Insight to the Limelight: "The Bests" – Annual Media Awards

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After the '07 season concluded, I petitioned several Ravens beat writers (who cover our team daily) to fill out a survey, asking them to list their "bests" from the season. They shared opinions on several topics regarding the football year, such as their most memorable moments and who should be team MVP.

The reporters enjoyed participating, and the blog was well received by Ravens fans. Because of that, I figured we should do it again this year. That being said, let me kick off the show…

Welcome to the Second Annual Media Bests! I present to you – listed alphabetically in order of voter publication – the 2008 winners:

ASSOCIATED PRESS *– *Dave Ginsburg

Best Individual Single-Game Performance: Ed Reed vs. Philadelphia (2 INTs, 150 yards, TD, 2 tackles, 3 passes defended)

Most Memorable Play/Moment: Willis McGahee's 77-yard TD run vs. Dallas

Breakout Season: Joe FlaccoLe'Ron McClain a close 2nd

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: Haloti Ngata

Most Valuable Player: Ray Lewis

Biggest Surprise: Le'Ron McClain

Favorite Quote:"Here come the Ravens, the team nobody wants to play" – Ed Reed [following the Wild Card win at Miami]

Team's Defining Moment:Flacco's game-winning drive against Tennessee

Favorite John Harbaugh Moment:Guaranteeing New England over Buffalo [in Week 17, which would create a must-win situation for the Ravens against Jacksonville in order to reach the playoffs]. "Book it!" Harbaugh said, a rare departure from his role as Mr. Football Coach.

BALTIMORE SUN – Ken Murray

Best Individual Single-Game Performance: Ed Reed's two-interception performance, and his amazing 64-yard return for a touchdown, against Miami in the playoffs

Most Memorable Play/Moment: Throwback pass from Troy Smith to a diving Joe Flacco vs. Oakland

Breakout Season: Le'Ron McClain

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: Hue Jackson for his work with Joe Flacco

Most Valuable Player: Ed Reed

Biggest Surprise: Joe Flacco

Favorite Quote: "Here we come. Here come the Ravens. The team you don't want to see." – Ed Reed, Jan. 4 after beating Miami in the Wild Card round

Team's Defining Moment: Beating Dallas in Week 16 when a loss would have eliminated the Ravens from the postseason, and slamming the Cowboys' late rally. Derrick Mason* *going off [the field] three times [with a shoulder injury] and returning each time, symbolic of the team's resilience in adversity all season.

Favorite John Harbaugh Moment:It was at the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February, in a small group interview off to the side after he talked from the podium. I asked John what his expectations were, and he talked about competing for the AFC Championship and a chance to play in the Super Bowl. I dismissed it as coach-speak at the time, but it kept coming back to me in December and January.

CARROLL COUNTY TIMES – Aaron Wilson

Best Individual Single-Game Performance: Ultimately, I've got to go with free safety Ed Reed's remarkable playoff game against the Miami Dolphins where he intercepted the football over his shoulder like Willie Mays and criss-crossed the field for a touchdown. Later, he baited Chad Pennington, who only threw seven interceptions during the regular season, into a second pick where he displayed great range in breaking on the ball over the middle. Of course, it was hard to choose when it came to Reed, considering what he did against the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins.

Most Memorable Play/Moment: It was close between Joe Flacco's long reception from backup quarterback Troy Smith, Reed's touchdown against the Dolphins, Willis McGahee being rendered unconscious on a scary hit during the AFC title game loss to the Steelers and Reed's 107-yard NFL-record interception return against the Eagles. My nod goes to Reed's big return against the Eagles, using a tip from teammate Haruki Nakamura to swoop in for the interception and his open-field running ability to travel the length of the field, plus another seven yards.

Breakout Season: Fullback Le'Ron McClain emerged as a first-time Pro Bowl selection, rushing for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns after carrying the football under 10 times as a rookie the previous year. Besides his bulldozing running style earning respect from opposing linebackers, McClain managed to get himself in shape after flunking the conditioning test after reporting to training camp overweight at 278 pounds.

