As Camp Begins, Ravens Keenly Aware That It's Playoffs or Bust


Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Not football.

The Ravens were a fourth-and-12 stop away from the playoffs last year. The year prior, they were about an inch away from stopping wide receiver Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers from knocking them out.

Baltimore made the postseason each of the first five years of the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era, including three trips to the AFC Championship and one Super Bowl title. The Ravens have been back once in the five years since, with three straight years on the outside.

So as the Ravens embarked on the 2018 season with the start of training camp this week, they were keenly aware of what's at stake. It's playoffs or bust, team veterans say.

"Us not being in the playoffs the last three seasons, we definitely know time is running out," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We have to make something happen. I feel like this is one of the most anticipated preseasons we've been in since my rookie year."

As a first-round rookie in 2014, Mosley went to the divisional playoffs, where Baltimore was toppled by two 14-point New England Patriots comebacks. Only 12 players from that team still remain on the Ravens roster.

"Every year this team doesn't make the playoffs, the lines get thinner and thinner," Mosley said. "I'm speaking on guys being here, they know that potentially guys are losing their jobs because when you don't win, you're replaced – that's upstairs and on the field."

Mosley talked about how the defense has especially felt the sting of falling short the past two years. Both times, they were on the field with a lead and didn't close it out. Baltimore's defense has been strong, but that eats at it.

Stepping back, the Ravens proved a lot just being in the hunt the past two years. They were ravaged by injuries both times, including to star players. Last year, Flacco's back injury threw a wrench into the offensive plans, and execution, for the first half of the season. Flacco said it wasn't the most ideal situation, "but we should have made it work."

"It doesn't matter that we were this close [to making the playoffs]," Flacco said, motioning with his fingers. "I don't care if you're in the AFC Championship game, one game away, one play away from the Super Bowl. 'This close' is not good enough."

The Ravens are potentially on the cusp of turning the roster over if things don't work out this season.

With first-round pick Lamar Jackson on the roster, Baltimore could usher in a new offensive era. Mosley is heading into the final year of his contract, as is 35-year-old outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Even 33-year-old Energizer Bunny, safety Eric Weddle, said this week that he doesn't know how many more years he can play.

"It's bottom-line business, and everyone knows it," Weddle said. "We know it, older guys know it. You only have so many cracks at a chance at a Super Bowl. You just want to do whatever you can to get there. We've had chances and we haven't capitalized on those opportunities."

So how do the Ravens approach this season with that in mind?

Head Coach John Harbaugh wore a T-shirt at practice Friday that said, "Chase the Lion." There's a book by that name, written by Mark Batterson in 2016, that's about an approach to life.

"It's only when we stop fearing failure that we can fully seize opportunity by the mane. Quit playing it safe and start running towards the roar!"

"We know we have to go out and prove ourselves, but there's a lot of positive energy within our building, starting with our head coach," Weddle said. "The way he's grown in his leadership, his accountability really resonates through our entire team, and just can't wait to hit the field."

Optimism flows freely for all 32 teams in the offseason. The Ravens are no different, but there's good reason to believe that they'll be a better team than they were a year ago.

To begin with, they're already much healthier than they were at this time last year. Baltimore's entire starting defense is back and players love new Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale's revamped system. On offense, Flacco is feeling and looking good and has many more proven targets around him thanks to an aggressive offseason.

The Ravens feel they have a good enough team to contend for a Super Bowl this season.

"We know what this team is capable of," Mosley said. "We know what the city expects and being a part of the Baltimore Ravens is we know what kind of standard we have to live up to."

"I'm going to go give it all I've got and give it my best foot forward," Weddle added. "I think the more the older guys can express that to the younger guys and let them know it doesn't happen often. If you have a chance at the Super Bowl, it doesn't happen year after year after year. It's very rare."

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