The Baltimore Ravens were a team in transition entering the 2008 season. Following a disastrous 5-11 season in 2007, experts figured 2008 would bring more of the same with a rookie head coach, rookie quarterback, and a talented, but aging, defense.
Take a look back at the improbable year that was for the Baltimore Ravens.
Jan. 18, 2008 — After Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti had surprisingly fired Brian Billick on New Year's Eve following a disastrous 5-11 season, the search begins for the team's third head coach in franchise history.
Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach John Harbaugh is the man chosen for the job. Though he has no head coaching experience, Harbaugh's hard-nosed approach will clean up a locker room that had disintegrated in 2007.
Jan. 23, 2008 — Having retained coordinator Rex Ryan to lead the defense, Harbaugh was looking for the right man to rebuild the Baltimore offense. Former Miami Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron joins Harbaugh's staff and brings much improvement to a traditionally stagnant offense.
The Baltimore offense improves to 18th in yards per game (324.0) and 11th in points per game (24.1). Cameron's 2008 season will most be remembered for his role in the remarkable development of the team's rookie quarterback.
Apr. 26, 2008 — Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens select Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco with the 18th pick overall in the NFL Draft. "He’s got a rocket arm and he’s highly accurate," said director of college scouting Eric DeCosta.
"We love the kid and he’s very smart. He took Delaware to the national championship game and played in the Senior Bowl. He did well. He passed every test. Joe was the guy that separated himself from the other guys.”
Aug. 12, 2008 — The Ravens sign four-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal to boost their depth at fullback. The move would allow the Ravens to shift fullback Le'Ron McClain to tailback, giving the Ravens the biggest backfield in the NFL.
Neal would help lead the way for the Ravens' fourth-ranked rushing attack and a trip to the Pro Bowl for McClain (902 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns).
Aug. 23, 2008 — After Kyle Boller and Troy Smith are ruled out with an injury and illness respectively, Joe Flacco learns he will start versus the St. Louis Rams in Baltimore's third preseason game.
The rookie struggles in the first half but finishes 18-of-37 for 157 yards and one touchdown. “He really did get comfortable and started getting the ball out quicker, saw some things, made some real accurate throws near the end there and had some zip on the ball,” Harbaugh said after the game.
“You could see him growing throughout the course of the game.”
Flacco would start every game in 2008.
Sept. 4, 2008 — Just days before the opener against Cincinnati, the Ravens sign offensive tackle, and former Bengal, Willie Anderson to improve the team's performance at right tackle.
Anderson would eventually settle into the starting lineup, providing veteran leadership to a young offensive line.
Sept. 7, 2008 — Donning black pants with white jerseys for the first time in a decade, the Ravens rush for 229 yards and dominate the Cincinnati Bengals in a 17-10 win.
Flacco scores on a 38-yard touchdown run, but the surprise of the day is Le'Ron McClain's 86 rushing yards. The second-year fullback would go on to lead the Ravens in rushing yards after receiving a mere eight carries in his rookie season.
Sept. 29, 2008 — Facing their division rival in prime time, the Ravens prove they're a team to be reckoned with in a 23-20 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. Flacco shows a national audience that he's for real, passing for 192 yards and a touchdown and leading a fourth-quarter drive to set up the game-tying score, a four-yard run by McClain.
The Steelers win on a 46-yard field goal by Jeff Reed in overtime.
Oct. 19, 2008 — Following narrow losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee and a blowout to Indianapolis, the Ravens limp into Miami with a 2-3 record, desperately needing a win to save the season.
Willis McGahee rushes for 105 yards and Flacco throws for 232 in a convincing 27-13 win over the Dolphins. The Baltimore defense shuts down the Wildcat offense, holding Miami to 71 rushing yards.
"This was going to make or break our season," Terrell Suggs said after the game. "When you lose three or four games in a row, players are only human, and they stop believing. We've got guys believing."
Nov. 23, 2008 — Safety Ed Reed begins his push for Defensive Player of the Year consideration with two interceptions, including an NFL record 107-yard interception return for a touchdown, as the Ravens score 24 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 36-7.
"Ed Reed is just one of the greatest ballplayers I've ever seen," linebacker Ray Lewis said.
The game holds special meaning for Harbaugh, as he beats his former team and mentor Andy Reid.
Dec. 7, 2008 — Ravens fans had waited a long time for the hated Washington Redskins to visit M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens win for the seventh time in eight games as they beat down Washington in a 24-10 victory.
Once again, Reed steals the show with two interceptions and scores on a 22-yard fumble return. The win is an impressive showing on Sunday night football, earning the applauds of the national media.
Dec. 14, 2008 — The Ravens take on the Steelers with the AFC North title at stake. After the Ravens lead most of the way, the Steelers score on a controversial four-yard pass to Santonio Holmes with 43 seconds remaining to take the lead.
After initially ruling Holmes down inside the one-yard line, referee Walt Coleman overturns the call on the field, awarding the go-ahead touchdown to Pittsburgh as the Steelers win the AFC North title in a 13-9 final.
The loss puts the Ravens' playoff hopes in jeopardy, needing wins over Dallas and Jacksonville to secure a wild-card berth. "All game they didn't make plays," Ray Lewis said after the game. "One drive they did."
Dec. 20, 2008 — Motivated by a rumor that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones handpicked the Ravens as an easier opponent for the final game at Texas Stadium, the Baltimore defense baffles Tony Romo and the Dallas offense for three quarters in a 33-24 win that few expected.
Once Dallas finally begins to move the ball successfully in the fourth quarter, the Ravens respond with a 77-yard touchdown run by McGahee and an 82-yard scoring rush by McClain. The win puts the Ravens in prime position to grab a playoff berth with a win over Jacksonville in Week 17.
Dec. 28, 2008 — Needing a win to clinch a playoff spot, the Ravens dominate the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 27-7 rout in the regular season finale. Flacco throws for 297 yards, and the defense holds David Garrard to 127 passing yards.
Reed finishes a banner season with two more interceptions, giving him an NFL-leading nine for the season. The win sets up a Wild Card round match with the Miami Dolphins. "We have an opportunity to prove we're the best team in the NFL," Harbaugh said.
"That's what we're going to try to do."