Happy New Year! What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time the Ravens had just concluded a 5-11 season and fired their head coach.
Today the new coach with the new quarterback is one of 12 teams in the dance. How about that?! And this just in: these Ravens, while happy to be there, don't look like a one-and-done playoff team.
Face it, the top seeded Titans and Steelers are nice teams, and they'll have home field, but there isn't a dominant team in the AFC bracket. The Wild Card Colts and Ravens are playing as well as anybody. Bottom line: it's a wide open race to Super Bowl 43 (no Roman math needed) in Tampa Bay, and if defense wins championships, don't bet against Baltimore.
The Ravens' 27-7 win over the Jaguars is the latest example of taking care of business. When the Jaguars took a 7-3 lead in the final minute of the first quarter, they not only had the lead but they had reason to play like it mattered when it really didn't.
A Ravens' three-and-out may have changed the course of the game. Instead, Joe Flacco hit six of seven passes, and the Ravens went 78 yards in 10 plays with Le'Ron McClain's TD giving them the lead for good.
The Ravens' defense followed up with a three-and-out, and then Flacco led an eight-play, 77-yard TD drive. The Ravens had over 300 yards and a 24-7 lead at halftime. The game was over.
It's the fifth time in the last nine years the Ravens have made the playoffs and, in my opinion, the most unlikely. Coming into the season, this was a team with a new coach, a new quarterback, a new offense, no Jon Ogden and the youngest offensive line in the NFL.
Let's review. The new coach put together a winning staff and got what had, at times, been a "me first" team to be a TEAM FIRST team. Put Harbs in your top three for Coach of the Year.
The master plan for the new quarterback was to watch and learn, but tonsillitis and a shoulder injury blew up the plan. The new QB played with the poise of an eight-year veteran. Would the Ravens be a playoff team without Joe Flacco? I don't think so.
Cam Cameron's new offense featured a pound-the-ball attack that took pressure off the quarterback, and it included a good amount of gadget plays that usually paid off.
And none of the above would have been possible without the rock solid play of the O-Line. You can't replace Jon Ogden, but Jared Gaither more than held his own at left tackle. Coach John Matsko's group of Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Jason Brown, Chris Chester, Willie Anderson and Adam Terry consistently opened holes and protected its rookie quarterback.
The defense is what fans around here have come to expect from the Ravens. One of the stingiest in the game, with an attacking style that forces turnovers in bunches. The team's 26 interceptions led the NFL.
Ed Reed, a top candidate for Defensive Player of Year, had only one pick in the first 10 games, but has exploded with eight in the last six games. Ray Lewis is the game's best leader and still plays at a Pro Bowl level in his 13th season. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs help give Rex Ryan the best front seven in the game.
It's been seven years since the Ravens have won a playoff game; their last win came seven years ago in Miami (Elvis at QB). They'll be back there Sunday trying to keep this improbable season alive.
Long-time and respected broadcast journalist Scott Garceau has covered Baltimore sports, including all of its pro football teams, for the last 30 years. Scott, who was the radio voice of Ravens football for the team's first 10 seasons (1996-2005), is a seven-time Maryland Sportscaster of the Year. Garceau is also honored as Baltimore's Pro Football Hall of Fame selector/voter. A native of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, where he is a member of the area Hall of Fame, Scott has covered the NFL since 1971.