Led by Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin and John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl last night to be crowned the champions of the 2012 NFL season. For Marvin Lewis‘ Cincinnati Bengals, that is a bitter pill to swallow. The Bengals battled hard with the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North during the regular season, before losing to the Houston Texans in the first round of the playoffs for the second season in a row.
The Ravens weren’t the most talented team in the league, especially after suffering all of the costly injuries during the regular season. However, their mentality, approach and ability to come up big in the most important moments allowed the team to push past their perceived potential to win it all. The Ravens found a way to win, something that the Bengals are missing entering the off-season.
With that in mind, the Bengals must not be bitter about seeing the Ravens lift the Lombardi trophy; instead, they must examine and learn what went right for a team that has a similar style to their own.
A lot of what the Ravens achieved last night can be traced back to the combination of a high quality general manager and incredible head coach. Ozzie Newsome has consistently put in place the talent for John Harbaugh to develop, which allowed the franchise to boast one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league. The Bengals have a similar approach, which has garnered some similar results. If the frustration of not improving from season-to-season was beginning to build, the Bengals should take comfort in watching what the Ravens achieved this year to reinforce their franchise’s model of operations.
The Ravens made the playoffs four years in a row before even reaching the Super Bowl. Therefore, the Bengals shouldn’t feel the need to throw money at free agents to try and reverse their recent trend of early exits this year. What the team can learn from these post-season berths can prove to be crucial in the long-term. There is no doubt that the Ravens’ ability to consistently overcome adversity this year stemmed from their recent runs of success and the leadership that had guided them so close in the past.
Leaders have always been important in football, and the Ravens’ victory doesn’t teach us that. However, the importance of having multiple locker-room leaders is something that should now be reiterated for the Bengals. Andy Dalton, AJ Green and Geno Atkins can’t be the only on-field leaders for this team moving forward. The Ravens had Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed setting the tone in their locker-room.
Their leadership allowed players such as Arthur Jones, Kelechi Osemele, Bernard Pierce, Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw to make big contributions because they understood the expected standard and played to it. That kind of tone doesn’t exist in the Bengals’ locker-room right now.
Dalton, Green and Atkins are still very young players, while it’s difficult for Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Andrew Whitworth to be the same kind of leaders who keep everyone on the same page. The Bengals need to infuse that leadership through the spine of their football team.
It’s never easy for two cornerbacks, a left tackle and a safety to set the tone because they are not always in the proximity of their teammates or around the football. The Bengals’ biggest problem is that their core appears set to be very young next year with Trevor Robinson potentially the starting center, young defensive tackles and possibly Vontaze Burfict at middle linebacker.
The Bengals will continue to develop their youngsters and add some new faces here and there during the off-season, but it must always be remembered that the tone of a locker-room and actions of the organization as a whole will impact how far this team can ultimately go.
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