- The Ravens are the only team in the playoffs that did not have a bye to collect themselves and lick their wounds. By Sunday, we will have played 16 consecutive weekends.
We don't play like a tired team. * At one point this season, we played 3 consecutive road games in stretches when we played 5 of 6 and 6 of 8 games away from home. And, we did okay in this journey, going 2-1 in the 3-road game streak, 4-2 in the 5 of 6 and 6-2 in the 6 of 8.
We are road tested. * The competition for the starting quarterback did not evolve the way we thought it would. Just after the coaches decided that Kyle Boller and Troy Smith would compete to be the starter, Boller hurt his shoulder and had season-ending surgery. Troy Smith got a viral infection and was out for a month. That left that rookie from Delaware. And no one here calls Joe Flacco a rookie anymore. How about this from Ray Lewis earlier this week: "Joe is just Joe. If you watch the kid, he has a calm, humble spirit about him. When he steps on the field, good or bad, he lets the last play go and moves to the next one. A lot of guys can't do that. Joe is a gifted one. He has every athletic attribute needed to play at this level. And, the way he gets his guys going during a game is special, like he is."
Joe's not a rookie anymore. * We are 2nd in the NFL for most players on Injured Reserve with 19. The absent players include the likes of Pro Bowl CB Chris McAlister and SS Dawan Landry, 2 starters from the secondary. Up front on defense, we lost Kelly Gregg, one of the top nose tackles in the NFL, and DT Dwan Edwards, who started 13 games a year ago. On offense, we lost RG Marshal Yanda, who was playing as our best lineman at the time.
We have overcome injuries better than other teams.
Are we ready? You bet. We are road-tested, hardened by overcoming difficult circumstances, and we are chomping at the bit to play the Dolphins. Let's go. It's playoff time. Our team is excited with this next opportunity. Bring it on!
A Little Help from My Friends
One of the strengths of the Ravens' organization is how inclusive we are in making decisions. For example, when we hired John Harbaugh, it just wasn't Steve Bisciotti making an independent decision. Steve used 7 other staff members as part of the research and interview process.
The "team" concept carries over into everything we do. That sounds like bragging, I know. But, it reflects how we work here. We have a lot of good people who work hard, and we get along relatively well. We have experts in certain areas, but we don't have dictators. We share. There is team building, and there are consensus decisions.
I think John Harbaugh is an outstanding leader, who may prove to be a great leader as we go forward. While he is true to his convictions, John invites input in most of his decisions. Frankly, it's the same style our owner Steve Bisciotti uses.
Coach Harbaugh has his "30 and over" group of players that he looks to in making some decisions. John relies a lot on Ozzie Newsome, who was a Hall of Fame player and assembled the Super Bowl XXXV champion Ravens. John will work the hallways, going to president Dick Cass' office. Bob Eller, our VP of operations, is another "Harbs" looks to for key information. Clearly, John relies on our assistants for input on most football decisions.
In fact, John and Steve Bisciotti talk a lot. After we manhandled the Eagles, 36-7 on Nov. 23, John was working on his message to the players for the next game – a road contest at Cincinnati the following Sunday. The Bengals were struggling at the time with a 1-9-1 record – although they had just tied the Eagles.
In a conversation with the owner the night of the big and decisive victory over Philly, John talked about the need for the team to have a great week of preparation in order to avoid the possibility of losing at Cincy. According to John, Steve suggested that the head coach ask the players to be the best at their position that week. The head coach took the idea and ran with it the following morning in his address to the team.
At that team meeting, John asked various team members questions like:
- Which special teams' player practices the best?
- Who works the hardest in the weight room?
- Who prepares the best in your position's meetings?
- Which teammate practices the best?
- Which non-starter gives the best "look" when playing the role of the other team in practice?
Coach Harbaugh got some answers from the players, and then he challenged them:
"If so and so – and John actually named the player – practices better in our special teams drills, then make it your goal to practice like him this week. If player "X" is the best guy in the weight room, be like him."
In the end, John told the team, "If we do that this week and the rest of the season, we will win. If you think someone on this team is working harder, better or smarter than you, then follow that player. Try to match what he does. If you do, we'll reach our goal of getting better every day."
The message isn't very fancy. It certainly isn't "Win for the Gipper." But, it was honest, and I think, effective. You recall, we won at Cincinnati the following Sunday, 34-3. And, we've done pretty well since.
The Post-Game Locker Room
With a 27-7 win over the Jaguars last Sunday that clinched our place in the playoffs, the locker room was a happy place last Sunday.
After gathering the team in a big huddle, coach Harbaugh asked player development director O.J. Brigance, who is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, to speak.
"Bring it up guys," Harbs yelled. "On the first night of training camp, O.J. spoke to us and told us to believe in each other, and we have. It's time to hear from O.J. again."
With that, the players, coaches and staff gathered closely around O.J., who is having some difficulty speaking – he's lost some muscle ability to project his voice, and his annunciation is not the same.
O.J. mentioned some of the same things he had talked about on July 23. "We talked about relying on each other, trusting each other," Brigance said. "That's what you've done, and we've accomplished something. But, there is a plan for greater things, and we can do that if we keep doing what we've been doing. I'm proud to be part of this."
John always calls up a player to be in the middle of the huddle for a team break after a game. Seeing that owner Steve Bisciotti was in the room, he asked Steve to break the huddle. You could tell that Steve was a little uncomfortable taking center stage. He turned a little red.
"I have nothing better than what O.J. just said, but I hear what he's saying," Bisciotti said. "I think the right word right now is trust. So, on three, it's trust. One, two, three," – and the exuberant shout from everyone in the room bounced off the walls: "TRUST!"
Wow, it was powerful.
How About the 1958 World Champion Baltimore Colts!
We saluted the 1958 Baltimore Colts last weekend. We flew all the surviving members of that team into Baltimore for the weekend. Of course, those team members who live here came. We held a private reception for the team and their family members on Saturday night, and of course, we did the halftime salute at the Jacksonville game.
On Saturday morning, coach Harbaugh told the Ravens about the salute to the 1958 team and invited all of them to the private reception, which was being held at the Ravens' team hotel. After that, a player shouted out: "Hey Stover, you were on the team weren't you?"
That got a huge laugh.
Off to Miami this afternoon. Let's beat the Dolphins tomorrow and keep this fun ride going.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is the Ravens' Senior Vice President – Public and Community Relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.