Tag Archive | "Bernard Pollard"

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Chapter 19: The purple revolution in New England

Posted on 30 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“You guys will write great stories and can put it in way better words than I can. We’ve always believed in Joe. For Joe to come out and have this kind of game, on this kind of a stage, three weeks in a row…[Andrew] Luck’s a pretty good quarterback, [Peyton] Manning’s a pretty good quarterback, [Tom] Brady’s a great quarterback; all those guys are great players. But Joe’s a great quarterback. He’s proven that, and he’s not just proven that this year, he’s proven it for five years.”

– John Harbaugh (January 20, 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

IF REVENGE IS A DISH best served cold, then at least the elements and the weather in New England would cooperate accordingly. What could provide a better stage for a tale of vindication in Charm City than the Baltimore Ravens returning to Foxborough for a rematch of the AFC Championship Game?

It was like a Steel Cage Match.

Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco. Ray Lewis and The Last Ride. Bill Belichick and the Patriots with yet another chance to make America groan by going to a sixth Super Bowl in 13 seasons in New England. There were no shortage of stories to be told.

When the Ravens boarded their happy flight for Baltimore from Denver two hours after the miraculous win over the Broncos, they were unsure of their destination for the final step toward Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The Texans, who had whipped them in Houston back in October, were visiting New England the following afternoon. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady’s three TD passes, dispatched of the Texans in a 41-28 win, but lost tight end Rob Gronkowski with a left wrist injury.

A huge weapon for the Patriots was gone before the Ravens even had to assemble the game plan.

By late Sunday afternoon the travel plans were made for a trip that the Ravens knew all too well. They were heading to Foxborough. For more than 40 players and the entire coaching staff, it was back to Gillette Stadium 52 weeks later – 364 days after the most disappointing day of their lives. The Lee Evans drop. The Billy Cundiff kick. The cold, empty feeling in that locker room and Ray Lewis telling them to go make someone smile. The quiet flight home. And those long days afterward, when you just wanted to pull the blankets over your head in the morning because you still couldn’t accept that you lost that game.

It’s not one of those days you quickly forget.

Motivating players was not going to be an issue for head coach John Harbaugh this week. Calming them down, however, might be.

On Sunday night, in the middle of the Texans-Patriots game, Brendon Ayanbadejo fired the opening salvo via his Twitter page:

Are you watching the game pats vs. texans? If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It’s a gimmick.

Then, he followed with: New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can’t really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight

Then: You know the same organization that did spygate and cut a guy the day b4 the Super Bowl

Then: In a sport that is predicated on mano y mano, “lets hurry n snap it” = bitchassness

And finally: 18-1 …a reference to the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl to Giants in 2008

Ayanbadejo is no stranger to the back and forth of social media, yet his controversial stand on social issues were always consistent and relatively polite given the forum. But, something about watching the Patriots play the Texans in Foxborough clearly rubbed him the wrong way. And with his fingers on the trigger of his mobile device, and filled with emotion given the outcome and his role, he simply fired off his thoughts.

By lunchtime on Monday, Ayanbadejo had issued an apology on Twitter:

I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization. For that I apologize.

One thing he was correct about was that the Patriots were going to try to snap the ball before the Ravens were ready. Harbaugh was more diplomatic. “They look to create advantages for themselves, and they do it with tempo a lot of times,” he said. “ It’s not just the fact that they go fast sometimes. They force you to line up. Sometimes they’ll force the defense to show their hand because you have to defend the play. If you don’t, they’ll run the play. You saw last week they got Houston in some tough situations, and it was big plays for them. It usually results in a big

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Chapter 18: Fast as _ _ _ _! The Mile High Miracle and Jacoby Jones

Posted on 29 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

“I told myself Joe might throw it to me if I haul my butt off the line,”

– Jacoby Jones (January 2013)

 

 

 

THE NFL PROVIDES PLENTY OF connectivity between its personalities, teams, cities, and rich history. The Ravens had never played a playoff game in Denver and had only faced the Broncos once in January – in the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. That was during the 2001 Super Bowl run when Trent Dilfer beat Brian Griese and Shannon Sharpe caught a miracle pass.

However, this January 2013 game would forever change how NFL fans remember Broncos vs. Ravens.

