OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The last time Cam Cameron visited Miami with the Baltimore Ravens, he received a Gatorade bath and the game ball after an emotional win over the franchise that ran him out of town.
"It's a new year. It's a new season," Cameron said this week.
Cameron's focus is to prepare the rejuvenated Baltimore offense for another smooth performance in Miami, this time in the opening round of the NFL playoffs. In the first game, on Oct. 19, the Ravens amassed 357 yards, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco completed 17 of 23 passes and Baltimore cruised to a 27-13 victory.
In the game's waning moments, the Ravens celebrated by emptying a Gatorade container onto their offensive leader. Then, after receiving the game ball, Cameron became misty-eyed upon recalling the criticism he received during his lone season as an NFL head coach.
"This is going to go home to my wife Missy and to my kids, because it's a lot tougher on them than it will ever be on us coaches," Cameron said. "That's why it's a little emotional. When you give your heart and soul to something and it doesn't work out, some of that pain comes back. But that's minimal compared to what it was like for my wife and kids. I guess that's why maybe it's a little sweeter."
Cameron's insightful, innovative approach has enabled the Ravens offense to soar to a new level. One of his first moves was to insert 260-pound fullback Le'Ron McClain into the tailback slot. McClain ran for 902 yards and Baltimore finished the regular season with the NFL's fourth-ranked running attack.
Cameron also installed his own version of the Wildcat offense, which puts Flacco and backup quarterback Troy Smith on the field at the same time. Thus far, Smith has completed a pass to Flacco, and Flacco completed a pass to Smith.
There are no limits to what Cameron might try, including lining up 345-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as a blocker and eligible receiver.
"He knows the athletes he has on his team," Ngata said. "He's willing to do whatever it takes for his offense to be successful."
Ngata appreciates the chance to play offense, but is even more grateful to Baltimore's offense for dominating the clock. The Ravens lead the NFL in time of possession (33 minutes, 10 seconds) and have outscored the opposition 115-60 in the fourth quarter.
"We get to rest so much now," Ngata said. "That's why our defense has been able to close off teams."
"The guys that were here and went through 1-15 and went through Cam Cameron's (stuff) ... they did an amazing job," linebacker Channing Crowder said. "We proved to the league and the world we're a different team."
Defensive end Vonnie Holliday said, "Last year at times we really didn't have a sense of direction, a clear plan. We don't have the distractions we had last year. We don't have the disciplinary problems."
When the Ravens headed to Miami in October, the "Cam Cameron Returns" angle was much of the attraction. This game, however, is all about advancing in the playoffs.
"I don't think Cam looks at it any other way," Baltimore tight end Todd Heap said. "Our season is riding on this game."
"I don't say 'Cam Cameron is on the other sideline. Let's go!' This is a playoff game," cornerback Andre Goodman said. "I don't care who's on the sideline."
Because of his success with a Baltimore offense that has long been the team's weakest link, Cameron may soon be given another chance to be a head coach. He would welcome the invitation, but that's about the last thing he's thinking about this week.
"There may be a time for that discussion, (but) for any of us to talk about ourselves at this point is really counterproductive," he said. "I'm going to continue to do what all these other guys are doing, just focusing on this game, and this game completely."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.