The credit for the Ravens' turnaround on offense has gone to the clutch play of quarterback Steve McNair, the inspirational play-calling of coach Brian Billick and the power running of Jamal Lewis.
Somehow the re-emergence of the biggest Raven has gone relatively unnoticed.
Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' 6-foot-9, 345-pound offensive tackle, has been absent from his usual perch atop the national media's All-Pro teams, a trend that has confused team officials.
"I think Jonathan is playing as well as I've seen him play," Billick said. "Those that want to comment and say Jonathan isn't as good as he used to be, they're doing it from up in the stands someplace. They're not doing it on the field, I promise you."
Over the past few seasons, there had been talk that Ogden had slipped from being the NFL's premier offensive lineman after a couple of uncharacteristic games against Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.
If there were any questions that Ogden's play was on the decline, the nine-time Pro Bowl player responded authoritatively this season.
Some of the top defensive players in the NFL have disappeared against the Ravens, courtesy of Ogden.
Buccaneers defensive end Simeon Rice was a non-factor. San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman had his worst game of the season. Cincinnati Bengals pass rusher Justin Smith never got close to McNair.
In total, six impact defensive players - Rice, Merriman, Justin Smith as well as the New Orleans Saints' Will Smith, Carolina Panthers' Mike Rucker and Denver Broncos' Ebenezer Ekuban - have combined for 30 1/2 sacks this season. Yet they managed only one sack against Ogden.
"I think I'm playing OK this year," said Ogden, who has remained understated since the Ravens drafted him with the franchise's first pick in 1996. "I've always been the type of guy that if I'm playing good or bad, it ain't good enough."
The Ravens understand the luxury they have with Ogden, who has a unique blend of power, finesse, poise and athleticism. In offensive meetings, they begin knowing Ogden will handle his assignment one-on-one and then proceed to talk about how they must stack the rest of their protection.
When the Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's assumed Ogden will negate outside linebacker Joey Porter, who is second on the team with 4 1/2 sacks.
"It's the matchup I look forward to every year," Porter said. "I know I'm out there with the best in the game when I'm out there against Ogden."
Re-establishing himself among the NFL's elite began this offseason, when he hired a personal trainer to get him in the best shape of his career. But football soon became an afterthought when his father died one day before training camp opened.
It's become an equally difficult time for Ogden this week because of Thanksgiving, his first holiday without his father.
"The rest of my family wants to enjoy the holidays so I'm going to try to enjoy it. But it's not the same; it'll never be the same," Ogden said. "You just have to make the best of what it is. I'm still trying to feel my way through it."
Although the loss of his father hit Ogden hard, he never thought about retirement. Ogden, however, admitted that this could have been his last season.
Known for being one of the most emotional and animated Ravens on the field, Ogden isn't sure he could have been able to return if he had to endure a third straight losing season.
"Honestly, I probably couldn't have," Ogden said. "I would have made it through the season, but that might have been it."
Now, Ogden and the Ravens have been rejuvenated together.
It was only a few weeks ago when Ogden, who has been known to throw his helmet in disgust, was the picture of enjoyment. On the sideline of the Louisiana Superdome, the imposing blocker could be heard singing along to "Play that Funky Music" that was being blared at the stadium.
"I would never say he was off on a bad level. He has a couple of bad plays and it becomes magnified," center Mike Flynn said. "So, I don't know if he ever left. But he's definitely back to his Pro Bowl form."
Dominant once again, Ogden won't be truly satisfied unless the Ravens are among the NFL's elite, too.
"I see the potential there," Ogden said. "Guys like myself and other veterans have to keep the young guys focused on where we need to go. We have to let them know that this position we're in doesn't happen very often."
- Baltimore Ravens
- NFL Pro Bowl
- Justin Smith
- Carolina Panthers
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Denver Broncos
- Indianapolis Colts
- New Orleans Saints
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Shawne Merriman
- Will Smith (football)
- Joey Porter
- Brian Billick
- Jonathan Ogden
- Steve McNair
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