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: Inside linebacker Bart Scott quietly had a strong season, doing the dirty work by taking on blocks and covering downfield while still finishing second on the team with 104 tackles. His blitzing opportunities have dwindled ever since leading all NFL inside linebackers with 9 1/2 sacks a few seasons ago, cutting down on his opportunities to make big plays. He also lowered his profile, as 'The Mad Backer' took a more low-key approach to interviews and in his behavior on the field. As a beat writer, I still wish Scott had stuck with the outspoken interview style he used to have. It was a lot more fun, but he was following orders and advice.

Most Valuable Player: Ed Reed. Without him, I simply can't see this surprising team advancing as far as it did.

Biggest Surprise: Strong safety Jim Leonhard. The undersized former Buffalo Bills castoff essentially walked on to the Ravens as he did at Wisconsin, making the team after being invited to try out at a spring minicamp. He wound up replacing an injured Dawan Landry and finished fourth on the team in tackles with 85, intercepting one pass and also excelling as a punt returner. Leonhard has to be taken seriously now by the NFL.

Favorite Quote:"This is my finest hour," stated Ravens director of player development O.J. Brigance, who is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Team's Defining Moment: Defying the odds and beating the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium as Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain  broke long touchdown runs to open consecutive scoring drives in the fourth quarter.

Favorite John Harbaugh Moment: Talking football with him and joking around a little on Fridays when the crowd of reporters isn't so big and he's not wearing his game face yet.

PRESS BOX – Joe Platania

Best Single-Game Performance: I don't know how many people would point to this, but I'll go with Mark Clayton at Cincinnati. Five catches, 164 yards, a one-handed grab for a TD and a TD pass to Derrick Mason.

Most Memorable Play/Moment: Troy Smith's pass to Flacco vs. Oakland

Breakout Season: Flacco, of course. A third-stringer midway through camp, well... you know the rest.

Contributor With Least Recognition: Haloti Ngata. How this guy keeps getting passed over for honors is beyond me. I guess you could throw Jim Leonhard in there, but he did get some props from many of us.

Most Valuable Player: Derrick Mason

Biggest Surprise: The fact that this team put up 385 points, only six off the Ravens' single-season record.

Favorite Quote: Trevor Pryce's "Little Jimmy Leonhard."

Team's Defining Moment: How it responded to not having a bye week

Favorite John Harbaugh Moment: The first time he said, "Mighty Men." That should be the title of the team's highlight film... someone should tell NFL Films about it!

*A special thanks to Gins, Ken, Aaron and Joey P for participating in this year's "Bests." Our season was filled with many, many magnificent and memorable moments. I think we can all agree that '08 was quite a ride! *

A LOOK AHEAD

Though dates/times for next season's games won't be set until the spring, we do know which teams we'll play. In 2009, we face the AFC West and the NFC North (along with the AFC North, of course). Additionally, Baltimore will play Indianapolis and New England, both teams that also finished second in their respective divisions in '08.

**

HOME   AWAY
Cincinnati Cincinnati
Cleveland Cleveland
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh
Denver Oakland
Kansas City San Diego
Chicago Green Bay
Detroit Minnesota
Indianapolis* New England

*Denotes playoff team in '08

INTERESTING SEASON NOTE

In 2008, Baltimore was second in the NFL with 19 players on Injured Reserve, the most in team history. Among those on the list were three defensive starters: Pro Bowl CB Chris McAlister, NT Kelly Gregg and SS Dawan Landry. Also gone was DT Dwan Edwards (shoulder/neck), who started 13 games in '07.

Amazingly, the Ravens lost 64 games by starters – 14 more than any other '08 playoff team. The 64 games tied for the fourth highest in the NFL (according to Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News).

NFL GAMES LOST BY STARTERS(2008 Season)

Team   Games Lost
Cincinnati 84
Seattle 72
Denver 65
Baltimore 64
New England 64

NUMBERS TO RAVE ABOUT

26First-round slot the Ravens own in the 2009 NFL Draft. Not too shabby. Looks like a good spot for Ozzie Newsome and Co. to work their magic once again.

230Countries and territories that televised Super Bowl XLIII last Sunday. Simply amazing. From Antarctica to Zanzibar, the game was broadcast across the world. (On a side note, the NFL listed Burkina Faso as one of the 230 showing the game. I had never heard of this nation, so I searched Google and found it's located in Africa. The capital, you ask? Ouagadougou.)

Well that's it for now. I plan on continuing this blog monthly during the offseason, so check back.

As always, thank you for reading! Until next time…

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