At this point, I’m sure most Ravens fans have unloaded their deep disappointment over the team’s 28-12 playoff loss on Jan. 11 to their one-time rival, the Tennessee Titans. That’s what sports fans do when a season ends — they put aside that season and begin to assess how the next one can be better.
For me, this season is going to be much tougher to simply put aside or pack away.
The reasons abound. For this game, I don’t want to point fingers at any one particular player or coach. The cliché that you win and lose as a team abides here. The totality of this defeat seems to cut that game down in size. It’s too collective a failure.
But let’s get this out of the way — Coach John Harbaugh didn’t have one of his finer games. But I have to admit my personal animus against Harbaugh these past two seasons and my calls for his firing were simply wrong and born of a certain stubbornness about what I’d like our coach to be. Harbaugh may not be perfect, but Steve Bisciotti’s steady hand has delivered a coach who can continue to win a lot more games than he loses.
Let’s admit while Lamar Jackson, the Ravens’ brilliant young quarterback, is 19-3 in the regular season record, his 0-2 mark in playoffs will be the driving force for him to hopefully take his game to the next level. However high that level can be.
And let’s look at our Ravens’ glasses as much more half-full than half-empty. They have a franchise QB who is young, talented and driven to be the best. Along with him, the overall roster is young and talented.
Our general manager Eric DeCosta had a great first draft at the helm, and he also scored big-time wins in free agency with running back Mark Ingram and safety Earl Thomas. When the moment called for it, he made a shrewd and impactful trade to land a solid cornerback in Marcus Peters and double-downed on signing him to an extension. It’s my assessment that in DeCosta, the Ravens have not only a shrewd football man but someone who is much more analytically inclined than his predecessor, Ozzie Newsome.
Sure, Harbaugh let Greg Roman design the perfect offense to match the talent on hand. But DeCosta, armed with statistical data, has been the driving force in his coach’s newfound belief in aggressiveness.
The Ravens have two outstanding coordinators in offensive coordinator Roman and defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. Easily, this could have been an offseason when they could have lost either or both. In a high percentage of years, when one player is so successful like Lamar Jackson, it is his coach who is highly sought after. That’s the scenario that produced the Ravens second head coach, Brian Billick. Let’s give Jackson all the accolades, but continuity in his coordinator at this point in his career will help him develop more fully.
But what is different about this one loss? For starters, the Ravens started playing in Baltimore at Memorial Stadium in 1996. While the Ravens have been a very solid organization from early on and have won two Super Bowls, they never held all the cards to host a conference game in Baltimore. When your team is chasing down a Super Bowl ring, that’s supposed to mean something. The home-field advantage is supposed to be tangible.
The 14-2 regular season record is something the team can always be proud of, but in the end the advantage that brought them was squandered in a big way.
But M&T didn’t disappoint. The moment you got near the stadium to indulge in some tailgating, our city and team were at the epicenter of the NFL. When you got inside the gates of the stadium, there was an energy I hadn’t seen since parts of the last Super Bowl season and Ravens’ nation was amped up.
When the game started, that high energy was in abundance. The noise-meter was cranked, and when the Titans couldn’t get off a play due to the decibel level, that only fueled the crowd to be as loud as I’ve ever heard at M&T.
What else sticks so deeply in my craw about this Titans’ loss and the sudden, unhappy end to the 2019 season? There is just the simple notion that I was so utterly wrong about a reality that I felt I understood. In sports, especially football, when you play only once per week, a 12-game winning streak tends to make you feel like you and your team are invincible. To be so wrong really makes me question just about every part of my reality.
Lastly, I don’t often get caught up in sentimentality concerning the city we call home. But this felt different. Everyone I spoke to in the buildup to the game — be it media, friends, family — all echoed how much the people who make up our imperfect Baltimore needed something positive to wrap their collective civic pride around. This Ravens team, at this point in time and what they were on their way to doing, could have helped us lift our heads a little bit higher.
Stan “The Fan” Charles is founder and publisher of PressBox.