Baltimore opened the season optimistic with Super Bowl aspirations.
VINDICATOR STAFF/WIRE REPORTS
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens were alive for the playoffs until the final weekend despite an inordinate number of injuries, the suspension of their best offensive player and an unforgiving schedule that included road games against four division winners.
Some teams might consider getting that close a successful season and would tinker only marginally with the makeup of a 9-7 club. Not the Ravens, who had every intention of defending their first AFC North title by reaching the Super Bowl.
"The bottom line is we need to be substantially better, and not just to get that one game and be 10-6 and be in the playoffs," coach Brian Billick said. "We want to be among that elite group, that 13-3, that 14-2, that favored team going into the playoffs. But we have a lot of work to do."
Changes are already underway. Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, a native of Youngstown, resigned under pressure Monday, and others on the coaching staff might be pared before training camp next season.
Much of the blame was heaped upon an offense that finished 31st among 32 NFL teams in average yards per game.
Cavanaugh was held responsible, even though Baltimore's offense was hindered by injuries to several key players.
"Matt felt very strongly, and I concurred, that it was time to change," Billick said. "I have not fired anybody, including Matt Cavanaugh.
"Matt and I sat down and had a very frank conversation about where we needed to go, what we needed to do to move forward, what changes we need to make in order to be more productive, particularly on the offensive side of the ball," Billick said. "Matt and I both agreed that part of that change would be at the offensive coordinator's position."
Cavanaugh held the position for six years. He was the offensive coordinator of the 2001 Super Bowl champion team, and led an offense that last season scored a franchise-record 391 points.
Cavanaugh was not made available for comment by the Ravens.
What went wrong
The Ravens' problems started in training camp, when cornerback Chris McAlister began a holdout as a protest over his designation as the team's franchise player.
Baltimore then played the opener without three injured starters -- Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware, Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden and veteran center Mike Flynn -- and fell to Cleveland 20-3.
Boulware missed the entire season, tight end Todd Heap sat out 10 games, Ogden was sidelined for four games and Flynn missed the first seven. Running back Jamal Lewis sat out two games, and the comeback of defensive back Deion Sanders was dulled by injuries that forced him out of seven games.
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