The NFL season is a story of peaks and valleys as teams try to navigate through adversity and success towards the ultimate goal of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. With every special season, there are key moments in which you look back on as turning points crucial to the team’s success. This year was filled with plenty of memorable plays, soundbites and moments that have propelled the Ravens to the center of the football world.
As they embark on their quest for the organizations third Lombardi trophy, let’s look at the specific events that helped turn the tide towards a franchise best 14-2 record. But first, let’s take a trip down memory lane and recap the key moments from the 2012 Super Bowl season for a historical comparison.
Terrell Suggs returns from Achilles injury
On October 20, 2012, Suggs was removed from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, allowing him to play the next day against the Houston Texans. Prior to his return, the defense was dismal, ranking in the bottom half of almost every defensive category. As a unit, they were just missing something. They lacked the disruptive play of the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year and his ability to get into the backfield, wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Although his play diminished from previous years, he gave the Ravens defense a big boost physically and mentally when they were getting outmatched week in and week out.
Contentious team meeting turned positive
On the morning of Halloween following a 43-13 blowout at the hands of the Houston Texans, head coach John Harbaugh announced to his team that they would be practicing in full pads on their first day back from the bye week. This announcement didn’t sit well with some of the veterans in the locker room, notably with safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard who decided to voice their opinions. While most coaches in the league may have cracked down and dismissed the players opinions, coach Harbaugh decided to divert from his usual “my way or the highway” type attitude and let the players talk.
“We had a little therapeutic session,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “It was huge that our coach was able to stand there and listen to some of our concerns. That takes a lot of heart and humbleness to sit there and listen to that. Once we got all of that out, we started communicating better. We started talking more coach-to-player and player-to-coach. It brought us closer and it definitely helped our team.”
Ultimately, Harbaugh went against his full pad practice plan and the team responded by winning the next four games on their schedule. He earned a lot of players respect for hearing them out instead of shutting them out from voicing their opinions. There were many turning points, but if you ask the players, this was the biggest.
“It was the turning point of our season,” running back Ray Rice said. “The way Coach Harbaugh handled that brought us a lot closer together. He wasn’t defensive. He listened to us. He heard everybody out.”
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron fired; Jim Caldwell promoted
For much of the 2012 year, the Ravens offense was off and on. They showed flashes of brilliance, but when they were bad, things got ugly. This had been a question mark now for a few years since Cam Cameron took over play calling duties in 2008. Following the 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins, coach Harbaugh made the bold decision to relieve Cameron of his duties and to promote then QB coach Jim Caldwell to the offensive coordinator position.
This move received a lot of criticism considering Caldwell hadn’t called offensive plays in over 10 years, let alone at the NFL level. Although it was a bold move, it proved to be the right one. He would give Flacco the freedom he’d always longed for, opening up the playbook with better balance and a more varied passing attack. He realized the strength of the offense was their running game, leaning on Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce which opened the down field passing attack for Flacco.
Under Caldwell, his touchdown-to-interception ratio went from 2:1 to 15:1 and his passer rating went up 20 points. The Ravens never looked back after firing Cameron, as Caldwell put together the perfect formula for a Super Bowl run.
Ray Lewis announces “Last Ride”
At the conclusion of the 2012 regular season, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced that he would retire at the end of this season, closing one of the greatest careers in NFL history. Sidelined since Week 6, it appeared the Ravens would be without Lewis for the remainder of the season. The team had picked up momentum in December, propelling them towards the postseason and an AFC North division crown. Lewis then delivered what would be the final piece of motivation, ending with him retiring as a world champion.
“I talked to my team today,” Lewis said “I talked to them about life in general. And everything that starts has an end. For me, today, I told my team that this will be my last ride.”
”I think my fans, my city, I think they deserved for me to just not walk away,” he said. “We all get to enjoy what Sunday will feel like, knowing that this will be the last time 52 plays in a uniform in Ravens stadium.”
