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Like it or not, Harbaugh begins offseason review

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP)

John Harbaugh would have preferred to be wearing sweat clothes, standing on the football field and surrounded by a bunch of players.

Instead, the Baltimore Ravens coach was sporting a sharp gray suit, light blue shirt and striped tie Tuesday as he entered a vast auditorium in the team's training complex. The audience consisted of members of the local media.

''I guess I apologize for the fact that we're even having this press conference, that we have to talk about wrapping up the season and the playoffs haven't even started yet,'' Harbaugh said. ''That's not territory that we're very comfortable with or very familiar with or that we're very happy about around here.''

This is the time of year when Harbaugh usually gets his team ready for the postseason. On this day, however, he was stuck with explaining what went wrong during an 8-8 season that caused Baltimore to miss the playoffs for the first time in his six years as an NFL head coach.

''We understand that we didn't get the job done, and we understand that we've got to go to work to improve in every single way that we possibly can,'' Harbaugh said.

Coming off a victory in the Super Bowl, the Ravens sputtered from the outset - losing to Denver 49-27 in the opener - and never really recovered. Baltimore was 4-6 before going on a four-game winning streak, but finished with lopsided losses to New England and Cincinnati to fall from playoff contention.

Harbaugh won't have to pore over much film to determine the team's flaws. In truth, he's known for months why the Ravens aren't good enough to be in the playoffs.

The lengthy list begins with a running game that averaged a meager 3.1 yards per carry.

''That's probably our biggest disappointment, because we philosophically believe in being a rough, tough, physical offense that can run the football,'' Harbaugh said. ''That's got to be a staple of what we're going to do, and it wasn't this year because of a lot of things.''

Running back Ray Rice was slowed by a hip injury and finished with only 660 yards rushing, but much of the blame can be directed at an offensive line that neither opened up holes nor protected quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw a career-high 22 interceptions and was sacked 48 times.

''We're going to need to run the ball better, we're going to need to protect Joe better,'' Harbaugh said. ''Those things will make us better offensively. We've got to make more big plays down the field.''

Flacco, the Super Bowl MVP, simply wasn't as effective as he was last year. There were a variety of reasons for the decline, beginning with the offseason trade of Anquan Boldin and including the training camp injury of tight end Dennis Pitta.

''We were not as good in the passing game as we needed to be,'' Harbaugh said. ''We never got together. If we're going to be where we need to be going forward, we have to work on getting that done.''

It wasn't just the offense. The defense performed well enough after losing Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams, but there was plenty of room for improvement.

''We've got to be better defensively in some ways, too,'' Harbaugh said. ''We need to be better in the fourth quarter, we've got to be better protecting leads late in the game. Those are things that probably would have made a difference in games that probably would have gotten us into the playoffs. Coaches are working on this.''

Although it's not his preference, Harbaugh will begin planning toward next year much earlier than usual.

''In all honesty, I cannot wait - and I know our coaches feel the same way - to dig into building our systems going forward,'' he said. ''This is when you build the foundation of your team. The better job that we do right now, scheme-wise and personnel-wise, the better that we'll do next year. It's like a sense of urgency right now to get to work.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Tagged: Jets, Ravens, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice

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