It's going to take awhile for anyone associated with the Ravens to get over how this season ended. I'm talking about players and coaches, the front office, fans.
You weren't alone if you'd come to believe it was a season of destiny, a season for realizing grand dreams. Twelve-game winning streaks tend to do that.
Thus, you aren't alone if you're reeling from having those grand dreams abruptly extinguished; reeling to the point that it feels like the fog may not lift anytime soon.
I'm not here to sugarcoat things. When you lose in the divisional round as a No. 1 seed, that's an opportunity lost. And when that loss is by 16 points at home, that's just ugly.
Still, I have a hard time with the suggestion that the rotten ending means you take an eraser and wipe away all the positives the Ravens engineered this season.
Yes, I'm the guy who wrote a "Super Bowl or bust" column last month. But I only meant the season was going so well that anything short of a Super Bowl trip would be disappointing. I didn't mean that falling short would render the season meaningless.
The season was too successful, enjoyable and important, full of shout-out-loud euphoria hinting at an awesome future. All that doesn't suddenly become irrelevant just because of the bad ending.
Does it undermine the effect of a spectacular regular season? Of course. As I wrote last month, for a team to be truly legendary, it needs to finish what it started, as the Ravens did in 2000 and 2012, but not this year.
But remember, the Ravens were mired in mediocrity not long ago. They missed the playoffs four times in five years. Their offense was inconsistent.
Remember when the "fourth-and-12" game cost them a playoff trip in 2017? That was rough, but even more troubling that day were all the empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium. A playoff bid was on the line, and Baltimore yawned.
No one is yawning now. The Ravens aren't dull or mediocre. They're electrifying, unpredictable, fascinating. They've been utterly transformed, and a lot of that transformation took place in 2019.
It was a season in which Lamar Jackson soared into the stratosphere and became an MVP-caliber quarterback. I would suggest that huge developmental step isn't meaningless.
It was a season in which the Ravens challenged conventional thought with a unique offense and set scoreboards aflame. Again, I would suggest it wasn't meaningless. Almost the entire offense is already under contract for 2020.
They did win the AFC North for the second year in a row and sixth time overall, so that's nothing new. But they won it by six games this time. Six games!
Far from meaningless, their divisional dominance bodes well for their chances of returning to the playoffs in 2020. They have needs, but increased salary cap flexibility gives them more resources to address them. There's a lot to like about what lies ahead.
Again, I'm not here to sugarcoat things. Like many, I thought the 2019 Ravens were close to a super team after they outscored their opponents by 249 points over 16 games. But the playoff loss revealed issues that were lurking.
The defense needs some help. It overachieved this season with a pass rush that wasn't overwhelming and a run defense ranked No. 21 in yards allowed per carry. Addressing those areas should be an offseason priority.
Also, Jackson is still developing. That's quite a statement considering he should soon be the league MVP. But he just turned 23, and there were times Saturday night when it seemed his confidence and competitiveness got the best of him and he tried to make all the plays the Ravens needed. Already fabulous, he'll continue to learn and grow.
That goes for the whole team. The Ravens are young now and hadn't trailed by two touchdowns since September. Being in that situation Saturday night didn't bring out their best. What unfolded, I suspect, was something akin to a teachable moment.
It all made for a bummer of an ending, certain to linger. But when recalling what went wrong Saturday night, you might also want to remember that a lot of things went right for the Ravens in 2019, and those hint at more good things to come.