A year ago, when the Ravens stumbled through the latter part of the regular season, Head Coach John Harbaugh kept issuing a warning. "The story of this season isn't written yet," he said, emphasizing that you have to wait until a season ends to categorize it.
He certainly was proven right. The Ravens emerged from their funk, earned a playoff spot and went on a postseason roll that culminated with a Super Bowl victory.
A year later, it's true once again that the story of the Ravens' season isn't written yet. They're still vying for a playoff spot as the end of the regular season nears. As disappointing as Sunday's lopsided loss to the New England Patriots was, circumstances often change in the NFL. Let's see what happens.
But while the story of the Ravens' 2013 season might not be written yet, there's an early draft in the works. I can envision it, and I'm guessing you can, too. It's liable to become the story of the season, almost regardless of how the Ravens fare from here on out.
That story goes something like this: in the wake of their Super Bowl triumph, they couldn't muster enough offense.
From where I sit, that pretty much says it all.
Sure, a team's record is always the result of collective performances. You win together and lose together. The Ravens' other units have also contributed at times to the team losing more than desired. The defense, while solid most of the time, was far from its best against the Patriots Sunday.
But it is the offense's persistent difficulties that have posed the biggest obstacle to the Ravens' attempt to get where they want to go. Here's the shorthand version: Struggling running game. Too many turnovers. Not enough touchdowns. Quite simply, yards and points have been too hard to come by.
I could make you dizzy with numbers proving the thesis. The Ravens are 26th in the league in points, 29th in yards, 23rd in turnover differential. Sometimes numbers can be misleading, but not a consensus that strong.
Even when the Ravens seemingly rescued their season with four straight wins heading into Sunday's debacle, the offense was not exactly hitting on all cylinders. Only once in those four wins (against Minnesota on Dec. 8) did the unit score more than one touchdown.
The numbers are even more alarming when put in a recent historical context. The Ravens are down 39 yards and almost five points per game from the 2012 regular season, in line for their lowest averages in those stats since John Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008.
What happened? The public chatter on this site and others has been heated and opinionated, as one would expect. My take is that a falloff like this automatically fingers all involved to varying degrees – the coaches, quarterback, line, running backs, receivers, front office. No one gets a pass. The explanation is complex, not simple. Injuries have also played a part, especially Ray Rice's hip.
It will be interesting to hear Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti ruminate on the subject after this season. How much does he think is attributable to architecture problems, i.e., offseason moves? Coaching? Player performance?
In any case, heading into Sunday's finale in Cincinnati, it's easy to see how the Bengals stole the Ravens' crown and captured the AFC North this season. The teams' defenses are fairly comparable, but there's a disparity on the other side of the ball. To quote the old baseball axiom, you can look it up. The Bengals are averaging 6.2 points and 53.7 yards per game more than the Ravens this season. Their offense has scored 44 touchdowns. The Ravens' offense has scored 25.
That touchdown output isn't an all-time low for the Ravens. Their offense put the ball in the end zone just 22 times in 2005, when the team went 6-10. Two years later, the offense scored 24 touchdowns when the team went 5-11.
Considering that, it's actually kind of remarkable that the Ravens are 8-7 with a shot to go to the playoffs despite having scored just 25 touchdowns. It's a testament to their resiliency and toughness.
There's still time for the story to change; before the New England game, the offense was moving the ball better and generating scores, albeit mostly field goals. With Dennis Pitta back, the playmaking potential is higher.
But if they're going to re-write the story of the season, well, it's time to get going.