After the dust had settled on the Baltimore Ravens shattering end to the 2011 season, there was plenty of reason to be confident that they could go one better in 2012. If not for a few unlucky breaks and poor execution, they would have been facing the Giants in Indianapolis so it was not farfetched to think the team was not far off a championship appearance. Instead of going out and making a big splash in free agency, the Ravens focused on replenishing their depth and working with the guys who have brought them success so far. Their return game received a boost with the addition of receiver Jacoby Jones while cornerback Corey Graham turned into an unexpected contributor due to injuries. Their draft class brought in several other contributors too with each of their first four picks having some sort of impact on the team’s season.
Their regular season debut came on Monday Night Football where they debuted a fast-paced offense unlike anything the Ravens had seen, overall it bore great fruit as they hammered the Bengals 44-13. The next week saw a controversial loss to the Eagles before a Sunday Night AFC Championship Rematch with New England which this time, saw their last second field goal just go in for a 31-30 win. A four game winning streak ensued which ended with a 31-29 win over Dallas at me which saw Ray Lewis exit with a torn triceps which should have ended his season. The following week’s trip to Houston saw the return of Terrell Suggs in record time from an Achillies tear but it was not enough as the Texans hammered them 43-13 to send them to their bye at 5-2 and still feeling good about their chances, despite the mounting injury toll on their defense.
Their bye came at the perfect time and allowed them to reset and regroup for a second half run at the top overall seed in the AFC to give them the best possible chance at going to the Super Bowl. A four game winning streak out of their bye had them showing some impressive signs as the games became more and more important. A win in Cleveland was followed by a 35 point hammering of Oakland before a win in Pittsburgh over a Steelers team missing Big Ben. Their ninth win of the season came in extremely fortunate circumstances over San Diego where Ray Rice barely converted a 4th and 29 on the game-tying drive. While they were 9-2 and holding the second seed, there were signs that this Ravens team was barely holding on in the race for the playoffs. A loss to the Roethlisberger-less Steelers at home started off a late season skid which had many writing off their championship credentials. The lone bright spot of their December was a 33-14 win over the New York Giants to essentially eliminate them from the playoffs. Their week 17 loss to the Bengals served as little more than a preseason game and a de facto bye as they stumbled into the playoffs in the fourth seed, drawing the former Baltimore franchise, the Colts, in the opening round.
Before the Wild Card game against the Colts, the Ravens received the ultimate motivational boost to counter Indianapolis’s Chuckstrong campaign. Ray Lewis, the heart, soul and several other important organs of the Ravens team decided that these playoffs would be his final stand as an NFL player as he made a miraculous return from his triceps injury. His impact on the defense was instantly noticeable in his return as he ended the Colts fairytale run to book a trip to Denver for the divisional round. In the divisional round, Joe Flacco had a coming out party against Peyton Manning. In sub-freezing temperatures Flacco outperformed Manning and carried his offense to an overtime victory. The fifth period was only necessary thanks to a spectacular bomb down the right sideline to Jacoby Jones to tie the game with 30 seconds to play. That lead to a rematch with the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship back in the place where last season ended. Somehow the Patriots were overwhelming favourites for the game but that would count for nothing once the game started. Instead of going out and seeking revenge on the Patriots, the Ravens produced a calm, calculated, efficient and surprisingly dominating performance. Once again Flacco outperformed a future hall of famer, this time Tom Brady, and showed remarkable poise to guide his team to three unanswered second half touchdowns. A shutout by their defense in the second half was enough to end the game without much hassle and book the Ravens their first Super Bowl trip in twelve seasons.