Football 2012: Ravens seek one more game

Joe Flacco calls a play during the third quarter of the Ravens' preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore Aug. 23.
Joe Flacco calls a play during the third quarter of the Ravens' preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore Aug. 23. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS - A trip to the Super Bowl looked to be on the verge of being secured.

With the Baltimore Ravens trailing the New England Patriots by three in the waning moments of the AFC Championship game in January, quarterback Joe Flacco led a methodical drive, putting the Ravens in position for a late go-ahead score that would all but solidify the Ravens' place in Super Bowl XLVI.

But wide receiver Lee Evans dropped a potential game-winning touchdown, Billy Cundiff shockingly missed a short attempt at a game-tying field goal and for the second time during John Harbaugh's four years as coach, Baltimore was left just a game short of reaching the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh and the Ravens will look to finally take that next step this season, without Evans or Cundiff on the roster.

Asked in May how Baltimore avoids a hangover-like effect considering the disappointing fashion in which last season ended, Harbaugh responded that he doesn't expect it to be a problem.

"I don't think it's an issue," he said. "You go back to work. It's a new season. Our guys, they're in great spirits, so we're excited. We've got lots of things to accomplish, things that we have yet to accomplish."

But if the Ravens are going to accomplish those things, they will need continued progression from Flacco.

He ended the year with an impressive showing in the AFC Championship, but endured an up-and-down 2011 regular season.

He threw for 3,610 yards and 20 touchdowns, his third straight year with at least 3,600 yards and 20 scoring passes, but posted a career-high in turnovers (21) and a career-low in completion percentage (57.6).

Flacco had a strong training camp and preseason, however, looking very much in rhythm with Baltimore's emerging group of young wide receivers and tight ends.

Veteran Anquan Boldin led Baltimore's wideouts in both catches (57) and yards (887) last year while rookie speedster Torrey Smith led the Ravens in touchdown catches (seven).

Smith, a dynamic deep threat, hauled in 50 catches for 841 yards, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch.

He appears poised for an even bigger role heading into his second year.

Free agent pickup Jacoby Jones should also make an impact at wide receiver.

Boldin, Smith and Jones are part of a deep group of capable pass-catchers.

Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are also expected to play big roles after recovering from preseason injuries. The two combined for 94 catches and eight touchdowns last season and will be expected to make similar, if not larger contributions this year.

Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice will, obviously, be a primary catalyst for the offense.

The multi-dimensional running back led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year (2,068), rushing for 1,364 yards and 12 scores while adding a team-high 76 catches for an additional 704 yards and three touchdowns. He has eclipsed 2,000 yards from scrimmage during two of the last three seasons.

"We have to go out there and I think we have to attack," Flacco said, adding the Ravens need to "just become a little bit more accurate, a little bit more precise on everything we do, and I think I start that."

"If we can all get on the same page and all see the defense the same way, we are going to be tough to stop," he continued, "and it's my job to get everyone on the same page and then execute."

What could really shape Baltimore's success this season, however, is how it's able to replace reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs.

Suggs suffered an Achilles tendon injury in May that will sideline him for most of the season and possibly the entire year.

Suggs had an AFC-best 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles last season. With him out, Baltimore has no one on the roster that has ever recorded more than six sacks in a season.

The sense of urgency to replace Suggs is made even greater by the long list of talented quarterbacks the Ravens face this year, including Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

Asked in May whether he was confident the Ravens could withstand the loss of Suggs, Harbaugh said, "Of course."

"It's obvious," he said. "It's a team. We're a team. That's why you draft guys and bring guys in. It's never about one guy, ever.

"We've handled losses to our biggest stars, now Terrell, Ray [Lewis] and Ed [Reed]. That's all happened in the last two years. It will be up to all of us to do a little bit better, and we intend to improve in anything we do, including our defense."