CHICAGO – Ravens head coach John Harbaugh likes to talk philosophically about intangibles and inspiration as oftentimes being the difference between winning and losing football games.
But after Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the Bears in Chicago, Harbaugh may be both choking on his own words and having to swallow his pride at the same time.
Admittedly, the weather in Chicago on Sunday was horrible. Numerous tornadoes touched down and caused severe damage throughout Illinois, while one monster of a spin-off storm forced a nearly two-hour delay that prompted Bears and Soldier Field officials to try and shoehorn 63,000 fans under the grandstands, into tunnels and even into parking garages to keep them out of harm’s way.
But this was a game the Ravens desperately needed to win. They came in with a 4-5 record; they left 4-6.
Those surely are not numbers indicative of a team that is the defending Super Bowl champions.
But we’ve seen it numerous times over the Super Bowl’s nearly 50-year history, where defending champs get punch drunk on power and prestige after being the best of the best for a particular season, only to fall flat on their faces the following season.
And that’s where the Ravens are right now.
But they could have enhanced their chances significantly earlier this past week had they brought back fan favorite Ed Reed. I’m not saying Reed would have single-handedly helped the Ravens win Sunday, but just his mere presence on the sidelines and veteran leadership would likely have been welcomed not only by Ravens fans but also Ravens players.
Sure, Reed bombed out in Houston, where he went earlier this year after he and the Ravens parted company over what Reed wanted and what the Ravens were willing to offer in a new contract.
Reed signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Texans, but lasted just over two months of the regular season.
He was not the same fearsome Ed that he once was with the Ravens. Hell, he wasn’t even close.
But instead of the Ravens bringing Reed back to light a spark under a team that needs more of a flamethrower under it right now, Harbaugh simply said last Wednesday that the team “has no plans” to change the secondary.
Even though Michael Huff, who was signed in the off-season to be Reed’s de facto replacement, isn’t even wearing a Baltimore uniform right now.
Even though the Ravens are definitely riding a Super Bowl hangover. Their chances of making the playoffs – let alone defending that crown – right now appear slim-to-none.
So what would it have hurt to bring Reed back? I’m willing to bet that Reed and his agent likely would have caved substantially on the kind of money they would ask for just to be back wearing the black, purple white and gold.
But best of all, they’d have one key cog of the old Super Bowl gang back, something that would have energized the team and its fans.
Even if Reed played sparingly, he still has exactly what Harbaugh likes to talk about so much: he has intangibles and he’s an inspiration.
Come on, the guy is still only 35 years old. He still likely has a couple more good years left in him. Why not spend those years back in Balto?
One of the reasons Reed failed in Houston was trying to learn a completely different scheme than the one he had with the Ravens. Trying to learn a new scheme with a new team and new teammates, even for a nine-time Pro Bowler, can be difficult, especially when a guy is in his mid-30s.
But had Harbaugh and the Ravens let bygones be bygones, Reed would have brought back his leadership that proved so important to the team – particularly during its run up to last season’s championship.
Instead, Reed wound up signing with the New York Jets when Baltimore looked the other way. And even though they were smothered 37-14 to the Bills in Buffalo, the Jets showed how much faith they had in their new acquisition by surprisingly starting him Sunday and kept him in the game for all but two plays.
Sure, his stats weren’t overly impressive – just three tackles and just falling short of breaking up a Bills TD – but for Reed to come into a new team with a new structure and start just four days after signing on the dotted line says a lot about the faith the Jets have in him, not to mention the faith he still has in himself. He’s no Tim Tebow, for sure.
The Jets obviously saw the intangible and inspiration that Reed brings to the table. And even though the Jets fell to 5-5 with Sunday’s loss, they’re actually ahead of the Ravens in hopes of gaining a wild-card playoff berth.
Oh, and the same Texans that cut Reed? They feel to 2-8. They’re in worse shape and in need of more help than the Ravens, losing their fifth straight game Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Something tells me that if Reed revitalizes his career with the Jets, he’ll be laughing while Ravens fans will be crying at what their team could have and should have done – but didn’t.
Jerry Bonkowski has covered pro and college sports for nearly 40 years. His career has included lengthy stops as a sports writer for USA Today (15 years), ESPN.com (3 1/2 years) and Yahoo Sports (4 1/2 years). He was part of the regular NFL team at USA Today, covered the Chicago Bulls’ six championship seasons in the 1990s, and also provided extensive motorsports coverage of NASCAR, CART (now defunct), the Indy Racing League (now IndyCar) and the National Hot Rod Association. He also served as back-up NHL writer, wrote extensively about Major League Baseball and specialized in compelling human interest features. He has won numerous awards for his writings from organizations including The Associated Press and the National Motorsports Press Association. His first book, “Trading Paint: 101 Great NASCAR Debates”, was published in 2010 and continues to sell in print and e-book formats including iTunes, Amazon and Wiley.com (Wiley & Sons Publishers). He also has considerable radio experience, including serving as an on-air personality since 2002 to the present time for SiriusXM Radio. Jerry’s specialities range from motorsports to the NFL and everything in-between. As a columnist, he delivers fact-based pieces peppered with objective analysis, criticism (where warranted) and praise (also where warranted).