2011 AFC North Division Champions.
#2 overall seed in the AFC Playoffs, and a first round bye.
First home playoff game at M&T Bank since 2007. First ever under Head Coach John Harbaugh, QB Joe Flacco, and RB Ray Rice.
Now, I ask you, the Baltimore sports fan…as we sit here, January 2, 2012…does it get any better then this??
The answer your looking for is an emphatic NO! As I sit here right now typing this blog, I do so fully basking in what my Baltimore Ravens have accomplished this season. I sit here in my Gameday #5 Jo Flacco jersey, having perused sports websites, reading up on how my Ravens locked up the AFC’s #2 seed, and a critical first round bye with a 24-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last evening. And, to quote Terrell Suggs, “I’m just taking it all in.”
But more importantly, while I’m still grinning from ear to ear, I want to take a step back, and thank the Baltimore Ravens. Not just for an incredible run so far, filled with the usual ups and downs of any NFL season. Not just for bringing the NFL postseason back to Charm City. But also because of who they aren’t. They aren’t the Baltimore Orioles. They aren’t the New York Jets. They aren’t the Washington Redskins. They aren’t the Cleveland Browns. The list of course could go on and on, but you get the idea. For all the nonsense we hear from some “fans” complaining about Flacco, and Cam, and the fact that the Ravens lost to Jacksonville and Seattle, and they don’t play well on the road, the Ravens are a model football organization. From the top down, they are filled with classy people, who want just one thing…to win football games. Unlike the other major sports franchise in town. Winning, and treating the fans the right way is placed above making money. That’s why we’re sitting where we are right now.
In the aftermath of last year’s second half collapse in the AFC Divisional Playoff game in Pittsburgh, the Ravens realized one thing. In order to get to where they want to go, the Super Bowl, they had to find a way to beat Pittsburgh. So they spent the entire offseason building a team that would deliver against their most hated rival. After all, if you can’t win your own division, your chances of winning the conference are that much bleaker. The Ravens figured that out, and came into the season understanding that their first priority was finding a way to beat the Steelers. They did just that, thumping them 35-7 on opening day. From there, it was just a matter of staying in the mix. Or as Coach Harbaugh likes to say, “positioning themselves.” And they did that.
Were there hiccups along the way? Of course, few NFL teams go through a season and not have the occasional stubbing of the toe. This is the NFL, and while there are teams like the Colts and Rams who find a way to lose 14 games, the term Any Given Sunday applies every time a team takes the field. That’s football. That’s why we love it. And no, the ravens are never going to be confused with the Packers, Saints, Lions, or Patriots offensively. But they aren’t built that way. They’re built to win the AFC North, and the Steelers. And, to all the naysayers out there, I would like to point out that they accomplished both this season.
For me, in the most important game of the season, at the most important moment in the season, was when Joe Flacco drove the Ravens 92 yards in Heinz Field with just over 2 minutes to go, to beat the Steelers, 23-20. And while they didn’t officially clinch the division until last night, Flacco won the division that November night in Pittsburgh. It gave them the crucial tie breaker over the Steelers in the division, and allowed them to position themselves to do what they were able to accomplish last night. As always, with this team, nothing is ever easy, and they had to fight down to the last play in order to earn the bye. But they did it, and it was all possible because of that 92 yard drive in Pittsburgh. If that drive doesn’t happen, and the Ravens lose that game, 20-16, they finish the season 11-5 and Steelers win the division at 13-3, and get the #1 seed based on their head to head win against New England. The road again, would go through Pittsburgh. But that didn’t happen.
From here on in, we will watch how the NFL post season unfolds, beginning with the Wild Card matchups this weekend. What will happen?? I have no idea. But I can say that as I sit here today, I fully intend on soaking it all in, and reveling in the fact that my Baltimore Ravens gave this city the best New Year’s present. I look forward to the city and county being awash in purple, and strangers on the street stopping one another as they hi-five and show their purple pride. That’s what the Ravens give to this city this time of year. And the division title, makes it that much sweeter. If only the other sports franchise in town would give us that feeling from April to October.
But for now, let’s just enjoy the moment, and thank the Baltimore Ravens for a championship season. And I fully believe, that they’re only just begun.