With the win over the Bucs yesterday, John Harbaugh clinched his 10th non-losing season in 11 years as the head coach of the Ravens.
Just a few weeks ago, there was speculation that Harbaugh and the Ravens would part ways at the end of the year.
Now, there should be momentum toward extending his contract to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.
Despite some bumps along the way, this season might have been Harbaugh’s finest performance.
The Ravens lost quarterback Joe Flacco to a right hip injury on Nov. 4. At the time, the team was mired in a three-game losing streak that put its playoff hopes in jeopardy.
Enter rookie Lamar Jackson.
The Ravens had to overhaul the offense to highlight the strengths of the rookie first-round pick. Jackson has responded by going 4-1 as the starter and has the Ravens in the driver’s seat for the playoffs.
Despite missing the postseason for the last three years and the adversity of this season, Harbaugh never lost his confidence or his faith.
When the Ravens snapped that three-game losing streak by beating the Bengals, I asked Harbaugh if occupying the sixth spot in the playoffs changed the dynamic around the team.
This was his response:
“You guys are in here every week with me, every week with me. Have I changed? Has anything changed? Has it been the exact same message from every day? So, the answer is ‘no.’ It’s the same dynamic. Nothing changes. That doesn’t mean anything. I don’t care what seed you are. You have a five-way tie at 5-5 for sixth place [after] Week, what, 10? There are six more games to play. It will be determined in the next six weeks. Nothing is over, so all of you guys who counted us out, we aren’t out. We’re not dead. Sorry.
And anybody who thinks that we have it clinched, no. No way. It’s going to be the teams that play the best, the teams that play the best football the next six weeks starting this week, and that’s going to be our focus. Our focus is going to be to win this game this week. That’s all we can do. So, all the grand things? You’re asking the wrong guy. I’m focused on the game, getting ready to play the game, just like our players are. All the critics, I’m dead to them. All of the people that all of the sudden are going to pat you on the back and say, ‘You’re in sixth place,’ that’s meaningless. Let’s go win a football game. Let’s prepare, starting tomorrow, to win a football game, and that’s what we’re going to do. And, we’ll be serious about it, but we’ll have fun.
“Our guys love football. They have a great spirit. I love the way they compete. To me, that’s what we should be talking about here. Talk about how those guys played. Do you like football? You love it, right? Then you like the way those guys played. I know you do. And, that’s what you always write about. The spirit of the way the guys, how hard they played … Take a look at how we covered. Look at how we covered. You talk about tenacious coverage, getting after it. Look at the way we ran to the ball. Look at the way our backs ran, how our quarterback … ‘Oh, he had 27 carries!’ You know what he did? He won the game. He played his tail, he played his butt off. I wanted to say he played his ass off. Are we allowed to say that on TV?” (Reporter: “You just did.”) “Oh, I just did. That’s what he did! Celebrate that, move on. We have to get better to win the next game. The way we played the last game won’t be good enough to win the next game. That’s just the way it works. That’s how football works. I would suggest you take that home and apply it in your life out there. It works.”
Those are the words of a leader.
When Flacco was cleared to play this week, Harbaugh didn’t flinch and stayed with Jackson, who is expected to play a vital role with the future of the team.
Harbaugh has many detractors that say the Ravens need a new voice.
But change for the sake of change is rarely successful.
Would Mike McCarthy do a better job?
Would Josh McDaniels help Jackson take the next step in his development?
It’s hard to say.
Even though the Ravens have been mediocre since winning their last Super Bowl, Harbaugh has gone 102-72 as the head coach.
Maybe owner Steve Bisciotti will make a change if the Ravens fail to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
That decision might satisfy a large portion of the fanbase.
One way or another, Harbaugh will coaching in the NFL next season.
Be careful what you wish for.