The Ravens' bye-week break has arrived later than usual, 10 weeks into the regular season, but it still feels like a good time to take a deep breath and hand out some slightly-later-than-midseason awards. Drum roll, please …
Most Valuable Player (offense) – Justin Forsett
Ray Rice was so integral to the Ravens' plans for 2014 that Gary Kubiak, upon being hired to run the offense, said, "As Ray goes, we'll go." Parting ways with Rice before the season seemed like a disaster, but it created an opportunity for Forsett, who has replicated what Rice was expected to produce. It's a pleasure to watch him exhibit patience, vision and decisiveness with the ball in his hand.
Most Valuable Player (defense) – Haloti Ngata
Elvis Dumervil has 10.5 sacks and cornerback Jimmy Smith was one of the NFL's top pass defenders before his season-ending foot injury, but Ngata has been a force as the anchor of a solid defensive front, plugging the middle at home and on the road, against good teams and bad. As an added bonus, he has turned up the heat as a playmaker, intercepting two passes and forcing several key fumbles. In recent years, some fans wondered if he is worthy of his salary. The answer is yes.
Rookie of the Year – C.J. Mosley
This is a no-brainer. The Ravens' 2014 first-round draft pick has been a sideline-to-sideline playmaker from his first days as a pro. His total of 90 tackles puts him ahead of all but three players in the entire NFL. He also has nine passes defended, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He might be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and a Pro Bowl selection. Moral of the story: When you get to pick in the middle of the first round instead near the bottom, you can get yourself a player.
Biggest Surprise – Forsett
It was understandable that he created zero buzz as a free-agent signing. An unheralded 29-year-old veteran, he rushed for just 31 yards on six carries in 2013 and has admitted he thought his playing days might be over. He averaged 338 yards per season before 2014, but has already more than doubled that and is well on his way to a thousand-yard season if he keeps this up.
Biggest Bummer – Dennis Pitta's Injury
He was fully recovered from his hip injury and piling up catches when his hip gave out again as he caught a pass and turned to run in Week 3. The Ravens are fortunate they had a replacement as capable as veteran Owen Daniels, but tight ends have a huge role in Kubiak's offense, and Pitta, a matchup nightmare, would have thrived.
Best Win – 23-21 Over Cleveland On Sept. 21
Their prime-time blowout of the Steelers in Week 2 was impressive, but the Ravens are 4-9 away from M&T Bank Stadium since winning the Super Bowl, so road wins get bonus points. The first-place Browns were just starting to feel good when the Ravens came to town. It took a couple of key misses by former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff to create an opening, but the Ravens prevailed. The return match on Dec. 28 could have huge playoff implications.
Worst Defeat – 43-23 To Pittsburgh On Nov. 2
The Ravens caught the Steelers at a bad time, when Ben Roethlisberger was on a roll and Baltimore's injury-depleted secondary was starting to unravel. Ben's six-touchdown performance cost two cornerbacks their jobs.
Best Performance By A Player In A Leading Role – Joe Flacco vs. Tampa Bay
The Ravens' quarterback set a record that probably will never be broken when he threw five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes of the Ravens' win on Oct. 12.
Best Play – Steve Smith Sr. In The Right Place At The Right Time
All eyes were on Smith when his former team, the Carolina Panthers, visited Baltimore on Sept. 28. After a scoreless first quarter, the Ravens faced a third-and-2 situation at their 39. Flacco lobbed a deep pass for Daniels, who leapt and tipped it. Smith grabbed the tip in stride and raced untouched to the end zone for the first score of what became a blowout.
Worst Play – A.J. Green's Dagger
The Ravens had erased a 15-point deficit and just taken the lead in the fourth quarter of their season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. All they had to do was make a stop. The M&T Bank crowd was roaring. But Bengals receiver A.J. Green got behind Ravens cornerback Chykie Brown and caught a pass for a 77-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals the win. Brown was cut in early November.
Best Comeback – The Offensive Line
The Ravens' offensive front experienced such dire struggles in 2013 that many fans fingered it as the main reason why the team missed the playoffs for the first time under Head Coach John Harbaugh. Fixing the problem was an offseason priority for the organization, and with a lot of new faces, the unit is performing far better in 2014, keeping Flacco upright and opening holes for Forsett.