The Ravens have had trouble in recent years putting successful seasons together back-to-back.
One could say it has been a roller coaster ride since the team took home the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XXXV.
- Baltimore followed up that historic win in Tampa, Fla., with a 10-6 campaign in 2001, advancing to the second round of the playoffs before losing 27-10 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- The next year, linebacker Ray Lewis played in only five games before being placed on Injured Reserve (shoulder), and the Ravens finished 7-9.
- 2003 saw a return to greatness, as Baltimore won the AFC North at 10-6 during quarterback Kyle Boller's rookie year. Running back Jamal Lewis was a large part of that success, turning in an incredible 2,066 rushing yards.
- The Ravens missed the postseason in 2004 with a 9-7 record.
- But then Lewis and Boller both missed significant amounts of time in 2005, resulting in a 6-10 showing.
- Steve McNair joined the team the next season, and he quarterbacked the club to another division title with a franchise-best 13-3 campaign.
- And of course, there was the 5-11 encore that led to former head coach Brian Billick's dismissal and the hiring of John Harbaugh as the next leader of Baltimore football.
In Harbaugh's first year as a head coach, the Ravens caught many NFL pundits by surprise by advancing to the AFC Championship on an 11-5 regular-season record.
Can the Harbaugh regime continue what he helped establish as a "rookie" and lead this team to back-to-back playoff runs for only the second time in team history?
The Ravens believe they can. There was talk of what the team can do to return to the AFC title game – and beyond – even if that game is in the rearview mirror.
"I don't think you want to say that if we worked a little harder we could have made it because no, every year is a different experience," explained defensive tackle Trevor Pryce, who has seen the way the NFL ebbs and flows throughout his 12 professional seasons. "The fact that we got close is OK. Let's put that aside and worry about what happens this season. Let's not dwell on what happened before.
"You put that away, and there is nothing we can do about it."
Pryce is correct, judging by recent history.
Last year, seven of the 12 playoff teams did not make the 2007 postseason, including Baltimore. The same went for the 2006 campaign. That means a trend of more than half of each year's playoff contenders don't make it back, giving each team a sense of optimism every offseason.
As the Ravens take some time off before training camp officially begins for the full team on July 29, there is also room for optimism in Baltimore.
Seeing many faces that were lost or limited in 2008 because of injury return to the practice field, such as defensive tackle Kelly Gregg (knee), safety Dawan Landry (spinal cord concussion) and wideout Derrick Mason (shoulder), has many of the veterans eager to get their next potential march to the Super Bowl underway.
"The excitement builds up again," noted linebacker Ray Lewis, the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXV. "We have so many pieces still here, and so many pieces that weren't here last year [due to] injuries or whatever. So, it's really exciting to get them back, and we're happy to welcome them back."
And that's not to mention the offseason additions, like center Matt Birk and cornerback Domonique Foxworth, two free agents slated to start, and rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher and defensive end/linebacker Paul Kruger.
Team owner Steve Bisciotti has stated his desire to build a club that competes year-in and year-out, and that is what the Ravens are working towards; building a foundation stout defense, a reliable offensive line and a quarterback in Joe Flacco that can be a cornerstone into the future.
"Before you know it, it's the next season, so you really don't have too much time to think about [how well you did]," Flacco recently said. "But I think we definitely realized what happened. We want to get back there, but we also want to get a little bit further."
Most Ravens briefly allowed themselves to enjoy how near they were to the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But, win or lose, there is no dwelling on the past in the NFL.he Ravens' past offers a perfect example of how difficult it is to put consecutive playoff bids together. It is a trend this current team is out to change.
"John is not a complacent guy, and I'm not a complacent guy," explained offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "We don't have those [complacent-type of] guys around here, so just because we look like we enjoyed last year and have good memories of last year doesn't mean that we haven't put that behind us. We've got a tough season ahead of us and a lot of work to be done until then. But if you couldn't enjoy this thing, then why would you do it?"