earned, home field hasn’t been won, or anything like that.
“The standard is very high,” Suggs said. “We’re still not satisfied.”
Harbaugh though sees something there that he likes and, perhaps, recognizes. He and general manager Ozzie Newsome have rebuilt the defense with a focus on speed and effort. That tends to result in picks and fumbles and big plays.
“I’m not shocked [by turnovers] because I see how fast our team plays,” Harbaugh said.
Mainly though, he likes the pride he sees around him. He likes the locker room he will bring to London. He likes the effort on the field.
“To me, that’s where it all begins,” Harbaugh said. “If you don’t have passion, if you’re not flying around, giving it everything you’ve got, you might as well not be out there. Guys have to love the game. [You need] the right kind of leadership and we’ve always had great leadership. I think this group is another evolution of that.”
This isn’t 2000-01. This isn’t 2012-13. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata aren’t here. This has to be a current crop, a new group. It doesn’t mean they can’t walk in the way the legends did.
“It’s the next generation,” Harbaugh said. “They are playing like a Raven. It’s not just a slogan.”
The sign is coming to Wembley. The ethos behind it may be too.
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