Is the Ravens' window closing?

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens have yet to execute their first official two-minute drill of the season, but another time crunch looms over the defending AFC North champions. The clock is ticking down on the careers of several key veterans, foretelling a potentially narrowing window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl before several retirements or salary-cap casualties may commence.

Ten of the Ravens' 22 starters are ages 30 or over, including offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, quarterback Steve McNair, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive end Trevor Pryce, kicker Matt Stover, wide receiver Derrick Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle and center Mike Flynn along with cornerback Chris McAlister who just celebrated his 30th birthday.

Ogden, who's recovering from a severe toe injury, pondered retirement during the offseason and makes no guarantees beyond this year in what could prove to be the twilight of a future Hall of Fame career that has included 10 consecutive Pro Bowl selections.

Twelve seasons ago, Ogden became the Ravens' inaugural draft pick.

"I'm sure it's coming soon," Ogden said, referring to when he'll hang up his cleats. "This is year 12. I'm not going to be playing 20 years. I'm going to try to get through this season and do my best.

"When the time comes after the season, we'll see what happens. Last year was a great season, but a huge disappointment in the playoffs. We were close last year, and I want to try to get another ring before I go."

Chasing another Vince Lombardi trophy is the primary motivation for several veterans.

It has been a while since the team won Super Bowl XXXV, and it has been nearly as long since the Ravens won a playoff game at all.

Baltimore took an AFC wild-card playoff game over the Miami Dolphins during the 2001 season, but has lost its subsequent three postseason encounters.

Despite being seeded second in the AFC following a franchise-record 13-3 campaign last season, the Ravens didn't fare well in the divisional round and were expelled from the postseason with a 15-6 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

With a tougher schedule and another year under older players' belts, could this be the last shot for a distinguished group of familiar names? "Over the last couple of years, I've kind of treated each one as the last go-round," said Flynn, who has been with the team since 1997. "I'm always thinking that way. I've had a good career. I'm happy with where I am and I just want to win.

"I hope we can duplicate what we did last year. We've got to improve and build on that. It's been frustrating for me not to go further in the playoffs."

The Ravens have been acquiring younger talent to try to prepare for the eventual goodbyes to several key players, including Ogden and Lewis. For now, though, the chief focus is on winning. Not planning a farewell tour.

"When you've got future Hall of Famers playing at a Pro Bowl level, who cares if they're 32, 33 or 34," Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti said following last season. "To me, they are winners, not old."

The oldest player on the team is Stover, 39, who continues to be one of the most accurate kickers in the league. McNair, 34, Mason, 33, Flynn, 33, are the next oldest starters.

Lewis, 31, is likely to be with the Ravens for at least two more seasons, as he's under contract through 2008 at $6.5 million per year and led the Ravens in tackles again last season.

Plus, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year reported to minicamp much leaner than usual and looked like he was determined to rediscover his youth, altering his workout routine to incorporate boxing, wrestling, swimming and more sleep.

If the sand is indeed running out of the Ravens' hour glass, you couldn't tell by watching or listening to Lewis.

"It's incredible," he said with a smile. "Some people say you go in reverse once you hit the 30 mark, but I think I'm going the other way."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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