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Five silver linings for this Ravens season

Terrell Suggs said that last weekend's divisional-round showdown against the Steelers would be "Armageddon." In hindsight, his claim was somewhat prophetic. Expressionless, purple-clad zombies have roamed the streets since the season-ending loss, and dark clouds have hovered over Baltimore -- or at least it feels that way.

But after a 12-4 season and another trip to the NFL tournament's Elite Eight, even the gloomiest and doomiest of clouds have silver linings. Here are five from 2010 for you zombies to find solace in:

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1. After signing a six-year, $63 million extension before the 2009 season, Terrell Suggs {photo above by Getty} rewarded the Ravens with a disappointing 4.5 sacks. He heard his critics then listened to the team nutritionist, trimming the fat -- cookies and Popeye's fried chicken -- out of his diet. A slimmed-down Suggs showed up in Westminster last summer looking more like Pam Anderson than Louie Anderson -- well, minus the breast implants. Too often a one-man pass rush, Suggs finished the season with 11 sacks, his highest total since his rookie year, and racked up five more in the Ravens' two playoff games. The return of Suggs to a Honolulu level was one of the primary reasons the Ravens finished third in scoring defense, and if they find Suggs a partner in crime this offseason, he could be more dangerous in 2011.

2. He didn't break ankles and big touchdown runs like he did in his second season, but Ray Rice validated last year's breakout campaign by showing again that he is capable of carrying the load for the Ravens. Rice touched the ball 380 times in 2010, up from 332 in 2009. His 4.0 yards-per-carry average wasn't overwhelming, but I suspect that faulty game-planning and inconsistent offensive line play had a little something to do with it. Now that Rice has proved he can take a pounding and still be productive, don't be surprised if the Ravens put their full trust in Rice by saying "sayonara" to Willis McGahee.

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3. To paraphrase Detective John Kimble from "Kindergarten Cop," the Ravens lacked discipline when John Harbaugh became coach in 2008. It took him a couple of years to lay down the law, but Harbaugh's Ravens set a franchise low in penalty yards (673) in 2010.

4. Ravens fans will never forget what Matt Stover did for this franchise, but another kicker booted his way into Baltimore's heart in 2010. Billy Cundiff nailed 30 of his 33 field-goal tries (including playoffs) and tied an NFL record with 40 touchbacks in the regular season. Hey, Ozzie Newsome, get this man a new contract.

5. On paper, pass defense was the team's biggest weakness entering 2010. However, the Ravens' disrespected defensive backs shredded that piece of paper with the help of secondary coach Chuck Pagano. Tapped on Tuesday to replace departing defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Pagano got cornerbacks Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Lardarius Webb to play up to their potential. And with a healthy Ed Reed, the Ravens finished tied for eighth in the NFL with 19 interceptions. Upgrades are still needed -- re-signing Carr and Wilson and finding a new strong safety would be a good start -- but it isn't the secondary's fault that Baltimore will be a wasteland from now until Orioles season.

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