A lot has happened over the past three weeks, no? Chuck Pagano leaves; Dan Pees gets promoted; Cam Cameron stays; Jim Caldwell comes on board; Terrell Suggs wins Defensive Player of the Year; Matt Birk wins the Walter Payton Man of the Year award; Bernard Pollard solidifies himself as the “Patriot killer” (more later); football season officially ends; Ricky Williams retires. Did I miss anything?
Over the weeks since the Ravens’ gut-wrenching loss to New England, I took a look back at the past four years. I read a horde of past articles and watched YouTube season highlights to see if I could pin point what exactly has doomed the Ravens in the playoffs since the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era began in 2008. I think I successfully figured what exactly the problems were. In chronological order …
2008: Inexperience. That one is simple. New head coach, new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, 2008 felt like a fresh start after the terrible 5-11 2007 season. The Ravens more than exceeded expectations that season. They won their first two games, dropped the next three, then went 9-2 to finish the season and earn the AFC’s sixth seed. I for one didn’t expect a winning record, much less a playoff berth. Baltimore then defeated the AFC’s 3-seed, the Dolphins, in the Wild Card round; they ousted the AFC’s top seed, the Titans, in the Divisional round, then came the AFC Championship. Honestly, how much more could we expect out of that 2008 team? Flacco set a standard for rookie quarterbacks that season winning two road playoff games. Not too shabby. But when Baltimore went to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship, the inexperience showed. Harbaugh had been to conference championships before, but never as a head coach. Flacco’s closest experience was the 2007 Division 1-AA National Championship in which he lost. Troy Polamalu, a veteran safety, made a good play on a rookie quarterback and put the kibosh on the Ravens’ season. It was a tough loss, but a loss that stemmed from inexperience.
2009: Inconsistant. The record speaks for itself, 9-7. The Ravens came out, won three straight, then lost three straight. This is how the rest of the season went: win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, win, loss, win. Against New England in the playoffs, the Ravens looked dominant. When they played the Colts in the Divisional round, they looked awful. That’s how the season went. Looked good one game, looked lost the next game. Baltimore lost defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to the Jets and were forced to replace him. The no. 3 receiver that year was Kelley Washington. Terrell Suggs had an off year. I think Baltimore fans had so much hope for that season because the national media was hyping the Ravens as Super Bowl contenders. Obviously, a Super Bowl didn’t happen because the Ravens couldn’t find a rhythm and were doomed by inconsistent play.
2010: Holding leads. The 2010 season may have been the most frustrating 12-4 season. It was a year that could have made non-smokers start smoking cigarettes. It could have made casual drinkers alcoholics. It could have made people with full heads of hair bald. The New England game in week 6 started it all. A 17-7 lead fizzled in the fourth quarter and the Ravens lost to the Pats 23-20 in OT. (I hate that score.) Baltimore was involved in a shootout with the lowly Buffalo Bills in week 7. Lee Evans torched Fabian Washington all game and the Ravens were forced to beat the Bills in OT. They lost to the Falcons in the on a last-minute touchdown by Roddy White, who clearly pushed off and offensive pass interference wasn’t called. The game against Pittsburgh in Baltimore could have been a season-changing game for the Ravens but Flacco not adjusting protection and letting Polomalu run free and record a strip-sack really hurt. Suggs not getting that sack on Ben Roethlisberger also hurt. Dawan Landry whiffing on tackling Isaac Redman on his touchdown reception was heartbreaking. Flacco short-arming a throw on 4th down was just brutal. Then came the Houston Texans game. The Ravens led 28-7 in the third quarter and if wasn’t for Josh Wilson’s clutch pick-six in overtime, that could have been a disaster. Then the Divisional round Pittsburgh game at Heinz Field when the Ravens blew a 21-7 halftime lead. Ugh. I might throw up.
2011: Road struggles. Losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle and the Chargers should have never happened. It’s almost like the Ravens forgot their offensive playbook in Baltimore for those games. They faltered so badly in those games in several ways. Rice not getting enough touches, the defense not being able to stop Matt Hasselbeck, Josh Scobee, Marshawn Lynch or Phillip Rivers, Billy Cundiff struggling, it was down right terrible. You know what happened in New England three weeks ago when Evans couldn’t hang on to the ball in the end zone and when Cundiff couldn’t hit a 32-yard field goal. I need a beer.
All these trends — inexperience, inconsistency, not being able to hold leads, and struggling on the road — eventually all doomed the Ravens in the playoffs. This year was the worst, but every year, watching the same problems that plagued the Ravens all season come back to get them in the playoffs is torture for a fan. You know what the problems are, but are hoping they don’t sprout up when it mattered most. Unfortunately, for the Ravens, the problems resurfaced when it indeed mattered most. Hopefully, in 2012, the only problem the Ravens encounter is how to celebrate a Super Bowl championship.
As far as Bernard Pollard being the “Patriot killer,” he ended Tom Brady’s 2008 season when he played for the Chiefs. He was the one that hit Wes Welker in 2009 when Welker tore his ACL. And he was the one who landed on Rob Gronkowski’s ankle in the AFC Championship game, hobbling Gronk for the Super Bowl. Had he been healthy, he could have caught Brady’s last-second heave to the end zone. Thanks to Pollard, he didn’t