Fans have, and will continue to, question whether the Ravens can win a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron.
Running back Ray Rice's abilities and impact on the offense are clear, but the hot topic seemingly after every loss this season centered around the future of Flacco and Cameron and whether the Ravens would be better off replacing either their quarterback, offensive coordinator or even both.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome seem to have no such doubts about where this team can go with Flacco and Cameron on board.
Both Bisciotti and Newsome put their full weight behind Flacco and Cameron yesterday, indicating they hope to sign their quarterback to a long-term deal and saying that at no point did they have thoughts about replacing Cameron following the Ravens' postseason loss to New England.
"We got four good years out of Joe; he's trending up," Bisciotti said. "This is the sweet spot for him, Years Five through 10. We think our numbers are going to continue to go forward, and we think Joe and Cam together will get that done in Year Five rather than scrapping that, getting a new offensive coordinator and trying to install a new system. I think they're getting pretty comfortable with each other."
Flacco has 44 career regular-season wins, the most by a quarterback in his first four seasons in NFL history. He's also the first quarterback to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first four years, and has won at least one postseason game each of those seasons.
Still, Flacco's abilities are constantly brought into question, which clearly bugs Bisciotti. Asked yesterday what part of this season frustrated him the most, the Ravens owner didn't point to a specific issue on the field, as he had in years past, but instead to the seemingly weekly criticism of his quarterback.
"I don't think that I've ever seen a guy as maligned as him," Bisciotti said. "Joe doesn't get his due. That's happened a lot with him, where he's produced pretty well. We're going to stay the course. We believe in him."
The Ravens also believe in Cameron, which is why, they say, they immediately decided to retain their offensive coordinator after being knocked out of the playoffs, instead of looking around for an outside option.
Traditionally a defense-first franchise, the Ravens' offense has statistically improved under Cameron, and Bisciotti made sure yesterday to point out numbers comparing the 2008-2011 seasons to previous years when points were seemingly always hard to come by. The success has been inconsistent, however (the Ravens' offense ranked 18th, 13th, 22nd and 15th the last four seasons), and that inconsistency has left some fans clamoring for a new play-caller.
That's a portion of the fan base Bisciotti says he doesn't understand.
"It's not like we have a Triple-A system where (coaches) are batting .400 and everybody knows that it's time to move them up to the big leagues," Bisciotti said. "To go out and get a position coach and make him an offensive coordinator and find out that he wasn't better than what you had ... That's all I'm saying. I'm looking at these trends, and a logical businessman would say that we're making progress. So I don't know if I have a message for that 10 percent of the fans with that vitriol. I just don't have an answer for them. I just don't. I'm sorry."
"Are we satisfied with where we are right now? No," Newsome added. "But we think the best way to get there is to maintain the continuity of having Cam and then to bring in someone like a Jim Caldwell (Baltimore's new quarterbacks coach) to be another set of eyes with that."
One line of thought is that the Ravens shouldn't be satisfied with merely making the playoffs or reaching the conference title game. The goal is to win Super Bowls, which hasn't been accomplished in the four seasons with Flacco and Cameron running the offense.
The other line of thought is that this team was one play from an AFC Championship and the Ravens' brass shouldn't dramatically switch things up and risk taking a giant step back.
Bisciotti, Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh are pleased with the way their team is trending and feel they can reach the next level with their current offensive core. And that's why we'll see Flacco and Cameron together again in 2012.