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Catching up with … the Ravens

06.06.12 at 1:26 pm ET
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Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at the Jets. Here’€™s a glance at Baltimore.

The last time we saw the Ravens, they were losing to New England in a classic AFC championship game at Gillette, a 23-20 contest that almost ended up going into overtime if not for a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff at the end of regulation. (If Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore doesn’€™t break up a last-minute pass for Lee Evans in the end zone, Baltimore likely has that game won.) The Ravens ended the regular season with a 12-4 mark and the division title — a good year for many teams — but the loss to New England remains a bitter pill to swallow for a proud franchise that continues to set a very high bar.

Who they added: The Ravens went after some really intriguing players in the draft. They got Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the first second round, and he’s a guy who will be expected to contribute more than your average rookie — the departure of Jarret Johnson in free agency, and the injury suffered by Terrell Suggs (which he may or may not have suffered playing basketball and could keep him sidelined for the bulk of the 2012 season) will put a lot on Upshaw’s plate. In addition, they picked up interior offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski (Delaware), who should eventually become Matt Birk‘€™s successor at center. And they used a sixth-round pick on Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter, a prospect the Patriots had been sniffing around during the pre-draft process. In addition, they added free agent cornerback Corey Graham (formerly of the Bears) as an extra defensive back and special teams contributor.

(For what it’€™s worth, the Ravens kept restricted free agent corner Lardarius Webb in the fold with a six-year, $53 million contract extension. And everyone’€™s favorite defensive back, Bernard Pollard, got a three-year, $12.3 million contract extension.)

Who’€™s gone: The Ravens lost six defensive players — including the aforementioned Johnson (Chargers) and defensive end Cory Redding (Colts) — in free agency.

How they feel about the Patriots: ‘€œIt was a tough loss. We were a catch, a field goal, whatever, we were that away from the Super Bowl. Now, we’€™ve got to go prove to a lot of people and to ourselves that we can do the same thing again, but end up in the Super Bowl.’€ – Pollard on the loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game

Analysis: Again, there’€™s no reason to think that the Ravens won’€™t be among the AFC’€™s elite in 2012 — there’€™s just too much talent and smarts on both sides of the football. But there remain plenty of questions. The core of the defense — Suggs (when he returns) Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata — all remains in place, but the group is another year older. How much longer can this world-class defense sustain its current run? How will the franchise settle the contract situations of running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco? And can the Ravens shake off the hangover that comes with a bitter playoff defeat?

Read More: catching up with, Terrell Suggs,
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