Savor these Ravens moments before future takes hold

January 10, 2009|By PETER SCHMUCK

If John Harbaugh brought anything new to the Ravens, it was his particular focus on the team and the time frame. The team comes first, second and third. The time is now. The rest matters only after there are no more games to play.

It is a seize-the-day mentality that has carried the Ravens beyond preseason expectations and over in-season obstacles to a place no one could have expected them to be - just hours from a showdown with the winningest team in the NFL for a chance to play in the AFC championship game.

So, I don't have to tell Ravens fans they've got to adopt the same approach. Everybody is on the Harbaugh highway now, though I'm not sure everyone realizes just how much the Latin phrase carpe diem applies to this Ravens team every time it takes the field during the playoffs.

The postseason is a do-or-die affair for every Super Bowl contender, but this particular postseason has brought the Ravens to an unusual crossroads. The Harbaugh era has only just begun, and already the team's amazing progress during his first year as coach has become a two-edged sword that could cut away at the foundation of that success before the Ravens have a chance to savor their surprising season.

There is no sense looking past today because there is no way to know what tomorrow is going to look like. There's a pretty good chance that defensive coordinator Rex Ryan will be coaching some other team next season, and he'll probably take a defensive coach or two with him. It wouldn't surprise anyone if quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson gets a third opportunity to be an offensive coordinator. Cam Cameron probably isn't going anywhere so soon after his 1-15 nightmare as head coach of the Miami Dolphins last season, but he didn't waste any time reminding everyone that he has one of the sharpest offensive minds in the business.

That's the price of success, and the Ravens' organization has always been willing to pay it, but it's also another good reason for Ravens fans to enjoy every moment of this team's playoff run as if it were the last.

It probably won't be, of course. The emergence of Joe Flacco as one of the premier young quarterbacks in the game would be enough to cement the long-term prospects of any franchise, and he's not the only young player making a big impression this year. Haloti Ngata has become a major force on the defensive line in his third pro season. Ben Grubbs has helped stabilize the offensive line in the first year of the post-Ogden era. Rookie Ray Rice has been banged up lately, but he has been an important part of the team's three-headed running game.

Meanwhile, it's fair to wonder how many of the veteran cornerstones of the defense will be back next season. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott are pending free agents, and it might be difficult to keep all of them. There are question marks all over the secondary even as it has become a dynamic, game-changing force during the second half of this season.

The future appears to be bright in spite of all that uncertainty, but Harbaugh doesn't allow himself to see past a one-game horizon, and neither should anybody else. This Ravens team emerged as a legitimate Super Bowl contender because it bought in to the notion that there was only one thing to worry about (the team) and only one game that made any difference (the next one). That might seem like a simple philosophy, but it really isn't a simple concept when you're forced to deal with a lost bye week and a host of other variables.

The older stars could have gotten caught up in their contract situations or the fact that this season might be their last hurrah in Baltimore. The younger players could have gotten blinded by the light at the end of the postseason tunnel. That didn't happen because Harbaugh did not let the focus wander past the immediate landscape. He showed all of them there is nothing wrong with being nearsighted when the task at hand requires your full attention.

Ryan might be gone next season. The coaching staff might have to be overhauled. The defense might not be quite as star-studded as you've come to expect. Which are all reasons to revel in the Ravens right now.

Who knows what the future will bring?

Who really cares?

Tomorrow will take care of itself.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Fridays and Saturdays.

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