As you already know, the Ravens’ quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions came crashing to an end Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati. The 34-17 loss to the Bengals ended the season at 8-8 and encapsulated a frustrating year of inconsistency and mediocrity. In the locker room afterwards, many Ravens players said they didn’t deserve to make the playoffs, and they were right. And yet, Baltimore was a quarter away from reaching the postseason for a sixth straight season. They began Sunday needing to win and to get some help from either Miami or San Diego losing.
If the defense and offense had merely done what was expected, the team would be preparing for the playoffs this coming weekend, because they got their miracle in Miami, as the Jets beat the Dolphins. But, as we know, the defense, as was its tendency all season, couldn’t stop the opposition in key moments, while the offense sputtered and made mistakes. As a result, the Bengals, who threw four interceptions, slithered out with a win, and the Ravens slither home to drink champagne, but not after a championship run, but like the rest of us, at the beginning of a new year.
The first place many fans will lay blame for the 2013 season will be at the feet of quarterback Joe Flacco. When you win Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors and receive a $120 million contract, people rightly or wrongly expect perfection, or something close to it. Flacco was never going to give you that, but even with a career-high of 3,912 passing yards, he should have been better than his ledger of 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, a team record.
But Flacco wasn’t the only underachiever on offense this year.
The offensive line was, to be generous, putrid all year. The line gave up 48 quarterback sacks, as Flacco spent a good chunk of the year running for his life. The Ravens will need to pick up at least two new quality starters on the offensive line to improve next year. The line’s poor play may extend some level of cover for the running game, which never got untracked. Ray Rice, the fulcrum of the offense in previous years, suffered through a mediocre 2013. With a lot of expended mileage in his six seasons, it might be time to wonder if the Ravens have already extracted the best of Rice.
Meanwhile, the defense is only slightly more settled. The losses of Ray Lewis and Ed Rice did not prove insurmountable, but Terrell Suggs and newcomer Elvis Dumervil were not as dominant as expected and the secondary was inconsistent as well. It will be a long cold winter, made longer and colder by the absence of the Ravens from the playoffs.
But at least Baltimoreans can be comforted by these two thoughts. First, Orioles pitchers and catchers report for spring training in six weeks. Second, at least the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs either.