Putting Ravens' season in perspective

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh noticed a similar look in his players' eyes when meeting with them for the final time this season.

"I see guys that are a cross between a little -- I don't know if 'stunned' is the right word -- but this is not something they're used to, and they're a little bit ticked off," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens didn't make the playoffs for the first time in Harbaugh's six seasons with the team, so there is going to be heightened criticism on why they failed to measure up this year. But, if you're putting everything in the proper perspective, this season was disappointing but far from devastating.

Baltimore had a chance to win the division with two weeks left in the season, and it had a shot to earn a playoff berth in the final one. Yes, Baltimore failed to return to the playoffs like Denver, New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. But it could've been worse. Much worse. The Ravens' season didn't bottom out like the Houston Texans (2-14) and Atlanta Falcons (4-12), two division winners who entered the season with championship aspirations just like Baltimore.

"Over the last couple months, we battled, and it's tough to see it end like this," running back Ray Rice said. "We could've done some great things, and we'll just try to bounce back and get back to where we need to get back to next year.”

The Ravens are a victim of their own success. It was 14 years ago, in coach Brian Billick's first season, that an 8-8 season was lauded as a success. It says a lot about how the Ravens' franchise has grown when breaking even is considered an underachievement.

There were a lot of changes made to the Ravens -- the most turnover in a starting lineup ever for a defending Super Bowl champion -- but I still predicted they would win the division because of the talent that remained. But what record would you have predicted if I told you this: Joe Flacco would throw a career-high 22 interceptions, Ray Rice would average a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry and the defense would allow a franchise-worst 134 points in the fourth quarter. Now, 8-8 doesn't seem as bad.

What kept the Ravens from living up to expectations was their inability to beat the NFL's top teams. Baltimore was 1-4 against playoff teams. The Ravens were outscored in losses to Denver, New England and Cincinnati -- the AFC's top three seeds -- by a combined score of 124-51.

What kept the Ravens from making the playoffs were road losses to two last-place teams. Defeats at Buffalo and Cleveland were the difference between an 8-8 season and a 10-6 one.

This sense of disappointment led Harbaugh to wrap up his end-of-the-season press conference by saying, "I'm sorry that we didn't live up to that standard this year, but we will be back."