Reversal of Team fortunes starts with Harbaugh, ends with playoffs

RAVENS INSIDER

December 29, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,mike.preston@baltsun.com

J ohn Harbaugh didn't know where to begin in talking about his team's turnaround from a year ago after the 11-5 Ravens clinched a playoff spot yesterday with a 27-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. But there are three major reasons.

The biggest difference from a year ago is Harbaugh, who replaced Brian Billick as coach after a 5-11 season. Harbaugh put together a quality coaching staff, and the final piece was the development of rookie Joe Flacco, the franchise-changing quarterback that this team has coveted for so long.

Harbaugh not only preached the team concept, but he also brought a strong work ethic with him, something the Ravens desperately lacked. And he never backed away from his philosophy.

Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome put together one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL, one that includes offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, offensive line coach John Matsko and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson.

Matsko tutored a young offensive line, and Cameron and Jackson have done an excellent job in developing Flacco, who completed 17 of 23 passes for 297 yards yesterday.

The Ravens aren't the most talented team in the league, but they outwork other teams and grind them down.

Excluding the 2000 Super Bowl season, this has been the best and most satisfying season in the team's short history.

Prayers answered

If the Ravens couldn't find a church service last night, they should look for one this morning. They should drop down on their knees and be thankful they don't have to travel to face the New England Patriots this weekend. Instead, the Ravens travel to Miami.

But when things are going right, those kinds of things happen. Miami held on for a victory over the New York Jets yesterday, and New England was eliminated.

If the Jets had won, Baltimore would be playing in New England this weekend against Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

"It's zero-zero, and nothing you did earlier in the season matters anymore," Ravens running back Le'Ron McClain said.

Drop zone

Jacksonville receivers dropped four passes, including one over the middle in the end zone. Wide receiver Reggie Williams dropped two.

It's amazing that players can get to this level and not hold on to passes. According to one representative from Jacksonville, the Jaguars have dropped 41 passes this season.

Veteran moves

The Ravens' Willie Anderson has been one of the league's best offensive tackles during the past 13 seasons, and it's apparent he has learned a lot of the tricks of the trade.

No one holds better than Anderson. There were times yesterday when he just collared defensive linemen, but they always came when he had his back to the officials. Nice job, Willie.

Dumb penalties

As the wins increase, so do some of the stupid penalties. It might be time for Harbaugh to take a timeout and get the situation under control before it hurts the Ravens in the playoffs.

The roughing-the-quarterback call against linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs in the first half was unnecessary, and the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty against defensive tackle Haloti Ngata at the end of the half was just as careless.

Starting this weekend, you can't just give up 30 yards so easily and get away with it.

Athletic linemen

In the past, the Ravens drafted athletic and mobile offensive linemen but stayed with a downhill running game. But they use more traps, counters and tosses than in previous seasons.

Also, it's a beautiful thing to watch right guard Chris Chester pull around the corner.

Rex to the rescue?

It's that time of the year when NFL coaches get fired, and the carousel should start today. There is already speculation that Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan could be the new head coach of the St. Louis Rams, and there might be a change in Cleveland, where the Browns fired general manager Phil Savage.

As of last night, Ryan said he had heard nothing.

A Boller sighting

Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller was on the sideline for the game and said the operation and rehabilitation on his shoulder had gone well. Boller was put on injured reserve during the preseason.

Boller was happy watching his teammates clinch a playoff spot and has noticed great improvement in Flacco.

"I'm so happy for the guys. I'm so glad I was able to come to this game," Boller said. "They've had a heck of a year. Not only Joe, but the whole offense. From this year to last year, it's been awesome to watch.

"It's like night and day," Boller said of Flacco's development. "I think back to St. Louis when we were there for the preseason game, and Joe came a long way. Seeing him now, he's ready for the playoffs."

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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