Finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the first time in six years was enough to leave every member of the Ravens’ braintrust frustrated and upset.
Owner Steve Bisciotti - joining general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh and president Dick Cass on the annual “State of the Ravens” panel - relayed as much on Wednesday. Bisciotti expected more this year, even if it was a season of transition for Baltimore.
As a longtime business owner, Bisciotti said he is pulled to make both the knee-jerk reaction and the more patient one when things don’t work out the way he wants.
“I think your heart wants to react quickly. I think your head, if you are a wise businessman, you take time, and you listen to a lot of people, and you contemplate a lot of different things,” Bisciotti said. “But failure is part of success. We’re all very disappointed here, as disappointed, obviously, as our fans are - more so. I’m comfortable with where we are; I’m comfortable where we’re headed.”
That doesn’t mean it was comfortable for Bisciotti to be looking back on a season that ended with the Ravens outside the AFC’s top six. So what is the owner’s top priority toward getting things back to the successful place he’s become accustomed to?
“Supporting these guys (Newsome and Harbaugh). That’s it. My role really doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s to support my coach and my GM and get this thing moving in the right direction. We had a lot of failures on the football field - offense and defense - and so I know they’ve got their work cut out for them. So it’s to be a sounding board to them and encourage them to make the kind of decisions that they believe are the right ones for us. And I love that part of the job.
“Even under duress, I still love that part of the job. I think I’ve said to you guys in the past, I really love the offseason more than the season itself because of the lack of stress involved in that. I just sit back and start worrying from Thursday on for 17 weeks of the year and pray for good outcomes. So the offseason is really just an extension of Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays overcoming losses in the regular season. It’s just the macro scale here in the offseason.”
Even though Bisciotti expressed that the team had “a lot of failures on the football field,” he prefers to leave most of that analysis to Newsome, Harbaugh and their staffs.
But Bisciotti did provide an extensive response when asked about what went wrong.
“That’s the hard part. I’m really not a football guy. I watch it like a fan with maybe a little more knowledge than everybody else,” he said. “And when you look at these guys who have been coaching in the league and have had success in the past, and you look at our players that have had success in the past, if we could have fixed it, we would have.
“I certainly expected more in the second half of the season. So, as interrelated as the running game is to the play-action pass and the execution of the offensive line, trying to divide up the blame is something I’m really not much more qualified than you guys are to do. But when you have a short window of failure that comes out of the blue, the key is not to make wholesale changes. I know that Ray Rice was limited this year, and Bernard Pierce was limited. And if they had been better, then maybe the offensive line would have performed better. Obviously, if the offensive line were blowing open holes, then maybe (Rice and Pierce) could have achieved more with their physical limitations. And if that had worked a little better, then I think Joe (Flacco) would have performed a little better.
“All the things, the numbers that are so striking to me to find yourself in the bottom five in offense in almost every category is again something that - had we not had a (good) history in the last five years - then I would probably demand wholesale changes. But I think you have to be careful to not to look in a vacuum and decide you have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and let people get healthy, let these guys work together for another year, add some people to the team in the draft and free agency. I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to look at the offense with the same fine-tooth comb that we looked at the defense last year. So I think you’re going to see a lot of changes in personnel and how we approach that. I’m pretty proud of the defense for being able to retool on the fly, and I’ve got the same amount of confidence with these guys in building the offense.”
Even though Bisciotti used the word “failure” multiple times, he also saw the positive side of what transpired this season.
The Ravens lost franchise cornerstones Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and endured a massive amount of turnover following the Super Bowl win. But they didn’t restructure contracts and overpay their own free agents, sacrificing future salary cap space in order to try to get back to the Super Bowl.
And still, Baltimore finished 8-8 - not 3-13 or 4-12 or the like - and ended one win shy of a sixth straight playoff berth.
“We were tied with Cincinnati in the third quarter, and we knew we needed that win. We came up a half short of being in the playoffs, and I think you saw last year that anybody can play (well once in the postseason),” Bisciotti said. “Anybody can win it; we’ve seen it in the last few years. I think it’s fair to say it’s a failure because our goal is to be one of the top 12. There are bigger failures out there. There are teams that are a whole lot more disappointed.
“If we found ourselves at 3-13, like the Falcons, then I think that they’re sitting there thinking, ‘We’ve got to make a lot of changes.’ I really don’t think that we do. If 8-8 is a failure, I hope it’s a long time before I feel worse than this. That’s just the way it goes; it really does open up. We’ve been this disappointed five of the six times we’ve sat up here with John.
“It didn’t matter. I was more disappointed two years ago after losing to New England (in the AFC championship) because it hurts worse. It doesn’t mean that our team was worse. Our team obviously wasn’t worse, or we wouldn’t have gotten there. We’re a half away from getting there, and I think we could have beaten Cincinnati like San Diego did. I’d be just as comfortable going into Denver and New England this year because of what happened last year. We’re still 10 days (removed) from losing and it still bothers us all. But quality people take that as fuel and make the most of it. I’m getting over it and I’m excited about going forward.”