After the Ravens held on in late November for an ugly Week 12 win over the Cleveland Browns, team owner Steve Bisciotti’s M&T Bank Stadium suite was euphoric. The injury-ravaged Ravens, somehow, were 8-3, atop the AFC. Bisciotti remembers his family being “so elated at that win”
In the back of his mind, though, he could sense the fragility of the team’s success. The Ravens were pulling off incredible comebacks and winning without key players.
“Honestly, I say this somewhat facetiously, but it was like a house of cards,” Bisciotti said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “When we were 8-3, it was kind of a house of cards. The weird ways we won, in Detroit, in Chicago and then one crazy comeback with the Colts, it was like, ‘OK, we are legit.’ I kept thinking, ‘Holy s---, can we keep this together?’ It was building me up to have, like, a false confidence, because my eyes were deceiving me. I’m looking at this team going, ‘I can’t believe we’re 8-3.’”
Their fortunes changed quickly. The Ravens ended the season 8-9 and out of the playoffs. Injuries had finally caught up to them, even knocking out the reliable Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Bisciotti was understanding: Sideline any team’s quarterback (Jackson), left tackle (Ronnie Stanley), top two running backs (J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards) and top two cornerbacks (Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey), Bisciotti said, and the odds in Las Vegas would change dramatically in the opponent’s favor.
“I was really good emotionally with it, because I kind of didn’t think we necessarily deserved to be 8-3,” he said. “I thought we had gotten very fortunate. I didn’t have real high hopes of, like, a playoff run when you’re that depleted. I wanted it for [coach] John [Harbaugh] more than me, because he’s in there, grinding this out, trying to make them believe they’ve still got enough weapons to fight that war. My admiration for them, the players and the coaches and everything, was just so high. It was hard to be depressed when your pride level is high, I guess is what I’m saying. You recognize the reality of that situation.”
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Bisciotti said he doesn’t consider 2021 a “lost year,” in part because of where the season ended.
“If we were sitting here at 4-13, I’d feel like there were probably cracks in our foundation a little bit,” he said. “Maybe things may not have been going well. The fact that they were on the cusp, they kept believing ... it wasn’t like a lost year where you look at 8-9 and go, ‘Boy, that really sucks.’ It’s like, ‘It really could suck a whole lot worse than that, or else I wouldn’t be picking 14 [in the draft]. I’d be picking fourth.’”
Asked about proposals to change the NFL’s overtime rules, Harbaugh joked Monday that he’d “like to stay out of overtime as much as possible next year, preferably with the lead at the end of the game. We were in a few too many overtimes last year.”
And there could’ve been more. Trailing 20-19 in Week 13, the Ravens went for the 2-point conversion late in a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two weeks later, with the Green Bay Packers leading the Jackson-less Ravens 31-30, Harbaugh made the same call at home. Both last-minute pass plays failed, and the Ravens lost by just one point in regulation.
Bisciotti, who said he “generally” agrees with aggressive play-calling, was “100%” in favor of the 2-point try against Pittsburgh, but not so against Green Bay. The reasons had more to do with his feelings for Harbaugh than in-game strategy.
“Let me tell you this: I was against it [in the loss to Green Bay] because I don’t want John to be criticized,” he said. “When I talked to John and I said, ‘I didn’t agree with it this time, but it was because of you’ — we were at home, we battled hard, we were shocking the world, and if we lose to Aaron Rodgers in overtime, everybody says, ‘Good for you, hell of a try.’ John can’t get criticized for that.
“I didn’t like it because the minute it failed, I knew my coach was going to get criticized. That’s why I was against it, not because I’m fundamentally against aggressiveness. I’m exactly the opposite. I love the aggressive call. I just said, ‘Please, God, make it so you don’t take [criticism] for weeks.’”
- Guard Marshal Yanda will be inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor this season, Bisciotti said. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has yet to formally retire from the NFL, is set to be inducted next.
- Bisciotti said he sees roster holes at pass rusher and cornerback. “We need to get in the backfield more, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “That goes hand in hand with the corners. If you can cover for that extra second, those guys get to the quarterback. It’s not surprising that we gave up the yardage that we gave up and we didn’t sack as much.”
- Bisciotti said he’d be “more than happy” with an all-defense draft, given the team’s “glaring” needs there. “The offensive guys that we’re talking about are third tight end, third or fourth running back, eighth offensive lineman,” he said. “I think we can plug and play [on defense] with a few guys who can earn starting jobs here with the first few picks.”
- Bisciotti said he was “shocked” when Harbaugh told him the Ravens were parting ways with defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale after the season. He also defended offensive coordinator Greg Roman, citing the injuries on offense. “I don’t think you can be as unique as Greg Roman is and not take it on the chin severely when things don’t go well. If you told Greg that he was going to lose Ronnie and his two running backs and [tight end Nick] Boyle, he’d probably go, ‘I’m about to get fired.’ ... I’m sure Greg had a couple of sleepless nights after Wink got let go.”