What a difference a year makes! This time last year I was looking for reasons to get interested in Oriole spring training (Hah!). In this 2008 season, with a rookie head coach and quarterback, I was just hoping the Ravens would tread water with a 6 win season. 8-8 would have been fantastic. Instead, we went from a 5 win, under-achieving team full of disgruntled veterans to 13 wins, one away from the Super Bowl. Needless to say, the Ravens exceeded all of our expectations.
After a tough, tough loss to Steelers Sunday night, I had some trouble figuring out how to headline this column. In the immediate rush of the Sunday Night disappointment some things ran through my head like:
The Return of “The Brian”
As in, where the hell did our offense go in the past two weeks?
Pittsburgh Prods (Stupid) Penalties
The Sunday night game is living proof Hines Ward doesn’t have to be on the field for the Ravens to suffer a costly brain cramp against the Steelers.
Flacco Needs a Flack Jacket
Pittsburgh finally made Joe Cool look Uncool. He saved his worse game, by far, for the last.
I reminded myself that the Ravens were 2 points behind with 5 minutes to go; that they held the Steelers to 11 first downs; and that Ben Roethlisberger, for all his versatility, was harassed and hurried for much of the night. But after playing 18 straight games, and going 4-deep in the depth chart at some positions, the fatigue and skill factor finally caught up to the Ravens. The Steelers were more rested, healthier, and stronger at a few critical positions than the Ravens.
And finally, I had to acknowledge that the Ravens lost to the better team.
Now, while we remember this surprising season, it’s also time to turn to the future.
It’s common for NFL rosters to change as much 20% from year to year. This year will be no different for the Ravens as we’ll lose personnel on and off the field. The speculation has already started on who should stay and who should go.
But before we do that let’s celebrate this year, for in 2009 the Ravens came too far, overcame too many injuries, exceeded so many expectations, that a fan can only sit back and say “What a helluva year!” And that’s what I’m going to do here.
To John Harbaugh for his hard-nosed, team-first philosophy. From day one of training camp you set the tone for the year, and managed to get the veterans to buy in. Through losing streaks and winning streaks, weekly dingers and season-ending injuries, you never deviated from your vision. Even after that bitter loss Sunday night to the Steelers, you told your players not to whine, not to complain, and to give the Steelers their due. The team is in good hands for years to come.
To Joe Flacco, our quarterback of the future. Many fans, myself included, expected nothing more than for you to hold a clipboard for most of the year. You stepped up and led the team to a resoundingly successful season. You weren’t a rookie for long. In the off season, Ozzie will work to get you the help you need, namely a big, speedy wide receiver who can take the load off Derrick Mason.
To Rex Ryan, for coaching the league’s second-ranked defense despite losing 3 starters for the season and numerous others for significant periods. You’re unfailingly positive, creative of mind, a leader of men.
To Cam Cameron, for bringing a breath of fresh air to the Ravens offense. Even though I thought you lost your way in the last two games, I finally have a reason to cheer “Let’s go, Flacco!” as well as “Dee-Fense!”
To Derrick Mason and Ed Reed, Ubermenschen, for setting the standard for playing in pain and making major contributions while doing it.
Again to Rex Ryan, a promotion well-deserved and long overdue. Enjoy East Rutherford, big guy. Oh, and one other thing……don’t read the New York tabloids over breakfast after a loss.
To George Kokinis, as you journey to Lake Erie, I wish you fair winds, following seas, and the Wisdom of Solomon. In the Land of the Clowns you’ll need them.
Jason Brown, Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs, Lorenzo Neal, Matt Stover, and Jim Leonhard: The Ravens can’t keep you all. Some of you won’t be back. Thanks to all for your contributions in this most uncommon of football seasons.
Fran the Fan