OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti enthusiastically supports Joe Flacco as his quarterback, has every intention of retaining unrestricted free agent running back Ray Rice and believes the window of opportunity for his team to reach the Super Bowl remains wide open.
Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, club president Dick Cass and coach John Harbaugh met with the media on Wednesday to discuss the 2011 season and look ahead toward 2012.
The foursome would have preferred to be preparing for the Super Bowl, but a 23-20 defeat at New England in the AFC title game ruined those plans.
In the final minute of that game, Lee Evans had a potential touchdown pass knocked from his grasp and Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.
“I don’t think any of us are over it, but we have to move on,” Bisciotti said.
It has not been easy. Asked what the Ravens have to do to climb to the next level, Bisciotti replied, “Hold onto a ball.”
Because the Ravens finished 13-5, won the AFC North, went 9-0 at home and reached the postseason for the fourth time in four years, there probably won’t be many changes made in the months ahead.
“When you put up the kind of numbers and the success we’ve had, then it really comes down to tweaking,” Bisciotti said.
With 13 unrestricted free agents on the roster, there will be changes before the Ravens start training camp next summer. But Rice, who led the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage, and Flacco, whose contract expires after the 2012 season, aren’t going anywhere.
“Ray and Joe Flacco will be part of this football team next year, guaranteed,” Bisciotti said.
Flacco has been criticized for everything from his poise in the pocket to a perceived lack of emotion in the huddle, but he’s taken Baltimore to the playoffs in each of his four seasons and twice advanced to the AFC championship game. He hasn’t yet been to the Super Bowl, but the Ravens are confident it’s only a matter of time.
“I think he’s going to be extremely successful. I think he’s going to have rings,” Bisciotti said. “He’s got 10 years of his prime to show it. I think that he will be rewarded for his personality in the long run, and I think our fans will, too.”
Newsome said: “When you’re in this business, you get judged on one thing: winning. Joe wins. He continues to win. If one pass is caught, he would be in the Super Bowl. I think he’s going to win Super Bowls. A lot of them. The thing that you cannot knock about Joe is he’s a winner.”
Baltimore is the only team to reach the playoffs four years running and has gone 44-20 over that span, but the problem is that a berth in the Super Bowl remains elusive.
“There’s a lot of pride and a lot of disappointment,” Bisciotti said. “I am proud of the product we’re giving Baltimore.”
In the two weeks since the Ravens’ season ended, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano left to become head coach of Indianapolis, replacing Jim Caldwell, who joined the Ravens as their quarterbacks coach.
The team hopes Caldwell, along with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, can lift Flacco to elite status and carry the Ravens into the Super Bowl.
“Are we headed in the right direction with this offense? We are,” Newsome said. “Are we satisfied with where we are right now? No. But we think the best way to get there is to maintain the continuity of having Cam, then to bring in someone like a Jim Caldwell to bring another set of eyes with that.”
Other projects that must be tended to this offseason include negotiating with guard Ben Grubbs, whose contract is up. Newsome said the biggest need for the team is the offensive line, and Grubbs is an important part of it.
“He’s a really good player and he’s young,” Newsome said of Grubbs.
One thing that won’t happen this offseason: The Ravens will not sacrifice their third-ranked defense in favor of strengthening the league’s 15th-ranked offense.
“It’s a very delicate balance when you try and shift attention over to the offense,” Bisciotti said. “The next thing you know, you’re giving up 27 points a game. We don’t want to be there as an organization. … I’m not going to be trading (cornerbacks) Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb for (Cardinals star wideout Larry) Fitzgerald because that’s the quickest way to get there.”
Linebacker Ray Lewis turns 37 in May and safety Ed Reed turns 34 in September, but Bisciotti insisted that the Ravens have enough youth to be a contender for years to come.
“Teams like the Patriots and Steelers are older than we are,” he said. “I don’t see age as being a window-closer. Not when you have a franchise quarterback entering his fifth year. We got great contributions this year from three of our seven draft picks and I know we’re very excited about the other ones. We’ve got some contributors that we’re going to count on.”
Bisciotti and Newsome praised Flacco for performing so well after the team cut receivers Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and running back Willis McGahee before the season.
Working with two young tight ends and rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith, Flacco helped bring Baltimore to the cusp of the Super Bowl.
“We’re going to stay the course. We believe in him,” Bisciotti said of Flacco. “We believe he is getting stronger mentally and smarter with the ball. We’re pretty comfortable going into this offseason. We have eight months to make this perfect.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)