The rest is history. Lewis played his final game in M&T Bank Stadium against the Colts on wild card weekend, resulting in a Ravens win and the most electrifying atmosphere to date. The Ravens went on to beat the Broncos, Patriots and the 49ers in route to their second Lombardi Trophy.
Browns blow out Ravens; Defensive personnel shakeup
Coming off a tough loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens looked to get back on track as they welcomed in the Cleveland Browns. The rivalry was picking up steam all offseason as the Browns received Super Bowl hype with a rejuvenated roster and second year quarterback Baker Mayfield projected to put up MVP type numbers. This was a chance for the Ravens to show the world that the hype was misplaced, and the AFC North still runs through Baltimore.
That afternoon, it couldn’t have gone more wrong for the Ravens. Brandon Williams was a surprise scratch after being a late addition to the injury report, resulting in the defense getting gashed on the ground by Nick Chubb. For the second straight week, the defense allowed over 500 yards of total offense and looked like a unit that could sink a promising season.
Following the game, there were reports of a heated locker room confrontation between defensive leaders Brandon Williams and Earl Thomas. Thomas was unhappy with Williams inactive status on gameday and expressed the need to have the defensive leader on the field if the injury wasn’t considered serious. This was the kind of mid-season altercation that could either divide the locker room or get them on the same page, like the 2012 team meeting referenced earlier. Luckily for the Ravens, it proved to be the latter and the locker room was better off for it.
First year general manager Eric DeCosta recognized that the Ravens weren’t going to get far with the current personnel on defense and acted accordingly, attacking the roster with midseason additions. Veterans Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort were signed as street free agents and now play a prominent role in the defensive rotation. Bynes and Fort solidified the linebacker position and stabilized a defense that was on its heels. DeCosta’s willingness to not become complacent was the first turning point in the Ravens season while the Browns loss proved to be monumental to the Ravens 2019 success.
Marcus Peters acquired via trade
After Jimmy Smith went down with a multi-week injury in Week 1, the Ravens secondary felt the effects. Marlon Humphrey remained stellar, but the secondary was being gashed week in and week out, allowing 300-plus yard games through the air in three straight games. Second year corner Anthony Averett was overwhelmed playing as an every-down player while Maurice Canady was rotated into the lineup with little success.
Leading up to the Seahawks game in Week 6, DeCosta pulled off the trade of the year and easily the best mid-season trade in Ravens history. While all the attention was geared towards Jalen Ramsey, DeCosta found a motivated trade partner in the Rams who were looking to move Peters to make room for a Ramsey trade. The Ravens sent a fifth-round draft pick and linebacker Kenny Young, who had recently fell out of favor, in exchange for the All-Pro cornerback. The fifth-round pick stemmed from the offseason trade sending K/P Kaare Vedvik to the Vikings, who is now on his fourth team since departing the Ravens. In comparison, fellow All-Pro defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick was acquired for a first-round pick while the Rams mortgaged their future for Ramsey. It was a shrewd move for a first-year general manager and took the Ravens defense to a new level.
➡️Eric DeCosta sends Vedvik to Minnesota for a 5th-rd pick.— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) January 8, 2020
➡️With an extra one on hand, EDC sends a 5th & Kenny Young to L.A. for Marcus Peters.
➡️Peters plays at a Pro Bowl and All-Pro level, and EDC signs him to an extension.
➡️Vedvik joins his 4th team since EDC traded him https://t.co/GXFkk3PwSu
Peters impact was immediately felt, intercepting a Russell Wilson pass and returning it for a 67-yard touchdown in their Week 6 victory against the Seahawks. Since his arrival, the Ravens defense has not allowed a 300-yard passer while his fiery and aggressive attitude has been infectious inside the locker room.
”He’s been a game-changer for us, because he helped our flexibility,” Martindale said. “We couldn’t be doing what we’re doing without it. Everyone sees the talent, but he’s a football savant. He’s the smartest corner I’ve ever seen play -- it’s unbelievable -- and we’re so glad we got him.”