Baltimore already had plenty of history with both John Elway and Peyton Manning, who had joined forces in the Mile High City. Peyton had now gone to his second NFL outpost and dropped another vicious regular season beating on the Ravens in Baltimore. The Elway history in Baltimore had aged 30 years, but was still very real and a debt unpaid for anyone who had a true sense of local football history and the magnitude of his actions in 1983. Elway was one of the building blocks that allowed the Ravens to exist if you consider that the Colts needed to leave Baltimore before Art Modell could come.

Both Elway and Manning had richly earned villain status in the Charm City. And once again Ozzie Newsome would endure one more battle with Elway and Denver, bringing back the sick history from his Cleveland Browns days. Newsome told author John Feinstein in 2004 that the last words his father ever said to him were: “Watch out for Elway!”

The Manning history was a much fresher scab in Baltimore.

The ugly, pre-halftime Flacco interception and the 98-yard futile chase by the lumbering quarterback was 27 days old, yet still fresh in the minds of his supporters and detractors. The replay ran all day, every day the week of the game. There was that famous picture of Flacco, face down at the goal line after chasing Chris Harris the length of the field that painted a tale of abject failure. It was a well-circulated meme in social media with a myriad of Charlie Brown-like captions.

Ten days after throwing the interception, the Ravens clinched the AFC North crown for the second straight year and made the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time. Flacco came to The Grill at Harryman House in Reisterstown as the guest of Dennis Pitta for a WNST.net & AM 1570 live radio show. He addressed the Harris interception with his usual droll sense of humor.

“It wasn’t any different than any other interception I’ve thrown for a touchdown the other way,” Flacco said. “It’s not good, but stuff like that happens. I try to limit it and do all the things you want to do to make sure it doesn’t happen. But if you play aggressively, you have to deal with it.”

“The next day I was able to try to joke around a little bit about it,” Flacco said. “At least I wanted to see what everybody thought of my blazing speed trying to catch that guy,” Flacco delivered with a smile, sitting next to his best

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Chapter 14: Family beefs and “Care”frontation

Posted on 25 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

“I’ve got a rule. I never, ever hold a grudge. And I kind of a have a rule that nobody else is allowed to hold a grudge, either. There are no grudges. We’re a bunch of guys. We don’t hold grudges. Right? We move on.”

– John Harbaugh (November 2012)

 

 

 

On Wednesday, November 28, 2012 the Baltimore Ravens reported to work in Owings Mills with a 9-2 record. No matter how unimpressive the results or statistics were on either side of the ball or how fortunate their fate seemed, it would be hard not to make the playoffs. One more win and the Ravens would have a seat in the tournament and a shot at the confetti for the fifth year in a row.

And in a strange quirk of NFL scheduling, once again the Pittsburgh Steelers were next up, the second meeting in 14 days between the bitter rivals. Once again it appeared that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be unavailable with his shoulder injury but instead of Byron Leftwich, this time it would be 15-year veteran Charlie Batch lining up under center at M&T Bank Stadium for the black and gold. All of the obvious discomfort that Leftwich had 10 days earlier was the result of two broken ribs he sustained at the hands of the Ravens defense in Pittsburgh. Batch started for the Steelers in Cleveland and lost 20-14 while throwing three interceptions just a few hours prior to the Ravens’ 4th & 29 miracle in San Diego. The Steelers were fading at 6-5. The Ravens were 9-2 and on a four-game winning streak, including back-to-back road wins.Silver had been at the Ravens game on Sunday in San Diego and was a seasoned reporter who knew a good story when he heard one. Iconoclastic, inquisitive, and fully cognizant of all aspects of the coach-player-media privilege, as well as sourced throughout the NFL, Silver knows the difference between on the record and off the record.

Good journalism is all in the eyes of the beholder. One veteran sports reporter’s account of a behind-the-scenes confrontation a month earlier holds a lot of weight when no one is issuing denials, and everyone agrees it was unique and productive. Even when some personnel don’t want to put their names to quotes or information, it was clear there was substance and clarity in the story.

All was happy in Owings Mills during Steelers Week until Wednesday morning when a fascinating story appeared at Yahoo Sports. NFL columnist Mike Silver authored a piece that was widely shared via the web and social media.

