Less than two weeks removed from being crowned World Champions, the Ravens already find themselves in familiar territory as underdogs for a repeat performance next season. Currently with the fifth-best odds to win the Super Bowl, the Ravens are tied for fourth even win the AFC, let alone the Super Bowl.
Even though they’ve been ignored by oddsmakers, the Ravens will play the 2013 season with targets on their backs as the most recent team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Pre-existing high standards in Baltimore have only increased with the victory and quarterback Joe Flacco’s constant criticism will only grow as he plays under a microscope trying to live up to a contract that has yet to be signed – a contract that will pay him one of the highest salaries for a quarterback in NFL history.
The Ravens intend on repeating their championship performance, but head coach John Harbaugh was adamant that he doesn’t want his team referred to as “defending champions” next season.
“I don’t really believe in the defending champ thing,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not boxing. They don’t give you a belt, and you fight for the title.”
“The 2012 NFL champions were the Baltimore Ravens. Next year’s champion depends on who plays the best, who handles adversity the best, who comes out on top. We’ll fight for that championship just like we fought for the last one and everyone we’ll fight for thereafter.”
No team handled adversity better than the Ravens and that is one of the primary reasons they’ll receive Super Bowl rings later this spring. Before the team even steps foot onto a practice field this summer, they’ll have to make their biggest adjustment of all – playing as a team without their general.
There was no greater example of a player/coach in the NFL than Ray Lewis – and for the first time in franchise history, his name won’t appear anywhere on a Ravens roster. Lewis was a “Swiss Army Knife” to the organization and coaching staff – he was a player, coach, mentor and motivator, amongst other things. Simply put, he could do it all.
He may be missed by his teammates but no one will feel the first hand effects of Lewis’ retirement more than Harbaugh. In his 17th year in the NFL, Lewis’ skill set had began to decline and his value to the team came more as the person he was, not necessarily the player. Harbaugh is a motivator but he could also outsource most of his leadership duties to Lewis, simply based on the amount of respect everyone in the organization had for him.
Harbaugh was asked how much more difficult his job will be having to coach without Lewis next season.
“With Ray being gone, that’ll be different,” he said. “But our guys are up to the task. Our guys are just the men for the job, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Harbaugh has already gotten started as the Ravens now find themselves five weeks behind most of their peers in planning for 2013. With the NFL Combine starting next week, Harbaugh will have little downtime to reflect on the Super Bowl run and prepare to do it all over again…this time, without his Swiss Army Knife.