Since the trade, Peters has been named to the Pro Bowl and selected as a first team All-Pro defensive back. He was awarded with a 3-year, $42 million dollar contract extension with $32 million in guarantees, ensuring he stays in the purple and black for the foreseeable future.
“Hell, yeah coach, let’s go for it!”
Leading up to the Week 6 matchup against the Seahawks, Lamar Jackson had displayed many memorable plays and highlights, but it was in this game where we saw him take the next step as a leader. The Ravens were moving the ball on offense but had little to show for it as they were struggling to find the endzone. Whether it be a costly penalty or a dropped ball, they were squandering away opportunities to put points on the board and frustration began to boil over.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Ravens moved the ball into the red zone only to be hit with another costly penalty, this time a delay of game penalty due to miscommunication with center Matt Skura. This was the first time we saw the fiery side of Jackson as he was animated in his displeasure with the penalty. On 3rd and 15 from the 21-yard line, Jackson kept the ball on a read-option and darted through the defense for a 13-yard gain setting up a 4th and 2 scenario.
While common sense would tell you to kick the field goal and take a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter, Jackson had other plans. Harbaugh sent out the field goal unit and was met on the sideline by a miffed Jackson who appeared disgruntled with the decision.
“Do you want to go for that” Harbaugh questioned to Jackson.
“Hell yeah coach, let’s go for it!” Jackson exclaimed “Do you want to go for it? Let’s go!”
The field goal unit was pulled from the field and Jackson lined up the offense for the crucial fourth down attempt. He took a direct snap and ran quarterback power to the right side of the line, knifing through the defense and into the endzone.
Not only did this essentially seal the victory, it was the exact moment Jackson left zero doubt as to the kind of leader he was. Harbaugh and the coaching staff showed that they trusted their quarterback in a big moment and it proved to be a springboard for the rest of the season. Jackson has shown that same fire every time he takes the field and the Ravens have no fear of putting the ball in his hands in crucial moments.
Big Truss is born in Baltimore
It’s hard to believe that a simple motto said in a postgame press conference could become a key moment in any team’s season, but it has become a cultural movement in Baltimore. Fresh off a 41-7 victory over the Houston Texans, Jackson was still not receiving the recognition he deserved in the chase for the MVP award. To correct this oversight, Mark Ingram started off Jackson’s press conference by introducing his teammate to the reporters and serving as a hype man.
”The MVP frontrunner,” Ingram said “If anybody’s got something different to say about that, they can come see me. I’m right here in B-more, outside the Bank. If you’ve got an issue with that, come see me. I’m about that. Big truss. Woo woo. Lamar Jackson, in the flesh, yes sir.”
It has become the Ravens catchphrase, linked to the success of the 2019 season. The players say it religiously. Fans have adopted it into their everyday vocabulary, armed with the hand sign which has taken over social media posts. Even members of the media, locally and nationally, say it without really knowing the meaning.
So, what does it mean? Well, it depends on who you ask.
“It’s just basically like trust but with no ‘t’,” Willie Snead said. “Trust your brother, trust your coaches, trust the process. All that. Lamar came up with ‘truss.’ Mark [Ingram] came up with ‘big truss’ because everything Mark does is big. He put the ‘big’ on there to give it his own splash.”
Ronnie Stanley offered his insight. “I don’t think you can put one definition on it. It’s a feeling. It’s a movement. It’s not just about trusting someone. It’s about big trusting someone. You have full-fledged faith in that person – more than they even understand.”
If you ask the man himself, Ingram puts it simply.
“It’s love, man. It’s love.”
What seems like such a small thing has manifested into the impressive culture we have seen around this team in 2019. The locker room is tight knit, the fanbase is energized and the Ravens are at the center of the football world. We all have some “Big Truss” in common.
Which moment contributed most to the Ravens success in 2019?
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Marcus Peters trade
"Hell yeah coach, let’s go for it!"