The good, the bad and the ugly of the 2008 season

As the Ravens try to extend their season with a playoff run, it seems like the perfect time to reflect on the highs and lows of the regular season:

Offensive Most Valuable Player: Wide receiver Derrick Mason. Even with one healthy arm, he has been the most consistent threat. His 74 receptions double the total of any teammate.


Defensive Most Valuable Player: Linebacker Ray Lewis. Some would argue safety Ed Reed has been better, but Lewis has been more valuable. On the field, running backs again fear running up the middle because of Lewis. In the locker room, Lewis' leadership has been an energizing force.

Biggest surprise: Cornerback Fabian Washington. The former castoff has thrived in a new environment, going in the span of a year from the Oakland Raiders' bench to the Ravens' best cornerback. The Ravens traded a fourth-round pick for Washington. The Raiders used that pick on wide receiver Arman Shields, who has been on injured reserve all season. Can you say steal?


Biggest disappointment: Running back Willis McGahee. Sure, he resurfaced in the Ravens' offense when he broke a 77-yard touchdown Saturday. But he has had seven games in which he was held under 20 rushing yards or did not play a snap.

Best turnaround: Kicker Matt Stover. The 19-year veteran missed five of his first 17 attempts, leading many to wonder whether he had lost his touch. Stover has since quietly connected on 13 straight field goals.

Worst turnaround: Cornerback Chris McAlister. The mercurial defender led the Ravens with three interceptions in his first four games. But an enigmatic knee injury and a rocky relationship with coach John Harbaugh ended his season on a bitter note.

Best assistant coach: There's a reason Harbaugh calls John Matsko the best offensive line coach in the game. He has done wonders with a group that was totally reshuffled in the spring and starts one player older than 25.

Best free-agent pickup: Arguments could be made for Pro Bowl special teams player Brendon Ayanbadejo and fullback Lorenzo Neal, but Jim Leonhard has stepped in for struggling punt returner Yamon Figurs to average 12.2 yards (sixth best in the NFL). He also replaced injured safety Dawan Landry to record 79 tackles (fifth best on the Ravens).

Best play: The 43-yard pass from Troy Smith to Joe Flacco. Not only did Flacco show speed to get behind Raiders linebacker Ricky Brown, but he also had to extend to make the catch. That was the third-longest catch by a quarterback over the past 17 years. Let's see Matt Ryan do that.

Worst play: One of the worst tackling efforts in Ravens history came in Indianapolis, where Dominic Rhodes broke a 38-yard run late in the first half. One by one, five Ravens - Trevor Pryce, Lewis, Leonhard, Jarret Johnson and Frank Walker - tried to bring him down before Bart Scott made the tackle.

Most painful play: Santonio Holmes' controversial 4-yard touchdown catch with 43 seconds left allowed the Steelers to escape with a 13-9 victory and the AFC North title. If the Ravens had won, they would have had a chance to win the division and wrap up the No. 2 seed (and a first-round bye) Sunday.