Headline: “John Harbaugh kept Ravens on track despite near mutiny at meeting in October”

Harbaugh wasn’t necessarily pissed off that the story was written – Silver approached him after the joyous win and

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Ihedigbo Making Ravens Forget Pollard

Posted on 13 November 2013 by WNST Staff

 

The last second Hail Mary, tipped by James Ihedigbo, to fall into the hands of A.J. Green and send the game into overtime, could’ve been a crushing blow to the Ravens Safety.  Jimmy Smith screaming at him on the sideline could’ve forced him to lose all his confidence in himself and his teammates.  Yet Ihedigbo finished the game just as strong as he started, making the key tackle on 4th down, for a turnover on downs in overtime.

Ihedigbo PollardJames Ihedigbo is in his first year starting for the Ravens (he started for the Jets and Patriots in the past), and is finally coming into his own.  This season has been somewhat of a revelation for the journeyman safety; performing admirably in replacement of departed Bernard Pollard. 

The transition has been seamless; with his on field performance very comparable to Pollard’s in 2012’s Super Bowl run.  Ihedigbo now has 55 total tackles, 2 Interceptions, 7 passes defended and a forced fumble; numbers eerily similar to Pollard’s in Tennessee for the season. Add in the fact that Ihedigbo has not been a vocal headache for the organization, coaching staff and players, and Ozzie proved again why he is the “Wizard” of talent evaluation.

He also had the task of filling in for a former Pro-Bowler, while tutoring (and playing alongside) a rookie, in Matt Elam.  All that instead of playing with future Hall of Famer by his side (you know that guy Ed Reed), like Pollard was privileged with for his stint with the Ravens.

The Baltimore Safety may have officially turned the corner; after his great game against the Bengals (except for that one play and all), with two interceptions and key tackles throughout the game, especially the last one for the Ravens defense, on 4th and 2 in overtime. Performances like that, from unsung players, will keep the the defense amongst the league’s best.  With great pass-rushers up front, taking up a lot of opposing offenses attention, Ihedigbo should have the time to continue to make difference-making plays.

Can he continue to improve after he is about to turn 30? Maybe. Can he be that defensive leader that fans have been clamoring for? Possibly.  Can he be a playmaker in the defensive backfield? Absolutely.  With the skill set to make plays in the backfield and in pass coverage, Ihedigbo has proven to be a well-rounded safety. With more games like the one against the Bengals, he will prove to be a star…at least for a couple years.

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Rice, Flacco among Ravens players named to NFL Network top 100 list

Posted on 21 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

The Ravens didn’t exactly needed more respect after winning their second Super Bowl title in February, but NFL players provided it anyway through the NFL Network’s annual top 100 list.

Nine players from last year’s championship roster were selected to the list voted on by players around the league. Three of the players — safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard and wide receiver Anquan Boldin — no longer play in Baltimore, but the Ravens have six remaining members on their projected 2013 roster to have received the honor.

Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice was the highest-ranked Baltimore player, voted 13th overall, while Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player Joe Flacco ranked 19th after coming in at No. 74 in last year’s edition. Flacco’s jump should be viewed as validation for what he’s accomplished in terms of wins and postseason performance in the first five years of his career despite regular-season statistics that wouldn’t make a strong argument for his inclusion in the top 20.

Reed was the third member of the 2012 Ravens to be included in the first 20 as he was ranked 18th. Others to make the list were Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (42nd), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (56th), Pollard (87th), Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones (88th), Boldin (93rd), and tight end Dennis Pitta (100th).

Admittedly, I don’t put much stock into this NFL Network concoction nor have I paid much attention to the weekly televised specials, but it sparks interest and fun debate for fans during the offseason. Based on knowledge and conversations I’ve had about the voting process, I have my doubts over how seriously most players take the exercise, but the same could be said for virtually any list or rankings you see floating out there.

I respect players’ opinions when they do take the voting seriously, but those assessments are often incomplete since they simply don’t have the time to pay close attention to anyone besides their teammates or opponents over the course of a season. For instance, Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings — one of the best defensive players in the league — has no reason to study the players in the AFC North since he hasn’t played any team in that division since 2009.

Here’s the recap of the Ravens from last season’s team represented in this year’s list:

13. RB Ray Rice
18. S Ed Reed
19. QB Joe Flacco
42. DT Haloti Ngata
56. LB Terrell Suggs
87. S Bernard Pollard
88. KR/PR Jacoby Jones
93. WR Anquan Boldin
100. TE Dennis Pitta

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Ravens celebrate Super Bowl glory with unknown in front of them

Posted on 05 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

WASHINGTON — In the days leading up to and immediately following their Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, Ravens coach John Harbaugh and his players shared a similar sentiment over and over with reporters.

