Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The higher the expectations, the harder they fall

I'll be the first to admit, I expect the ravens to have a great 2010 season and go deep in the playoffs. The words "super" and "bowl" shouldn't sound strange to Ravens fans using them in the same sentence.

But I am not ready to buy tickets to Dallas just yet. And here's why.

In the past, the Ravens have done very poorly with heightened expectations. Most of the time, they were Brian Billick coached teams, and that might say something about Billick's coaching style. He was always better rallying troops who were viewed as the underdog. His coaching in the 2000 season and throughout the playoffs was completely brilliant. But unlike Bill Belichick, Billick wasn't very good at keeping the Ravens focused and motivated when the world viewed them as a legitimate threat.

Here's a look at some of the more hyped Ravens teams that ultimately disappointed.

Year: 2001
The Hype: The Ravens had just come off a Super Bowl win, had seemingly upgraded at QB (Elvis Grbac > Trent Dilfer) and had landed themselves a preseason reality show (Hard Knocks) that would make even third string special team players household names. Many fans and local sports personalities predicted the Ravens to repeat.
What Went Wrong: Second year RB Jamal Lewis and OL Leon Searcy were injured early in training camp and missed the entire season with injuries. Without a running game, the Ravens became one-dimensional offense and Elvis Grbac cried on the sidelines.
What Happened: 10-6, clinched a playoff berth the final week of the season, beat Miami 21-3, lost to Pittsburgh 27-10.
Disappointment Level: 8. The Ravens were legitimate candidates to repeat before Lewis and Searcy were lost for the season.

Year: 2004
The Hype: The Ravens had won the AFC North in '03 and Jamal Lewis had rushed for over 2,000 yards. Kyle Boller, who was injured mid-way through the 2003 season, was back and expected to improve drastically in his second year. Deion Sanders made a comeback had joined the team late in training camp.
What Went Wrong: Boller never really improved and the Ravens' offense routinely went three and out. Jamal Lewis was suspended for 4 games. Despite the Raven's horrid offense, the defense routinely won the team games, but couldn't hold a lead at home against the Bengals late in the season, ultimately costing the Ravens a trip to the playoffs. John Feinstein's book, Next Man Up, explores this troubled season with great precision.
What Happened: 9-7, missed the playoffs.
Disappointment Level: 6. Outside of Jamal Lewis, the '03 Ravens were one-dimensional on offense. 2004 wasn't very surprising in retrospect.

Year: 2005
The Hype: The Ravens on defense were still a threat and had missed the playoffs by only one game. Many expected that Boller would finally "get it" in 2005 and the Ravens would go to the playoffs.
What Went Wrong: Boller was injured in week 1 and missed the next eight games. Anthony Wright, who'd filled in well for Boller in '03, was a disaster. Ray Lewis missed 11 games and the wheels fell off the wagon.
What Happened: 6-10, missed the playoffs.
Disappointment Level: 5. Many people thought Boller getting injured was a blessing in disguise, which should tell you where people's hopes were headed into the season.

Year: 2007
The Hype: In 2006, the Ravens had gone 13-3 under newly acquired QB Steve McNair and clinched a first round bye before losing to the Colts at home in the second round of the playoffs. In '07, the Ravens were expected to at least make a repeat playoff appearance with newly acquired RB Willis McGahee.
What Went Wrong: Steve McNair looked like a geriatric and was shelved with arm and groin injuries in week 6. Boller never fared any better and injuries to Todd Heap, Samari Rolle and Chris McAllister devastated the team even further.
What Happened: 5-11, missed the playoffs.
Disappointment Level: 9. Many fans expected a repeat of 2006.

Year: 2009
The Hype: The '08 Ravens were a pleasant surprise. Rookie head coach John Harbaugh and rookie QB Joe Flacco lead the Ravens to a 11-5 record and a trip to the AFC Championship where they lost to the Steelers. IN '09, Flacco was supposed to improve mightily and the Ravens were supposed to waltz into the playoffs.
What Went Wrong: It started off so well. But the kicking game was inconsistent, the defense couldn't stop opposing offenses and Flacco was injured in week 6 despite playing the entire season.
What Happened: 9-7, made the playoffs, beating the New England Patriots 33-14 before losing to the Colts, 20-3.
Disappointment Level: 7. The Ravens cost themselves several games on turnovers, missed field goals and poor coaching. Despite all that, they made the playoffs, annihilated the Patriots, who they hadn't beaten since the Browns moved to Baltimore, before rolling over again for the millionth time against the Colts. Still, it could have been much, much sweeter.

So there you have it. Every time the Ravens are picked as favorites, they falter. And with the high expectations in 2010, here's to hoping that history doesn't repeat itself.

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