Over the past five months, I have rambled and ranted about the Ravens after each of their games in our weekly online column, Five Things We Learned About The Ravens. It has been an honor to take over for the great Kevin Van Valkenburg, who is now at ESPN. And after running on fumes and coffee the next day because I closed down the press box many times, I have an even greater appreciation for how good he was at this.
While pecking at my keyboard, often in the wee hours of the morning, I tried to be fair and to avoid drawing concrete conclusions based solely on emotions or one eyebrow-raising performance, whether it was a good one or bad. Still, there were some things I got wrong, though I feel there were a lot more that I got right.
So with the Ravens beginning their preparations for the Super Bowl, where they will duke it out with the San Francisco 49ers for the Lombardi Trophy, let’s take a look back to see what I got right and what I got wrong.
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WRONG: “If nothing changes, the Ravens might not beat a quality team the rest of the way.” -- Week 15. Let’s just get this one out of the way. I said this after the Ravens lost to the Denver Broncos, 34-17, at M&T Bank Stadium, their third straight loss. Sure, I hedged it with the whole “if nothing changes” part, but let’s face it, at that point, I didn’t think they were going far in the playoffs. Boy, was I wrong. Despite losing four of five games in December, the Ravens are in the Super Bowl because they beat three quality teams with three quality quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning, whom I also said in Week 15 still owned the Ravens. Oops.
RIGHT: “Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie needs to be unchained from the doghouse” -- Week 7. I probably should have advocated for this even sooner, but changing up the offensive line seemed like an obvious thing to do after a blowout loss to the Houston Texans before the team’s bye week. Coach John Harbaugh didn't make the switch until after Week 17, but it paid off, with the Ravens allowing just four sacks in the playoffs.
WRONG: “With Lardarius Webb likely out for the year, the Ravens need fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a former first-round pick.” -- Week 6. After Webb tore his ACL in a win over the Dallas Cowboys, someone needed to step up for the Ravens. I thought Smith would be the guy, but he did not. Thankfully for them, though, Corey Graham did, making the most of this opportunity.
RIGHT: “Dennis Pitta looks poised to break out, and you should probably go grab him for your fantasy team.” -- Week 1. I said this after Pitta had five catches for 73 yards and a score in the season opener. Pitta met my hype with 669 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, tying a Ravens record for tight ends during the regular season. He had added two touchdowns in the playoffs. Hopefully all you fantasy players heeded my advice.
WRONG: “The Ravens will have a tough decision to make with Anquan Boldin this offseason.” -- Week 14. The fact remains that the Ravens could still, in theory, save some salary cap space by cutting ties with this veteran in the offseason. But considering how he is playing in the playoffs, they pretty much have to keep him, right?
RIGHT: “The Ravens are impossible to figure out, but they are also impossible to count out, and you can't help but think that something magical might be brewing in Baltimore.” -- Week 12. This, if anything, probably rings truer today than anything else that I have thought, even though I am one of the many who were guilty of counting them out when they traveled to Denver and New England. Now, I’m done waiting for their magic to run out.
WRONG: “The NFL better make sure his name is printed on the Pro Bowl ballots. That may sound like crazy talk, too, but Suggs, barring a setback, will get nine more games to build his resume.” -- Week 7. Technically, this was not one of the five things I learned after the Texans loss, but I did say this while raving about how well Terrell Suggs played in his return from a torn Achilles tendon. Suggs, who tore his right biceps a few weeks later, had just two sacks while playing with just two good limbs. He has been better in the playoffs, though.
RIGHT: “The past 15 weeks won't matter much if Joe Flacco plays like this in the playoffs.” -- Week 16. Flacco put together another inconsistent regular season, but I said this after Flacco played great while beating the New York Giants. Now, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions, Flacco is having one of the greatest postseasons a quarterback has ever had -- yes, really -- and making everyone forget about the rough patches.
WRONG: “If the Ravens want to win the Super Bowl, they are either going to have to get a first-round bye or pull a complete 180 when it comes to their play on the road.” -- Week 7. This is another one that I hedged, saying they needed to “pull a complete 180,” which I guess they have, at least when it comes to the offense. But yeah, after their early-season road struggles, I thought the road to the Super Bowl would have to go through M&T Bank Stadium. I was wrong. The Ravens beat two very good teams in their houses to get here.
RIGHT: “We could be in for another rollercoaster season from the Ravens.” -- Week 3. Five million injuries, a coordinator change, a three-game losing streak, and a crazy playoff run later… Um, yeah, hope you buckled up.