The AFRO offers an analysis of every Baltimore Ravens game throughout the season, listing the Outstanding Player of the Game, Unsung Hero of the Game, and other notable efforts. With the season complete, it’s time to select the Best Ravens of the Season, honoring those who made the biggest difference in the team’s Super Bowl run. Check out our selections below, and let us know if you agree.
Most Valuable Player of the Season:
No other player was more valuable to the Ravens this season than fifth-year quarterback Joe Flacco. He made his mark in the playoffs, leading Baltimore to the Super Bowl with an impressive eight touchdowns, zero interceptions, 853 yards and a 114.7 passer rating in the post season. Without his stellar play over the last three games, the Ravens would not have had a shot at the championship.
In the past, others have argued that Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice was the most important player on the team. But it was veteran captain Ray Lewis who cleared up the confusion by passing on his title of “the General” to Flacco, not Rice. If Lewis, the greatest Raven of all Ravens, says Flacco is team’s new leader, then it’s official! No one else’s opinion really matters.
Unsung Hero of the Season:
The Ravens defense hasn’t been the dominant unit of years past largely due to injuries. They’ve had to play the majority of the season without stars such as Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, but perhaps the biggest injury this year happened to shutdown cornerback Lardarius Webb, who suffered an ACL injury early in the season. Fortunately, the Ravens signed cornerback Corey Graham during the offseason. Graham was brought on to be a special teams ace, as he was for the Chicago Bears last year. But when Webb went down, Graham stepped in and filled the void perfectly.
In only eight games as a starter, Graham recorded two interceptions, deflected eight passes and made 42 tackles—and that was just during the regular season. He turned his production up a notch during the playoffs, recording 18 tackles, five pass deflections and two interceptions, including one Peyton Manning pass returned for a touchdown in a double-overtime victory over the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs. He’s filled the role of shutdown cornerback admirably
Best Rookie of the Season:
Ravens fans still have nightmares of veteran kicker Billy Cundiff missing an easy 32-yard field goal to end last year’s AFC Championship and the Ravens’ chances of reaching the Super Bowl in 2012. Thankfully, Cundiff was soon replaced by undrafted rookie Justin Tucker, who has been nothing short of sensational for the Ravens. Tucker kicked for the University of Texas during his college years, developing a knack for nailing field goals during clutch moments in front of huge crowds. Tucker never missed a field goal in the fourth quarter during his tenure at Texas, and continued that streak into his rookie season with the Ravens. He made 30 of 33 field goal attempts in the regular season, and hasn’t missed one yet in the playoffs. Tucker’s performance recalls the contributions of another rookie, running back Jamal Lewis, during the 2000 Super Bowl run.
Most Improved Raven of the Season:
The Ravens’ front office took a huge gamble by letting veteran outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson sign with another team in free agency in the offseason. The team put their money on fourth-year linebacker Paul Kruger taking the next step in his development, and Kruger proved them right as he recorded his best season of his young career with 42 tackles, nine sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. With Terrell Suggs injured for most of the season, Kruger has become the team’s best pass-rusher; even with Suggs back on the field, Krueger has led the Ravens with 2.5 sacks during the playoffs. Now that the Ravens are in the Super Bowl, by the time the game is finished, Kruger may be a household name.
Best Offensive Player of the Season:
Joe Flacco might by the Ravens’ MVP, but there’s no better player on Baltimore’s offense than five-year running back Ray Rice. The 3-time Pro Bowler led the Ravens in yards from scrimmage with 1,143 rushing yards and 437 passing yards. Besides Flacco, no one on the team touches the ball more than Rice, who had 257 carries and 61 catches this season. He recorded a team-high 10 touchdowns in the regular season, and two in the playoffs.
Best Defensive Player(s) of the Season:
Normally this honor would be awarded to just one player, but this season there were two players equally deserving, and both play in the Ravens secondary. Nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed had another excellent season with 49 tackles, four interceptions, 15 pass deflections and three fumble recoveries. But fourth-year cornerback Cary Williams was just as good, snagging four interceptions of his own, along with 67 tackles and 17 pass deflections. Quarterbacks like to pick on Williams and throw at him often. Though he can give up big plays at times, he’s also been the most consistent defensive player on the team. He’s a vast improvement over the days when the Ravens turned to Fabian Washington or Dominique Foxworth at cornerback, and a big reason why the team is in the Super Bowl.
Best Play of the Season:
The Ravens won 10 games during the regular season, just enough to win the AFC North division. One of their 10 wins came on the road against the San Diego Chargers. But the Ravens wouldn’t have won that game if it hadn’t been for Ray Rice converting a first down on a fourth-and-29 situation in the fourth quarter. Facing a long fourth down, Flacco opted not to lob a bomb down field, but simply checked down on a short pass to Ray Rice, who dashed up the middle of the field, broke tackles by three different Chargers defenders and dove for the first down marker. The Ravens went on to force overtime and eventually win the game. The play was not only the Ravens’ best of the season, but one of the best in the NFL this year.