During the Head Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco era, the Ravens knew nothing but the playoffs.
The Ravens went to the postseason for five straight years. It was the longest streak in the NFL.
So walking out of Sunday's Week 17 game in Cincinnati following a 34-17 loss, and heading straight into the* *offseason was a foreign feeling.
The Ravens not only made the playoffs every year since 2008., [comma not period] they also won a game there every season. Baltimore went to three AFC championship games and took home the Lombardi trophy last season.
Harbaugh was asked whether the end of the streak makes him appreciate more what the Ravens were able to do over the past five years.
"We're not ever going to be content with not making the playoffs," he said.
"That's just not something that's going to be OK with me personally or Ozzie [Newsome] or any of us, or any player here. That's what makes it tough and disappointing. We expect to do that. We will fight like crazy to do that every single year."
It's not all that uncommon for the team that wins the Super Bowl to come up short of the playoffs the next year. This marks the fifth time in the past 11 seasons that it's happened.
Defensive end Chris Canty has experienced it two years in a row. After his New York Giants won it all in 2011, they went 9-7 last year and fell just short of the playoffs.
"Playoffs are never a given," Canty said.
"You have to fight very, very hard to get into the postseason. We made some plays this season, we won some games this season. But ultimately our performance wasn't good enough to get it done. … It's disappointing. This is a hard-working football team. It hurts, it hurts."
For many players on the Ravens roster, the playoffs were nearly a given, however.
"My first two years, we were in the AFC championship and it was kind of simple how we did it," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "Me just coming in the league just watching how the Ravens played, it was kind of a cakewalk how they got in there."
But this season was anything but a cakewalk.
They lost five games over a seven-game stretch and fell to 4-6, on the brink of playoff elimination. But the Ravens won four straight games from that point on, including three in dramatic fashion with a goal-line stand versus the Steelers, three comebacks against Minnesota and a game-winning 61-yard kick in Detroit.
Considering the Dolphins lost in the final two weeks, the Ravens controlled their destiny throughout. But with Flacco hobbled, they stumbled down the stretch in a pair of blowout losses to New England and Cincinnati to finish at 8-8.
It's Baltimore's worst regular-season record under Harbaugh and Flacco. The Ravens were 9-7 in 2010, but made the playoffs in the final week with a win in Oakland.
"We're an 8-8 football team," Flacco said. "We don't deserve to be [in the playoffs].
"It is what it is. Everybody in that locker room is used to winning and used to get[ting] in the playoffs and giving ourselves a shot to win it all. It's disappointing not to have done that for ourselves. But we didn't play well enough, and at 8-8, we don't deserve to be in there."
Now the Ravens enter the offseason with another chip on their shoulder.
Previously, they had the challenge of getting over the hump and into the Super Bowl. Now they'll spend the next eight months until the next kickoff thinking about simply getting back to the playoffs.
"It's a long time till you step onto that field again. That's going to be the hunger," running back Ray Rice said.
"This is a crappy feeling," added outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "But we're going to learn tremendously from that. We've got to live with this for the whole offseason. You better believe we're going to approach next season with a sense of urgency."