Words: Kyle Simpson, Ravens Corespondent
Baltimore, MD – “We have the opportunity to go on and finish what we started… Ravens on three,” said Ray Lewis after the devastating loss in New England last season.
A roller coaster does not even begin to describe this Ravens’ season. There were ups, downs, loops, times of excitement, and times where you were about ready to lose your lunch. But it has always been that way. Deep down, the Ravens really are a box of chocolates. You really never know what you are going to get.
It was a rough start. Reading the news post “Defending Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs Tears Achilles Tendon”. That would be when the groaning began for me. It did not help that on top of losing our best player on defense, guys like Jarret Johnson and Corey Redding were snatched away in the free agency blitz. Let’s not forget the Ravens lost their third defensive coordinator in three years, Chuck Pagano, to the Colts head coach job. These situations just showed me that last season was our season to go all the way. I found myself saying that a lot leading up to this season. I was muttering “Last year was the year…” while I watched Skip Bayless affirm that the Ravens have zero chance without Suggs on the field. Questions were flying about the Ravens’ fate. Will Joe Flacco be able to lead the team anywhere? What will the Ravens be like without a dominant Terrell Suggs? All questions would be answered soon. But one event brought about a turning point, I believe for the Ravens this season.
Four days before kickoff, former Ravens owner Art Modell passed away. He was the man who brought football back to a city who desperately missed it. An emotional Ravens organization painted a black circle with one word: “Art” on the field and the player’s jerseys featured the same black logo. Ray Lewis made a promise to Art Modell. That he would bring back the Lombardi to Baltimore. Lewis fully intended to keep that promise to the man he called “Pa-Pa”.
The moment of truth. Opening day against the Bengals. Here we were again, kicking off against a division rival, just like last year. Gave them a good trouncing like opening day of the previous year as well. Aside from the game against the Giants later on that year, the first Bengal game was the only time I saw Super Bowl potential in this squad. It was only the beginning of a turbulent season though.
Week two reared its ugly head. The Ravens had not won in week two in four straight years, and that trend continued, losing to the Eagles in their home opener by one point. Not the way they wanted to return to Baltimore to face the Patriots. The team that ended their season last year. I was reading up on the game when the text alert came through: Torrey Smith’s brother, Tevin Smith, had passed away that earlier morning in a motorcycle accident. He was a game time decision in a game we desperately needed everybody we could get. To my surprise he walked out on that field and had a career day. I have never been so proud to be a Ravens fan until Smith got a standing ovation from the crowd as he took a knee after he scored the first touchdown that game. Tevin Smith was the second turning point of the season. Inspiring the team further make sure that they finished what they started.
After a dicey 9-6 victory in Kansas City, the Ravens returned to face the Cowboys. The boys in purple won off of a missed field goal. But at a cost. Lardarius Webb went down with a torn ACL, never to return to the field this season. And Ray Lewis tore his triceps, what everybody thought was a season – or career – ending injury. But he and Ozzie Newsome told the team and fans that they would see Ray back again this season. They just didn’t know when.
The Ravens would go on to get trounced by Houston, the bright side being Terrell Suggs retook the field through some sort of medical miracle. More questions began to arise about if the Ravens were actually contenders for the AFC title. The Ravens would win the next four games leading into the darkest moment of the season.
The three game slide. The Ravens had not lost at M&T Bank Stadium in a little less than two years. But the Steelers, of course, would break that streak. Then, after special teams gaffed their punt coverage, the Redskins would hand the Ravens their first back-to-back loss in four years. And to cap it off, the Broncos embarrassed the Ravens at home. “Last year was the year…” I muttered walking out of M&T Bank Stadium that day. Things were looking bleak. The Baltimore Sun’s head line the next day was “Flattened” with a picture of Joe Flacco face down after trying to prevent his 90-yard pick six from happening. Was Flacco worth a new contract? Should the Ravens draft a new quarterback in the draft like Seattle did?
For the fourth straight week, the Ravens had the ability to clinch the AFC North and a home playoff game. But they had to go through little Manning and the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. The Ravens came out strong in their last regular season home game. The energy that the Broncos had taken away from the fans all came back and the Baltimore crowd that we know and love was back in action. The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army echoed through out Baltimore as the Ravens clinched the division and were guaranteed a home game.
The week leading up to the AFC Wild Card game brought the third turning point of the season for the Ravens. “All things that begin, have an end… and for me, today, I told my team this is my last ride.” The 17-year legend that was Ray Lewis was retiring. I feel that this was the point where everybody was put into high gear. It was New Orleans or bust for the men in purple and black to get the man that had given everything to them, one more ring.
Lewis’ final home game was a truly emotional experience. I’ve never seen so many grown football fans cry than I did during Lewis’ final tunnel dance (I’ll admit I was tearing up, too). The victory was a perfect end to cap off Lewis’ home game career. The Ride was on the road from here on out. And we all remember how that went down.
The Ravens were underdogs then entire way. Favored to lose by at least nine points for both Denver and New England. Both times Anquan Boldin said, “It will be different”. Both times were different. The Ravens proved they were resilient in the double over time win at Mile High. they proved they were ready to hoist the Lombardi after taking down Tom Brady and the Partiots. And now they have a chance to do just that. Hoist the trophy and give Lewis one more ring.
The trend continues this weekend. The Ravens are not favored, down by four and a half points, most analysts are saying that Colin Kapernick will pick apart the Ravens defense and Joe Flacco will be stunned by the 49ers defense. Have we not heard this for the last four weeks? “The Patriots offense is unstoppable…” or “The Broncos are unbeatable…”. The Ravens have proved time and again that they do not follow the trends. So I reach out to the analysts and say: please. Keep counting the Ravens out. They love it.
“What if we do the impossible? If there is anything I’ll miss about my career, it’s listening to what people say you can’t do and then going and doing it,” commented Ray Lewis in his post game press conference after the Mile High miracle.
The Ravens are out to do the impossible. The Ravens have done the impossible this season.
My prediction? Gear up for the parade: 30-24, Ravens come out champs and Joe Flacco’s agent will be busy with Ozzie Newsome.