The predictions of gloom and doom started last March, about the time National Football League free agency reopened.
After all, the Ravens had just won the Super Bowl over San Francisco — coach John Harbaugh edging brother Jim in one of the most scintillating games in NFL championship history.
Baltimore’s victory was seen as the ultimate retirement gift for lightning-rod middle linebacker Ray Lewis, a certain Hall of Famer, probably first-ballot.
But his exit was merely the first.
In all, eight of last year’s starters are gone.
Center Matt Birk also retired.
Then there were the free-agency exits: safety Ed Reed, another Hall-of-Famer-to-be, (to Houston), cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia), wide receiver Anquan Boldin (San Francisco), strong safety Bernard Pollard (Tennessee) and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (Miami) and Paul Kruger (Cleveland).
That translates to 36 percent of the first-stringers off the Ravens’ 2012 roster. Alas, no Super Bowl champion had ever lost more than five starters the year after winning the Lombardi Trophy.
WHAT IT shows is the confidence Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, the former Browns tight end, has in his personnel acquisition skills. He also has demonstrated the same lack of sentimentality — and that’s not necessarily a weakness — often displayed by New England’s front office.
And, having helped guide the Ravens to a pair of Super Bowl titles, Newsome’s credentials have long since been galvanized.
Still, there were murmurs of concern when the Ravens strapped themselves against the salary cap by signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a stunning six-year, $120.6 million contract, $52 million guaranteed.
That arithmetic helped push Baltimore’s six starters to free agency.
And when the Ravens opened the season being eviscerated, 49-27, by the Broncos in Denver, the worries were amplified.
They were hardly muted when Baltimore had to rally, at home, to beat Cleveland, 14-6.
But last week, the mood lightened when the Ravens handled a good Houston team, 30-9.
Still, Baltimore, the defending Super Bowl champ, is favored by only a field goal on Sunday afternoon at “The Ralph” against the 1-2 Bills.
It’s almost as if there’s still concern that the Ravens are suffering a bit of championship hangover.
But John Harbaugh maintains he addressed that very issue early in training camp.
“The message was that the 2012 Ravens were champions, and we’ll walk together forever as champions,” he said. “But the 2013 Baltimore Ravens have their own mark to make. Certainly we can build on what we learned and the success of the past, but we have our own mark to make, and we’ll see what the 2013 team will be known for.”
Flacco, meanwhile, denied any sense of complacency.
“I think the main thing that’s key in avoiding a Super Bowl hangover is making sure you have a good football team,” he said. “If you don’t have (one), you’re not going to win football games. You play such a long year, and you have such a short off-season that you can kind of come back (fatigued), and the biggest thing I would say is you can become a little bit satisfied with what you’ve done or become content.”
But Flacco added, “I think our coaches do a great job of creating an environment around here where you can’t be content with what we’ve done. You just kind of go to work, and you grind every day. You don’t really think about what’s happened in the past because you have to be so locked in to what we’re doing now just to get through and to do it well.
“Because of that environment and because of that work ethic we create around here, it’s too hard not to focus on what we’re doing. And when you focus on what we’re doing in the moment, I think that gives you the best ability to go out there and play successfully every Sunday.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)