The story of the 2008 Baltimore Ravens is more amazing then you think. They didn't make much action via free agency and trading during the off season. Steve McNair and Jon Ogden both retired. They had gaping holes at quarterback and left tackle. With the 18th pick in the NFL draft, the Ravens selected Joe Flacco from Delaware.
Former Rams back Marshall Faulk said this:
"This situation is sort of like what we saw with Ben Roethlisberger when he went to Pittsburgh. The only thing that bothers me about this situation is: you have a big arm, but who you gonna throw the ball to? Who's gonna get down field, whose gonna stretch the defense? Whose he going to get the ball to?
"If they address that throughout the draft, so be it. I'm wondering, who is he gonna throw the ball to? I'm wondering whose gonna stretch the field so he can use the big arm."
Even watching it then, I disagreed with Faulk. He says that, while the Ravens have one of the best tight ends in the league in Todd Heap—when healthy—Baltimore also has Derrick Mason, who had 103 catches the year before. They also had Mark Clayton, who had nearly 1,000 yards in 2006 and is one of the fastest guys on the team.
The preseason started and it was about what we expected. The Ravens beat the defending AFC Champion Patriots. That's not what we expected. What we did expect was a lackluster offensive performance and a dominant defensive performance. In the game, Flacco was 0-for-3 with a near interception and two sacks.
Since both Kyle Boller and Troy Smith got injured, Flacco was thrust into the starting role. Like many Ravens fans, I was scared to death. He was a D-IAA who looked like a regular season impersonation of Kyle Boller in most of the preseason and led us to a very bad 1-3 record.
Marshall Faulk again was critical of the Ravens, saying, "Surprise to me when you think about Baltimore, this is a veteran team. When you put a young quarterback in like Joe Flacco, are you saying rebuilding to Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, those guys, Ed Reed? Are you saying we're about to rebuild?
"Or, is this another Steelers situation? Like when Ben Roethlisberger was thrust into play when Tommy Maddox got hurt. Can you go in and have that kind of performance and effect on this team, because let's be honest: the Ravens don't have a go-to receiver. Can he get the ball down the field and read all the blitzes? He plays in a tough division."
When I heard that, I actually agreed. But I wasn't losing hope. No real fan would. I was expecting another five-win campaign and another high draft pick. Not only did we have no big time receiver, we had a rookie quarterback, a rather unknown head coach, an aging defense, a YOUNG offensive line and we had injuries to deal with, which have always killed the Ravens.
Then came the Bengals.
Before the game, it was announced that Willis McGahee (who ran for over 1,200 yards in 2007), would not play. I was pissed, like most Ravens fans. McGahee was the only bright spot in our offense the year before.
Not just that, we would have to go with either Le'Ron McClain or Ray Rice at halfback. McClain ran for 18 yards in 2007 on eight carries. Ray Rice was a 5-foot-8 rookie. But, the Ravens proved me wrong. They beat Cincy, 17-10. Flacco was just 15-for-29 with 129 yards, but didn't make mistakes and even ran for a 38 yard touchdown.
After a nice win over the Browns, the Ravens would travel to Pittsburgh on Monday night. The previous Monday night in Pittsburgh, in which the Ravens played, Pittsburgh prevailed by an embarrassing 38-7 score.
The Ravens surprised me and proved to me they have changed. They lost, but by a score of 23-20. Joe Flacco impressed me, going 16-for-31 with 192 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He had one scramble that was timed at 12.5 seconds on a bomb that went over 30 yards to Derrick Mason.
After two consecutive damaging losses to the Titans and Colts, the Ravens were obviously down. They would have an easy schedule ahead of them, with Miami, Oakland, Cleveland and Houston. The Ravens responded, winning all four of them by a combined 134-63 score. After that stretch, the Ravens were 6-3, tied atop the AFC North with Pittsburgh.
They followed with a loss to the New York Giants, 30-10. Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward ran all over the team. The Giants ran for 207 yards, the highest total the Ravens allowed in ten seasons. Me, along with thousands of Ravens fans were nervous to see how they'd rebound.
Oh, they rebounded.
They followed with a BIG win over the Eagles, 36-7. Joe Flacco had 183 yards and two touchdown passes. Ed Reed had two picks and ran one back from 108 yards and the Ravens were 7-4, tied with the Patriots and Colts for the wild card lead in the AFC.
This is just the introduction.