The Ravens have been one of the most successful franchises in the NFL over the course of their 21 seasons in Baltimore. The have won a pair of Super Bowl championships, 181 regular season games and 15 postseason contests. Their 65-percent playoff winning percentage tops the entire league and their 54-percent regular season winning percentage is among the top ten franchises in NFL history.
In honor of college basketball’s Final Four that will tip off this Saturday in Phoenix, let’s review the four best squads in team history...
Widely considered to be the best defense of the modern era, the 2000 Ravens had an optimal mix of hungry young players and wise veterans. They overcame a five game midseason touchdown drought to produce a 12-4 regular season and punch their ticket to “Festivus” for the first time in franchise history under the guidance of outspoken head coach Brian Billick.
The defense dominated at all three levels. The deep defensive line rotation was headlined by pass rusher Michael McCrary. Ray Lewis had a defensive-player-of-the-year season between linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper. The secondary was led by playmaking safety Rod Woodson and featured a pair of first round cover corners in Chris McAlister and Duane Starks.
Caretaker quarterback Trent Dilfer took over for Tony Banks in midseason and spread the ball around to Shannon Sharpe and Qadry Ismail. It was a run-first offense with rookie Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes carrying the load behind All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden and company. Special teams were also a strength due to reliable kicker Matt Stover and explosive returner Jermaine Lewis.
After setting the record for least points allowed in a season with 165, a record that is unlikely to ever be broken, the defense reigned in the playoffs. The Ravens held the Broncos to a field goal in a home wildcard tilt. Next week they went into Tennessee and took full control of the battle when Ray Lewis ripped the ball away from Eddie George and returned it for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Once they defeated the Titans, who were their biggest rivals at the time, they sailed through Oakland by holding their opponent to a single field goal once again.
Against the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, the Ravens dominated from start to finish. Brandon Stokley opened the scoring, Starks returned an interception for a touchdown, and the Giants only score of the game was a kickoff return. One aspect of this team that is often overlooked was the quality of the coaching staff. Four defensive assistants, namely Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Rex Ryan and Mike Smith, went on to become NFL head coaches.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were certainly not the most balanced group in team history, but they may have been the best.
The 2006 Ravens were winless in the playoffs, but they deserve this placement based off their regular season accomplishments alone. They went 13-3 in the regular season, which is the best mark for any Ravens team, and earned a postseason bye. The season came to a disappointing end when the Ravens lost a hard fought home game to Indianapolis without allowing a touchdown. The Colts went on to win the Super Bowl.
Another Baltimore team centered around the defense, Rex Ryan installed his “organized chaos” scheme with impressive results. Rookie Haloti Ngata was joined by Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce on the line. Bart Scott lined up next to Ray Lewis at inside linebacker with Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas manning the edges. Veteran Samari Rolle formed a lockdown cornerback tandem with McAlister and Ed Reed was ballhawking in centerfield at the apex of his abilities.
Todd Heap and Derrick Mason served as quarterback Steve McNair’s primary targets. Ogden and center Mike Flynn anchored an offensive line that paved the way for power back Jamal Lewis. Notable assistant coaches include Jim Fassel, Mike Pettine and Greg Roman.
The defense finished the regular season ranked first in yards allowed per game, first in points allowed per game, second in rushing yards per attempt, second in passing yard per attempt, first in percentage of passes intercepted, first in sacks per pass play, first in first downs allowed per game and first in third down efficiency.
The 2006 Ravens will always leave fans wondering what could have been.
By the start of 2011, franchise quarterback Joe Flacco was a battled tested player with four postseason victories under his belt. He would go on to lead the Ravens to their first division crown of the John Harbaugh era and come painfully close to reaching the Super Bowl.
The Ravens started the season on a strong note by blowing out the Steelers 35-7 in the opener. The team seemingly exercised their demons from two playoff losses in the previous three seasons to arch-rival Pittsburgh in that Week 1 beatdown. They went on to win 12 regular season games behind a top-3 overall defense and top-10 rushing offense.
This was a well rounded roster with playmakers at every position group. Ray Rice had a Pro Bowl season, accumulating over 2,000 yards from scrimmage behind Marshal Yanda, Matt Birk and Ben Grubbs. Flacco developed great chemistry with Dennis Pitta, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. On defense, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs earned All-Pro acknowledgement. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Jarrett Johnson provided leadership while Lardarius Webb had his best season at cornerback.
The Ravens earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs and beat the Texans at home after generating four takeaways in the divisional round. Next they went to Foxboro to take on the Patriots. The Ravens took the lead in the third quarter with a Torrey Smith score and were poised to win the game in the final moments. Then the unthinkable happened when Lee Evans dropped a simple touchdown and then Billy Cundiff shanked a chip shot field goal that would have taken the game to overtime as the clock expired.
The Patriots would lose a close Super Bowl to the Giants while the Ravens had all offseason to agonize over the crushing last second defeat.
2012 was a roller coaster ride and ultimately a season of redemption. The Ravens would have their revenge and Joe Flacco would go on the greatest playoff run of any quarterback in football history.
Suggs ruptured his Achilles tendon before the season but the Ravens started fast with a 4-0 record including a home win over New England. Then Ray Lewis tore his triceps and Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in Week 5. Harbaugh replaced offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with Jim Caldwell after an overtime loss to the Redskins in Week 14 and the offense clicked in Week 16 against the Giants. But the Ravens still backed into the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
The Ravens depth chart was mostly unchanged from 2011, except for the departures of Jarrett Johnson, Ben Grubbs and Corey Redding. Ozzie Newsome did acquire a couple under the radar players who paid huge dividends in Corey Graham and Jacoby Jones. Suggs and Lewis were both able to make miraculous recoveries from their injuries in time to play in the postseason.
The legendary Ray Lewis announced he would be retiring after the playoffs, which put even more importance to the season. The Ravens reshuffled their offensive line for the wildcard round by inserting Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, which put Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele in position to succeed. The Ravens beat Indianapolis handily at home before heading to Denver for a double overtime thriller. It was a back and forth game with Flacco hitting Torrey Smith on multiple bombs in the first half. Eventually, the Broncos took the lead and defeat seemed certain until Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones on the “Mile High Miracle.” In overtime, Corey Graham corralled an interception before Justin Tucker nailed a clutch field goal for the win.
A rematch was set for the AFC championship and the Ravens would avenge their loss to the Patriots. Flacco threw three touchdown passes in the second half and Bernard Pollard sealed the deal with a punishing forced fumble. Flacco continued his elite play in the Super Bowl against San Francisco and Ed Reed proudly held up the Lombardi trophy in his hometown of New Orleans.
2012 was an improbable, deserved and absolutely sweet championship season.
Who would prevail in this hypothetical All-Ravens bracket?
Which Ravens team was the greatest in franchise history?
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