OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens players certainly did not expect to be here, early on Sunday morning, filling heavy-duty trash bags and pondering an offseason that came upon them as quickly as a blind-side sack.
“I think everyone’s just shocked,” fullback Patrick Ricard said.
“Obviously, it’s a shocker,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “I don’t think anyone thought we were going to feel this way today.”
The Ravens, who had won 12 games in a row en route to a franchise-best 14-2 regular-season record and the No. 1 seeding in the AFC, were left to lament their lost opportunity and clean out their lockers a day after they were upset, 28-12, by the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs Jan. 11.
The Ravens, a 10-point favorite at home, fell behind 14-0 and never recovered, hurt by a lack of rhythm on offense and the complete inability to stop Titans running back Derrick Henry, who finished with 30 carries for 195 yards.
It marked the second straight year the Ravens lost their playoff opener, but this one perhaps stings more given the expectations that came with the Ravens being the No. 1 seed.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who after the game had said that the Ravens’ identity is “to get to the playoffs and choke,” didn’t back off those comments the next morning.
“I stand by that,” Humphrey said. “You are what you show on paper and what you show on the field, and that’s what we’ve shown on the field.”
Defensive lineman Michael Pierce, who might have played his last game as a Raven, said, “I’m just disappointed. The run that we were on, we really, really planned on that continuing. … It’s sunk in. It’s just disappointing.”
Pierce is one of the team’s pending free agents, and as always at the end of an NFL season, the locker-room cleanout carried the subtext of change, knowing some players won’t be back next year. Pierce, linebacker Matthew Judon, cornerback Jimmy Smith and linebacker Patrick Onwuasor are among the pending free agents.
All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda is considering retirement after his 13th season, and veteran defensive back Brandon Carr will be gone if the Ravens don’t pick up his option.
Even as they spoke of the shocking, abrupt end to the season, though, Ravens players also spoke optimistically about the future, with virtually the entire offense under contract to return, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, the front-runner for the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
The Ravens’ offense this year succeeded at a historic level. The Ravens set an all-time NFL record for rushing yardage (3,296), and became the first team in NFL history to average at least 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing per game.
Jackson finished with 1,206 rushing yards, the most ever in a single season by an NFL quarterback, and he also led the league with 36 touchdown passes.
The Ravens also will return all three running backs, all three tight ends who were linchpins of their offense, virtually the entire offensive line and three of their top receivers in Marquise Brown, Willie Snead and Miles Boykin.
“There’s a lot to look forward to,” Andrews said. “Obviously it’s hard to do that right now but … we have all the pieces. This is a young group. The sky’s really the limit. I’m excited to get back here and start working again.”
Still smarting from the loss, the Ravens tried to find solace in what they had accomplished throughout the past four months.
“This was a special team,” Andrews said. “This was the most fun I’ve ever had playing football. … Best team I’ve ever been a part of.”
Said cornerback Marcus Peters: “It was fun while it lasted.”
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