Eventually, everything seemed to become a hiccup. In November, the league threatened to suspend Reed because of a helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but after an appeal, it overturned the suspension and reduced the punishment to a $50,000 fine.
The Ravens lost their first three games in December, looking less and less like the team that was expected to be a Super Bowl contender.
But they pushed through.
“For us to overcome a lot of things, not only injuries but some family problems with Torrey’s family, everything that has happened with our team, I think we all just understand that we’re a family here, and we can lean on each other and depend on each other,” Ngata said.
“I think we are such a close team here now that we just always went against the naysayers [of] our team and have overcome a lot of difficulties.”
They all remember the somber tenor of that visitors’ locker room after last year’s loss to the Patriots. Some carry it more than others.
A dropped pass in the end zone, a missed field goal, eye-blink moments in a 60-minute game were the difference between going to the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 years and spending an offseason replaying a lost season in their minds.
On the road back to the AFC Championship, the Ravens seemed to hit every possible pothole.
“I think the things you go through, through the course of a season, really mold you as a football team, define you and help you learn and grow,” said tight end Dennis Pitta.
“We’ve been through a lot. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and through all that we’ve learned a lot and we feel better prepared now than we ever have in this position.”
They have started to believe that it’s fate, especially after needing a near-miracle to come back from a touchdown deficit with less than a minute left to beat the Broncos last week. Rice has called the Ravens a “team of destiny,” and his teammates have bought in.
“I think the thing that he is speaking about, when you do hear him speak about it, is how we kept fighting, how we kept keeping each other up, no matter who got hurt,” Lewis said. “That’s kind of the staple that we’ve had around here for a very, very long time.”
They’ve adopted an iron-sharpens-iron attitude toward adversity.
When the Ravens beat the Colts in the wild-card round, Harbaugh gave the team his message, then asked Lewis if he wanted to add anything. Lewis didn’t have to remind anyone in the locker room, but he did.
He told the team, “We have a lot of reasons to keep going.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.