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Ravens season in review

Baltimore Sun

A season of high hopes came crashing down for the Ravens a week ago in Indianapolis.

The Ravens expected to be playing in Sunday's AFC championship game. They expected to be fighting for the right to advance to the Super Bowl.

But coach John Harbaugh wants his players to remember the 2009 season with more feelings of pride than pain. He believes his second year as coach represents another significant step in reaching their ultimate goal.

"I want them to understand how well we played this year," Harbaugh said a couple of days after the Ravens' 20-3 divisional playoff loss to the Colts. "I want them to understand the accomplishments of the last two years. I want them to understand what we're building and where we're going. That's what I'm excited about."

This season will be remembered for the painful, last-minute losses to the NFL's elite teams and the dominating performances against the league's worst ones. It was a year when the Ravens never seemed in sync. At the start of the season, the offense soared and the defense sputtered. By the end of it, the offense floundered and the defense flourished.

Through all the difficulties - the penalties, the injuries and the loss of kicker Matt Stover - the Ravens not only reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons, but they also won a postseason game for the second straight year.

Still, many of the players felt unsatisfied.

"Ultimately, I see it as we fell short of the goal we wanted to accomplish as a team and an organization. That was to win the Super Bowl," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "If you don't win the Super Bowl, everything else is kind of meaningless in this sport."

Here's a look back at the Ravens' 2009 season:

Most Valuable Player (offense): Ray Rice. In his first season as a starting running back, Rice averaged 127.6 yards from scrimmage, which ranked second in the NFL and accounted for 36.3 percent of the Ravens' offense. He was the top playmaker in the Ravens' running and passing games, delivering six plays of 44 yards or more.

Most Disappointing Player (offense): (tie) Wide receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams. Clayton finished with a career-low 34 catches, and Williams had an embarrassing postseason (he dropped a deep pass and put only one arm out for a fourth-down throw). Considering the Ravens' track record, maybe drafting a wide receiver isn't the way to go.

Most Valuable Player (defense): Jarret Johnson. For the NFL's No. 3 defense, the rugged outside linebacker was the only player to finish in the top three in tackles (70), sacks (six) and interceptions (two). And Johnson accomplished all this despite having a shoulder injury for the final three months of the season.

Most Disappointing Player (defense): Terrell Suggs. A run of injuries (a sore Achilles tendon in training camp and a sprained knee during the season) never allowed the defensive end-linebacker to get on track. Suggs finished with a career-worst 4 1/2 sacks in the first season of his six-year, $62.5 million contract.

High point: Routing the New England Patriots in the playoffs. The Ravens stormed out to a 24-0 first-quarter lead against the Team of the Decade by scoring on their first snap of the game (Rice's 83-yard touchdown run) and forcing three turnovers by Tom Brady.

Low point: Steve Hauschka missing the game-winning field goal in Minnesota. In the same week that Stover signed with the Colts, Hauschka hooked the 44-yarder a couple of yards left of the upright to ruin one of the greatest comebacks in team history.

Best play: Willis McGahee's 77-yard touchdown run in Oakland. In helping the Ravens clinch a playoff berth, McGahee used a stiff-arm - "I don't know if it was a stiff-arm or a beatdown," Harbaugh said - on Raiders safety Hiram Eugene at midfield and finished off the run by diving into the end zone. Maybe the Ravens should duck if they ask McGahee to take a pay cut.

Worst play: Mason's uncharacteristic drop at Pittsburgh. The sure-handed wide receiver let a pass in the second half bounce off his face mask after getting wide open in the end zone. Of all the costly mistakes in the 23-20 loss to the Steelers, this was the most memorable, uh, forgettable.

Best of Ray Lewis: His game-saving stop in San Diego. On what he called "fourth-down-and-game," the inside linebacker shot through the middle of the line unblocked to tackle Chargers running back Darren Sproles in the backfield with 30 seconds left.

Worst of Ray Lewis: His two unnecessary roughness hits (vs. the Cincinnati Bengals and at Indianapolis) that led to critical touchdowns. Both were questionable in Harbaugh's eyes, but both were factors in losses.

Best comeback: (tie) Tight end Todd Heap and guard Marshal Yanda. Heap rebounded to score six touchdowns, his most since 2006. Yanda, who sustained a major knee injury last season, came back to form a physical right side with rookie Michael Oher.

Failed comeback: L.J. Smith. It was easy to forget the veteran tight end was on the team. After signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal, Smith caught two passes for 31 yards. That's $48,387 per yard, if you're counting.

Stat that the Ravens like: Joe Flacco became only the second quarterback in Ravens history to throw more than 20 touchdown passes in a season. Only Vinny Testaverde's 33 touchdowns in 1996 outnumbered Flacco's total this season (21). If Flacco didn't have hip and ankle injuries this season, he might have been able to reach Testaverde's sum.

Stat that the Ravens dislike: Their defense was penalized 14 times for pass interference. Frank Walker, in particular, was flagged three times.

Biggest surprise: Dannell Ellerbe taking over a starting job as an undrafted rookie. Tavares Gooden struggled with a groin injury, which allowed the aggressive Ellerbe to surpass the third-round pick on the depth chart. The rookie from Georgia had an interception and a fumble recovery in the Ravens' playoff-clinching win at Oakland.

Worst surprise: The usually flawless Matt Katula became erratic. In the final three weeks of the regular season, three bad snaps by Katula (who battled tendinitis in his right forearm) contributed to two missed field-goal tries and a 21-yard punt by Sam Koch. There hasn't been this much talk about a Ravens' long snapper since Harper Le Bel.

Best block: Matt Birk shoving the Patriots' Vince Wilfork to the left side to open up Rice's 83-yard touchdown run to begin the playoff win in New England.

Worst block: Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn taking out Suggs' knee on an interception return. How many hits do you think Suggs will have against Quinn next season?

Best offseason move: Trading up to draft Oher. The Ravens gave a fifth-round pick to the Patriots to jump three spots to select Oher with the 23rd overall pick. He not only solidified the right tackle spot, but he also made five starts at left tackle.

Worst offseason move: Handling of the kicking situation. This isn't about whether the Ravens should have re-signed Stover. But after parting ways with Stover, the Ravens should have brought in a veteran as a fall-back option to compete with Hauschka in training camp.

Good Harbaugh trend: Not overlooking teams. The Ravens were 6-0 against teams with losing records. Their average margin of victory was 23 points.

Bad Harbaugh trend: Penalties. The Ravens led the NFL with 1,094 penalty yards this season. They were 1-4 when they were flagged nine or more times.

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