The Ravens’ reigning Defensive Player of the Year tore his Achilles in the offseason, and their face-of-the-franchise middle linebacker was proclaimed done for the year in mid-October.
They handed their late-game fate to a rookie free agent who had unexpectedly snatched the kicking job from the veteran who’d misfired at the climactic moment of the previous season.
Their quarterback was playing out the last season of his rookie deal without an extension in place and with debate raging about whether he was good enough to be the franchise centerpiece.
They squandered a fourth-quarter lead in Week 2, lost by 30 in Week 7 and fired their offensive coordinator in the middle of a three-game December losing streak. Even in the last game of the season, they clung to what had been a 22-point lead by their fingernails as a younger, faster opponent bore down on them.
If you think the 2022 Ravens are off to a tumultuous start, just remember they have nothing on the 2012 Ravens, a team that never seemed to stand on solid ground until Ray Lewis and Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh and Ed Reed passed the Lombardi Trophy from one triumphant grip to the next at the end of a wild night in New Orleans.
The Ravens are celebrating the 10th anniversary of that team, their last Super Bowl champion, during a week when their current team is searching for its fighting spirit in the wake of another self-defeating performance.
Perhaps it’s a cliché to look back for some reason to believe in what’s ahead. Harbaugh, for example, said he would not invoke the story of 2012 to his current players as a parable of resilience.
“Yes and no,” he said. “It’s not something I do; some of the guys do. I’ve heard Josh [Bynes] talk about that; Anthony Levine Sr., Sam Koch — some of the guys that were here — [Justin] Tucker. They mention those kinds of things to the guys every now and then. I don’t usually talk about that kind of thing, unless it’s a specific story. But it’s true of any season, really. We’re capable of achieving everything. OK, let’s go to work.”
Tucker said he still draws on experiences from that season, his first on the way to becoming the most accurate kicker in league history: “There were lessons learned in that 2012 year that certainly have applied to what we’re doing now. … The two of us who are playing currently, still, that were on that particular team, we’re certainly able to draw on those experiences and apply them as necessary, if necessary. This is also a unique team with its own dynamic, trying to figure ourselves out along the way.”
Bynes agreed: “We started off, what, 9-2 that season and ended up losing four out of our last five? Anything can happen in this  season, and we’re still right in the midst of it. We still have a lot of time left to continue to build.”
If the Ravens need evidence that horrible luck, shaken faith and humiliating defeat can be stops on the road to the promised land, they could do worse than to study 2012.
We tend to remember that season through the triumphs — Flacco’s heave to Jacoby Jones to keep them alive on a frigid night in Denver, playoff vindication against the New England Patriots, the opening barrage in the Super Bowl and their frantic scramble to stave off the San Francisco 49ers after the lights went out. But it’s equally, perhaps more, instructive to remember 2012 through the missteps and failures, the times their backs were pinned to the wall.
The Ravens thought of themselves through this lens. A team of destiny, running back Ray Rice called them as their playoff run gained momentum. Lewis explained it as they prepared for an AFC championship game rematch with the Patriots: “We kept keeping each other up and no matter who got hurt, next man up, next man up. And that’s kind of the staple that we’ve had around here for a very, very long time. It’s always next man up, and for us to fight through all the bumps in the roads that we have went through all year, I just think that’s an awesome, awesome credit to our team.”
It began with the end of the previous season, when the most talented, seasoned team Harbaugh had ever coached came within a dropped touchdown pass and a wayward 32-yard field goal of knocking off the Patriots, who always seemed to stand in the way. A CBS camera captured Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs mouthing the words “Oh my God,” on the sideline as he watched it all slip away.
There was no guarantee the Ravens would be back 12 months later, even with the best of luck. Lewis and Reed, their defensive linchpins, would be a year older, nearing the finishes of their respective NFL rides. Suggs was their successor, the team’s best pass rusher and one of its loudest voices, but he tore his Achilles in April and was not expected back until late in the season, if then. Flacco had led the Ravens to at least one playoff win each year of his career, but his statistics did not paint him as a rival to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and the Ravens had yet to pay him franchise-quarterback money.
How could a Ravens fan not hear echoes of this scenario in the setup to 2022, with the team coming off a string of disappointing season endings, recovering from historically awful injury luck and staring at quarterback Lamar Jackson’s uncertain future in Baltimore?
As soon as they took the field, the 2012 Ravens began throwing off mixed signals. They started the season 9-2, which would seem to put them in a different category than the 3-3 Ravens of this season, but troubling portents abounded.
After they thrashed the Cincinnati Bengals 44-13 in their opener, the Ravens built a 23-17 lead on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles thanks to three long field goals from Tucker, the rookie who had taken incumbent Billy Cundiff’s job in training camp. But their vaunted defense could not shut the door on Michael Vick, who threw for 371 yards and ran for the game-winning touchdown in the last two minutes.
Their second defeat was more troubling still as the Houston Texans stomped them 43-13, sacking Flacco four times and intercepting him twice. “There’s no sugar coating it. … They whupped our [butts],” said Suggs, who had returned from his Achilles injury for the Week 7 matchup. Seven days earlier, Lewis, no longer at his peak but still the team’s verbal leader and most famous star, had torn his triceps in a narrow win over the Dallas Cowboys. He was thought to be done for the year and perhaps for his career.
Even as the Ravens returned to winning after the debacle in Houston, veteran players, led by Reed, pulled Harbaugh into a frank locker-room debate that verged on mutiny, in the words of some who witnessed it.
They needed a miracle, in the form of a fourth-and-29 catch-and-run by Rice, to pull out their ninth win in overtime against the San Diego Chargers. Next, they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home and at Washington in overtime. Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, a decision he called the most difficult of his coaching career to that point. But the wheels continued to come off the following week as the Denver Broncos built a 31-3 lead on their way to an easy victory at M&T Bank Stadium. Suggs was playing with a torn biceps at this point, and his pal, nose tackle Haloti Ngata, hobbled on a sprained knee. The Ravens clinched a playoff berth the night of the Denver defeat thanks to a loss by the Steelers, but they took little comfort from it. “We’re a 9-5 football team,” Flacco said. “And it feels like we’re 0-14 right now.”
We know how the story went from there. Once they reached the doorstep of the postseason, Lewis announced he was coming back and that the playoff ride would be his last. Bryant McKinnie pulled himself off the scrap heap to start at left tackle in the playoffs. Anquan Boldin proved to be the toughest receiver the Ravens ever had, and Jones emerged as home-run threat in the clutch. Flacco played the best ball of his life when he was needed most. They beat Manning in Denver, Brady in Foxborough, Massachusetts and Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, in the Super Bowl. Reed intercepted a pass in his home state and shared a moment of mutual appreciation with Harbaugh on the team bus when it was all over. Lewis went out on top.
But there were many moments during the preceding 12 months when this ending would have struck the participants as far-fetched.
“Anytime there was that feeling of concern, our leadership always pulled us through, in whatever way we needed to at the time,” Tucker recalled. “That’s something that we’re currently working through right now as our own journey of this 2022 football season is unfolding.”
Sunday, 1 p.m.
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Line: Ravens by 6 1/2