6:32 PM PST, January 24, 2013
When almost everyone else thought the team was coming apart, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome thought his team was coming together.
It's hard to see a turnaround when a team fires its offensive coordinator during a losing streak late in the season, but Newsome didn't blink after the 34-17 loss to Denver on Dec. 16th, the team's third straight.
"I think there were two turning points in the season," Newsome said. "In the Denver game, we were just starting to get healthy again for the first time. I know the score didn't show it, but that one play at the end of the half was a 14-point swing and we didn't recover.
"The second was when [coach John Harbaugh] turned the offense over to [new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell] and [quarterback Joe Flacco] and put everything on them. When we hired Jim during the offseason I thought that anytime you can bring class and wisdom into an organization, it will be very beneficial. His ability to communicate with players and coaches is outstanding. There are no gray areas for the players with Jim."
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Newsome spoke for the first time about the season and the Ravens' remarkable playoff run. He was more candid than usual as he touched on a number of subjects, including the success of his coordinators, Flacco's strong postseason and the upcoming Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers.
On the day after the Ravens' 28-13 win against the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, Newsome was on a plane to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl. After four days there, Newsome thinks 2013 could be Caldwell's last as a Ravens coordinator.
"I believe he will get another shot as a head coach," Newsome said. "I've already talked to several GM's who admitted that they would have interviewed Jim if we weren't deep into the playoffs."
Flacco has improved his situation as well. Throughout his NFL career, he has been inconsistent, from accuracy to mechanics. But under Caldwell, Flacco flourished in the last two regular season games and throughout the playoffs.
He has completed 51 of 93 passes for 853 yards and eight touchdowns in the postseason without an interception. He has a quarterback rating of 114.7, and dollar signs in his eyes.
The question is: What took the Caldwell/Flacco team so long to succeed?
"Jim and Joe had been together during various mini-camps and training camps, but never together for a season under fire when the bullets are coming," Newsome said. "Through the first nine games, Jim had to become educated on Joe. He had to learn his personality, his moods, how he reacted under certain situations, and then he could help him learn how to study and prepare for games."
Newsome said he will be just as thorough when it comes to negotiating a new contract with Flacco when the season is over. The perception is that Flacco has gained leverage with the strong playoff performances and could command a contract worth more than $100 million.
Newsome made it sound like he had his mind made up before the playoffs started.
"As I said before, Joe and I are at the same comfort level about his contract," Newsome said. "At the end of the day, some people will look at what he does on Sunday afternoon, but I have an entire body of work to look at.
"Joe sits right behind me on the plane rides home. I also know how he practices, how he works out during the offseason. I look to see how he interacts with players, how he reacts to losing, what type of leader he is. Again, it's the entire body of work over five years."
Newsome is the Ravens' version of Big Brother. He doesn't talk a lot, but those eyes lurk everywhere at The Castle. During the losing streak, there was speculation that Newsome had ordered Harbaugh to play offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, which resulted in McKinnie starting against the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs.
Newsome said that wasn't true, but I suspect he has a way of letting his feelings be known.
"I give the coach the roster of the players to work with, but John and his coaches have the final say on the 53-man roster, even the practice squad," Newsome said. "That's not my job.
"Now, do I have questions? Do I have conversations? Yes, I do. I watch every practice. I watch every play of every game. Sometimes I will go up to John, Jim, [special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg] or [defensive coordinator Dean Pees] and ask them questions because I want to know what is going on, what we're trying to do. Sometimes, they will come to me for advice, but I don't tell John what to do with his roster on game day and who to start."
Since McKinnie has started, the Ravens have been more productive. Flacco has more time to throw and there are more running lanes for backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Newsome likes the instant success of rookies like Pierce and left guard Kelechi Osemele on offense, but he admired the nurturing job done by first-year defensive coordinator Pees.
Because of injuries and age, Pees had to incorporate the talents of young players like linebackers Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan and Courtney Upshaw, linemen Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee, and cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Jimmy Smith.
Pees took a lot of criticism early, but the Ravens prevailed.
"We've been used to having a group of veterans on defense, like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, who were executing at the top level, but they had been in the system for many years," Newsome said. "Dean did a great job of defining people, their roles and then putting them in situations where they would succeed.
"It took time because we had so many young players. I thought those coaches did a great job of preparing, practicing, developing game plans and implementing them on game day around the players and what they could do."
But there were some disappointments. Smith, a 2011 first-round pick in his second year, hasn't played up to expectations. Outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, a third-year player and 2010 second-round pick, was cut Jan. 7 and third-year defensive tackle Terrence Cody has been a bust.
"Both John and I agree that Sergio could go somewhere else and still play well," Newsome said. "In some cases, those guys got hurt and didn't get a chance to practice or play. Two years ago, you could have said the same thing about Kruger and look how he has developed. Sometimes, you just need time to grow."
There are few things to complain about. Despite being hit by numerous injuries, the Ravens will play in the Super Bowl against San Francisco, which is coached by Harbaugh's younger brother, Jim.
It was Newsome who signed Jim Harbaugh to be the starting quarterback in Baltimore for the 1998 season.
"They both have an unbelievable work ethic and strong football IQs," Newsome said. "I heard when Jim was an assistant in Oakland, he was always the first and last person on and off the field. John wants to learn as much as about offense, defense and special teams as he can. I think the credit has to go to their parents, Jackie and Jack, who taught them the work ethic.
"As for the game itself, it is going to be a very physical game for both teams on both sides of the ball. Jim does a very good job of calling the plays. To me, it's going to be as physical as the Ravens playing Pittsburgh. It's going to be that tough."
Before jumping on a plane to return to Baltimore, Newsome was asked if the rumor was true that he might retire now that the Ravens have returned to the Super Bowl.
"That's not even close," Newsome said. "Really, I enjoy the guys I work with and I think we have a great staff. I really, really enjoy the players and my relationships with them and that helps me in coming to work every day.
"Of course, winning helps, too."
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