Let's start here, by stating the obvious. Nobody put it better than the owner of the team, Steve Bisciotti. All the Ravens had to do differently this season was to hold on to the ball. If Lee Evans had squeezed his hands more tightly around that sublime Joe Flacco pass, the city of Baltimore spends Sunday night drawn together, hoping. It really would have been a beautiful thing. I suspect it was difficult for any Ravens fan — or for any journalist who focused on the team — to not envision Ray Lewis coming out of the tunnel, or Joe Flacco responding to the Giants' pass rush. It's folly, of course, to try to imagine what a Ravens-Giants game would have looked like, but it's also just as impossible to stop the mind from wondering. Ray Rice would have been the biggest difference, I think. He's a better mix of nimble and tough than any back the Patriots have. For as steady as BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been, he doesn't present the same big-play threat as Rice. And Danny Woodhead, being more of a situational player, is easier for a defense to key on. Rice is out there every play, and he's both difficult to tackle — he'll lower the shoulder and he'll twist and turn — and capable of dashing 50 yards if a gap is there. On defense, I think the Ravens are simply more dangerous. It was hard not to admire the work done by the much-maligned, hodge-podge Patriots defense over the past few weeks; they were, it seemed, a group that was greater than the sum of its parts. But the Ravens have more play-makers and, under Chuck Pagano, more daring. We'll praise Eli Manning later, but for now, let's just say that he was terrific but also not overly hassled. Terrell Suggs, the Associated Press' Defensive Player of the Year, would have forced him to move around the pocket more, and safety Ed Reed and cornerback Lardarius Webb are instinctual players who capitalize on rushed decisions. While the Ravens might have been prone to mistakes, they also would have been much more likely to force momentum-shifting turnovers. Of course, the Ravens' defense might have struggled with the Giants' physical running attack, and their offensive line wasn't great against athletic speed rushers all year. So, it would have been a close game. As we begin discussing the draft and free agency, playing general manager in every conversation, it might be best to remember that. Change is coming for the Ravens; it's always inevitable in the NFL. But the core of a winning team already exists, and the philosophy for keeping it that way appears to be in place.
Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.