With their devastating loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens’ 2013 season is now likely over, despite the incredible promise that existed for taking the Division lead and staying tight in the playoff hunt with just a few wins in a row – if the Browns game had been won first.
It can be debated whether this is academic or fatalistic, but with as desperate and must-win a game as the Browns game was, I prefer to take a realistic approach: It’s probably over now, with the Ravens needing to go at least 7-1 in their last eight to make the playoffs, and that’s extremely unlikely with this team’s broken, one-dimensional offense that simply cannot run the football.
A string of just four wins together would have locked the Ravens into first place in the AFC North, but instead this loss has them far outside looking in.
What is most likely to happen instead is a 6-10 record by season’s end, with far too many frustrating similarities to the last season in which Baltimore failed to make the playoffs, 2007.
During that season, the Ravens started 4-2 then headed to a critical contest against the Buffalo Bills on the road. In the 2007 season, like this one, the Ravens were coming off a successful playoff season the year before. In 2006, the Ravens went 13-3 and hosted a home playoff game (after a first-round bye) before laying an egg against long-time nemesis Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional round.
This year the Ravens were coming off a Super Bowl win and holding a 2-1 record before what should have been a laugher of a win against the Bills. Instead, like 2007’s 19-14 loss, the Ravens dropped a game they needed to win with Joe Flacco throwing five interceptions in the team’s (similarly close) 23-20 defeat to drop the team to 2-2.
In 2007 the Ravens next game was a blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where in 2013 the Ravens lost to the Steelers just three games later. The Bills loss followed by the Steeler blowout loss began what became a free-fall in which the team consecutively lost all but its last game of the season and finished 5-11.
That season, like in this season, Baltimore made some curious personnel decisions that ended up hurting the team, including not re-signing star running back Jamal Lewis or attempting to re-sign Adalius Thomas, weakening both the offense and defense.
The 2013 Ravens of course, to the consternation of football observers across the country, performed a fire sale/engineered exodus of many of their key Super Bowl starters, including veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Ed Reed, safety Bernard Pollard, cornerback Cary Williams and fellow defenders Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.
That team, like the 2013 team suffered key injuries – with starting quarterback Steve McNair missing time or playing hurt for much of the season – where the 2013 team lost TE Dennis Pitta before the season began and offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele during the season.
That 2007 team lost inexplicably at Cleveland early, and then lost again to Cleveland in Baltimore in what was the last game the Browns had won against Baltimore until Sunday, after K Phil Dawson’s late, bounce-shot field goal to tie, and then another to win in overtime.
The 2007 team quit on Coach Brian Billick and the veterans tuned him out, which has not yet occurred in the 2013 team towards John Harbaugh. But where there is a similarity is that both teams lacked veteran leadership – in 2007 because the team’s veterans quit, and in 2013 because the main leaders of the team are gone from retirement (Matt Birk, Ray Lewis) or free agency (Ed Reed).
The 2007 lost season had a lot to do with poor play in the Division (1-5) as the 2013 season seems to be heading (1-2 in Division games). The Ravens that season lost five games by a touchdown or less and have this season already lost four games by a touchdown or less.
Sure, the 2013 team has had a zone blocking scheme prove to be disaster and erase a once-prolific running game, which the 2007 team did not have to deal with, and there have been many other different issues, but as the Ravens reflect on what went wrong this season, they at least have a playbook from 2007 to guide them.
While some of you will point out that the Ravens still have a chance with eight games remaining– and that is technically true – but with the games on the schedule, anything other than a true miracle finish was predicated on being able to win key Division games, including beating the Browns in Cleveland.
Unfortunately, the Ravens simply didn’t get that job done; just like the 2007 team also failed when it mattered.