The Baltimore Ravens wrapped up their 16th regular season NFL campaign yesterday. On paper and on the turf, this season was a complete success. Perhaps it’s an indication that we’re a little spoiled, given that such a campaign might not even be in the top three seasons in the team’s brief history.
This felt like an amazing season, but of course it’s easy to say that when it’s fresh in our hearts and minds. Still, I think it stacks up nicely among the best ever played by the franchise.
The obvious benchmark to point to is winning the division title. This has been accomplished two other times in the team’s history, but this is the first time that Baltimore has gone undefeated within the division. Throw in the fact that two out of the Ravens’ three AFC North opponents made the postseason, and it becomes even more impressive.
With the unprecedented success in the division came unblemished success at home. The team was a perfect 8-0 at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time in club history. Paired with supremacy in the division, what more could a fan ask of a team? The two things pundits and fans harp on are winning division games and “taking care of business” at home. In the best football league in the world, contenders win their home games and split their road games. The Ravens did exactly that.
Detractors of the 2011 Ravens will point to the team’s four losses as reasons why the 13-3 2006 season may be considered superior to this campaign. However, in ’06 the team’s three losses did not come at the hands of juggernauts, but middling teams who missed the playoffs (sound familiar?). If there’s room to groan about ’11 it certainly falls in the road contests at Tennessee, Seattle, Jacksonville, and San Diego. While on paper the Ravens are certainly a “better” team than those four, perception may outweigh reality. San Diego finished 9-7 and was coming off a horrible stretch when they played Baltimore. They are a talented team that had under-performed. Tennessee, especially early in the season, was as uneven a club as the 20111 NFL had to offer. In Week 2 when they hosted the Ravens, a fresh Matt Hasselbeck and a healthy Kenny Britt caught fire against Baltimore’s eventually stout pass defense. Let’s not forget that Seattle, as bad as they seemed heading into the Ravens game, is an incredibly hard place for teams to play and the Seahawks won five of their final 8 games, losing in overtime in week 17. Jacksonville was a horrorshow.
I don’t run down these four losses to make excuses for the 2011 Ravens, but to show how easy it is for any team to lose to a seemingly inferior opponent. It’s a maxim as old as football itself: “…any given Sunday.” Conversely, the Ravens beat a Pittsburgh squad twice that they could’ve easily split with. The Arizona Cardinals almost found themselves in the previous paragraph, and if their pass defense weren’t so shoddy, they’d probably have marred the Ravens perfect home record. A lot went the Ravens’ way on Thanksgiving night against San Francisco, who were firing on all cylinders coming into Baltimore. My point being, you lose some you aren’t supposed to, but you probably win some you shouldn’t either.
Statistically, this season could’ve been better on a team basis. This was the fifth-best Ravens team on point differential, and in most team categories that matter, again it was the team’s fourth or fifth best performance. On an individual basis, Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs shined extremely bright in terms of franchise history. In terms of health, there were no injuries that cost the Ravens any games, but Ray Lewis, Ben Grubbs, and Anquan Boldin were certainly missed for their brief stretches of inactivity.
Was it a perfect season? Far from it. There isn’t a thing close to perfection in a complex game like football. There are always routes that could’ve been run crisper, blocks that could’ve been held longer, better angles taken to the ball and and smarter play-calls made on third downs.
As always, these imperfections are either amplified or muted depending upon the postseason outcome. Successful regular seasons are forgotten when the playoffs are considered failures. Everyone involved with the 2011 Ravens can hang their hat on the 16 games they just played. To keep these accomplishments from fading, the postseason will need to do the regular season grind justice.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com