After Baltimore beat New England in the AFC title game, a Patriots player, long after the game ended, made an honest and blunt assessment of the Ravens.
"That team is going to be a pain in the ass for a long time," the player explained.
A long, long, long, long, long time.
If there is a franchise that's the logical candidate to be the next great dynasty, there isn't a better choice than the Baltimore Ravens. They are the best bet to replace the Patriots as the NFL's most steady winner. A great bet. Maybe a sure bet. Locking up Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco for the next six years helps those odds.
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These are the NFL's standard bearers right now: the Ravens, Patriots, Packers, Giants, 49ers and Steelers. The Patriots, until recently, were on a nearly unprecedented roll. Bill Belichick remains the only coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four years. In a decade-long span from 2001-2011, the Patriots have won 76.1 percent of their regular-season games -- the most of any major American sports team.
"These are the most arrogant pricks in the world, starting with Belichick on down," the Ravens' Terrell Suggs said after beating the Patriots in the title game.
In a radio interview this week, Suggs added: "There are 32 teams in the NFL, I guarantee the other 31 hate the New England Patriots. It [isn't] just me. Why did Bart Scott say the same thing? You think it's just us?
"Behind closed doors, they don't think anybody can play on the field with them. It's a respect level, and I don't think the New England Patriots respect anybody."
They haven't had to. They've been beating everyone -- until recently. The Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl in eight years (though they have been to two, losing Super Bowls XLII and XLVI), the roster has significant holes and depth issues and Tom Brady turns 36 in August. The Patriots have had a magnificent run -- and remain dangerous -- but it's almost over.
Since nature and football both abhor a vacuum, a team will have to fill the dynasty void left by New England, and the team best prepared to do that is Baltimore.
The Ravens have been hinting toward something more grand for the past five to 10 years. Since 2000, they've made nine playoff appearances and are 2-0 in Super Bowls. The biggest, and related, stumbling blocks were quarterback and offensive firepower. Both problems have mostly been solved.
Baltimore possesses most of what made New England so successful (OK, so no Brady). In fact, the Ravens have more of the ingredients to become dynastic than any other team:
Coaching: John Harbaugh stacks up well with coaches of other top teams -- Jim Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Tom Coughlin, and Mike McCarthy -- though no one comes close to Belichick. Where Harbaugh was exemplary last season was in his handling of a near mutiny from the players. It takes genuine skill to turn something potentially disastrous into a positive. It reshaped the season. You can count on one hand the number of coaches with the talent to handle that type of situation.
Quarterback: The past few times Flacco has faced Brady, he's outplayed him. Flacco may not be better than Brady but he's certainly good enough to run the NFL's next dynasty. Flacco just beat Colin Kaepernick, and I think he's surpassed Ben Roethlisberger and maybe even Eli Manning. Flacco's still not at Aaron Rodgers' level as the NFL's best overall quarterback. But if you were to pick a passer to rep the next dynasty, you'd do pretty well picking Flacco.
Front office: Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' general manager, has put together one of the NFL's fastest, most athletic and deepest teams. The Ravens could lose both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed (two Hall of Famers) and still make it back to the Super Bowl. At this moment, few front offices can rival the job Newsome has done and that's saying something because the Giants and Packers are some of the best assemblers of talent in all of sports.
What the Ravens have now is more of ... everything. More speed, more depth, excellent coaching, and a franchise quarterback who is only 28 years old.
In many ways, this Ravens group is reminiscent of the Patriots early in their run, the one that inspired so much imitation in the NFL and, as the Patriots beat the shingles off of people, simultaneously inspired hatred.
If some years from now, players talk of how much they hate the Ravens, then we'll know that the Ravens indeed had a formidable dynasty.
A dynasty that's starting now.