In the playoffs, only the "W" matters, no matter how pretty or ugly it is. The Ravens 20 - 13 squeaker counts just as much as the Patriots 45 - 10 white- washing. Do the Saints get anything for gamely almost overcoming five turnovers on the road? A slightly higher draft pick than their opponent, and that is about it. But at the end of the day, they are in the same boat as the once 15-1 Packers.
That looked like a Steelers game. The pass rush was relentless, Flacco (more on him) was getting harassed and beat up. Not sure if Houston was that good or we were that bad. How can you be, plus four in the turnover department and yet only win by seven at home?
We won. We will play in the AFC Championship for the second time in four years.
The four turnovers our defense and special teams were able to corral. Further, Lardarius. Is he "elite"? Has he earned the label "shut down" yet and if not, what more does he need to do? Ed Reed, where have you been? Had a great game -one pick and could have had the hat trick. Great to see ya back!
Cundiff. Two absolutely money field goals. He may have had an off year, but in the windy conditions yesterday, he made up for it and give the guy huge props for what he did.
Lee Evans with a beautiful one-handed grab. If that is what we get to look forward to next year when he comes back 100% healthy, wow... And Boldin looks to be clicking on all cylinders again. And a special shout-out to Kris Wilson with an absolutely incredible grab for his first reception as a Raven and his first TD, ever? Well, since 2009 at least...
Our "opportunistic" offense that was able to cash in many of those turnovers for points. More on the offense in a bit.
Discipline. Not a single turnover or penalty by the Ravens. I do not think I have ever seen that before. Which makes the seven point victory all the more maddening. Again, given what happened, how do you only squeak by?
Joe Flacco. His stats were not Brady-esque, except for one. And that would be the win column. Most wins in the first four regular seasons of any quarterback in the history of the NFL, at least one playoff victory in each of his first four seasons -again nobody else can say that. Yeah, Ben had five playoff victories his first four years also, one of which was the Big One, and Sanchez has also gone to two AFC championship games but Ben is other-worldly and there is really no comparison between Flacco and Sanchez.
Flacco may have had that sack-strip, but other than that, he played a great game against a great defense even though his stats did not show it. Two TD's with no picks is nothing to sneeze at in a playoff game. And couple of the throws he made, especially the one to Lee Evans, one great deep ball that Torrey dropped, and the one or two to Boldin - there aren't three other QB's in the league who can make those throws. In my humble opinion, Flacco was most definitely a steadying influence. Even though his offense wasn't doing jack for him, he kept plugging and fighting. He didn't get down, he didn't get frustrated and make a silly mistake, he patiently waited for his few opportunities and exploited them -that is called leadership.
The drops. There were at least four that I remembered and probably one or two more -unacceptable. And the lack of separation from the receivers. At least three of the sacks were coverage sacks. That is ridiculous.
Further, Dickson is becoming a bit of a liability. He may be the more athletic of the two TE's and may have the ability to break a tackle or two, but his blocking is not that great and his hands are not that great (at least two drops in critical third down situations) so what does that leave? Coming into next year, we may see a more traditional 1TE offensive set with Pitta, with the occasional "diesel" package.
The offensive line. No run blocking, no pass blocking, but hey, no false starts or holding, so at least they can hang their hat on that. They got pushed, bullied and punk'd around all day. That will get us killed at Foxboro next week - like the Tebow lead Broncos killed.
The D-Line. No run penetration, shaky, at best, edge and gap discipline, and zippy pass rush. One time the defense was able to get pressure on rookie TJ Yates, which forced him to throw Lardarius's first interception. That was it. All other of Yates interceptions were of his own choosing. In fact, in many ways, Yates was the Ravens MVP.
Cam. The past couple of weeks, he did okay. But now I have one question for Mr. Cameroon: what in the blue blazes were you thinking??? Two minutes and change left, up by four, second down and Houston has already burned one time out. You run it again, they have to burn their second timeout. You run it on third down, they burn their final timeout. And if Houston is lucky, they get the ball back and are able to run one offensive play prior to the two minute warning, but have zero timeouts the rest of the way to drive for a touchdown. Even if Rice gets stuffed and losses a few yards each run and you have to punt it, you are still up by four- you are forcing a rookie to drive the length of the field with less than two minutes in Baltimore. And the game would have ended with Reed's pick. Instead, Houston got two cracks at it. And on the second attempt Reed gets injured. If Reed is out next week or is hampered, that is on Cam. Cam recklessly put the Ravens defense back out there when they had no need to-! If I am Stevie B and I see my All-Galaxy FS go down, needlessly, I would be firing Cam on the spot if it wouldn't totally FUBAR (beyond where it already is) the offense. Coming on the heels of the Pittsburgh playoff game last year, Cam calling two passes in a row is inexcusable. At times I have given Cam credit when he deserved it. But this was a bridge too far. I don't see how the Ravens could fire him if they win it all, but if Cam continues to be this stubborn and trying to be so clever by a half, I don't see how they don't fire Cam no matter what.
After nineteen weeks it has come down to the two best teams in the AFC, as it should. Let's face it, the AFC was always going to be a three horse race once Peyton was out: Baltimore, New England and Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh, through no fault of their own, fell by the wayside due to injuries so that just leaves Baltimore and New England. Houston gave a valiant effort not just in the playoffs, but over the course of the season, despite their own major injuries. They may be the future of the AFC, but not this year.
We said it before the second Pittsburgh game, then before the San Fran game, then before the last game of the regular season in Cincy -this would be the toughest challenge for the Ravens this year. Well, we get to say it again this week as going to New England for the AFC Championship game will be, by far, the toughest challenge the Ravens will have faced this year.
Brady is playing like a man possessed. He was the yang to Tebow's ying, and I think Brady earned another nickname: "The Incredible Hulk" because you do not want to get Brady angry. You wouldn't like him when he is angry. Brady played like the most ticked off person since Martin Luther nailed that treatise on the wooden door... Gee, ya think Brady noticed all the pub Tebow was getting? Think Brady was a little tired of hearing how great the Brees led offense was? Think Brady *doesn't* like being in the spotlight and the center of attention? No, nope and Ngata. Brady made a statement in his smack down of the Broncos. The Golden Boy will not be trifled with. The Golden Boy will not be ignored.
The Ravens have their work cut out for them -big time. The upfront effort and lack of push from both sides of the ball will not fly in New England. That same display gets us not a 45 - 10 whooping, but a 38 - 13 thumping. The O-line looked old and slow against Houston. The D-line looked about as stout Charles Nelson Reilly. The D-line will have to get to Brady. Period. The defense needs to shut down Gronkowski and hopefully Reed can pull some of his magic against the deep stuff. Suggs needs to do some visualization exercises- the kind where he visualizes Brady as Big Ben. The Patriots are playing phenomenal football right now -better than any of the other three teams left and in order to slow down the Patriots offense, the Ravens are going to have to play defense like it is 2000. Anything less, and we get killed. I think it is within our capacity, but we will have absolutely zero margin for error next Sunday.