Insight to the Limelight - Wrap It Up

Posted Jan 10, 2008

By Patrick Gleason

I suppose it’s time to wrap it up. No doubt, our season didn’t pan out quite like we had hoped.

I suppose it’s time to wrap it up.

No doubt, our season didn’t pan out quite like we had hoped. Regardless, as we venture into 2008 with high hopes, I feel it’s only appropriate to look back on ‘07 and take it for what it’s worth. To do so, I’ve enlisted help from a group of people I’ve seen basically every day since we kicked off training camp last July.

Curious? Let me explain…

Five local newspapers follow the Ravens year-round: the Baltimore Examiner, Baltimore Sun, Carroll County Times,Press Box and Washington Post. We have seven “beat” reporters who cover us on a daily basis, with the Sunsupplying the most at three. Each reporter is usually here for every practice, open locker room interview session and press conference. They also attend each game – home and away. Because of this, our beat reporters have established a rapport with most of our coaches and players. They also know quite a bit about our team because it’s their job to gain – and accurately report – information to the fans. In essence, beat writers are usually objective and focused on disseminating the facts. Not often do they insert opinion into a story, unlike newspaper columnists are paid to do.

So when you see a game recap, practice report or feature article published in the paper, it was probably written by a beat reporter who was there in person, witnessed first-hand what happened and then actually spoke with those involved. In large part, it’s these people who make it possible for me to have the job I do. And in all reality, they are the ones generating the limelight and shining the spotlight.

That being said, I decided to ask our beat writers to share their opinions on several topics regarding our '07 season. I posed six questions/categories to each, ranging from the most memorable moment to the team MVP. Listed alphabetically in order of publication, here is what they had to say:

Matt Palmer

Best Individual Single-Game Performance: “Ray Lewis’ [23-tackle] game against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Ray’s taken his knocks for aging, but that performance, which included an interception for a touchdown, reminded many of us in the business that we were getting paid to watch a legend play football.”

Most Memorable Play/Moment: “There are two moments – which are not exactly fondly remembered by Ravens fans – that really defined the season for me. Phil Dawson’s controversial field goal kick that bounced off the post twice and back onto the field was a stunner. Also, Dolphins receiver Greg Camarillo’s overtime touchdown catch really drove home the season’s struggles.

“One positive moment was Samari Rolle standing in front of the media and revealing his epilepsy. It took courage for him to do that, and I know a lot of guys in the press corps walked away with a new respect for him.”

Breakout Season: “I think people finally saw Devard Darling come out of his shell. It remains to be seen if he will be a part of the team’s future, but so many people had written his career off.”

Rookie of the Year: “Yamon Figurs. He definitely made his share of mistakes, but he showed his big-play potential with two touchdown returns. He could become one of the most explosive return men over the next few seasons.”

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: “No one on the team deserves more league-wide recognition than Kelly Gregg. He’s one of the best defensive tackles in the league.”

Most Valuable Player: “The Ravens have one player who can legitimately turn a game on its head – Ed Reed. He’s an incredible athlete who played through pain, while fellow secondary members were lost for the season. He’s scary good.”

Jamison Hensley
Most Memorable Play/Moment: “In a season defined by injuries, the Ravens were still able to win at San Francisco despite playing with one of the youngest lines in NFL history. There were three rookies (Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda and Jared Gaither), a second-year player (Chris Chester) and a second-year starter (Jason Brown).”

Breakout Season: “Jason Brown.”

Rookie of the Year: “Ben Grubbs.”

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: “Haloti Ngata.”

Most Valuable Player: “Willis McGahee.”

Ed Lee
Best Individual Single-Game Performance: “Ray Lewis' 23-tackle, one-interception-return-for-a-touchdown effort vs. Cleveland was a vivid reminder of his ability on the field. He was like a tornado out there.”

Most Memorable Play/Moment: “It's not one the Ravens will think fondly of, but Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal to send the game into overtime in Week 11 is burned into my memory. Aside from the controversy surrounding the football bouncing off the crossbar extension and whether the officials could review the play, I thought it sort of symbolized the hurdles set before the Ravens.”

Breakout Season: “Haloti Ngata should have made the Pro Bowl. He has overpowered single matchups, thusly drawing double teams. He has broken up plays in the backfield and contributed to a Ravens’ rush defense that was ranked second in the NFL.”

Rookie of the Year: “Yamon Figurs became the first Raven to return a kick and punt for touchdowns in the same year. As unfortunate as it sounds, he has made fans forget about the loss of B.J. Sams.”

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: “Kelly Gregg continues to work in the shadows, but his teammates understand his value to the defense. Like Ngata, Gregg consistently fights through double teams and has solidified the Ravens’ rush defense.”

Most Valuable Player: “Willis McGahee was one of the few bright spots in the offense. Five 100-yard games, a streak of seven consecutive games with a rushing touchdown, and 43 catches for 231 yards – McGahee validated the front office's decision to acquire him.”

Don Markus
Best Individual Single-Game Performance: “Ray Lewis' 23 tackles vs. Cleveland.”

Most Memorable Play/Moment: “The game-losing touchdown vs. Dolphins or Matt Stover's game-winning field goal as time expired vs. the Cardinals.”

Breakout Season: “Jason Brown became one of the best offensive guards in the league despite being surrounded by rookies.”

Rookie of the Year: “Troy Smith based on what he did the last three games and Marshal Yanda for what he did over the course of the season.”

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: “Kelly Gregg.”

Most Valuable Player: “Derrick Mason.”

Aaron Wilson
Best Individual Single-Game Performance: “Willis McGahee single-handedly carried the Ravens on his back in a narrow loss to the undefeated New England Patriots, spinning linebacker Junior Seau like a top and bulling past former Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas.”

Most Memorable Play/Moment: “Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson's kick ricocheting off the crossbar and landing on the support post to force overtime, and the bizarre sequence that followed with the officials huddling for several minutes before declaring it a successful field goal and the Ravens' players having to leave the locker room for an overtime period they ultimately lost on another Dawson field goal. Pretty surreal, unforgettable turn of events.”

Breakout Season: “In his second year in the league, big defensive tackle Haloti Ngata recorded 94 tackles, also finishing with three sacks and a forced fumble. It was a Pro Bowl-worthy campaign.”

Rookie of the Year: “First-round pick Ben Grubbs is a cornerstone for the future at right offensive guard.”

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: “Nose guard Kelly Gregg probably generated his best season yet, but it went unnoticed on a losing team. He had over 100 tackles and a career-high three sacks. He also occupied blockers, which helped allow linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott to combine for over 300 tackles. Gregg and Ngata likely split Pro Bowl balloting, and the players selected ahead of them were deserving candidates, who all played on winning teams.”

Most Valuable Player: “Willis McGahee. Without McGahee's running presence, there's no telling how much more disastrous this season could have been. At times, he was the only real offensive weapon the Ravens could turn to. Most of the time, it wasn't enough to win the game, but he allowed the Ravens to be competitive in several contests.”

Joe Platania
Most Memorable Play: “This sort of category has to feature something that happened in a win, so I'll take Yamon Figurs' 75-yard punt return score against Arizona. It was the first time Figurs had broken one all the way, even though he proved he could do it at any time. Secondly, it gave the Ravens a 20-3 halftime lead in a game they had to hang on to win.”

Individual Single-Game Performance: “Willis McGahee proved he could be the versatile back he was billed to be, especially when he gashed the New England defense for 138 rushing yards and four receptions for 21 yards. His 17-yard touchdown run in that game was especially compelling, showing the brute force with which he attacked his new surroundings.”

Breakout Season: “Haloti Ngata, without a doubt. Here's a team that already has one underrated defensive lineman (Kelly Gregg), and all of a sudden, this second-year wonder is clogging the middle in the finest Adams-Siragusa tradition.”

Rookie Of The Year: “Ben Grubbs. Here's a guy I talked about endlessly on talk radio shows before the draft and whom I penciled in as a starter before training camp. He has been solid and consistent with no real glaring errors that I can recall.”

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: “Gary Stills, because special teamers just don't get the publicity they deserve. Here's a guy who has been among the league's best at what he does, yet no one seems to know it.”

Most Valuable Player: “I'll follow the lead of the media vote and go with McGahee, who proved that this team could still have a dominant running back presence even as it was trying to shed its run-first reputation.”

Camille Powell
Best Individual Single-Game Performance: “LB Ray Lewis vs. Cleveland, Nov. 18. Seemed to be everywhere against a team that has a variety of offensive weapons, plus he had that interception return for a touchdown. And, it was fun watching him go up against Jamal [Lewis].”

Most Memorable Play/Moment: “Phil Dawson's overtime-forcing field goal in Cleveland's 33-30 win on Nov. 18. Completely surreal play that captured the bizarro nature of the season. Plus it came against the Browns, whose success – with two former Ravens (Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis) at the root of it – was a stark contrast to the Ravens' struggles.”

