When the going got tough — and things got pretty dicey in December — the Ravens didn't wilt. They didn't even wonder if a season that once seemed to have such promise was coming unraveled at just the wrong time.
Or so they say.
The three-game losing streak that ramped up the suspense after the Ravens seemed to be cruising into the playoffs was troubling enough to prompt a risky, late-season change in offensive coordinator, but it still wasn't enough to make John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome or owner Steve Bisciotti entertain a molecule of doubt that the ultimate goal was still attainable.
"The most important thing to understand, and our guys understand this, every goal we have, starting with our first goal, which is to win the AFC North, is in front of us,'' Harbaugh said at the time. "It's still there. And every dream that we have, which is the ultimate dream, is still available to us, and that's what you keep in mind."
Of course, what else was he supposed to say? The Ravens had gotten off to a surprisingly good start, considering that they had lost 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs to an Achilles tear during the offseason and watched defensive cornerstones Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb go down with regular-season-ending injuries in the same Week 6 game against the Cowboys.
The Ravens were 9-2 and seemed to be on their way to clinching the division title without much of a fight when they let a 10-point lead get away at home against the Steelers and allowed an unlikely late comeback by Redskins reserve quarterback Kirk Cousins at Fedex Field. The replacement of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was immediately followed by a lopsided loss to the Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium that had local fans in a panic and the national media all over quarterback Joe Flacco.
Inside The Castle, you might have expected there to be a siege mentality at that point, but general manager Ozzie Newsome said during Thursday's "State of the Ravens" news conference it was apparent to him and Harbaugh that the team was not coming apart. Just the opposite.
"We never lost sight of what the goal was,'' Newsome said. "The goal was to win the division, and even though we were struggling, we were still one game ahead, two games ahead. We needed to win one game to win the division, so we never lost focus on what our first goal was … but we also were able to sit there throughout all of that time, watching practice and watching the practice tape and interacting with each other and the players and realized that, you know what, this thing could turn around. It could turn around very huge, and it happened."
The dramatic turning point was the resounding 33-14 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who were hoping to gather some momentum for another postseason run but instead took a major blow to their playoff hopes. The Ravens finally clinched the AFC North and earned the privilege of resting some banged up starters in the final regular season game against Cincinnati, but a lot of people wondered just what kind of playoff team they would be after losing four of their final five games.
Bisciotti says the only thing he wondered about at that point was what the skeptical media was trying to prove by focusing on the 1-4 finish, since the Ravens played very well against the Giants and basically stood down against the Bengals to freshen up for the playoffs.
"Everybody said we're not hot going into the playoffs,'' Bisciotti said on Thursday. "We kind of thought we were. We looked at the whole season and felt that we were getting healthier and better, and so we're looking at it from the inside out, not the outside in. We really believed we were getting better and healthier, so there wasn't a lot of panic. When you get to rest your starters the last week, that's a good thing. So, no, we're much more even-keel than the public is. That's all I can tell you, and we have to be."
This is the time for I-told-you-so's. The Ravens earned the right to thumb their noses at the naysayers and the oddsmakers. They turned on a dime after losing those three straight games and went on a Super Bowl run for the ages.
Maybe the guys in the big offices had a feeling everything would work out this way, but that's a lot easier to say now than it was when Flacco was smarting from that 98-yard pick-six against the Broncos and the fans were starting to lose faith.
What we all know now is that a Super Bowl champion was forged during that period of tribulation.
The going got tough and you know the rest.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun