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3 takeaways from Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s season-ending news conference

Ravens' Head Coach John Harbaugh answer questions at the team's year-end press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills.

From coach John Harbaugh’s lack of regret about the Ravens’ plan for their playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans to his enduring faith in quarterback Lamar Jackson, here are three takeaways from his season-ending news conference.

Harbaugh was disappointed in the execution but not the vision for his team’s playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.

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The Ravens never asserted control of the game that ended their season in brutal disappointment, and Harbaugh quickly acknowledged this.

“The whole game didn’t play out the way we wanted it to play out,” he said Friday. “We didn’t play our game.”

He felt that for all the talk of the Ravens abandoning their plan, the loss came down to a few plays on which the Titans seized the initiative.

“They won the critical downs and we didn’t,” he said. “That’s what it boils right down to.”

He has a point. If the Ravens had finished their opening drive with a score instead of a turnover, if they’d converted on fourth down at the Titans’ 18-yard line to start the second half, the game could have been different. Many of the trends that made fans want to tear their hair out flowed from a few turning points.

Ravens' Head Coach John Harbaugh answer questions at the team's year-end press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills.

Fans have spent the week dissecting offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s plan, wondering why the Ravens did not give the ball to Gus Edwards more than three times or why they accomplished so little on first down.

Harbaugh said all blame for the team’s tactics should go to him.

“That’s always the head coach,” he said. “That’s where it belongs. I’ll take responsibility for our team 100 percent and what we chose to do. Everything that we do is with one thing in mind: to win the game. To move the ball and to score points. So much goes into that game plan and so much goes into the play calling and execution.”

He defended the Ravens’ offensive balance before they went down 21-6 in the third quarter, noting that they had won previous games in which they came out throwing more effectively than they ran.

He also dismissed any need to rebuild the team’s confidence in the wake of two straight disappointing playoff performances. This despite All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s comment that “this team’s identity right now is get in the playoffs and choke.”

“I don’t see that at all,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys are confident guys and I don’t think our guys take too seriously too much of what gets said, especially in the heat of the moment.”

In sum, Harbaugh’s assessment was long on disappointment but short on any sense that the Ravens need to make sweeping changes based on one bad outing.

Regardless of the final game, the Ravens think they’re strong Super Bowl contenders next season.

Harbaugh spoke with no reservations when asked to look ahead.

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“Are we capable of winning the whole thing next year?” he said. “Absolutely.”

He’ll bring back his entire staff after quarterbacks coach James Urban and tight ends coach Bobby Engram removed themselves from consideration for job openings with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Ravens won’t revamp their entire offense as they did last offseason or their entire defense as they did the offseason before that. Instead, they’ll focus on tactical refinements and on patching their few roster weaknesses.

With several important players — including their best pass rusher, Matthew Judon, and interior stalwart Michael Pierce — approaching unrestricted free agency, they’ll need to address their defensive front seven.

“We’ve got to get better just to stay the same,” Harbaugh said.

They would also need to invest in their interior offensive line if right guard Marshal Yanda, who made his eighth Pro Bowl this season, retires.

As Harbaugh noted, the Ravens will have more financial flexibility to address such needs than they have in a long time. Shopping will be more straightforward because their franchise quarterback is in place, along with their offensive and defensive systems.

“We have a few more resources in front of us right now,” Harbaugh said. “We have good draft resources, we have great cap resources that we haven't had in the past. So, we've got a chance to build our roster in a way we haven't been able to maybe the last large number of years.”

All this continuity might not sound like great news to fans dwelling on the Ravens’ recent playoff losses. But this organization has always sought stability, seasoned with targeted innovation. And Harbaugh has many reasons to think his team is on a Super Bowl track, given its dominance during the regular season and Jackson’s relentless improvement.

Harbaugh’s optimism flows from his faith in Jackson.

The Ravens coach was prepared to parry questions about Jackson’s subpar (for him) performance in the Titans loss.

He noted that Peyton and Eli Manning combined to lose their first five postseason games and that other great quarterbacks such as Joe Montana, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers did not even start in the playoffs until at least their third seasons.

“Interesting,” he said, suggesting that Jackson is well ahead of the game, despite his 0-2 playoff record.

Harbaugh met with Jackson on Wednesday and came away impressed, again, with the 23-year-old quarterback’s unerring eye for self-improvement.

“I don’t think he’d mind me saying this, but I asked him basically, ‘What do you need to do better?’” Harbaugh said. “We had talked about a couple of different areas. Without getting into what they are specifically, he nailed it, the priority list, in the exact same order that Greg [Roman] and I nailed the priority list when we were talking on Monday.”

For all his astounding physical and social gifts, Jackson’s refusal to settle might be his defining trait. And it also might be the one that endears him most to Harbaugh, who prides himself on constant self-assessment.

Jackson really did make astounding leaps in his second season, earning deep trust from his coaches and teammates in the process. They believe he will come back better in 2020 and that they will again rise with him.

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