Four days from his 11th season-opening start in 11 years, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was asked about his first.
“It feels like yesterday,” he said Wednesday of his 2008 debut, a 17-10 win over the visiting Cincinnati Bengals in which the team's top runner was Le'Ron McClain and top receiver was Derrick Mason. “It’s crazy how quickly [time goes by]. You look back at the days, and they go along just like everybody says. But man, it’s been really, really quick, and we’ve changed a lot. But hey, that’s all in the past.”
After the NFL’s longest walk-up to Week 1, from the start of Ravens training camp in late July to Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium, Flacco’s perspective would serve the Ravens well.
Remember how last season felt, but be ready to leave it all in the past. Acknowledge change, but hope it has been for the better.
Two hundred and forty-eight days have passed since the Ravens last played a snap in a game of significance, and for the team’s holdover players (and certainly their fans), the pain still might feel like it’s only a day old.
Needing a win to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, the Ravens surrendered a last-minute, go-ahead touchdown to Tyler Boyd. They lost, 31-27, and their season ended there, on New Year’s Eve.
The offseason included a makeover at wide receiver, a youth movement at tight end, a first-round quarterback pick and an expectation that the veterans who have not led the Ravens to the top of the AFC North in recent years, whether because of injury, underperformance or bad luck, would take the next step needed.
“I think all that kind of stuff is what it is, so to speak,” coach John Harbaugh said. “If you try to play [the importance of erasing the sting of last season], I don’t think that’s genuine. There’s no motivation that’s cliche that works. So it’s never going to be erased for me. It’s always going to be there. This is a new season, and let’s roll.”
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on the excitement of starting a new season and getting back on the field. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
The first day of media access to Ravens players since the 53-man roster was finalized Saturday had all the football-adjacent and game-specific questions now commonplace across the league.
Harbaugh was asked about slot cornerbacks. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said he didn’t “give a [expletive]” about whether President Donald Trump might comment on the NFL this weekend. Flacco discussed the importance of preseason repetitions. Safety Eric Weddle talked about why he was so happy at his news conference. (“Game week, baby!”)
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But mainly, they were eager to see how their hard work would pay off. With five victories in five games, they’d won everything there was to win in the preseason, Harbaugh’s admiration among them.
“Anytime you get a chance to line up, you’re very eager,” Suggs said. “We didn’t look at it like a long preseason. We looked at it as we just had a significant amount of time [and an] opportunity to become a better football team. That’s how we approached it. I think our coaches did a good job of not throwing so much on us with the time we had here. I think we had a good pace, and I think we had a really good, productive training camp.”
Said Flacco: “It’s super exciting to get back to football. It really is. I hope the fans feel the same way, to be honest with you. I really do hope that they’re excited to get out there and watch us go this year. … To compare it to last year or years before is tough, but we’re definitely really excited.”
Of course, optimism is a renewable resource at every NFL team’s headquarters ahead of Week 1. Outside of the Ravens’ Under Armour Performance Center, opinions are mixed. Preseason power rankings have the Ravens as high as the league’s upper third and as low as the bottom third. The only consensus: The team had better win this year.
The Ravens believe they can. It has bothered them that they haven’t. Suggs spoke Saturday as if his career in football were predetermined, saying, “I was born, and this is what I am.” Yet even after 15 years in the NFL, he still expected butterflies before the start of Year 16. The struggles have diminished nothing.