It would be the final time we’d see that team — the 2012 edition — together as some number of players, coaches, and staff members would inevitably go their separate ways. It was a reminder to all to enjoy the moment in knowing they would never all be together again, and Wednesday’s visit to the White House was a reminder of that despite the euphoria experienced in meeting President Barack Obama and touring his famous home.

Several key members of that team were missing for various reasons, including Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard, Matt Birk, Cary Williams, and Paul Kruger, as even the most prominent celebratory experience still didn’t look quite the same as the moments following the Ravens’ 34-31 win when the confetti fell and the franchise raised its second Vince Lombardi Trophy. However, it was the sight of two players in particular standing behind Obama at the podium that reminded you how quickly life has changed for the Ravens barely four months after their Super Bowl title.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, together as the former leaders of the Baltimore defense and two of the biggest icons in this city’s sports history, stood with most of their former teammates for the first time since the victory parade in downtown Baltimore.

It’s strange thinking of them in the same way as the many Super Bowl XXXV players who have returned to Baltimore from time to time for celebrations, knowing they are now officially part of the franchise’s past.

“You can’t think about Baltimore without thinking of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two of the greatest defenders who ever played the game,” Obama said. “Now, these two won’t be wearing purple next year. Everybody is going to have to get used to that.”

Because Lewis’ fate had already been known entering the postseason as he expressed his intentions to retire, Wednesday was a unique spotlight for Reed to say goodbye to the organization he called home for 11 years before signing a three-year contract with the Houston Texans earlier this offseason. It was refreshing to see Reed smile and appear to hold no ill will toward his former team after the Ravens showed little interest in re-signing the 34-year-old safety.

Reed’s decision to attend the White House ceremony as well as Friday’s ring ceremony in Owings Mills appears to quell any concerns about any significant rift between the sides, which is exactly what all parties emotionally involved hoped to see in terms of Reed’s willingness to return to celebrate the first title of his career. And you assume Reed will be back many times after his Week 3 visit to Baltimore as a member of the opposition for the first time.

While making a joke about Reed’s grandfatherly look, the 44th president inadvertently provided a reminder of why the Ravens decided to forgo a last-ditch effort at a repeat, instead looking forward to the uncertain future with a revamped roster that still includes many core players with a championship pedigree. It was a special day made to celebrate what the 2012 Ravens accomplished, but the unknown stares each one of them right in the face in different ways.

And we all know nothing lasts forever.

“Ed is getting some gray hair,” said Obama, drawing laughs from the franchise’s all-time interceptions leader. “I’m not the only one, huh? You’re like an old man. That makes me feel better.”

Reed recently underwent hip surgery and told the team’s official site that he’s unsure whether he’ll be ready to play for Houston in Week 1. It was a reminder of the side of the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year that the Ravens and fans had grown weary of in recent years as his career winds down and injuries have taken their toll.

Of course, the future Hall of Fame safety isn’t the only one undergoing change.

Lewis now looks at a new career in television as well as the opportunity to become a full-time fan watching his son playing at the University of Miami as the 38-year-old awaits induction into Canton in the summer of 2018.

Harbaugh now looks to try to become the first coach in Ravens history to guide his team to a second championship, which would not only trump Super Bowl XXXV coach Brian Billick but put him in rare territory in the history of NFL coaches.

And the remaining players on the roster welcome new veterans and rookies alike, trying to not only express what’s expected to be a member of the organization but to work toward defending their championship and advancing to the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

Sixth-year quarterback Joe Flacco tops that list of players as a Super Bowl MVP and a $120.6 million contract naturally puts more pressure on him to lead and to continue to excel behind center. The 28-year-old was singled out by Obama for his excellent playoff performance and how he was subsequently rewarded.

“Good timing with that contract up, huh?” said Obama, drawing laughter from Flacco and those gathered on the South Lawn. “That was some good timing. Capped off one of the greatest postseasons ever by a quarterback [with] more than 1,000 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions. I don’t know about you, Joe, but I would say that qualifies as elite.”

Even the commander-in-chief couldn’t resist using the “e” word, but that label brings a certain ambiguity that Flacco and the Ravens didn’t have to worry about on Wednesday.

No matter how much you’ve praised or haven’t cared for the decisions made by general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti this offseason, the future remains an unknown for all those with a piece in the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII championship.

But it felt like old times for just a few moments on Wednesday, just as it will for the ring ceremony and the occasional celebrations in the years to come.

