Most teams would trade their entire existence in the NFL for the Ravens’ last five seasons, since their Super Bowl 47 win. One playoff trip that featured a narrow loss at New England, just one losing season, three seasons contending for the postseason that ended with heartbreaking, last-minute defeat to division rivals.
Painful, but still better than all but an elite handful, and a universe away from their Super Bowl opponent in 2013, the 49ers, who have fired coaches three times, their general manager once and changed quarterbacks five times. By contrast, coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and quarterback Joe Flacco have been united in Baltimore for 10 years now.
Still, there’s that 40-40 post-Super Bowl record, and the four years missing the playoffs.
The honeymoon period is running full-tilt into the phase where the coach and players tuning each other out becomes an issue. Ten years is a long time — in Baltimore, it’s a year longer than Brian Billick lasted, and Harbaugh’s predecessor won a Super Bowl, as well. Only five coaches have longer tenure than Harbaugh (ironically, two are in his division, Mike Tomlin and Marvin Lewis).
Team owner Steve Bisciotti and the Ravens have remained in the championship conversation every year largely because they don’t let fans make decisions for them. However, after their 9-7 season ended Sunday in a nightmarish, last-minute loss to the Bengals, the local faithful have voiced their impatience with the last three playoff-less seasons.
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Understandably, they’re asking what the Ravens do now after falling short too often, but never falling totally off the cliff. The mediocrity has a lot of moving parts, which Harbaugh acknowledged while praising how the players gritted it out this season, through an epic wave of injuries, until literally the last minute of the last game.
“I’m disappointed. I’m hurt, because I wanted this team in the playoffs,” Harbaugh said after the loss. “I wanted this team in the playoffs for the team, the players, because of what they’ve done this year, how far they’ve come, the adversity they’ve overcome, what they’ve dealt with.”
Those players were just as disappointed, if not more so, particularly the senior member of the locker room, de facto leader and one of a handful of keys from the Super Bowl year. Said Terrell Suggs: “Fifteen years as a Raven, I would have to say this is the most devastating. I’ll remember this one forever.”
How to avoid that in the near future, though, is very problematic. Obviously, just speaking of their own division, they’re hardly the Browns, and they’re clearly better off than the Bengals team that knocked them out. But they’ve looked up at the Steelers for too long in their minds.
Comparatively speaking, the changes have been superficial recently, assistants (especially offensive coordinators) and free agents moved around. The only obvious change in the initial days following the season was the retirement of long-time defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Harbaugh received a contract extension before this season, through 2019, making sure next year would not be a lame-duck one. Flacco received an extension for $40 million guaranteed two seasons ago, which takes him through 2020 at the earliest; he turns 33 in two weeks.
Newsome, still just 61, has been in his position since before the Ravens moved from Cleveland, wrapping up his 23rd season. He’s been one of the two or three best executives of this era. Retirement also has surfaced as a topic each of the previous three offseasons. Eric DeCosta, the Ravens assistant general manager and the presumed heir apparent, regularly deflects overtures from other teams each offseason.
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All told, though, they’ll all be under a microscope for drafting and free-agent signings, coaching decisions and underwhelming play. They know that, in a season dominated by crucial injuries all over the league, few will sympathize with their plight.
The Ravens are not the types for drastic overhauls, choosing to wring as much out of their annual playoff pushes as they can.
But 40-40 since their Super Bowl win indicates there might not be much left to squeeze.