Ray Lewis makes his final exit of M&T Stadium
The Ravens' remarkable run is over, the parade route is finally cleared out, and the Lombardi Trophy is safely locked up at the Ravens' Under Armour Performance Center, with the players' fingerprints all over it -- remember, they would not touch or even look at it before the Super Bowl on Ray Lewis' orders.
It won't be long before the Ravens begin to turn their attention to the 2013 season. Heck, the Scouting Combine is just a few weeks away. But before we rush into 2013, it's time to look back at this remarkable 2012 season that ended with the Super Bowl title.
It was a wild ride that included a lot of ups (the last-second win over New England), some downs (a loss at Philadelphia) and a lot in between (did this team really almost lose to the Chiefs?). But in the end, as the players vowed they would, they righted the ship after a late three-game losing streak and made Ray Lewis' 'last ride' one to remember.
Now it's time to hand out our highly unofficial 2012 Ravens End-of-Season Awards. The envelopes, please ...
The Coaching Move of the Year:
The Ravens made a bold move when they fired Cam Cameron and inserted Jim Caldwell as the offensive coordinator late in the season. But even more impressive was the decision to essentially rebuild the offensive line for the playoffs.
Bryant McKinnie moved out of the Ravens doghouse and into the starting left tackle spot, making his first start all season in the first round of the playoffs. That created a chain reaction that shifted Michael Oher to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele to left guard, where he hadn't played all season. He became the fourth different player to start at left guard. Center Matt Birk and right guard Marshal Yanda remained their steady selves.
As the playoffs were about to begin, the Ravens effectively changed 60 percent of their offensive line. And it made all the difference. Joe Flacco threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs, and for the most part had all the time he needed.
If the offensive line didn't block, it wouldn't have mattered whether it was Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell or Vince Lombardi calling the plays. The switch was ostensibly caused by Jah Reid's toe injury, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the move was also about getting the five best players on the field.
In his news conference after winning the Super Bowl MVP Award, Flacco said, "Our offensive line has played very well since I’ve been here, but the last four games have just been unbelievable. The way they’ve been able to protect and give me the time back there and let our guys actually go to work and get open. No credit usually goes to those guys, but they’re the reason that I’m standing here today and that we are Super Bowl champs."
Up next: The Offseason Signing of the Year