The sinking feeling surfaced in the stomachs of many Ravens as Billy Cundiff's field goal attempt hooked wide of the left upright Jan. 22. But for cornerback Domonique Foxworth, the heartache began back in September, months before the team's 23-20 loss in the AFC championship game.
"My heart's been broken all season," Foxworth, carefully choosing his first words, said last Monday.
The Ravens placed the Randallstown native on injured reserve Sept. 28, his season ended by a right knee injury for a second season in a row. On the first day of training camp in 2010, Foxworth tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a non-contact drill. His season over minutes after it started, his focus switched to rehabbing his knee and, eventually, taking a lead in negotiating the new collective bargaining agreement.
But after the NFL lockout ended this summer, Foxworth was frustrated with how his surgically repaired knee felt in training camp. He was unable to regain his starting spot, struggled against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 and was inactive a week later before the team shut him down for the season.
Foxworth, who presumably didn't want to take attention from the 53 Ravens who were healthy and playing, declined multiple interview requests after his injury. But last week, as he and his teammates cleaned out their lockers, the 28-year-old gave The Baltimore Sun a few minutes of his time.
"Of the four teams remaining, I thought we had the most talent," Foxworth said as a group of reporters and cameramen engulfed outside linebacker Terrell Suggs several lockers to his left.
"Obviously, I'm not 100 percent objective, but I'm probably one of the most objective people here seeing as though I haven't participated in any games. It was tough to see it happen and obviously the way it went down was really tough for anybody to deal with."
A member of the NFL Players Association executive committee, Foxworth devoted a lot of his time during the lockout to help the players reach a deal with the 32 NFL owners. But Foxworth said last Monday that team doctors told him that there was nothing he could have done differently to ensure that his knee was strong enough and stable enough for the rigors of a 16-game season.
"Some people respond differently," the former Maryland standout said. "More than anything, what I take from this season is just a great deal of pride in the [cornerbacks] that we have."
Lardarius Webb had a breakout season in his third year in the NFL, picking off five passes during the regular season and three more in the postseason. Fellow starter Cary Williams was one of the team's biggest surprises. And rookie Jimmy Smith had an interception against the Patriots.
"I'm so happy for Webb," Foxworth said. "He had, what, eight picks on the year? And he didn't give up a touchdown. He's becoming one of the best corners in the league and I'm happy to think that I might have had a little part in that, in trying to help him grow up fast and tell him things that took me years to learn. ... I'm just excited for the player that he's going to become."
But the emergence of Webb and Williams and the presence of Smith, a first-round pick in the 2011 draft, could cost Foxworth his roster spot in 2012. Webb and Williams are restricted free agents and are expected to return. Smith said Monday that he is shooting to start next season.
Foxworth is due to make $5.6 million in 2012, the final season of a four-year, $27.2 million deal. Paying that much money to a player who has played two games the past two seasons would be a risky investment for the team. Coach John Harbaugh said in September that he hoped Foxworth would be healthy enough to return in 2012, but he admitted that "it's all up in the air for everybody."
For now, Foxworth is focused on getting his knee to where it needs to be, not his future with the Ravens.
"We'll see how it goes," he said before walking out of the locker room without being stopped again. "I'm not that high on the food chain to make those types of decisions. I just do what I'm told."