Nothing lasts forever, but there’s nothing wrong with looking back at what you’ve accomplished from time to time, knowing that it can never be taken away.

And the Ravens experienced that in all their glory, most of them back together for the first time since that unforgettable week in early February.

 

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Former Ravens safety Pollard joining Titans

Posted on 21 March 2013 by Luke Jones

The morning after it was learned that longtime Ravens safety Ed Reed would be joining the Houston Texans, it appears his former partner in the defensive backfield will be moving into the AFC South as well.

Former Baltimore strong safety Bernard Pollard will join the Tennessee Titans on a one-year deal, as first reported by ESPN’s Josina Anderson. The reporter tweeted that Pollard informed her of the move Thursday morning, and Pollard’s agent Tory Dandy confirmed the news via Twitter.

The 28-year-old was released and designated as a post-June 1st release last week, meaning his $2 million base salary remains on the salary cap until that date. This allows general manager Ozzie Newsome to push $1.5 million in dead money to next year’s cap that otherwise would have been applied to the 2013 cap. Only this year’s prorated signing bonus amount of $750,000 will count against the cap.

In other words, the Ravens will receive an additional $2 million in cap space in June, which could provide flexibility in signing a veteran to address a need such as how they added guard Bobbie Williams last summer.

Pollard will join his fourth team in eight NFL seasons, leaving some to believe his strong-willed personality and outspoken nature led to his release, but coach John Harbaugh said in Phoenix that his release was solely a cap-related move. Veteran safety James Ihedigbo is projected to fill one of the two safety spots vacated by Pollard and Reed, but the Ravens are expected to address the position in April’s draft.

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Newsome calls Pollard “everything we hoped he would be”

Posted on 14 March 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Baltimore Ravens have terminated the contract of vested veteran S Bernard Pollard, while also re-signing unrestricted free agents S James Ihedigbo and CB Chris Johnson to one-year contracts, general manager/executive vice president Ozzie Newsome announced Thursday.

“We needed to find a physical presence for our secondary when we lost Dawan Landry a few years ago, and we were fortunate to land a player like Bernard,” Newsome stated. “He was everything we hoped he would be: physical, tough and well-prepared. Bernard takes great pride in being ready to play – and he does that year round. He was a good partner with Ed [Reed] on our backside, and he fit in well with our team. Like we say, ‘He played like a Raven.’ He helped us get to an AFC Championship and win a Super Bowl, and we thank him for all he did for us.

“There are many difficult decisions we make every offseason. They become even more difficult when they involve players who helped us get another Super Bowl trophy.”

A seven-year NFL veteran, Pollard played two seasons with the Ravens, seeing action in 29 games (26 starts). He led Baltimore with a team-high 98 total tackles during the 2012 regular season, adding two sacks, six passes defensed and one interception in 13 contests. In four 2012 playoff games, Pollard produced 17 tackles, four passes defensed and one forced fumble.

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Pollard latest veteran to exit as Ravens part ways with safety

Posted on 13 March 2013 by Luke Jones

The Ravens made another difficult move on Wednesday morning in parting ways with veteran strong safety Bernard Pollard.

The 28-year-old defensive back announced via his official Twitter account that he was being let go after two years in Baltimore. Pollard was owed a $500,000 roster bonus later this week and carried a $3.25 million salary cap number for the 2013 season. His release will save $1 million in cap space.

“Well Raven Nation it’s been fun,” Pollard wrote. “My time in Baltimore is done… Thank you!”

Pollard was limited to 13 games last year as he dealt with cracked ribs over the course of the season. He finished with 98 tackles, two sacks, and an interception.

Looking with 20-20 hindsight, Baltimore tipped its hand by re-signing veteran backup James Ihedigbo to a one-year deal on Tuesday. Ihedigbo made three starts in place of Pollard last season.

A key free-agent addition after the NFL lockout ended in 2011, Pollard instantly became a fan favorite with his physical style of play, but the safety also drew criticism for his propensity to draw penalties for illegal hits. That said, his punishing — but legal — blow to Patriots running back Stevan Ridley in the AFC championship game was considered the turning point in the Ravens seizing complete control in their 28-13 win to advance to the Super Bowl.

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Perfectly imperfect Ravens show us all they were champions in end

Posted on 04 February 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — Even after witnessing the most incredible month in the history of the Baltimore Ravens, it’s still difficult to believe it all happened in the hours following their 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII.