Breakout Season: “DT Haloti Ngata. Dominant. He’s a big reason why the Ravens were so tough against the run. Played especially well against the two best teams Baltimore faced – New England and Indianapolis.”

Rookie of the Year: “G Ben Grubbs. Steady.”

Best Contributor Who Received Least Recognition: “[Ravens VP of medical services/head trainer] Bill Tessendorf. Certainly the busiest guy.”

Most Valuable Player: “RB Willis McGahee, mainly because I can't – and don't want to – imagine what the Ravens' offense would have looked like without him.”

Here’s a common misconception I’d like to refute: Because the Ravens finished at the bottom of the AFC North in 2007, they will play a “last place schedule” in 2008, thus creating a better chance to succeed.

While it’s true that we will face Miami and Oakland – both teams that also finished last in their respective divisions – the overall notion that we have a “weak schedule” is false. Because we’ll also meet the AFC South and the NFC East in ’08, appearing on our schedule are seven teams that made the playoffs this year. That is actually more than we faced in ‘07, when we played five teams that earned postseason berths in 2006 (New York Jets, San Diego, New England, Indianapolis and Seattle). So really, here’s the fact of the matter: In the NFL, there’s never an easy path to success.

2008 Ravens Schedule

New York Giants*
*Denotes playoff team in '07

Looking ahead a little bit more, it’s clear to see that the future is bright for Ravens football. Just why, exactly? Well in 2007, the Ravens started six different rookies, tying for the second most in the NFL. Remarkably, Baltimore was the only team to have three rookies start at least one game on the offensive line, as T Jared Gaither (2), G Ben Grubbs (12) and T Marshal Yanda (12) all saw opening action. To put that fact into perspective, only two other teams (Arizona and Atlanta) even had two rookie O-linemen start in 2007. That’s pretty amazing.

Oh, and one more thing: The 16-0 New England Patriots? They did not start a single rookie in ‘07.

Teams with Most Rookies to Start in 2007
Team -- Rookies (Games Started)
Atlanta -- 7 (57)
Baltimore -- 6 (41)
Carolina -- 6 (27)
Green Bay -- 6 (31)
Indianapolis -- 6 (42)
Miami -- 6 (40)

The Ravens’ run defense finished the year ranked No. 2 in the NFL, allowing just 79.3 yards per game. Additionally, Baltimore was the only team that did not allow a 100-yard rusher. Currently, the Ravens have gone 19 games (the NFL’s longest streak) without permitting a 100-yard back. Anchoring our stout defensive unit in 2007 was Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata, one of whom – if not both – deserved Pro Bowl honors. Just how disruptive was this remarkable duo? Combining to produce 205 total tackles, Gregg (111) and Ngata (94) broke the Ravens’ record for combined tackles by a D-line tandem. Here are the top D-line duos in team history:

Ravens Top D-Line Tandems / Single-Season Tackle Totals
2007, Kelly Gregg (111) / Haloti Ngata (94) = 205 total tackles
2000, Michael McCrary (103) / Rob Burnett (97) = 200 total tackles
1998, Michael McCrary (102) / James Jones (75) = 177 total tackles
*Both Gregg's and Ngata's tackles are career highs

Thousand-yard performers the Ravens produced on offense, with WR Derrick Mason reeling in a career-high 103 catches for 1,087 yards and RB Willis McGahee rumbling for 1,207 yards. The “dual thousands” marked the first time in Ravens history that both a receiver and running back cracked the 1,000-yard barrier in the same season.

Points by K Matt Stover, who hit the 100 mark for the fifth straight season and 11th time in his career. With 1,822 career points, Stover stands fourth on the NFL’s all-time scoring list. Not too shabby for one of the best booters to ever play the game.

Total attendance in the NFL in 2007, setting a new record with an average of 67,738 fans per game. Additionally, NFL games were the top-rated program in local NFL TV markets a record 86 percent of the time (the previous record was 80 percent in 2006). Talk about being in the limelight!

Well that’s it for now. I plan on continuing this blog during the offseason, so please check back. The early part of 2008 will be exciting, especially as we continue our head-coaching search and prep for the NFL Draft.

As always, thank you for reading! Until next time…

(Patrick "Baltimore" Gleason is the Ravens' public relations coordinator. He just completed his third season with the team.)


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