Ravens' John Harbaugh calls 5-win year 'one of the most rewarding seasons'

CINCINNATI -- The Baltimore Ravens' disappointing 2015 season will be defined by significant injuries, the lack of big plays on offense and an inability to create turnovers on defense.

It will also be remembered as the season in which the Ravens (5-11) tied the second-worst record in franchise history but refused to crumble. Nine of Baltimore's 11 losses were by eight points or fewer, including a season-ending 24-16 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals.

"This has been one of the most rewarding seasons I've ever had," coach John Harbaugh said. "It's hard for people on the outside to understand that, but I think if you've ever been part of a team, you would understand that. If you've ever coached or played, you understand how that could go. These guys will stand forever because of what they accomplished. Not in the win-loss column, but in the team column and family column in sticking together."

The Ravens, who had a NFL-high 20 players on injured reserve, finished the season by upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16 and leading the AFC North champion Bengals at halftime in Week 17. But turnovers -- two interceptions by quarterback Ryan Mallett -- and one play over 20 yards proved to be Baltimore's undoing Sunday in what has been a theme throughout the season.

Other teams with double-digit losses didn't hold up as well as the Ravens. Jacksonville, Cleveland and Dallas all lost by 11 points or more Sunday.

"I think this team has a lot to be proud of," kicker Justin Tucker said. "A team that struggled through the things that we struggled through, it's been a tumultuous year. To stick together like this team has -- this might sound crazy -- but it's been one of my favorite years to play football."

This was very different from 2007, the last time the Ravens went 5-11. Baltimore lost six times by at least two touchdowns that season, and the Ravens were the only team to lose to the previously winless Miami Dolphins. It eventually led to the firing of coach Brian Billick and the hiring of Harbaugh.

After going through his own 5-11 year, Harbaugh believes this will be a long-term learning experience for the team.

"I told them, you're going to talk to your kids about it," Harbaugh said. "It's easy to talk to them about the Super Bowl and the championship and the playoff games you've played in. That's all fine. But there’s a point in time when your kids are going to come to you and they’ve been going through a rough time and things aren’t going to be going well for them and you’re going to be able to relate back to your career and say ‘Let me tell you about 2015 with the Ravens and what we did and what I did and how I handled it.’ That’s pretty powerful.”