Ravens, and their fans, should expect frustration to linger for a while

It’s now been approximately 61 hours since Billy Cundiff’s field goal sailed wide left and the Ravens’ season ended, and in that time, very little of the frustration has dissipated from the Baltimore area.

Many fans are still sick with disappointment, filled with questions about the circumstances surrounding Cundiff’s miss and left wondering what could have been if only the Ravens had been able to muster four more points in New England Sunday evening.

Those feelings might hang around for a little while. You can sure bet they will at The Castle and down in Mobile, Ala., where John Harbaugh and members of the Ravens’ front office are currently scouting draft-eligible players instead of preparing gameplans for Super Bowl Sunday.

You only get so many chances at a conference championship and a shot at the Lombardi Trophy, and the Ravens let one slip away.

What particularly makes it all so painful? The way I see it, the reasons for disappointment are three-fold.

1. They thought they had it.

No, they really did. The Ravens not only thought they had what it took to make a Super Bowl run, they thought they had done it.

Multiple Ravens players have said in the last couple days that they felt like they outplayed the Patriots on Sunday, and if Lee Evans holds on to a potential touchdown pass in the final seconds or any other number of plays go slightly differently, it would have been easy to agree with them.

Joe_Flacco-John_Harbaugh-tall-playoffs-disappointed.jpgThe way that it all went down makes it that much more painful. Joe Flacco played exceptionally well. The defense held Tom Brady without a touchdown pass for just the third time in his 21 career playoff games and to the second-lowest quarterback rating of his postseason career. Overall, the Ravens not only competed on the road against the AFC’s top seed, but they hung right with the Patriots every step of the way only to come up agonizingly short.

“Everybody on this team truly, genuinely felt that this is our year,” cornerback Chris Carr said. “We really felt we were going to go to the Super Bowl. For us to lose the way we did (on Sunday), it’s extremely shocking.

“If you get blown out, you just say you lost. But when you feel like you lost to a team that’s inferior to you, you’re always going to be second-guessing, wishing you could have done this, looking at this play, looking at that play. It’s extremely unsettling.”

2. The path was as clear as it will get.

How many times will the Ravens be in the spot they were this season? They swept the division, won the AFC North and earned a first-round bye, giving them their first home playoff game in Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach. Those types of years are not easy to come by, even for franchises accustomed to winning.

On top of that, the Ravens didn’t have to face Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers at any point in the playoffs, saw the Steelers get knocked out in the wild card round of the postseason - clearing their arch rivals out of the mix - and then watched as the league’s two top offenses in terms of points scored (the Packers and Saints) both got eliminated in the NFC. If the Ravens had beaten the Patriots on Sunday, they wouldn’t have had to face one of the shoot-‘em-out teams that have given them trouble over the years, but a grind-it-out Giants team, which, while solid, would have been a more favorable matchup.

The cards all seemed to be falling into place, only the Ravens couldn’t quite get over the hump.

3. The years are ticking away.

I’m not one who buys into the idea that the Ravens have a finite time period in which they need to win a Super Bowl because of the ever-increasing age of some key players. While Ray Lewis and Ed Reed only have so many years left, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Ray Rice and Flacco have plenty of seasons in front of them. Despite popular belief, the Ravens will still field a football team once Lewis and Reed step away.

But I don’t disagree with the notion that now is the time to strike. Flacco and Rice are entering the primes of their careers. Suggs and Ngata, while they disappeared at times this season, are perennial Pro Bowlers, and Lewis and Reed can very much still bring it and impact a game in a positive way.

Every year that goes by without a Super Bowl is a year this group won’t get back.

“I’m going into year 10. Ed Reed, year 11. Ray Lewis, year 27,” Suggs joked earlier this week, before quickly turning serious. “That window of opportunity seems like it’s closing on us.”

The Ravens have a ton to be proud of this season. They accomplished many of their preseason goals and were one of only four teams playing on Sunday. And yet, that pride gets completely overshadowed by that knot in the pit in their collective stomachs.

Linebacker Jameel McClain put it accurately, and succinctly, the other day.

“Time heals all wounds,” McClain said, “but this one is going to linger for a long time.”

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