OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens finally ran into an obstacle they couldn’t overcome: a fourth-quarter deficit on the road against the top-seeded New England Patriots.
Until Joe Flacco’s desperation heave fell incomplete on the final play of a 35-31 defeat Saturday night, Baltimore did a marvelous job of casting aside every hardship in its path during the 2014 season.
The suspension and subsequent release of running back Ray Rice, a myriad of injuries to their defensive backfield, the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta and Haloti Ngata’s four-game suspension in December weren’t enough to keep the Ravens from reaching the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.
”The success we had as a team speaks to our resiliency, our ability to overcome adverse situations,” kicker Justin Tucker said Sunday as he and his teammates cleared out their lockers. ”This is a team that was able to block out distractions and focus on winning games and executing.”
”Not looking to the left or to the right, looking straight ahead at the next task at hand,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Alas, there is no next task for the Ravens, who now have plenty of time to look back on a season that never really went according to plan.
”We had a lot of adversity, a lot off the field, and a lot of things we couldn’t control as a team,” rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley said.
Baltimore (11-7) stumbled into the postseason on the final day of the regular season, but a 30-17 victory over Pittsburgh in the wild-card round provided hope of a lengthy playoff run.
The Ravens gave the Patriots all they could handle until the potential winning drive ended with Flacco throwing an interception in the end zone.
”That’s the tough part about it,” defensive end Chris Canty said. ”Even on that last drive, we felt Joe was going to make the plays that needed to be made and we were going to walk off the field and look forward to going to the AFC championship.
”Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case. We came up short, and that’s the end of the narrative for the 2014 Ravens.”
Here are some significant facets of Baltimore’s season that should influence the fashion in which the franchise enters the 2015 run:
SAVOR THE MOMENT: The Ravens have several unrestricted free agents, including Tucker, receiver Torrey Smith and running back Justin Forsett.
That’s why the team meeting Sunday had a sense of finality.
Some will return. Others will not. Newcomers will arrive.
”That collection of individuals will never be the same,” Canty said. ”We understand the nature of the business, and that’s why we try to make the most of it. Unfortunately, we came up a little short of our goal. But I couldn’t be more proud of a group of men, the character of the guys in this locker room.”
BACKFIELD IN MOTION: Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will put a priority on looking for defensive backs during the offseason.
Baltimore entered the playoffs with five cornerbacks and safety Terrence Brooks on injured reserve, which explains why Tom Brady threw for 367 yards and why the Patriots were able to win despite finishing with 14 yards rushing.
The Ravens, who listed 12 different cornerbacks during the season, finished 24th against the pass.
FLACCO SHINES: Perhaps the main reason for Baltimore’s run of success over the past seven years is Flacco, who again shined in the playoffs despite throwing two interceptions against the Patriots.
Flacco started all 16 games for the seventh year in a row. In the postseason, he cut up the Steelers before throwing four touchdown passes in a valiant effort against New England.
The only decision Newsome needs to make at quarterback concerns backup Tyrod Taylor, who becomes an unrestricted free agent. Baltimore might not want to give him a raise to stay.
FORSETT FUTURE: Forsett ran for 1,266 yards in his first season with the Ravens. Will there be a second season in Baltimore for the journeyman?
”This is the organization that gave me my first real opportunity, and I would love to stay,” Forsett said. ”There’s a business side to it. Unfortunately, I’ve been in the `friend zone’ most of my career; hopefully we can get into a deeper commitment somewhere down the road.”
Forsett provided stability to a running attack that flourished without Rice, who was suspended for the first two games and then released on Sept. 8 after a video surfaced showing him assaulting his then-fiancee.
CANTY SAY GOODBYE?: Injuries limited Canty to only 10 games, including two starts in his 10th NFL season. He will think long and hard about returning for season No. 11.
”Obviously, the passion for playing on Sundays will never go away,” he said. ”But you have to think about your future, whether you want to take the pounding of another regular season and being able to stay healthy. I’ll spend some time with my family, and then we’ll make a decision when we have to make a decision.”
Canty had 22 tackles and a half-sack in 2014.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL