As crazy as it sounds, the Baltimore Ravens are in the Super Bowl. In only four days, this team will have the opportunity to play for their second title and complete a shocking playoff run that was almost entirely unexpected.
Even the most diehard fans probably didn't see this one coming. Though the Ravens were favored at home in the Wild Card round, beyond that their road to New Orleans was extremely difficult. They had to beat not one but two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the road.
Yet the Ravens disposed of both, beating Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos in a classic double-overtime match during the Divisional Round. They then went into Foxborough and after a close first half, shut out Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the second half.
Obviously it's been a long and hard road for the Ravens to get the Super Bowl. While the final result is not yet known, it's amazing to look back and see all the little things that fell into place to get the Ravens where they are today—from their preseason preparation in July, to close regular-season victories to even the losses that helped to bring this team together.
Here is the timeline for the Ravens' Super Bowl run with an emphasis on the events were instrumental to bringing the Ravens to New Orleans. This is the story of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens and how this unlikely team became a Super Bowl contender.
When asked the somewhat goading question of where he thought he ranked among starting quarterbacks, Joe Flacco decided he'd had enough. Instead of going with a politically correct or a safe answer, Flacco claimed that he's the best quarterback in the NFL.
With it being early April, this story was destined to get massive amounts of press. For the most part, the media ridiculed Flacco for his comments since his stats made it clear that he was nowhere near the best quarterback in the NFL. To many this seemed like a false display of confidence that could prove disastrous with the upcoming contract negotiations between Flacco and the Ravens.
2012 would turn out to be an average regular season for Flacco but he would win the record for most road playoff wins by a quarterback. He also got his team to the Super Bowl and now has some serious leverage for his contract negotiations.
Like Eli Manning before him, Flacco is showing that confidence, no matter how irrational, can be crucial in achieving greatness.
During free agency and the NFL Draft, the Ravens had a fairly quiet offseason. They didn't even make any high-profile picks in the draft, as they traded out of the first round and got Courtney Upshaw as their first pick 35th overall.
That pick turned out to be almost a godsend as allegedly that same weekend, Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles' tendon. The devastating injury was almost guaranteed to end Suggs' season and would be a huge blow to the Ravens defense, as Suggs was the defending Defensive Player of the Year.
Suggs' injury thrust Upshaw into a starting role far sooner than he would have become otherwise. Meanwhile Suggs devoted himself to recovery and worked obsessively hard at getting healthy. His work would pay off and amazingly he would return during the 2012 regular season, though he was nowhere near as good as he was in 2011.
One of the more underrated moments that defined the 2012 Ravens came just days before their season opener. On September 7th, former owner Art Modell passed away from natural causes.
Modell was best known for moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and turning them into the Ravens. He will forever be vilified in Cleveland for doing this, but in Baltimore he is viewed as a sports hero.
In addition to being the owner during the Ravens' Super Bowl victory in 2000, Modell was an influential figure in NFL history. He was the driving force behind the 1970 contract between the NFL and ABC that effectively started Monday Night Football.
Only days after attending his funeral, the Ravens hoped to honor Modell in their opener, which was on Monday Night Football. It was arguably the Ravens' best victory of the season as they dominated the Cincinnati Bengals 44-13.
We now arrive at the regular season and the Ravens' first really big game of the new year. This came in Week 3 as the Ravens were off to a respectable 1-1 start, with one blowout win and one extremely close loss. Now they risked falling under .500 for the first time since 2008 should they lose at home to the hated New England Patriots.
Not only had the Patriots beat the Ravens in the AFC Championship last season but at this point the Ravens had never beaten the Patriots in the regular season. Similar to the aforementioned game, this Sunday Night Football game was an extremely close one and it was actually one of the most high-scoring games in the rivalry.
Although the Patriots started with a 13-0 lead, the game went back and forth with both teams taking turns holding the lead. Torrey Smith proved to be the difference maker on offense and he had arguably the game of his life as he finished with six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. What made this even more amazing was that he chose to play only hours after learning about the tragic death of his younger brother.
The game came down to the wire and it would end up being a Ravens offensive drive that would decide the winner. Trailing 30-28 late in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were driving with the hopes of a late game-winning field goal.
Jacoby Jones made the big play to get them into field goal range, though not by catching the ball. Instead he drew a pass interference on Devin McCourty that set up the Ravens in field goal range.
Then, from 38 yards out, Justin Tucker went on for the kick. Unlike Billy Cundiff, who failed to make the big kick in the AFC Championship Game, Tucker was good and the Ravens won the game. They had their first regular-season win over the Patriots. Only three games into his career, their rookie kicker had shown he was comfortable kicking when the pressure was highest.
The Kansas City Chiefs would finish the 2012 season with the worst record in the NFL. They were a truly awful team with an abysmal offense and a flabbergasted head coach that seemed completely in over his head.
Yet for how terrible the 2012 Chiefs were, their defense was actually pretty good. And it was mostly their defense that kept this Week 5 game extremely close.
The Ravens would win but the final score came as 9-6. No touchdowns were scored by either team and the Ravens only had 298 total yards of offense in the game.
Although not noticed at the time, this game showed some tremendous heart from the defense. The defining play of the game oddly came in the third quarter with the score tied at 3-3.
The Chiefs were on the Ravens' 1-yard line and it seemed certain that they would score by handing off to the electrifying Jamaal Charles. Instead Matt Cassel fumbled the ball and like so many times in his career, Ed Reed came up with it.
The Ravens would score a field goal to take a 6-3 lead. The Chiefs got close but never made it to the end zone and ultimately that cost them in this one. It was a bend but not break performance, and the Ravens defense turned out an effort that would make even the 2000 Ravens a little proud.
One week after their best defensive performance, the Ravens defense had arguably their worst game of the season. And it was not because they allowed 481 offensive yards to the Dallas Cowboys.
Instead the bad news came on the injury front. Lardarius Webb had torn his ACL and Ray Lewis had injured his triceps. Both players were essentially done for the season.
In light of these injuries to the Ravens' best cornerback and their defensive general, the game felt like a loss. It wasn't, though, with the Ravens winning even uglier than the previous week in Kansas City.
The final score was 31-29 and it came down to the wire. The Cowboys were down eight late in the fourth quarter and they were able to rein in a four-yard receiving touchdown from Dez Bryant. They would end up missing the extra point and had to put their faith in a onside kick.
Amazingly the Cowboys recovered that onside kick and they even worked the clock to get in field-goal range with no timeouts. It was all for naught, though, with Dan Bailey missing from 51 yards out with only six seconds left.
The memory of this game is mostly shadowed by the injuries and the sloppy play of the Ravens defense, who let the Cowboys total a staggering 227 rushing yards. However, this game was also crucial for serving as the breakout point for kick returner Jacoby Jones.
Jones tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return in the third quarter that put the Ravens up 24-13. This touchdown stopped Dallas's momentum on offense and it established Jones as a breakaway threat on kickoff returns. He would go on to score another kick return touchdown and a punt return touchdown during the season and he would be named the returner for the AFC Pro Bowl team.
Although the Ravens swept the Cleveland Browns in 2012, both of their games against them were really close. Each of them saw the Browns within a touchdown late in the fourth quarter and in each game, they were in a position where they could have won.
For this Week 9 game, it came late in the fourth quarter. The Ravens defense held strong and didn't allow a touchdown, but that didn't matter as Phil Dawson made five field-goal attempts. The Browns were suddenly up 15-14 with only eight minutes left in the game.
The Ravens were not fazed, though, and despite having offensive struggles throughout the game, Joe Flacco found Torrey Smith in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown that gave the Ravens a 22-15 lead.
Amazingly, this would be the Ravens' 11th consecutive victory against the Browns. With John Harbaugh as coach and Flacco as quarterback, the Ravens have never lost to the Browns.
This game also saw Bernard Pierce make an impact in the running game for the first time. With only seven carries, Pierce went on to gain 26 yards and score his first NFL touchdown with a 12-yard run. His emergence has been crucial down the stretch and despite having a small role to begin with, Pierce has now become one of the more important players on the offense.
This west coast trip to San Diego had all the makings of a trap game. It was sandwiched between two games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and it was against a Chargers team that was desperately fighting for their playoff lives. Let's also not forget that they have owned the Ravens in the past, especially in 2011 where they dominated the Ravens 34-14.
The Chargers took an early lead and although the Ravens came back, it seemed like this one was going to be a loss. The Chargers led 10-0 at halftime and it wasn't until late in the fourth quarter where the Ravens finally got on the board with a touchdown. They now trailed 13-10 and needed a field goal to force overtime.
The offense stalled and suddenly the Ravens were facing fourth down with 29 yards to go. Not quite in field-goal range, but certainly not in a position where punting was an option. They had to go for it.
So what does Cam Cameron call on this game-defining play? A screen pass up the middle to Ray Rice. And yet somehow this play worked, with Rice showing an amazing amount of grit and determination as he battled past the Chargers defense.
Once the measurement was good, it was clear that the Ravens had a massive psychological advantage. They had to play almost a full overtime period before Justin Tucker made the game-winning field goal. Still, the Ravens got another ugly win and in the process had the best play of the 2012 regular season.
The win over San Diego was a great one but it would turn out to be the Ravens' last one for almost an entire month. December became a dark time for the team with a three-game losing streak that destroyed their playoff positioning and delayed the clinching of the AFC North till Week 16.
The first two losses were very similar. The Ravens let one slip away at home where Charlie Batch led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 23-20 victory. Another backup quarterback won the following week with Kirk Cousins leading the Washington Redskins to a come-from-behind 31-28 victory in overtime.
Both games saw dreadful offensive production as the offense's conservative playcalling cost them chances to win. The fans criticized Cam Cameron, hoping that their criticism would lead to him leaving in the offseason.
Instead John Harbaugh made a bold move and Cameron was fired the day after the Redskins loss. It was a tough move for Harbaugh since Cameron had been his coordinator every since he arrived in Baltimore and the two were close friends.
Former quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell was promoted to offensive coordinator and his first assignment couldn't be tougher. With six days to implement his offense, Caldwell would have to call plays as the Ravens faced a Denver Broncos team that had won eight straight.
The game wasn't even close and the offensive game plan was mostly a disaster. Flacco threw a costly interception that had the Ravens down 17-0 and out of it at halftime. The final score was 34-17 but that was the result of garbage-time touchdowns and the Broncos were never in any real danger.
With this being their third loss in a row, the Ravens were now in huge trouble. The loss completely destroyed any hope of them getting a first-round bye and it put their division hopes in danger. With the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals right behind them, they likely needed to win one more to get the AFC North title.
There wasn't a lot of optimism for the Week 16 matchup against the New York Giants. The defending Super Bowl Champions likely needed to win their final two games to reach the postseason and this veteran team had been so good with their backs against the wall last season. With the Giants' resilience and the Ravens' recent struggles, it was possible that this game would be a blowout as well.
It was a blowout, but not by the team people expected it to be from. The Ravens won 33-14, one of only three regular season games that they won by 17 or more points.
This game saw the Ravens clearly be the more physical team and it also saw Jim Caldwell successfully implement his offense. Joe Flacco had a great game, throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce had more than 100 yards rushing.
All told, the Ravens had 533 total yards of offense. The game clinched the AFC North title and gave the Ravens an odd Week 17 scenario, where they could rest players since the game would not affect their playoff standing.
The road was set for the playoffs and now the question was which Ravens team would show, one that could dominate the Super Bowl Champions or the one that had lost three straight.
Even with a win, it was almost guaranteed that the Ravens' home game against the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card Round was their final home game of the year. And a few days before that game, Ray Lewis made the announcement it would probably be his final home game ever.
Lewis announced his retirement on January 2nd, saying that this was his last ride. Like Terrell Suggs, Lewis had also made an extremely quick recovery and as the designated-to-return player on injured reserve, he was eligible to play in the playoffs.
Lewis's retirement suddenly made this postseason very different, as every teammate knew this would be his last time going for a ring. It could have become a distraction but that was not at all the case on Sunday when the Ravens went out and beat the Colts 24-9.
It was a semi-close game but the Ravens seemed in control for most of it and they did not let the Colts get back in it. Anquan Boldin set a franchise record with 145 receiving yards and he also scored the clinching touchdown.
With victory confirmed, Lewis lined up as running back for the final kneel down. He then broke into his dance again, a fitting end for the final home game of his career.
If the Ravens win the Super Bowl, expect this game to take up a lot of time in their NFL Films DVD. It was nothing short of an epic game and it has to be the greatest Ravens victory in franchise history so far.
According to all the experts, the Ravens were huge underdogs to this Denver team that had won 11 straight. In addition to Peyton Manning on offense, their defense was too good. Their homefield advantage could be a huge factor thanks to the thin air in Denver.
Yet the Ravens stayed with the Broncos and kept this game extremely close. No team ever led by more than seven points through the entirety of the game.
Huge plays happened all over the game. On the Ravens' side, Corey Graham scored an interception touchdown in the first quarter and Torrey Smith got two touchdowns as he surprisingly dominated his matchup with Champ Bailey.
Still, the Broncos seemed set for victory after a fourth down stop late in the fourth quarter. The Ravens would get the ball back but they exhausted their timeouts and now had about a minute to get a touchdown and force overtime.
Then on third down with only 31 seconds remaining, Joe Flacco found Jacoby Jones open deep and he hurled the ball up. Jones caught it and gave the Ravens a tying 70-yard touchdown.
The game had to go through two periods of overtime, with no one scoring in the first one. Graham made another huge play as he picked off Manning again and this time brought the Ravens right outside of field-goal range.
The offense picked up the needed yards and Justin Tucker again proved to be clutch. He kicked a 47-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 38-35 victory and put an end to a classic playoff game that will never be forgotten by either Baltimore or Denver.
This was a tough year for the media networks as they were denied a juicy Manning vs. Brady AFC Championship. The AFC Championship still managed to have some great story lines though with the Ravens taking on the New England Patriots in Foxborough for the second year in a row.
Similar to the regular-season game, the Patriots were better earlier on. They led 13-7 at halftime in what looked to be a close, low-scoring game.
That would not be the case in the second half, where the Ravens shut them out 21-0. Joe Flacco threw three touchdowns, two of which went to Anquan Boldin.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bernard Pollard honored his reputation and for the fourth time, he injured a Patriots offensive player. This time it was Stevan Ridley, who suffered a concussion and fumbled the ball during the Pollard hit.
Prior to this game, Tom Brady had been 67-0 at home when leading at halftime. It's an amazing stat that shows just how great of a quarterback he is.
Stats were made to be broken, though, and this year, there's no denying it's the Ravens' time. They had fought through adversity and now sit 60 minutes away from a Super Bowl title. The story of their season is really quite an amazing one and all that remains now is to see what the ending will be.