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Ravens clear out lockers earlier than usual
By: Staff  Writer - AP
Published: 12/30/2013  at  3:44:45 PM
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - The Baltimore Ravens went from Super to mediocre in 2013, finishing 8-8 following an offseason in which the NFL champions shuffled the roster because of salary-cap concerns.

In the months ahead, general manager Ozzie Newsome will resume the rebuilding process for more conventional reasons: To improve a flawed team that missed the playoffs.

For the first time in six seasons under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens cleared out their lockers one day after the conclusion of the regular season. It was a dreary Monday for a franchise unaccustomed to failure.

''It just feels like it's too early to be packing up,'' running back Ray Rice said. ''It's not normal, especially for me. I've always been in the playoffs, every year. ''

Baltimore' running game struggled in 2013, in part because Rice wasn't 100 percent healthy. After reaching the 1,000-yard mark in four straight seasons, he garnered only 660 yards rushing.

That's due in part to his ailing hip and because Rice was running behind an offensive line that never really meshed. Second-year center Gino Gradkowski had to learn under fire after taking over for retired Matt Birk, left tackle Bryant McKinnie was traded in October and replaced by Eugene Monroe, and left guard Kelechi Osemele played only seven games before being placed on injured reserve.

The ineffective offensive line also impacted the passing game. Forced to throw under duress virtually every game, Joe Flacco tossed a career-high 22 interceptions and was sacked an alarming 48 times.

This, after Flacco lost one of his favorite targets, Anquan Boldin, during the post-Super Bowl roster purge.

Clearly, there were no shortage of reasons for the inconsistency of an offense that performed so well just one year earlier.

''It wasn't Joe that led us to this point or the offensive line or the receivers,'' wide receiver Torrey Smith said. ''There's no one group you can point to. It's on all of us.''

Baltimore's problems were made apparent in the opener, a 49-27 loss at Denver. The Ravens were 4-6 before a four-game winning streak gave them a chance to win a third straight AFC North title.

But a horrid 41-7 home loss to New England knocked Baltimore out of the division race, and Sunday's 34-17 defeat at Cincinnati ended their playoff hopes.

''We're an 8-8 football team,'' Flacco said. ''We don't deserve to be there.''

After they won the Super Bowl in February, the Ravens knew they would begin defense of the title with a revamped squad. Soon after that 34-31 win over San Francisco, Birk and linebacker Ray Lewis retired, Boldin was traded and Newsome made little effort to sign free agents Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams.

Similarly, the 2014 roster will bear only a vague resemblance to this one.

''Next year, it will be a brand new team,'' Smith acknowledged.

The list of unrestricted free agents includes Pitta, wide receiver Jacoby Jones, Monroe, right tackle Michael Oher and standout safety James Ihedigbo.

''I loved my time here and feel like I fit in pretty well,'' Monroe said. ''I came in here and played well every game, and I'd like the opportunity to do that here again.''

About the only good thing about heading home in December is that the Ravens will have more time than usual to address their needs for next season.

''We weren't good enough this year,'' Harbaugh said. ''That's what we'll have to go to work on now going forward to get back to where we need to be.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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