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Sitting here at 6:21 PM on Sunday I can’t help but wonder aloud what it would be like down at The Vault right now, with snow showers setting the mood for the AFC Championship Game. But why torture ourselves, right? We are all forced to accept that we can now only discuss the Ravens 2006 season in the past tense — our view is retrospective.
As we look back on the season through the 24×7 Rearview Mirror, the focus will be mostly upon the highlights while touching upon some of the disappointments. For those that we praise, we will extend 24×7’s version of the Oscar Award — the Edgar Award named appropriately after the man who inspired the Ravens’ name.
Without further ado, the Edgars…
MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE
The Ravens were able to accomplish several things during the 2006 campaign that most thought to be improbable. A question mark heading into the season was the harmony or lack thereof in the Ravens locker room. Winning can cure many locker room ills yet credit has to be given to Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and George Kokinis for injecting the right mix of character and leadership into 1 Winning Drive and to Brian Billick for managing it on a daily basis. Billick also deserves props for knowing how and when to avert a potential mutiny on the part of the offense when he fired Jim Fassel.
Another nagging concern staring the Ravens in the face entering â€™06 was their inability to win on the road. When the team opened on the road against Tampa Bay, the Ravens had not won away from Baltimore in nearly 22 months. The Ravens quickly ended that daunting streak by taking down the Bucs 27-0. The Ravens would go on to win 6 of 8 on the road.
Yet the biggest surprise of all was the performance of the Ravens offensive line. While they didnâ€™t approach the production they had hoped on the ground given Jamal Lewisâ€™ inconsistencies, as a unit the offensive line was able to overcome injuries to Mulitalo, Vincent, Brian Rimpf and Ogden and provide consistent protection for the teamâ€™s prized newcomer, Steve McNair. McNair and Boller were sacked only 17 times enabling McNair to start every game this season, something he has managed only once in the previous seven seasons.
The Edgar goes to the Ravens offensive line…
Devard Darling showed some of the promise in the preseason that persuaded the Ravens to make him a third round pick in 2004. Yet he manage to make the active roster just once in 17 games and in his three disappointing seasons he had only 2 catches for 5 yards. There are busts and there are nuclear explosions. Iâ€™m seeing mushroom clouds when it comes to Darlingâ€™s career.
Another third round pick that didnâ€™t make his way on to the field all season is David Pittman. Pittman was expected to be the teamâ€™s nickel back yet never made the active roster. Undrafted free agents Ronnie Prude and Evan Oglesby moved past Pittman on the depth charts and while itâ€™s too early to label Pittman a bust, donâ€™t walk too close to him with a pin.
However the biggest disappointment in â€™06 was the inability of the Ravens to get Dan Cody on to the field. Cody was inactive for the first 9 games of the season and then in only his second game of activity, Cody went down against the Steelers with a knee injury from which he never recovered. The Ravens wasted a game day roster spot with the very limited Clarence Moore in 6 of those first 9 games, failing to take the opportunity to get Cody on the field particularly in light of Adalius Thomasâ€™ pending free agency. The only thing the Ravens know about Cody at this point is that he has two bad knees and that he works very hard while rehabbing. That is disappointing to say the least for a player with high expectations who will be entering his third season in the NFL.
The unfortunate Edgar goes to Dan Cody…
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Traditionally this award is extended to a player who overcomes some kind of adversity or injury or both. And usually the award goes to a lunch pail type, a player who in many ways is unsung. Whatâ€™s not usual about our award is that it goes to the most celebrated of all Ravens, Ray Lewis. Lewis had a tumultuous offseason in 2006 when he rehabilitated a hamstring injury that was shrouded in mystery and an offseason that had its share of off-the-field drama, including a painful interview with ESPN during which he seemed prepared to leave Baltimore. Many wondered if he could ever reestablish his leadership role on the team.
Lewis surprisingly managed to do exactly that. He inspired his teammates on defense and he was the biggest sideline cheerleader for the teamâ€™s offense. His ability to put past differences aside and his reinvigorated play and leadership on the field played a large part in the teamâ€™s overall success in â€™06.
The Edgar goes to Ray Lewis…
When he first arrived on the scene as a fifth round pick from Illinois, Tony Pashos was considered by some to be no more than an adequate reserve. But Pashos wasnâ€™t buying and over the course of the past two seasons, heâ€™s trained extremely hard and worked his way into the starting line up. This season, he was not just a starter by default. Pashos held his own and could be the most desirable free agent right tackle on the market this offseason. Pashos was steady despite some instability at right guard given the nagging injuries of Keydrick Vincent. Without his consistency, the Ravens couldnâ€™t have shattered their team record of fewest sacks allowed (17) and accomplished the unexpected â€“ Steve McNair starting all 16 games. Hereâ€™s to Baltimoreâ€™s â€œBig Fat Greek Tackleâ€, the Edgar award winner for Unsung Hero — Tony Pashos.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The Ravens had an unusually productive crop of rookies that contributed significantly. Demetrius Williams showed poise and the route running and ball skills of a veteran. Haloti Ngata proved that he wasnâ€™t the sloppy and lazy defensive tackle that ESPNâ€™s Mark Schlereth described him as during the broadcast of the 2006 NFL Draft. If anything, Ngataâ€™s performance improved as the season wore on and he showed no signs of fatigue. Sam Koch was a solid directional punter and manager of field position while Chris Chester chipped in capably when the injury bug bit Vincent. But for my money, the Rookie of the Year for the Ravens is clearly Dawan Landry. Heading into the season there was some concern about filling the void left by departing free agent Will Demps. And while I would argue that the void wasnâ€™t all that big anyway, Landry stepped in with some hard-nosed support of the rushing defense, at times looking like a small linebacker. As the season progressed he developed better timing on his run and pass blitzing and he rarely seemed to be out of position in the secondary in a way that cost the Ravens, save a missed assignment against the Saints that led to a Joe Horn touchdown. He also tied a Ravens rookie record with 5 interceptions. Landry was ready, willing and most importantly able to step in without being the defenseâ€™s weak link while helping the Ravensâ€™ defense accomplish something theyâ€™ve never achieved before â€“ the leagueâ€™s No. 1 ranking in yards and points allowed.
The Edgar goes to the rookie from Georgia Tech, Dawan Landry…
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
He brought poise to the most celebrated position on the football field â€“ perhaps in all of sports. He was a calming influence to an offense that had grown accustomed a hyperkinetic presence. His quiet and unassuming leadership galvanized a team that was fractured by a fault line that split the offense and defense in 2005. The results surpassed most expectations as the Ravens set a team record for wins and captured their second AFC North Title. None of this could have happened without our Edgar MVP, Steve McNair.