The Ravens have had better and more talented teams than this group that finished the regular season with a 10-6 record, good enough to win the AFC North but hardly anything to write home about. The offense and Super Bowl most valuable player Joe Flacco were exceptional at times this season but were maddeningly inconsistent as well. A defense regarded as one of the NFL’s finest for more than a decade was far from dominating due to age and a plethora of injuries, taking a significant step back as stars such as Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis missed significant time.

A three-game losing streak in the month of December that included the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron left the Ravens looking anything but “super” as they desperately searched for answers. Frankly, it was difficult to decide just how good they were — or even if they were at all.

Yet, there they stood on the on-field stage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after winning the second NFL title in the 17-year history of the franchise. It wasn’t pretty as the Ravens nearly squandered a 22-point second-half lead, but they prevailed, earning the right to call themselves champions.

“It couldn’t end in a better way,” safety Ed Reed said. “The game was a display of the whole year. Started good, got ugly, ended great. Ended great.”

Perhaps the 35-minute power outage was the appropriate symbol of where the Ravens had been over the last six weeks. Just as a 28-6 lead evaporated as the San Francisco 49ers pulled to within two points with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Ravens appeared to be knocked out in December after suffering their third consecutive loss in a humiliating 34-17 final at home against the Denver Broncos in mid-December. At that point, the Ravens looked more like a team that might not win another game before regrouping to make the incredible run to New Orleans.

A 9-2 record that stood among the best in the NFL — even if many questioned the validity of that mark after several underwhelming wins — had fallen to 9-5, with many wondering if the Ravens were bursting at the seams with dissension. However, they stuck together, insisting all their goals still stood in front of them while fans and media alike wondered if they were finished. They were the truest form of a family, at least as close to one as a professional football team could be as players shared their faith and love for one another openly down the final stretch of the season.

“We had a lot of guys injured,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “But at the same time, the camaraderie within that the locker room — this is the closest team I’ve ever been on in my life. Like I said, we came together and fought the good fight.”

Yes, these Ravens were inspired by a returning Lewis in the postseason, but it was the play of Flacco that took them to new heights as the fifth-year quarterback was the best player in the NFL during the playoffs. His play and the improved offensive line after the reinsertion of Bryant McKinnie at the left tackle position were all new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell needed to propel the Ravens to new heights on that side of the football.

That offense looked as elite as ever in the first half on Sunday night, but the 49ers regrouped in slowing the Ravens’ passing attack while the running game remained a non-factor. Meanwhile, the Baltimore defense wilted, looking tired and lacking answers for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he led San Francisco to three second-half touchdowns and a field goal.

As they had countless times throughout the season, the Ravens appeared on the ropes with the offense sputtering and Lewis’ once-mighty defense completely exhausted. But as savvy veteran teams often do, the Ravens had enough in them to make a few more plays to finish the job.

With the 49ers having three shots at the end zone from the 5-yard line and trailing 34-29 at the two-minute warning, the old Ravens defense made its final great stand with Lewis at the helm. The unit forced three incompletions to hand the ball back to the Baltimore offense. It was vintage Baltimore defense, even if that idea will take on new meaning beginning next years as the Ravens face life without Lewis leading the way.

The final stand was the end of an era with Lewis retiring and Reed potentially playing his final game with the Ravens. And in the context of this 2012 season, it was the last example of one unit — offense, defense, or special teams — picking up the others in crunch time.

“It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but it was us,” coach John Harbaugh said. “The final series of Ray Lewis’ career was a goal-line stand to win the Lombardi Trophy. As Ray said on the podium, how could it be any better than that?”

Harbaugh’s right. It was the only fitting way to end the perfectly imperfect season that included ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and trials and tribulations. Of course, the Ravens ended the year on the highest note of all in winning their first Super Bowl title since Jan. 28, 2001.

In a season in which we constantly asked the real Baltimore Ravens to stand up, we finally learned who they really were over the course of the last six week as Harbaugh and his team dusted themselves off from a miserable stretch in early December to start anew. They knew something the rest of us didn’t as the Ravens pulled off the unlikeliest of wins in Denver, exorcised the demons from a year ago in New England, and polished off their final act as a postseason underdog by turning the lights out — literally and figuratively — on the 49ers.

On Feb. 3, 2013, we finally figured out the only appropriate way to describe this unique football team after a season of struggling to find the proper words.

They were champions.

 

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