Ravens own different attitude leading up to season opener

September 03, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

Terrell Suggs remembered last offseason going by like a blur. There was the parade and various celebrations and appearances. The trip to the White House and the Super Bowl XLVII ring ceremony were in early June and about six weeks later, the Ravens were back at the team facility for training camp.

That period tends to drag, especially for a veteran like Suggs. But as he recalls, last year's training camp didn't last long enough.

"Last year, I'll be totally honest with you, I kind of felt like we ran out of time," Suggs said. "I kind of felt like we needed one more game or an extra week of training camp last year. The first week kind of crept up on us really fast, and you could see it. This year, this team is more prepared, and we took advantage of our time in training camp."

Suggs was hardly making an excuse, not for last year's regular-season opening, 49-27, loss to the Denver Broncos or an 8-8 campaign that left the Ravens out of the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The team's longest tenured player was more addressing the different attitude that he senses around the team facility as the Ravens get ready for their 2014 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

"Last year, we were all still coming off that emotional high of the Super Bowl and it was short-lived," Suggs said. "But this year, we're coming off an 8-8 season. I think the sense of urgency is definitely heightened, and we're ready to get back after it and get back to playing some Ravens-style football around here."

Starting Sunday, the Ravens will face their three AFC North foes in the first 15 days of their season. However, the players say that it is the Bengals who have their full attention. After all, it was Cincinnati that ended their two-year reign atop the division, and officially kept them out of the playoffs by beating the Ravens, 34-17, in Week 17.

"It's tough to look back and say that I, and we, didn't feel very confident going into that game, because we had a lot riding [on it]," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We always feel pretty confident, but they got after us a little bit last year, and we didn't play very well in that final game. I think we're ready to go. It's the beginning of a new year. … We're excited and we're confident. We're going to go out there and we're going to have the nerves just like we always do on Sunday afternoon. It's going to feel good."

Flacco is preparing to start his seventh season opener, and last year's blowout by the Broncos in Denver was the only one that he's ever lost. The Ravens have won eight consecutive home openers dating back to 2006 and they've won 14 consecutive games at home in September.

Those statistics elicited little more than shrugs from Ravens' players who have insisted that the past has no bearing on the season that's about to begin. The current Ravens have an overhauled coaching staff, a new offense under coordinator Gary Kubiak and different players dotted throughout their roster.

But throughout a long training camp and a 4-0 preseason, players were pleased with how things were coming together.

"I think we're excited about where we're at as a team right now about our potential as a team," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "Now, it's about being able to put those pieces together and being able to show it on Sunday."

The Bengals will provide a good test. Marvin Lewis' team has been to the playoffs three straight years — a franchise record — and they are considered the favorite by most pundits to win the AFC North.

The Ravens and Bengals have split their two matchups in consecutive seasons, but the Ravens have won the past four games played at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Bengals' Lewis admitted there is some uncertainty about playing the Ravens so early this year, because of the Kubiak effect.

"Any time that you have an opening game, there is some uncertainty," Lewis said. "There's no question about that. Yes, we have some uncertainty of how things are, but Gary is an excellent football coach, and he's done a great job. We have to really be ready to play great defense."

Lewis was predictably brief with many of his answers during a conference call with the Baltimore media. His counterpart, John Harbaugh, has also shifted into regular-season mode in recent days, most of his responses becoming shorter, specifically in regards to questions about injuries and roster decisions.

The Ravens have had all 53 of their players practicing this week, so injuries seemingly aren't a great concern following a training camp in which the Ravens lost young defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore to season-ending injuries and were forced to play most of the preseason without their top three cornerbacks.

Their biggest challenge now may just be tempering the enthusiasm with still a few days left before the game.

"We talked about that with the team a little bit today. It's kind of like the first hit in a game or of training camp when you come back," Harbaugh said. "There's anxiety and excitement, but there's anxiety until you get that first hit. As soon as you get the first hit, the game is on and you're playing. … When we get into the first game, the season is on. Until then, you just can't wait to get started."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/JeffZrebiecSun

Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.

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