From a dominant start to a late-season near-collapse, from big comebacks to blown leads, from on-the-field triumphs to off-the-field tragedy, here’s a look at the best and worst of the Baltimore Ravens’ regular season:
Team MVP: If you’re just focused on numbers, running back Ray Rice had his least productive season since his rookie year in 2008. However, while the rest of the offense battled inconsistency, Rice scored 10 touchdowns, was among the league leaders in all-purpose yards and earned another Pro Bowl berth. Jacoby Jones may have won two key games with return touchdowns but Rice remained the offense’s most consistent and reliable performer.
Unsung Hero: Known primarily for his work on special teams while with the Chicago Bears, cornerback Corey Graham signed with the Ravens because he wanted to get onto the field more on defense. He got it when Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith went down with injuries; Graham flourished in their absence. He intercepted two passes, both against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and by the end of the regular season was playing as well as any Baltimore defensive player.
Play of the Year: This one is easy. With his 29-yard catch-and run on fourth-and-29 in San Diego, Rice provided one of the plays of the year in the NFL. The late fourth-quarter play, which featured a key block by Anquan Boldin and hard and determined running by Rice after catching Joe Flacco’s dump-off, set up the tying field goal by Justin Tucker and the Ravens went on to defeat the Chargers in overtime. The victory loomed even larger when the Ravens followed it by losing three straight.
Biggest win: The 13-10 win over the Steelers on Nov. 18.
Not only did the Ravens prove once again that they aren’t intimidated by Heinz Field, they gave themselves the cushion that they’d eventually need to win a second straight AFC North title.
Worst loss: The home loss to the Steelers. Pittsburgh third-string quarterback Charlie Batch engineered two late-fourth-quarter scoring drives as the Ravens squandered a 10-point lead in the 23-20 defeat. The loss ended the Ravens’ 16-game home winning streak and their 12-game winning streak against divisional foes.
It also started a three-game losing streak that erased any hope of getting a first-round bye.
Most inspirational performance:Nothing tops wide receiver Torrey Smith playing against the New England Patriots less than 24 hours after his younger brother, Tevin, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Smith caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 victory. After the first touchdown, Smith pointed to the sky and then cried upon reaching the sideline.
Biggest disappointment:This designation should go to the group of young defensive players who regressed this season, allowing a once-dominant group to be one of the more vulnerable units in the NFL. That group includes nose tackle Terrence Cody, defensive end Pernell McPhee and cornerback Jimmy Smith. Smith couldn’t stay healthy, McPhee couldn’t get after the quarterback and Cody couldn’t hold up against the run.
Best organizational decision: The Ravens held firm in their contract negotiations with Flacco and that looks prudent. Flacco, who is in the final year of his rookie deal, has been good at times but his ongoing inconsistency didn’t give a huge boost to his bargaining position. Make no mistake, Flacco will get a lot of money and have plenty of suitors if he hits free agency, which the Ravens don’t figure to allow. However, not panicking and giving in should serve the Ravens well.
Best quote: “Check down. Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle.” — Rice, asked if he had a name for his fourth-and-29 catch-and-run against the Chargers.
— Baltimore Sun