Perspective won't cure Ravens heartbreak

January 22, 2012|Peter Schmuck

Nobody wants to hear about perspective at a time like this. It's just too soon. The disappointment is too raw.

The Ravens will be watching the New England Patriots represent the AFC in the Super Bowl even though Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady and – for a split second – Lee Evans had his arms around the game-winning touchdown.

This one's going to hurt for awhile. Just ask Billy Cundiff, who missed a short field goal in the final seconds that would have kept hope alive.

There isn't going to be a Super Harbaugh Bowl in the backyard of the evil Indianapolis Colts or a rematch of the 2001 Super Bowl that has been the Ravens' calling card for too many years now. Owner Steve Bisciotti will to have to wait at least another 12 months to light up a big fat cigar and hoist his very own Lombardi Trophy.

John Harbaugh can say that the Ravens had a great year – and he would be correct – but it will be some time before it feels that way. That's the price of success. The Ravens have been to the playoffs in each of his four seasons, so the desire to climb higher makes perfectionists of us all.

If you need proof of that, consider that they'll probably hold a parade on Pratt Street if the Orioles finish at .500 this year, but local sports fans will spend the next few days filled with disappointment because the Ravens are only the second-best or third-best team in the NFL.

Then it will be time to look ahead – to speculate on just what the Ravens have to do to get to the mountaintop.

The case can be made that general manager Ozzie Newsome won't have to do much of anything. The Ravens were good enough this year. They came into Sunday's AFC title game with a 6-0 record against the teams on their schedule that made the playoffs. They won 12 regular-season games. They will almost certainly bring back all of their skills players on offense and most of their top players on the other side of the ball.

Fans will have to hold their collective breath for a few days to see if Ed Reed or Matt Birk decides to retire, but Ray Lewis has confirmed he will be back and the Ravens are otherwise a relatively young team that is going to stay largely intact. The same probably goes for the front office and coaching staff, though whispers about the job security of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seem inevitable after weeks of discontent with the Ravens' inconsistent offensive attack.

It will be lost in the aftermath of another crying game, but Cam called some pretty good shots.

This is where the whole perspective thing comes into focus again. The Ravens don't really need to find someone to blame. They went 13-5 (including last week's playoff win over the Houston Texans) this year and only one NFL team – the Pittsburgh Steelers – has won more regular season and playoff games during the Harbaugh era.

So, it's back to The Castle for a ton of soul-searching and strategizing to get into position to take that next step next season.

The player personnel staff will move quickly into draft mode and start looking for an impact player who will still be around when the Ravens make their first pick very late in the first round. There are also some big contract issues looming, since it's time to lock up Flacco long-term and (most likely) put the franchise tag on running back Ray Rice for the 2012 season.

Please, stop all the blather about Flacco not being the guy to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl. The Ravens waited a long time to settle on a franchise quarterback, and they've got the young quarterback who won more regular season games in his first four seasons than any other in NFL history. He just threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns and delivered a perfect pass to Evans that would have won the game if it hadn't been stripped away by rookie Sterling Moore before Evans could establish that the play was complete.

It may be true that Flacco still has to prove he can win the last game of the season, but the same goes for Matt Ryan and Phillip Rivers and 23 other starting quarterbacks in the league.

The trick is creating the perfect offensive system to maximize his talent, which will almost certainly be debated inside the front office over the next few weeks. That will also be a hot topic on the airwaves and the Internet, where Cameron has been taking more than his share of lumps throughout the season.

The Ravens should again have one of the top defensive teams next year, but it would look a lot different without Reed roaming around the deep secondary. He and Birk have remained non-committal about next season, but their fans can only hope that the one upside of Sunday's devastating loss is that it leaves the two of them feeling like they have some unfinished business.

Time will tell. Everyone will need some time to pause and reflect on another good season that ended a couple of weeks too soon.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" at noon on Fridays on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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