By Samuel Njoku
The Ravens fell a few games short of a Vince Lombardi trophy when they lost to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. And though they won’t be making a trip to the Super Bowl this season, there is plenty to be happy about in Baltimore. Unfortunately, all the good the team was able to accomplish this season will be tainted by the events this past offseason with Ray Rice.
Prior to the season, Ray Rice was arrested for an assault on his then fiancé on an elevator in New Jersey. The case received national attention when video of the assault surfaced. Since then, it’s been a downward spiral for the NFL, Ray Rice, and the Baltimore Ravens. The NFL’s credibility took a serious hit as did the image of the Ravens as a whole. For a while, Rice would be all people would talk about when it came to the Ravens – even after his release. But soon, their play on the football field could not be ignored.
The Ravens offense made huge strides this season with the addition of Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator. Joe Flacco is as comfortable as he’s ever been as quarterback of the team. Justin Forsett has emerged as the possible permanent replacement for Ray Rice in the backfield and Rick Wagner was a clear upgrade over the overhyped former 1st round pick, Michael Oher.
Defensively, Dean Pees was asked to do more with less. Jimmy Smith, the best defender in the secondary, was lost for the season with a foot injury. He had little to no experience in the secondary besides Lardarius Webb and injuries to his reserve players took place on a weekly basis. But Pees was still able to put together a top 10 defense. A lot of that has to do with how well his front 7 performed this year. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs formed the best pass rushing tandem in the NFL. Haloti Ngata returned to his true form while Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams proved they’ll be a force for years to come.
Baltimore found itself in some pretty exciting games in 2014. There was the game in Tampa Bay where they saw Joe Flacco score 5 touchdowns in the first half. In week 2 of the NFL season, Baltimore would defeat their rival the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-6 before going into Pittsburgh and achieving the same feat in the postseason. Even in defeat, Baltimore displayed flashes of brilliance such as the one we witnessed in Foxborough in the divisional round when the Ravens took it to the Patriots defense.
On Tuesday, Harbaugh spoke to the media about the resiliency of the 2014 Ravens. “I told the players that in all my years of football, I’ve never seen a group of players let so little get in the way of letting them be the best they could possibly be.” Considering all that happened to the franchise this year, that may be an understatement.
The Ravens quickly rebuilt their team from the championship unit 2 years prior. The coaching staff did a masterful job getting the most from their players even with the injuries that mounted throughout the season. The season will be remembered for the Ray Rice scandal that took place during the offseason and not for how quickly Baltimore returned to the small group of truly elite teams – and it’s a shame.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. Samuel Njoku is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.