I know, it’s difficult to hear or think about so soon after a disappointing playoff exit, but the 2018 season will go down as one of the Ravens’ best in their 23 years in Baltimore.
The regular season featured dramatic games, an impossible-to-predict narrative and an immensely satisfying ending, i.e., the fifth division title in franchise history. That’s good stuff.
In the process, and most importantly, the Ravens found a new quarterback, a new offensive identity and charted a new philosophical course – one with plenty of upside potential.
Morale around here was near an all-time low a year ago after the Ravens failed to reach the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in five years. Public grumbling was still audible two months ago when a three-game losing streak pushed the Ravens to 4-5 and seemingly assured them of missing the playoffs again.
Remember when it was widely believed Eric DeCosta would need to begin his tenure as general manager with a major roster rebuild?
Well, that major rebuild is off after the Ravens’ success in November and December. Plenty of teams would happily go forward with what Baltimore rolled out down the stretch in 2018 – a top-ranked defense and an offense built around Lamar Jackson’s potential and play-making skills.
Sure, there’ll still be major changes in 2019, various comings and goings. There always are. And no doubt, the Ravens have much to work on if they want to continue moving in the right direction.
But given the upside they’ve displayed and the uncertainties rocking the rest of the AFC North (two teams without head coaches, soap opera in Pittsburgh), I won’t be surprised to see the Ravens get some love as a preseason pick to repeat as division champions in 2019.
That’s a long way from where they were a year ago.
For me, after they ended their non-playoff streak and regained their relevance with a division title, the 2018 season was going to be a success no matter what happened in the playoffs.
Yes, it was oh-so disappointing to end the story with an ugly playoff performance. (A 20-point fourth quarter deficit at home? That’s ugly.) The Los Angeles Chargers revealed the limitations of the Ravens’ ground-oriented, Jackson-led attack.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said afterward that improving Jackson’s ball security would be a top priority, and another, I’d say, is working on his passing until he can start making teams pay when they dare him to beat them with his arm, as the Chargers did Sunday, quite effectively.
Along with diversifying the offense, other items high on the organizational to-do list include bolstering the offensive line (a high priority in the draft, in my opinion) and finding a way to keep as many defensive pieces around as possible.
But while a playoff defeat inevitably prompts discussion about what went wrong, it seemed clear Monday, as the players cleared out their lockers and spoke to reporters, that something rare and quite right happened in Baltimore in 2018.
Even though receiver John Brown, a pending free agent, all but disappeared once Jackson took over, he said his choice would be to return to the Ravens in 2019.
“This is the most fun I’ve had in my career,” said Brown, 28.
Robert Griffin III, the veteran quarterback, only dressed for three games but also expressed an interest in returning to help the Ravens continue what they’ve started.
“I like the direction they’re going,” Griffin said.
That direction includes a tight-knit locker room and all-in-together mentality, safety Eric Weddle said.
“The foundation has been set. I think, no matter what happens, that’s who the Ravens will be,” said Weddle, 34, who will decide his future in the coming weeks.
Between two Super Bowl titles, four AFC Championship Game appearances and 11 playoff appearances, the Ravens have authored plenty of memorable seasons. This one can’t match the others in terms of January glory.
But a year in which they changed a tiresome script, re-energized the fans, found a new quarterback and tightened the locker room is, by definition, an important year.
Yes, I’d even call it great.