It’s never easy trying to repeat as a sports champion. Ask anyone who has ever won.
For the 2013 Baltimore Ravens it became clear quite early in training camp that last season was a long, long time ago. This year’s version of the defending champions spent 16 mostly-long weeks, like Barry Manilow, trying to get that feeling again. And as the clock ticked down on the final, gruesome minutes in Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t hard to get inside the brain of general manager Ozzie Newsome because his thoughts probably mirrored ours.
This team just wasn’t very good.
For the 18th consecutive year I walked through the Ravens locker room at the end of a season and this time surveyed the carnage of lost hopes and dreams. There were two times — in Tampa and New Orleans — when I still was wondering about the future even as delicious as the present was at that precious moment in time. Every year I look around that room of mostly battered men and wonder how many will be on the field in Owings Mills when they take the field in late July. This time I had more questions and more confusion because of how under-performing so many players were at so many positions across the roster.
At heart, the Ravens lacked “great” players. All over the place.
Owner Steve Bisciotti will take the podium at some point in the next 10 days and discuss his thoughts on trying to repeat and what he gleaned from an 8-8 finish and four months of woeful offensive theater.
When the years pass and any fan looks back on 2013 and sees that somehow the kicker was voted the team’s MVP, well…that just about says it all. No offense to kickers anywhere, but when Justin Tucker is your team’s MVP – and really, there wasn’t much argument regarding his choice — you probably don’t deserve to make the playoffs.
And yet somehow this pesky group from Baltimore made it all the way into the second half of Week 17 with a chance to play into 2014. They weren’t 4-12 and playing out the string. The season wasn’t over in October. And given the heroics and determination we’ve witnessed over the past six seasons since John Harbaugh arrived, when the game was 17-17 in Cincinnati yesterday it wasn’t hard to envision a 9-7 finish and some unlikely hero finding some way to create a play that extended the season into the New Year.
But, alas, the Ravens probably got what they deserved – an early trip to the golf course with the rest of the 19 other teams who stumbled and bumbled through the fall.
“We’re an 8-8 team,” Flacco said from the podium at Paul Brown Stadium. “We didn’t deserve to go to the playoffs.”
I see the mindless posts from football fans who drink too much in the first half of games each week. The unseemly criticism of Flacco and his salary and his play – much of which is predicated on blocking, scheme and route-running from others — is almost comical for anyone who really watches football and understands the value of a world-class quarterback and a well-oiled offensive machine. Flacco’s “eliteness” has become a running civic conversation. The parade, the Super Bowl MVP performance, the five straight years of exciting football in January seems to be vanquished into the gutter of people’s minds in Baltimore anytime the Ravens lose.
It’s really unbelievable to me how unappreciated Flacco is by the mental midgets in the Ravens fan base who clearly don’t remember the 15 guys who played quarterback before him from 1996 through 2007.
There’s even a case to be made that the season ended two weeks ago when Flacco limped off the field in Detroit. Without Joe Flacco, there’s very little doubt that the season would’ve ended before it began especially given the lack of talent and results across the roster.
It was clearly Flacco’s worst season in the NFL but it’s also very clear that virtually every component of the team around him underachieved and