The Ravens wish they were still playing, but believe their window to win a Super Bowl remains wide open.
The Bengals are heading to the AFC championship and the Ravens had them on the ropes in the wild-card round, and that was without Lamar Jackson playing. Baltimore's defense put a cap on Cincinnati's high-powered offense in three meetings this season, showing the Ravens had what it takes even though they ultimately fell short.
"We have a really good football team," Head Coach John Harbaugh said during the team's season review press conference last week. "We're kind of on a curve of building this football team right now, and we have been on it for about three years, I'd say, putting this thing together.
"You can see the pieces coming together; you can see it coming together on the field in terms of scheme and process, personnel and coaching. A lot of hard work has gone into it, and I think it's starting to become apparent where we're going. So, I'm really excited about it."
Baltimore made the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons in 2022, despite Jackson missing the final six games. So much of the team's immediate future revolves around Jackson, who the Ravens still strongly hope to sign to a long-term extension.
But even without Jackson down the stretch, the Ravens improved from 8-9 in 2021 to 10-7 in 2022. They also acquired numerous players who will continue to play key roles next season like All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith, center Tyler Linderbaum, safety Kyle Hamilton, right tackle Morgan Moses and tight end Isaiah Likely.
Five of Baltimore's seven defeats during the regular season were by seven points or less, and they lost fourth-quarter leads to Miami, Buffalo, the Giants, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh. During their 24-17 loss to the Bengals in Wild-Card Weekend, the Ravens were driving for the potential go-ahead touchdown when Tyler Huntley's fumble and Sam Hubbard's 98-yard touchdown return became the final obstacle that Baltimore couldn't overcome.
Had the Ravens been better at closing out fourth quarters, perhaps they would still be playing. However, their season ended with a valiant effort in Cincinnati, and they have a talented nucleus returning.
Preparing for his 16th season as the winningest coach in franchise history, Harbaugh is ready to rejuvenate and reload for next year, and General Manager Eric DeCosta likes the Ravens' position as a playoff-caliber team that doesn't have to overhaul the roster.
"Our goal is to be a really competitive, strong team every single year," DeCosta said. "John jokes with me all the time; he doesn't really have any interest, at this stage of his coaching career, being in a total rebuild and what that entails, and I really don't either. Our goal is to always have that window open, when we can compete to win the whole thing.
"This team was really close in a lot of ways. We could have won a lot more games and probably could have lost some games, too - no doubt about that. But when we look at the team, and when we look at the roster, we see the talent that we have, [and] I think John and I are both encouraged that we have the potential to build something that's sustainable over a long period of time. We can win a lot of football games - we've seen it - and we can go very far in the playoffs [with] John as a head coach and with the right players on the field."
The Ravens have five draft picks this year and enough salary cap flexibility to add talent with a strategic approach, even if Jackson is signed to a long-term deal.
"We're fortunate I think that we have a better salary cap [situation] than most," DeCosta said. "We have a lot more room than most teams do, which was by design three or four years ago. It gives us a couple different options. It's not going to be a situation where the market's open, and we're just going and signing guys left and right. That's not going to happen in any way. We'll be selective, we'll be targeted, and we'll find guys like we always do that we think can build this team and help us be the best we can be."
The Ravens watched the Divisional Playoffs this weekend, envious that they were not participanting, but believing they will be next year.
"I want to thank John and the coaches and the players for all the work they did this offseason," DeCosta said. "We overcame a lot of different adversities along the way. [I'm] very proud of the team; it wasn't the ending that we wanted, but as John alluded to, I think we're on the right path."