For Ravens fans, what you make of the just completed worst season since 2007 is based largely on what you make of the following numbers: Two, four, five, six, 14 and 19.
Those are not the winning Powerball lottery numbers, but each of them says something about what transpired in Baltimore professional football this past fall. The two refers to the number of wins the Ravens posted over their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Say whatever you want about how poorly the Ravens season went – and it was, at times, horrific – but the winter will be made a little less colder for true Baltimoreans with the memory of the late December win over Pittsburgh.
The four is a reference to the number of quarterbacks who started a game this year for the Ravens. We expected one of them, Joe Flacco, to go the route as the starter. He had done that for every game of his previous 7 ½ seasons. But when Flacco went down with a knee injury in November, the season, which was already careening off the tracks, cratered. One of the three others – Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clauson and Ryan Mallett – may emerge as Flacco’s backup next year, and could actually open the season as the starter if Flacco’s not ready. Based on what we saw, Mallett, who came to the Ravens late in the season, would be the favorite to return, provided he doesn’t get a chance to start somewhere else.
If that happens, one of those numbers, six, may come into play, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We first have to deal with five, the number of wins the Ravens amassed, to go along with 11 losses.
That five is the second lowest in franchise history. The last time a Ravens coach won just five games in a season, that coach, Brian Billick, was fired. That’s not likely to happen to Billick’s successor, John Harbaugh, mostly because of the number 19, which we will get to later. But this does mark the second season in the last three that Harbaugh has missed the playoffs, and he probably won’t get a chance to go four for five.
The six refers to the Ravens’ draft position. General manager Ozzie Newsome will have to decide whether to use that pick on Flacco’s backup-slash-replacement. Or Newsome could decide to address another need, say the offensive or defensive line or the beleaguered secondary.
Let’s go to 14. That represents the number of games the Ravens played that were decided by eight points – a touchdown and a two-point conversion -- or less. That number suggests that the Ravens, who won five of those games, played hard, even through the misery, which means they didn’t give up.
Finally, there’s 19. That’s the number of players who ended the season on injured reserve. It was a Ravens team record and the highest in the league, according to the team’s website. The optimist will believe that that 19 can’t be that high next year. The pessimist will wonder if the injuries aren’t a sign of something larger.
However, you juggle these numbers, Baltimore football fans are left with these figures to ponder. It will be three months before the Orioles start the 2016 season, and nine months before the Ravens kick off again.