Byrne Identity: Ravens No. 1 – Does It Mean Anything?


Ravens No. 1 – Does It Mean Anything?

On May 12, ESPN came out with its first NFL Power Rankings for the 2015 season. The sports giant listed the Ravens as the league's seventh-best team. Not too shabby. (The ESPN experts placed the Seahawks, Patriots, Packers, Broncos, Colts and Cowboys ahead of our heroes.)

When Ozzie Newsome was informed of this, he shrugged: "Good to hear, but it doesn't matter. Our team is not finished, and it will be about winning games when it counts."

John Harbaugh, sitting next to the Wizard, said: "It's good that people expect us to be good. The team has earned that. But, it guarantees nothing. We won't be the same team we were in January."

And, without playing a game, Peter King of Monday Morning Quarterback, Sports Illustrated and NBC-TV fame, placed us at the top of the NFL heap when he made his first listing last Monday (6/1).

"We're No. 1!"

What does it all mean? Not much.

Nice To Be Respected

But, it's fun. We're respected, and that feels good to us and Ravens fans. Makes for a nice start to June and good conversation.

Our recent run of six playoff seasons in the last seven years puts us in these types of top-of-the-hill mixes. (Green Bay, Indy and New England are the only teams that can match that run, and all three of those are in ESPN's current top seven.)

Also, when you look at the end of last season, the best five teams in the NFL seemed to be the Super Bowl champion Patriots, who rallied from two 14-point deficits to beat us (35-31); the Seahawks, who were literally less than two yards from beating New England in the championship … after Pete Carroll's team had an almost miraculous comeback to beat the Packers … who beat the Cowboys when Dez Bryant's spectacular catch near the goal line was ruled incomplete.

Those five teams were all capable of beating one another, and each of those playoff games were basically decided on one play.

So, being considered elite right now is not a surprise.

The Ravens are also receiving credit for just being a tough team, both physically and mentally. We survived a lot before losing that heartbreaker at New England in the Divisional Round earlier this year. (I can still see Joe Flacco's pass to Torrey Smith down the left sideline with less than two minutes remaining in the game. From my vantage point in our bench area, it first looked like it would be for a touchdown, but…)

It was an unusual 2014 for us: Ray Rice, the high number of injuries to the secondary, our offensive tackles going down for the playoffs – we overcame some issues last season.

But, we're also getting credit now because of who we are:

-          Ozzie Newsome and his set of scouts have earned a reputation for assembling deep rosters with players who are smart, tough and love football

-          John Harbaugh and his staff are noted teachers and motivators

-          Coach Harbaugh receives credit for getting the most from his teams, for overcoming obstacles that arrive during the season and for having teams peak in the playoffs

-          Typical of Newsome-assembled teams, there are respected veterans with each position group who demonstrate how to "play like Ravens." Joe at quarterback, Justin Forsett at running back, Steve Smith Sr. with the receivers, Marshal Yanda with the O-Line, Dennis Pitta at tight end, Chris Canty with the D-Line, Daryl Smith with the inside backers, Terrell Suggs with the outside backers and pass rushers, Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith with the secondary and Sam Koch with the specialists. Outstanding players and leaders abound.

To his credit, King prefaced his first ranking of the new NFL calendar by calling it the "silly season." Here's what he said about selecting the Ravens as his No. 1 team:

"Why? I trust John Harbaugh to find answers in a league devoid of truly great teams. I trust the running game to take pressure off Joe Flacco until he develops chemistry with new receivers, and I trust Dean Pees to replace Haloti Ngata with a combination platter of front-seven changeups. This is a battle-tested team that had two 14-point playoff leads in Foxboro in January. I just think the Ravens will find a way."

(Here's how King ranks the other AFC North teams: Pittsburgh at 8, Cincy at 12 and the Browns at 27.)

I like Joe Flacco's reaction to these high rankings: "The biggest thing is we've got a really confident group, so we just welcome anything. It's 'OK, yeah. We're going to be good.'"

Cool Joe. You gotta love his "shrug-of-the-shoulders" perspective.

Steve Smith Sr.

It is fun to have Smith Sr. on the Ravens. This guy is smart, quick-witted, a great competitor and, obviously, a producer on the field.

Steve has an edge that drives him daily. He loves to be doubted and questioned. A year ago, reporters asked him about being a 35-year-old receiver. They had to ask. There's not much history to 35-year-olds catching a lot of passes in NFL history.

Steve did just fine in 2014, leading the Ravens with 79 catches for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns. (Torrey Smith was second with 49 for 767 and 11 touchdowns.) Smith Sr. continued to be our best target in the postseason, producing eight Flacco passes for 145 yards and one touchdown. (Torrey caught five for 90 and one touchdown.)

Now the questions are about "a 36-year-old receiver." We loved Steve's answer last week to the reporter asking, "When did the age questions start for you?" Without hesitation, the 5-foot-9 veteran replied: "Probably after the height questions stopped."

Smith Sr. then offered: "I think I still look halfway decent." Yes, he does. It's early, but there's a lot that looks "halfway decent" about the Ravens right now.

Talk soon, Kevin

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