Much has changed since the Ravens squandered two 14-point leads in a playoff loss to New England three years ago Wednesday.
They would soon say goodbye to five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as well as one of the franchise’s most accomplished wide receivers in Torrey Smith. That was also the final game of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s lone season with the Ravens and with his departure went any semblance of consistent offensive production since then.
More painful than anything else, however, has been the deterioration of the standard. Losing in the divisional round was once the minimum of expectations under John Harbaugh — illustrating how spoiled Baltimore was during the first five years of his tenure — but the Ravens haven’t been back to the postseason since that night in Foxborough when Tom Brady picked apart helpless cornerback Rashaan Melvin and an overwhelmed secondary.
Sure, the Ravens have been close to making the playoffs in each of the last two years, but that’s sometimes the worst place for an organization to be. “Close” doesn’t always mean you’re moving in the right direction, and it can prevent you from making necessary changes when you believe you’re “one play away” from getting over the hump.
The underwhelming performances in the AFC wild-card round this past weekend prompted predictable commentary from some that Joe Flacco and the Ravens would have been a more dangerous team and a bigger threat to New England and Pittsburgh. That old narrative needs to be buried when they don’t even manage to make the tournament anymore. Perhaps Brian Billick’s once-famous ban on using the “playoff” word needs to be reinstated until further notice.
The Ravens haven’t beaten the Patriots since the 2012 AFC Championship, and you can count the relevant players remaining from that Super Bowl team on two hands and have fingers left over. They still play the Steelers tough, but their only win at Heinz Field since the 2014 postseason was a game in which a washed-up Michael Vick was under center for their AFC North rival.
The sobering reality of watching the likes of Buffalo and Tennessee in the playoffs last weekend wasn’t that the Ravens might have been more formidable, but it’s that they’re closer to those mediocre teams in quality than the Patriots and the Steelers. They couldn’t even beat out such wild-card contenders despite having one of the most-favorable schedules in the NFL.
Harbaugh’s team went just 1-5 against teams who finished above .500 this season and is now 7-27 in that department since Super Bowl XLVII. For context, the 2011 team alone won six games against opponents finishing that season with winning records, and the Ravens were 18-20 against squads finishing over .500 from 2008-12.
Even that last playoff team in 2014 was an unimpressive 1-6 against teams finishing with winning records, but those Ravens did go a perfect 9-0 against opponents .500 or worse and swept a terrible NFC South division to ultimately secure a wild card. This year’s team lost home games to Chicago and Cincinnati, who finished a combined 12-20.
The standard that once made losing a playoff game in New England a bitter disappointment has regressed to not being good enough to beat winning teams and dropping a few too many games that they shouldn’t. The latter part is evident from a 33-13 record against teams finishing .500 or worse over the last five years compared to a 36-6 mark over the first five seasons of the Harbaugh era.
It’s resulted in a team that’s still competitive, but not one as close to being a serious contender as the Ravens would like to believe.
Three years ago, that disappointing 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots still felt like the beginning of a new run for Harbaugh and the revamped Ravens after their 2013 absence from the postseason. Instead, it may have simply been the final chapter in the most successful era in franchise history.
The Ravens have a lot of work to do this offseason to both change that perception and resurrect their once-lofty standard.