The Baltimore Ravens have turned a corner. What they have accomplished recently goes beyond their last three wins or their 5-3 record. The body of work that the Baltimore Ravens organization has put together since the end of last season is astonishing. Baltimore has always had a great front-office, and talent has always been abundant. However, their success recently is the result of an entire team effort, from the front office to the rookies, and should translate into long term success.
It all started with the firing of Brian Billick. The Ravens needed a new coach. They needed a motivator. The Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti, understood this. There were many speculated candidates. Marty Schottenheimer, Jason Garrett and Bill Cowher were all considered. Then the dark-horse candidate appeared, John Harbaugh. Young, inexperienced and full of fire, Harbaugh was exactly what Bisciotti was looking for.
"Do I like a guy that has to earn his resume? Yeah. I kind of made a living on hiring people with thin resumes and it's worked out pretty well for me in the last 25 years," Bisciotti said. "I think that works to John's advantage. I said three weeks ago you have to take chances to be successful. You have to be willing to do things that the masses wouldn't do, or I don't think you will be able to separate yourself from the masses."
Bisciotti handed it off to Harbaugh, and Harbaugh immediately began to assemble what has become (in my opinion) the best staff in the NFL. The two biggest moves were hiring Cam Cameron as the offensive coordinator and keeping Rex Ryan as the defensive coordinator. As the off-season progressed, the new coaches and the front office started to gel. Harbaugh knew how to make it work. He seemed to be born to be a head-coach.
"When you grow up in that [football family] environment, part of your life values, the thing you learn is that there are three important things [to] putting together a football team," said John Harbaugh "Three important things: Number 1, the team; the second most important thing is the team; and the third most important thing is the team. We'll stick with that through and through, beginning to end. That's what it's all about."
It became quickly apparent to everyone that the 2008 NFL draft was going to determine the Ravens immediate and long-term future. Harbaugh wisely handed the mammoth task to the Ravens veteran front-office, Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta. They did not take it lightly.
"This is probably the most critical draft we've ever had, based on our needs on this team, based on the future, our record last year and where we want to get to," said Eric DeCosta, Baltimore's director of college scouting. "I'm very excited. We've all talked, the three of us, about sleepless nights and waking up in the middle of the night."
"The wounds from last season are still fresh. That was a very trying season for me, personally. This draft is very strong in comparison to last year's draft. We've got nine picks, we hope to have some more at some point possibly, and I think we can really legitimize the roster for the next four, five, six years with an excellent draft this year."
Ultimately, the Ravens came out of the draft with QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice. Both players have already played a significant role on the team and after the performance against Cleveland, only look to get better. The Ravens have many other players from the 2008 draft contributing now and developing to make an impact in the future.
[Harbaugh on the performances of rookies Ray Rice and Joe Flacco] "When they get drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, we expect them to play like that. Are we surprised? No."
The performance against Cleveland also displayed a balanced team. It was a TEAM win. These "new" Ravens win games by any means necessary. If the defense needs a stop, they do their best to make it happen. If the offense needs to score, they do their best to make it happen.
"You’ve got to tip your hat to the offense," Terrell Suggs stated. "Amazing what they did. They put up 14 points fast when we were down 27-13. They scored twice, and you could feel the sense of team being formed, what we’ve been searching for all year."
"I couldn’t be more proud to be the coach of the Baltimore Ravens," Harbaugh noted. "We talk about character and integrity and doing what’s right – to overcome the adversity that they did in the second half speaks about how big their hearts are."
It all goes back to what Harbaugh said the day he was hired. "The most important thing is the team." No one player or coach is solely responsible for the team’s success or failure. The Raven’s success goes beyond the stats, the coaches or the players. It is a team effort, through and through, that started at the end of last season.
"We're going to be a dynasty," John Harbaugh said boldly. "If you're not willing to say it out loud, how do you expect to get there?"