Messages To Team Starts 2015 Season
Only one NFL team will be happy in the end – the Super Bowl winner.
The rest of us are the same in many ways. We came up short. But, when you lose in the playoffs, that hurts more. The end comes suddenly, especially in a close loss like we suffered in the cold of Foxborough last Saturday night.
We went from standing on the sideline with thoughts of, "How great will this be when we score the winning touchdown at their place." My mind just flashed to the ball leaving Joe Flacco's hand, to the memory of seeing Torrey Smith sprinting beyond the corner covering and remembering, "Joe just did it again. This will be Jacoby Jones II."
And then, the interception by the safety coming over the top from the middle of the field.
So close. So sad.
Know you guys were on the edge of your seats, excited like we were. And, like me, unable to do anything but watch and hope.
Quickly, we moved to the 2015 season. More than the start of most offseasons, we are hopeful of being better and somewhat confident that we will be a fierce competitor for next year's Super Bowl. Our foundation is pretty good.
The Ravens turned toward the future in a hurry following the difficult loss to the Patriots. Just a few hours after our charter landed in Baltimore early last Sunday morning, John Harbaugh assembled at our Under Armour Performance Center the 2014 Ravens for the last time.
Harbs started the meeting with a shout-out to Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Juney Barnett, who was celebrating his birthday. (John starts many of the daily meetings with birthday greetings.)
After the good wish, Harbs stood in front of his players, and just as he was beginning his serious message, the door behind him opened and a creepy-looking tall man walked in. As the head coach turned, this large figure walked down the two steps toward him. John stepped back.
"He's nervous. Look at him," shouted Jacoby.
The uninvited guest moved menacingly toward the startled Harbaugh. "Can I help you?" Harbs said. The man, almost nose-to-nose, stared, stepped back and then moved back in front of John. "Who put you up to this?" Harbs asked. No answer. John then reached out to the face, realizing that it was made of rubber. The man turned and headed up the aisle, found a seat and sat. With that, Jimmy Smith, the injured cornerback, took off the mask which also covered his chest. John laughed and joined the rest of the room applauding the prank.
Think that touch of levity is just what the team needed to begin the process of moving on from last season. A good laugh before the transition to a beginning.
Messages From The Coaches
Harbs started the message by calling on the Ravens coordinators. "I know I'm taking you guys by surprise, but I want you to tell the team how you feel about them and where we're going."
Special Teams Coordinator/Associate Head Coach Jerry Rosburg spoke first: "I guess the word I would use to describe how I feel is proud. My cup overflows with pride to be part of this special teams group. Proud to stand on the sidelines with you, because you are warriors. We had a blast. We practiced hard, we got work done, and that led to our success. So, I'm really, really proud to be with you and very thankful for all of you."
Dean Pees stepped up next. "My hat's off to the offense for what you guys did this year. The best defense is when the offense is on the field, and you guys did a helluva job this year. You men on defense, thank you. You finished in the Top 10 in seven different categories this year. That's a tribute to you. We had a different game plan each week with all kind of guys starting in different spots, especially on the backend (secondary). There was no complaining, just executing, and we got pretty far. It's disappointing not to win it all, but I loved my association with all of you. Thanks."
"I want everyone in the room to know how proud I am to be a Raven," Gary Kubiak started. "I want to thank all of you. The greatest feeling in this business is when you're at a place where everybody is pulling together, and that's what I've felt all along here. I'm just so proud of all of you guys on offense. We asked a lot of you. You bought into the idea of unselfishness. I asked Steve Smith to go block, to Torrey Smith to do the same, and everybody just busted your rear ends. I've never been in a place where guys played harder for each other. We came up short, but the future is awful bright."
Coach Harbaugh stepped back to the front of the room. "Couldn't be more heartbroken that we don't get to walk forward together, but we'll move on from this. We have a steely resolve to accomplish all of the things that we're determined to accomplish. It's just a matter of how good we're willing to get. How good are we willing to make ourselves.
"Things were different this year than they were a year ago and the year before that. We're always looking for new and better ways to get better. If you have an idea, let's hear it. If there's something you believe can help us win, we can incorporate it."
(While firm in his beliefs, I respect the way Harbs is always open and inviting to new ideas.)
Finally, the head coach reminded the players about two things: 1) That football is a year-round business, and the players have to "make or break" their careers by what they do in the offseason; and 2) "There's no leeway for anybody for anything. Whether we play, coach or work in the front office, let's be smart. We all have a lot at stake. Let's not make any mistakes. Let's not be that guy."
Interestingly, John then excused the veterans and asked the first- and second-year players to stay. He congratulated this second group for finding a way to be in the NFL, and then he did some math for them. "There are 1,700 players in the league, right? 53 times 32. And, there will be what, another 400 or so new players coming into the league. What does that tell you?"
He had their attention.
"I wanted to get your sense of urgency up a little. You need to commit to come back in April a better player than you are right now. You're either getting better or getting worse. Your mindset and actions have to be that you're going to be part of a nucleus that is going to part of something great. I believe in each of you and know you'll do the right things."
Nicely stated, Coach.
Many reporters, relatives and friends have asked me about everything that happened during the 2014 season. I'll use Harbs' words from his address to the team in the locker room immediately after the loss to the Patriots to relate what I believe:
"I've never been around a team that cared more about one another, that fought harder, or became as good as it could possibly be. You guys didn't let anything affect you. Any kind of adversity that we had, any challenges we faced – and there were many – you guys just kept your head down and your eyes forward. We were absolutely, positively as good as we could be. We're going to be a better team next year because we have a young team."
With that, Joe Flacco spoke to the group: "I'm proud of you guys, man. We fought. I couldn't be more proud to be part of a team. Keep your heads high."
We will, Joe, and we're moving forward. We're going to be better. I believe that. Should be a lot of fun as we go through this offseason making the improvements to take us to the highest levels.
Talk with you soon,