Ravens looking for a bit of redemption after disappointing 2013 season

After missing the playoffs for the first time under John Harbaugh, the Ravens say they are ready for another Super Bowl run

September 05, 2014|By Childs Walker | The Baltimore Sun

Don't bother asking the Ravens about redemption. They're not interested in framing the 2014 season that way.

In fact, they'd just as soon not discuss last season — 8-8 record, no playoffs, lousy statistics for big-money players, off-field embarrassments — at all.

“That is for you guys to talk about,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said, summing up the general outlook. “Last year was last year.”

But with a team built largely around the same core of star players and decision-makers, the Ravens know questions loom. If they're to get back to the playoffs, where they expect to be, the same old parts have to hum in a way they rarely did in 2013.

From coach John Harbaugh to quarterback Joe Flacco to running back Ray Rice, the 2014 team is rife with key figures eager to rewrite their stories from last season.

“It sucks,” said 12th-year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, in a rare reflection on last year's disappointment. “It sucked to watch teams compete and teams that you played get the opportunity to win a championship. It sucks. It sucks, and it's definitely something we don't want to feel again.”

It's not just that the Ravens failed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. Flacco was named the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player, signed a $120 million contract and followed up with the worst season of his six-year career — 22 interceptions against 19 touchdown passes.

Rice injured his hip, and his production fell so precipitously that he became a mordant punch line for fantasy football players across the nation. In February, he put himself at the center of a much graver controversy over the NFL's handling of domestic violence when he appeared in a video, dragging his unconscious then-fiancee from an elevator in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino.

The star running back was one of five Ravens arrested for various offenses in the offseason.

In 2013, problems came in all shapes and sizes.

The offensive line, a quiet strength for much of the team's history, suddenly became the worst run-blocking unit in the league. The once-stout defense set an unwanted franchise record: most fourth-quarter points allowed.

For the first time in his six-year tenure, Harbaugh couldn't find a way to make his team peak as the playoffs approached.

Yet the Ravens' brain trust of Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti did not respond to the disappointments with an overhaul. In fact, they did far less roster tinkering than they had after the team's Super Bowl run the previous season.

Save for wide receiver Steve Smith, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and maybe rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, this year's team is built on the same foundation as in 2013. The decision-makers are largely counting on the old parts to function better.

“The fundamentals are still there,” Harbaugh said of the transition from 2013 to 2014. “As we say, the principles are written in stone, but the methods are not, and so we changed some methods.”

His theme for the preseason — “All In” — speaks more to enduring commitment than any kind of radical reform.

Which leaves Baltimore fans with plenty of questions as the Ravens prepare to open today against the AFC North's new kingpins, the Cincinnati Bengals.

Can Flacco make safer decisions while still hitting the long completions that propelled the Ravens to a championship? Can Rice rehabilitate not only his game but his public image? Can the offensive line, backed by Kubiak's running-game acumen, become functional? Can the team's defensive stars sustain a high level through 16 games?

It's quite a list of uncertainties for a team that still views itself as a playoff contender. But you wouldn't know it from talking to the principal characters, all of whom have radiated serenity during training camp.

To hear the Ravens tell it, they put 2013 behind them within days of their final defeat in Cincinnati. It's the athlete's credo: Don't dwell on old defeats or old victories. Prepare for what's next.

That message, rammed home by Harbaugh, has remained steady.

“I'm echoing what we hear from him,” said guard Marshal Yanda, the most experienced member of the offensive line. “It's a new season, a new start. Every season is a new start. Good or bad, you put it past you, go to work today and focus on what's important today. You can't look too far down the road in this business.”

Added Torrey Smith: “We have a brand-new offense, so for us to worry about things that happened last year when we have a brand-new offensive coordinator, [and] the defense is doing things a little bit differently … the past is behind us. It's all about going forward and improving from here on out.”

‘I'm in a great place'

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