These Ravens just kept finding a way to win

Ravens were often underdogs, but they thrived in that role

NEW ORLEANS

There are always Cinderella stories in sports, but the Ravens' improbable journey to the Super Bowl XLVII championship is one of the best stories in recent football history.

A lot of the preseason experts picked the Ravens to win the AFC North, but few chose them to win their second Lombardi Trophy in 13 years. The Ravens had to hang on to win against a stubborn San Francisco team, 34-31, Sunday night before a sellout crowd in the Mercedez-Benz Superdome. What did you expect?

The only thing better might have been quarterback Joe Flacco throwing a 70-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the divisional playoff game against Denver.

"The win was representative and symbolic of our city," Flacco said. "We're a blue-collar city and all our games end up like this. I knew San Francisco was going to come back and I knew we had to keep grinding it out."

"We said, 'Stay buckled up Baltimore' and we did," safety Ed Reed said.

Name a team that has come from as far in one season. The Indianapolis Colts in 2007? The Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009? The New York Giants last year? Not one of them.

So, maybe that's why cornerback Chykie Brown was making snow angels in the confetti on the field Sunday night and why Reed tried to get Ray Lewis to do his famed "Squirrel Dance" in the end zone in the final minutes.

"My teammates, what we believed in from day one is the most ultimate feeling," Lewis said. "This is the greatest feeling ever."

It was a dream run through the post season where the Ravens were heavy underdogs on the road in the divisional playoffs against Denver, and then had to travel to New England, where only a year ago their season ended in frustration by losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. They won that game, too.

It was different here Sunday night. As the Ravens ran around the stadium, they were showered by thousands of Baltimore fans who made the trip and filled nearly three quarters of the stadium. It had the flavor of a game at M & T Bank Stadium.

It was a special weekend for the Ravens. They had the first player drafted in franchise history, Jonathan Ogden, selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the face of the franchise since it moved here to Baltimore, Ray Lewis, end his illustrious 17-year career with the title.

And the night ended in redemption for the often maligned Flacco, the Super Bowl MVP, who completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Flacco's passing numbers for the postseason were 73 of 126 for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. The 1,140 passing yards are third most by any quarterback in a postseason.

No one predicted that one, either. In retrospect, this was almost supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Ravens. They lost good veteran players like outside linebacker Jarret Johnsonand defensive end Cory Redding.

Their best pass rusher and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, tore his Achilles' tendon during the summer and missed almost half of the season. By the time Suggs returned, the Ravens were faced with losing Lewis, who tore a triceps and missed the second half of the season.

At the same time, the Ravens were also having a youth movement on defense with Arthur Jones, Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan and Courtney Upshaw working with new defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

Nobody thought this team was going far in the post season, not even the Ravens.

"Ít means the world. All the stuff we've been though, this is what it is all about," Jones said. "Staying together as a team. Oh my God, it feels so good."

The Ravens had problems on offense, as well. Flacco was strong early in the season, but struggled after the midway point when the Ravens lost three of four games. After losing to Pittsburgh and Washington in back-to-back weeks, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with Jim Caldwell.

Super Bowl teams don't do that. Losing teams pull those kind of moves. It was different with the Ravens. Flacco got better and so did the offensive line as Coach John Harbaugh released left tackle Bryant McKinnie from the doghouse and put him in the starting lineup because of a toe injury to left guard Jah Reid.

If Reid doesn't get hurt then McKinnie likely doesn't play. If McKinnie doesn't play, this team doesn't get to "The Show." It's weird, of course, but it's all part of the improbable journey.

"It is all part of a successful season, we've been through these things before and if we continue to work, it will work out," Flacco said. "Sometimes we have failed, but most of the time we have won."

They did again Sunday night.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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