Joe Theismann is convinced that the Baltimore Ravens are primed for a trip to the Super Bowl. "You can be the first to write it: I believe the Ravens will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl," the former Washington Redskins quarterback said during a telephone interview. "I did this in 2000, you know?"
A television football analyst, Theismann predicted the Ravens would win Super Bowl XXXV over the New York Giants.
The Ravens reached the AFC North championship last season before losing to the New England Patriots. They went undefeated at home and sweeping their division series for the first time in franchise history.
"I like the Ravens," Theismann said. "They're getting better with Torrey Smith. Joe Flacco has played in a tough division for four seasons and is used to facing great defenses like the Pittsburgh Steelers twice a year.
"They've put together a darn good offensive line that got old and got better again. They've got one of the best running backs in football in Ray Rice. They've got a wide receiving corps that can threaten down the field. With a defense like the Ravens, they'll make somebody pay the price."
The Ravens were defeated by the Patriots as wide receiver Lee Evans dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass.
And former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff flubbed a rushed chip shot field goal that could have sent the game to overtime.
"It was a tough loss," quarterback Joe Flacco said during an organized team activity this spring. "I think we were all pretty crushed after that one. We've all lost big football games before. It probably won't be the last time that we will lose a big football game.
"I think the true test of a good team is how you get back up and get back after it. So far, since I have been here, we have been able to do that and we are going to treat it the same."
"It's still in the back of our minds," Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. "That was a tough loss. That was the toughest loss I've ever had to deal with, tenfold. I've never lost a game like that, so it was really tough. It's one of those where you'll never forget.
"You can't forget the hard losses like that rather than the good wins. That was a tough one to swallow, but we're obviously moving on and 2012 is a new year. So, we'll hopefully pick up right where we left off to play good football and get after teams."
The Ravens finished 13-5 last season as Rice led the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage and Flacco passed for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The defense ranked third in the NFL, but will play at least the majority of this season with NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs due to a partially torn Achilles tendon.
The Ravens lost to the Patriots despite Flacco outdueling Tom Brady, passing for 306 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 22 of 36 accuracy.
"Obviously, it hurts and it stings, but you have to get back out here," Flacco said. "We are all tough guys and understand that that kind of thing happens sometimes. Time is one thing, and getting back out here and running around and realizing that it's not the end of the world. We have to become ready to play so that we can get right back there and have the same opportunity next season."
Since last season, the Ravens have retained offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, promoted Dean Pees from defensive coordinator, retained center Matt Birk, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and inside linebacker Jameel McClain and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo and added Pro Bowl special-teamer Corey Graham and return specialist Jacoby Jones.
And the team still carries the motivation of its bitter loss to the Patriots.
"We were a catch, a field goal, whatever, we were that away from the Super Bowl," strong safety Bernard Pollard said. "But now we've got to prove to a lot of people and to ourselves that we can do the same thing again, but end up in the Super Bowl."
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