The 2014 season will be remembered as one of the most satisfying and scandalous seasons in Baltimore Ravens history.
It began with the Ray Rice incident, which rocked the Ravens and the NFL. It ended with the Ravens celebrating their first playoff win against the Pittsburgh Steelers and coming up a few plays short in New England in an AFC divisional playoff game.
In between, the Ravens overcame numerous injuries (19 players placed on injured reserve) and a four-game suspension to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to record double-digit wins for the fourth time in five seasons.
The Ravens did get some luck along the way, too. To reach the playoffs, Baltimore had to beat only one team that finished with a winning record. The Ravens also needed Kansas City to beat San Diego in the final week of the regular season to avoid a second straight season of missing the postseason.
Still, considering the number of distractions, it's remarkable that the Ravens came within one defensive stop of reaching the AFC Championship Game.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team and be in there with that group of guys," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think you very quickly reflect when you get back in there and you realize that this season has come to an end. I think we fought all year and came together a bunch and did a lot of great things. We are not going to be there in the end, but you know, we will be back."
Team MVP: Running back Justin Forsett. No one expected Forsett to start this season, much less become the key to the Ravens' returning to the playoffs. The abrupt release of Rice and the struggles of Bernard Pierce provided an opening for Forsett, who doubled his previous career high and finished as the NFL's No. 5 rusher. A journeyman on his fourth team in four seasons, Forsett proved to be the perfect fit in the team's new stretch zone-blocking scheme with his patience and vision. He delivered 20-yard runs on what seemed like a weekly basis, and his 5.4 yards per carry topped NFL running backs. How valuable was Forsett? In the regular season, the Ravens were 6-1 when he gained over 70 yards rushing.
Best moment: In the regular season, it was Flacco becoming the fastest quarterback to throw five touchdowns in a game since the 1970 merger. He shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary in Week 6, recording all five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes, 3 seconds of the game -- more than doubling the next-quickest time. In the playoffs, the Ravens accomplished something they've never done before -- beat the Steelers in the postseason. It took two touchdown passes from Flacco and a between-the-knees interception by linebacker Terrell Suggs for the Ravens to knock off Pittsburgh in the wild-card round. In many ways, this was the Ravens' personal Super Bowl.
Worst moment: It was unquestionably Rice's domestic violence case. Was there a worse moment in the NFL this year? After months of publicly supporting the running back -- from owner Steve Bisciotti to general manager Ozzie Newsome to coach John Harbaugh -- the Ravens quickly cut ties with Rice in Week 2 after the in-elevator video of him knocking out his then-fiancée went viral. The Ravens and the NFL were in the national spotlight for their mishandling of the incident. The team did its best to distance itself from the No. 2 rusher in franchise history, going as far as holding a jersey exchange at its stadium. Still, the Rice scandal hovered over the Ravens throughout the season.
2015 outlook: The Ravens are in a much better position than they were at this time last year. Flacco enjoyed a career season, the running game rebounded and the pass rush caused teams to fear the Ravens' defense once again. The Ravens need to address three free-agent starters on offense (Forsett, wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels), but the priority is to fix a depleted secondary that proved to be the team's downfall in the playoffs. If the Ravens can bring in playmakers to the defensive backfield, they would have a legitimate shot at winning another Super Bowl.