Packing up season

As the players packed up their lockers, they left Ravens headquarters with mixed emotions.

Some carried a sense of pride for accomplishing things the January 2001 Super Bowl champions never did, from winning a team-record 13 games in the regular season to leading the NFL in defense to thrilling fans with three fourth-quarter comebacks.


But a season of surprises turned on the Ravens on Saturday, when they lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 15-6, in the AFC divisional playoffs.

The players still felt disappointment and embarrassment yesterday for playing like the team that went 6-10 a year ago. The Ravens struggled to score points on offense and dropped potential interceptions on defense - all of which led to being one-and-done in the playoffs.


"At some point - not now - we'll look back and appreciate the year, learn from that and use it to go forward next year," coach Brian Billick said.

The Ravens' defense maintained the tradition of excellence, recording two shutouts and holding teams to a league-low 12.6 points per game.

It was a unit that produced chuckles (rookie Haloti Ngata rumbling 60 yards after an interception in the season opener), cringes (linebacker Bart Scott coming unblocked to level Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) and cheers (cornerback Chris McAlister running back an interception 31 yards for the only touchdown in the season finale).

The Ravens' special teams will be remembered for their flair for the dramatic.

In Week 3, Matt Stover kicked a 52-yard field goal with 20 seconds left to lift the Ravens to a 15-14 victory in Cleveland. Seven weeks later in Tennessee, Trevor Pryce blocked a potential game-winning 43-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining to preserve a team-record 19-point comeback.

But like most seasons under Billick, the offense remained the biggest question mark.

The Ravens struggled in their third through sixth games, leading Billick to fire Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator. They averaged 24.8 points over the next nine games, restoring Billick's reputation as a play-caller. But the Ravens' offense finished the season by failing to score a touchdown in its last two games, a drought of 23 drives.

"It's frustrating to end on a game like this," tight end Todd Heap said. "We've had so many games where we were building on things. And offensively, we weren't at our best. We could've helped the team out more."


The lack of offense wasn't the only shocking turn of events.

If the Ravens had proved anything this season, it was they always play their best after extended rest (they hadn't lost after a bye since 2001) and rarely lose at home (they had the best home record in the NFL since 2000).

But none of that mattered when it counted Saturday.

"It was set up the way you want it, but that doesn't make it yours," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "You've got to take it."

Here's some of the players and moments that stood out this season:

The best


Offseason addition: Steve McNair. Although Pryce was perhaps the Ravens' best defensive player the second half of the season, the Ravens wouldn't have earned the AFC's No. 2 seed without McNair, the true barometer of the team. He threw 15 touchdowns in 13 wins and passed for one score in three losses.

Turnaround on offense: Pass protection. After giving up 42 sacks last season, the Ravens set a team record with 17 allowed this season, including none in the last 176 passes thrown by McNair in the regular season.

Turnaround on defense: Interceptions. The Ravens went from a team record-low 12 interceptions in 2005 to a team record-high 28 this season, which led the NFL.

The bad

Biggest disappointment: Running game. The offensive line and fullbacks didn't open up many holes, and Jamal Lewis didn't hit the lanes with authority when they were there. The Ravens finished with 3.4 yards per carry, the worst in team history.

Worst injury: Return specialist B.J. Sams. Who knew Sams was this important? When he went down with a season-ending ankle injury Nov. 30 against Cincinnati, the Ravens never found a spark with rookie Cory Ross and lost the field-position battle.


Biggest bull's-eye: Cornerback Samari Rolle. Although he played well down the stretch, quarterbacks still targeted the 30-year-old defender. He got beat deep by Cleveland's Braylon Edwards, the Chargers' Malcom Floyd, the Panthers' Drew Carter and the Bills' Lee Evans.

The bizarre

Best supporting role: Kyle Boller. He replaced an injured McNair against Carolina and threw two touchdowns to Mark Clayton - both off deflections. Boller filled in again in Week 15, throwing a winning 77-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Williams as the Ravens beat Cleveland to clinch a playoff berth.

Worst timing: Receiver Derrick Mason. Although it's hard to argue with Mason's fire and intensity, he should not have sounded off about being unappreciated minutes after a devastating playoff loss.

Worst stage fright: Ravens 0-3 on national television. When they were the only NFL game on TV, the Ravens lost at Denver, at Cincinnati and against Indianapolis. Despite all their success, the Ravens apparently weren't ready for the big time.

"We had a great season," Heap said. "To end on a down is something you never want to do. There's only one team that's going to win the Super Bowl and it's not going to be us this year."


2007 opponents

The Ravens' opponents next season:

Home .............................. Away

Cincinnati ..................... Cincinnati

Cleveland ...................... Cleveland


Pittsburgh.................... Pittsburgh

New England .............. Buffalo

N.Y. Jets ....................... Miami

Indianapolis ................. San Diego

Arizona ......................... San Francisco

St. Louis ........................ Seattle