The Baltimore Ravens have been kicking themselves for months.
They had a Super Bowl appearance in their grasp last season until Lee Evans dropped a perfect throw in the corner of the end zone and Billy Cundiff infamously missed the subsequent field goal to send the Patriots to the big game.
The Ravens are fortunate though—despite the crushing loss, there is so much talent and discipline in the organization that a bounce back season has been in the making since Week 1. Baltimore is 8-2, leading the Steelers by two games in the AFC North, and occupies the second seed in the conference.
Things have been different for the 2012 Ravens, though.
A team that has been one of the NFL's best on defense for the last decade has suddenly fallen to 25th in the league and can't stop the run to save its life. Remember when it was impossible to run for 100 yards in a game against the Ravens?
Now Baltimore allows 132 per game.
A combination of factors has led to this decline. First, injuries have decimated the secondary. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, the two corners, are out (Webb is on IR), while Ed Reed hasn't been fully healthy also. And in the linebacking corps, Ray Lewis has been out, and Terrell Suggs is still on the comeback path.
The other factor is age.
The Ravens defense has simply gotten older. Lewis and Reed weren't going to be great forever, and the legends on that side of the ball have fallen victim to Father Time.
There's still plenty of potential, though, and if the Ravens want to make another run to the Super Bowl, it hinges on the ability of the defense to step up and make a difference.
It could be the defense that determines whether or not this team wins its first Super Bowl since its magical 2000 season.