Unable to do anything more to affect their outlook after a late-season collapse
that included four losses in the past six games, the Ravens watched the Denver Broncos claim the sixth and final AFC playoff spot with a win over the
The Ravens (9-7) missed the playoffs for the second time in five years, and nearly squandered a 27-7 lead to the Dolphins.
"It's definitely tough to take because we had high expectations to make the Super Bowl," defensive end Tony Weaver said in a telephone interview from an Owings Mills restaurant after observing wins by the Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars. "We're very disappointed because of what happened to us. "And when you're watching second-stringers out there for the Colts, you kind of lose hope from the very beginning. We did our job, and we try to take solace in that."
To claim the final wild-card berth in the AFC, the Ravens needed all sorts of help. They needed the Buffalo Bills to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the early game, which they cooperated by doing as Ravens coach Brian Billick forbid the score from being displayed on the scoreboard.
The other half of the equation occurred a few hours after Billick said he was taking Chinese food to his home and devoting his eyes to the television screen to cheer for the Colts and Oakland Raiders.
"I"m going to dog-cuss any coach that doesn't get it done," Billick said.
Baltimore did its part with a game-high 167 rushing yards from Jamal Lewis, giving him 1,006 for the season, and withstood a kickoff return for a touchdown and a safety in the second half to hold on for the win.
"We knew it was a long shot, but you hold out hope and let the chips fall where they may," defensive end Marques Douglas said after the Ravens' fate was determined. "We're not in the playoffs, and we have a lot to work on.
"It's really tough on us that we're going to be home. You try to understand why it happened and work that much harder to prevent it next year."
The Ravens had starters miss a combined 50 games due to injuries. Their final week was marked by debate regarding locker room discord after Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Mcalister declared it was a divided locker room, an opinion refuted by teammates and Billick.
Scrutiny of embattled offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, including reports that declared he would be fired after the season, dominated conversation. Billick declined to address Cavanaugh's situation after the game.
Despite the turmoil, the Ravens focused on the job at hand and handled the Dolphins.
"You can't really think about the past," linebacker Ed Hartwell said. "What happened happened."
Losses to the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals severely hurt the Ravens' postseason chances. The Ravens' second-half swoon looked eerily familiar to losses to the Bengals, New England Patriots, Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"If there is anybody to blame for the situation, it's definitely us," linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
Added quarterback Kyle Boller: "We had opportunities and a couple of games, we let slip."
The Ravens intercepted Miami quarterback Sage Rosenfels three times in his first NFL start.
Defensive end Jarret Johnson tipped a Rosenfels pass to himself for his first NFL touchdown. Weaver intercepted another errant Rosenfels throw.
And Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, the likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year, intercepted his ninth pass of the season. His 41-yard return set an NFL record with 358 interception return yards, surpassing Charlie McNeil's old mark of 349 set in 1961 with the San Diego Chargers.
Reed dismissed reports about dissension, downplaying McAlister's remarks. The Ravens were announced as a team instead of the usual individual player introductions traditionally punctuated by Ray Lewis' trademark pregame dance.
"There was a never a separation from the beginning," Reed said. "No players are against any players in the locker room. We're a team, and we're going to be a team regardless of if we win or lose."
The Ravens won without linebacker Ray Lewis (broken wrist), endured Gary Baxter being burned for a 76-yard touchdown catch by Chris Chambers on the first play from scrimmage and allowed Miami rookie Wes Welker to return a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
After Baxter bit on the double move, Baltimore immediately answered with a drive capped by a 1-yard shovel pass from Boller to tight end Terry Jones.
Up 20-7 at halftime, the Ravens boosted their advantage with a 2-yard run by Lewis early in the third quarter. He ran through pain, gaining plenty of yards despite a sprained right ankle.
The Ravens were leading 10-7 when Johnson tipped a pass with his left arm and gathered it in to ramble 6 yards for first NFL touchdown.
Baltimore was leading 30-21 after a 33-yard Matt Stover field goal when Dolphins running back Travis Minor appeared to score a touchdown. Officials ruled he came up short, and Weaver stopped the drive with an interception.
When Jamal Lewis fumbled, Boller recovered the football in the end zone with 10:13 left for a safety.
"If we could win 40-7, that would be great," Boller said, "but that's the way it is. I think it helps you to go through experiences like this."
Now, the Ravens head into an evaluation period that's likely to spawn changes in personnel and possibly the coaching staff. Unrestricted free agents include Baxter, Hartwell, center Casey Rabach, offensive guard Bennie Anderson, receiver Travis Taylor and Douglas.
"We have to go back to the drawing board," Douglas said. "We need to shore some things up and make sure it doesn't happen again."
As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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