Then the first rematch with the Patriots in September was bathed in sadness. Receiver Torrey Smith’s brother was killed in a car accident a day before that game. Finding strength in his locker-room family, Smith went out and caught six passes for 127 yards and scored twice. Baltimore won.
All of this was part of a new philosophy. Gone were the days where the Ravens’ defense could dominate. Now Flacco, criticized for not being “elite” enough, had more a chance to wing it and find the likes of Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, plus Jacoby Jones, whom we’ll meet again.
Injuries nearly ruined the whole story. First, Suggs, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, tore his Achilles in the off-season and was not expected to return, but did so in October, even though he was nowhere near the dominant player he was before the injury.
But just as Suggs returned, Lewis, who had mostly avoided serious injury in his epochal 17-year career, tore a bicep. Most thought his season, even his career, was over.
Oh yes, there was also the late-season swoon, including a loss to Pittsburgh and a beatdown by Denver, that led to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron getting fired. In stepped Jim Caldwell, the one-time Colts head coach who shuffled the line around, which ended up giving Flacco more time to throw. He would take full advantage, never throwing an interception in four playoff games.
Baltimore limped to the AFC North title at 10-6. A lot of people thought that Indianapolis, inspired all season by Chuck Pagano’s leukemia fight, would show up in their old Maryland home in the first round and quickly put the reeling Ravens away.
Except that Lewis, defying all the normal healing procedures, came back and, Jan. 2, announced that he would retire. The Ravens, who swore by his leadership despite all the flack he took, past and present, now had even more emotion to draw on, and knocked out the Colts, but that was just the warm-up act.