Remember the conversation like it was yesterday.
ESPN's Chris Berman called in mid-August and said: "Is there a reason I shouldn't pick you guys to go to the Super Bowl? I'm leaning that way."
That call came a few weeks after Monday Morning Quarterback's Peter King had visited our training camp and told me he was "leaning" toward predicting the Ravens as the "AFC's rep in the Super Bowl." And, in fact, King did just that later that month.
Hey, it's Thanksgiving in Baltimore. That's when family and friends gather round for a celebration of gratitude and talk about whom the Ravens will likely meet in the playoffs.
Not this year. We're 3-7, and no one is talking about the Ravens and the playoffs. We're out of the loop. We're an afterthought in most NFL circles. The best we're getting is, "They sure have had a lot of things happen to them this year."
But, let's go back to the conversation with Berman. "Our offensive line is really good. All five starters are returning," I remember telling him. "Joe [Flacco] is a Super Bowl MVP, and I believe he and Marc Trestman will be dynamic together. We have a Pro Bowl running back [in Justin Forsett]. We have a Hall of Fame-type receiver with Steve Smith Sr., and he has shown no signs of slowing down. Harbs and the coaches, as well as Ozzie, love the No. 1 [draft pick wide receiver Breshad Perriman]. Our tight ends are young, but the coaches like them, and we could get [Dennis] Pitta back in October."
We then discussed the Ravens defense. "[Terrell] Suggs and [Elvis] Dumervil had more sacks than any other combo in the league last year. We are really good in the middle with Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan. I think they can make up for Haloti [Ngata]," I continued. "No one has a better pair of inside linebackers than C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith. Our corners are healthy. Heck, if they were last year, it would have been us in the Super Bowl instead of the Patriots."
Here Berman interrupted: "Two 14-point leads in Foxboro. I know, I know."
Concluding, I offered: "We have the best kickers in the league, and you know with Harbs and Jerry Rosburg, our special teams will be off the charts. Yeah, the more I think about it, picking us is pretty sound."
The 2015 Ravens have set a record for being the first team in league history to have their first nine and 10 games decided by eight points or less. You could say this Ravens edition doesn't know how, or isn't good enough, to close. Or, you could say we're close to winning.
Look, we know the NFL tries to get every team to 8-8. The more you win, the harder they make it to continue to win. Win more, and you get lower draft choices. Win more, and the schedule is more difficult. The league is getting closer to their dream. Through last weekend, more games (89) this season have been decided by eight points or less than ever before. WE HAVEN'T WON ENOUGH OF THOSE CLOSE GAMES. THAT'S OUR FAULT.We did win our share in previous seasons.
Winning in the NFL is fragile. Sometimes it's a fine line between 3-7 and being in playoff contention. We knew our margin was slim this season. Before we started, we were over $23 million in the hole with our salary cap because of charges for Ray Rice, Ngata, whom we tried to sign to a new contract to create some cap space, and Pitta. Now, with all of our injuries, we have more than 40 percent of our salary cap for players watching games instead of playing in them.
And, no doubt, our list of injured players is unusual: Suggs, Smith Sr., Michael Campanaro, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Perriman – and now Flacco and Forsett. That returning offensive line? Center Jeremy Zuttah is done for the season. Left tackle Eugene Monroe has missed four games and most of two others.
Thirty-four months ago, the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. At the end of last Sunday's win over the Rams, only six of the players from that championship game were healthy: Marshal Yanda, kickers Sam Koch and Justin Tucker, Morgan Cox, Courtney Upshaw and Jimmy Smith.
The times are a changing.
(Look, I know what we are. We are a 3-7 team. But, we have had some unusual things happen at the end of games this season. Yeah, yeah, you have to be good enough to overcome those. We get it. But, to have the league say, "My bad" after the Jacksonville game – you should have won. What? The one that really gets me is the interference call on Will Hill III on his game-winning interception at Oakland. What could he have done differently? C'mon man! And, finally, I love him and want him to reconsider his retirement plans, but Smith Sr.'s miss in the end zone of the final minute at Denver is one he catches 80 out of 100 times. … OK, I got those off my chest. Let's move on.)
Short Term, Long Term
As Coach Harbaugh told the media on Monday, "Everything you do, you have to be thinking about the short term and the long term. For coaches, the short term focus is always the next game. But, you always have to have awareness of the long term."
Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, Dick Cass, Eric DeCosta, Harbs and others are examining what got us here and what we have to do to not let this happen again. I think we've been good at self-examination and evaluation through the years. Does it intensify when you lose? No doubt. Nothing will be taken for granted. The process to improve is underway. (And, my belief is that the resurrection will not be easy, but it will be quick and lots of fun.)
In the meantime, we have six games left on the schedule. Here's what I know. Harbs and his assistants will not let our record or circumstances define who we are. We're depleted, but we still have a lot of good players on this team. … Ravens players, the type who battle to the end in every game. Those are the types we draft and sign.
Teams that don't win usually divide, and media will prey on the weak – players in the last year of contracts, older veterans who think they won't be back the following season. I don't think they will find that division with the current Ravens. Harbs is too strong and is impressive in how he coaches each player on the team. He's relentless. Plus, our assistants are good men dedicated to the team concept and certainly focused on getting their players ready for the next game.
Hey, stay with us. Watch us give everything we have in Cleveland. The type of effort we saw last Sunday when we came back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Rams will continue.
You know what you've read about Matt Schaub, our new starting quarterback. He's a 12-year NFL vet who has made two Pro Bowls, including in 2012. He and the Texans struggled in 2013 when they went 2-14 after winning the AFC South with a 12-4 mark in 2012. A year ago, he was the backup to Derek Carr with the Raiders. What you don't know is that he is well prepared for his Ravens debut. From Wednesday through Friday, he is one of the first players in the building, often walking in with Coach Harbs around 5:30 a.m. He likes football, and we think he'll be fine.
Can't wait to see on Monday night. Let's beat the Browns.
Talk with you next week,