Many members of the Ravens lamented how close they had come to the Super Bowl following Sunday’s heartbreaking loss in the AFC championship, but left tackle Bryant McKinnie was feeling a sense of déjà vu.
It was only two years earlier that McKinnie, playing for the Minnesota Vikings against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship, found himself moments away from a potential trip to the Super Bowl. The Vikings were driving deep inside New Orleans’ territory for the potential game-winning score before quarterback Brett Favre threw an inexplicable interception in the closing seconds of regulation with the game tied, 28-28. The Saints then won the coin toss to begin overtime and won on a field goal, leaving the Vikings wondering what could have been.
With the Ravens wasting an opportunity to win the game with Joe Flacco’s pass to Lee Evans in the end zone and missing a chance to tie the game with Billy Cundiff’s field goal attempt from 32 yards two plays later, McKinnie found himself falling just short of the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons.
“They’re kind of similar,” McKinnie said. “We lost both of them by three points. It’s just very tough because you’re so close to your ultimate goal, and you fall three points short.”
Just as he thought the Vikings were in position to beat the Saints in the closing seconds, McKinnie felt temporary elation as Flacco’s pass dropped into the hands of Evans before Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore poked the ball free. Two plays later, potential excitement transformed into devastation as Cundiff’s kick sailed wide left.
“[There was] the emotion up and down when I thought Lee caught the ball, just different stuff that pulled on you emotionally,” said McKinnie, who has one year remaining on his current deal with the Ravens. “Like I said, we just have to hopefully be able to pick up and get back there next year.”
Signed by the Ravens just over two weeks before the start of the regular season, McKinnie entered the year as the biggest — literally and figuratively — question mark on the offensive line. He finished the season as the only starter on the line not to miss a snap the entire season in what amounted to a solid campaign for the 32-year-old tackle.
Kicked to the curb by Minnesota after ballooning to nearly 400 pounds by the time the 132-day lockout ended, McKinnie worked himself into better shape before general manager Ozzie Newsome signed him to a two-year deal on Aug. 24. Eventually getting his weight down to roughly 360 pounds, McKinnie provided stability at the left tackle position and allowed third-year tackle Michael Oher to return to the right side where the Ravens did not have an answer during the preseason.
With a checkered off-field history and a reputation for being difficult with the media, McKinnie was the polar opposite, being a model citizen and accommodating interview requests on a regular basis.
However, the highlight of his season came in the opener when he dominated Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison and any other Steelers defender crossing his path in the Ravens’ 35-7 demolition of their hated nemesis.
“For me, personally, I feel like it was a great season coming from the situation in Minnesota and then coming in here and being part of a team that made it to the AFC championship,” McKinnie said. “So, I feel like it was a pretty good season.”
The Ravens may elect to address the tackle position this offseason with McKinnie set to turn 33 early in the 2012 season and not knowing whether Oher will be able to handle the left tackle position in the future. Of course, they will also need to make a decision on the future of Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs — who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason — and the center position with veterans Matt Birk and Andre Gurode both being free agents.
McKinnie showed fairly consistent ability as a pass blocker but did not show as much aptitude in run blocking, which was a criticism of the veteran in his final years with the Vikings. However, a motivated McKinnie with a full offseason to train at the Ravens’ Owings Mills facility might maximize his ability and allow the Ravens to delay the decision to acquire another left tackle for another year.
“I actually have an offseason this year where I can actually work on technique and not just kind of [being] out there kind of free-styling a little bit,” McKinnie said. “I feel like I’ll be better next year.”
And if the big tackle has it his way, he’ll earn the opportunity to finally get to the Super Bowl after falling painfully short in two of the last three years.
To hear McKinnie’s full comments from Monday morning, click HERE.