I am dumbfounded. I have not felt this way about a football game since the craziness of a 1987 scab-player game between Bill Parcells and Marv Levy in which they were running the Triple Option, Wing-T and Full-House offenses. How did the New England Patriots not win last night? How did the Baltimore Ravens not lose? Or is it how did Baltimore not win and New England not lose? Oh wait… I am still trying to figure out if the winning field goal is controversial or not…
There are so many story lines- where to begin? The sweet irony of New England losing, not once, but twice in a row to field goal issues- one their own, the other an opponent’s "controversial" kick. From Baltimore’s perspective the sweet irony relieves some of the sting from what might have been last season, but not all. For you old timers, you may remember December 26th, 1965 (I think Bruce was a sophomore in college…) when the BALTIMORE Colts lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field on a field goal that many, including most of the players on the field (especially the Green Bay kicker Don Chandler) thought was no good. But because it was an extremely high kick, the refs called it good. Replay booth was out of commission that day… As a direct result of that injustice, the NFL raised the height of the goal-posts to their present day size. Whoopee-doo… Green Bay went on to easily roll through the playoffs after that and win Super Bowl I (should have been Baltimore, but I digress).
Another storyline: overall, the series between Baltimore and New England has been pretty one-sided with Baltimore only having the one playoff win in 2009 and going 0-fer in the regular season against the until last night. However, we may have a bit of rivalry brewing along the likes of the Giants-49ers back in the late 80’s/early 90’s –two non-divisional teams that were playing each other closely in the regular season when they met and constantly running into each other in the playoffs. To wit: since 2007, the overall are 2 – 4 against the Patriots, but all the games have been six points or less, except for our blow-out playoff win. And while it will never be at the level of Baltimore – Pittsburgh, these games just seem to turn it up just a little more from the previous encounter.
Honestly, given the wackiness of the game last night, there is only one good and that is Torrey Smith. I will mention the other notables en mass below to give them their due, but given the circumstances, I have to hand The Good to Torrey.
NFL players come from extremely divergent backgrounds –proportionally probably much greater than the population at large. Torrey has been able to achieve a lot so far; all the more amazing given his humble beginnings. And then to lose a younger brother that he basically raised like a son is just gut wrenching. World class athletes will tell you that sports at the highest level is just as much about the mental and emotional part as it is the physical part. And for Torrey to somehow maintain focus and concentration in order to perform at the level he did last night, just goes to show you that despite the challenges he has faced and is continually facing, it just speaks volumes about the type of player and more importantly the type person he is.
Ray Rice was his usual "just add water- instant offense" self; Jacoby Jones is really starting to come into his own on the Ravens offense, Pitta makes not an easy catch, hurdles a guy and then bowls over a second defender –all in about a span of three strides for a touchdown. Pitta catches everything –he can catch a bowling ball with a butterfly net; one handed. Special Teams with Jacoby and Deonte Thompson looking better and better –including coverage; more on Young Tuck later. Dannel Ellerbe seems to have worked his way out of Harbs doghouse. Courtney Upshaw looks like he is starting to "get it" on defense. I was kind of on the fence with him up until this point. Now I am sold. He and Haloti Ngata were giving the Patriots O-line fits all night. In fact, on the running play that the Ravens completely blew up late in the fourth quarter in which they blitzed seven or eight guys on the Patriots left side, I thought that Ngata really did swallow up Tom Brady. I was expecting just to see some Uggs, a cheap hairpiece, a burp and some flatulence left…
Ravens defense. Yeah, I know it is Brady and Belichick and the Patriots but at home, you have got to mount more stops. Period. And the confusion and lack of communication in the secondary has to end now. Two weeks in a row there have been big, costly mistakes with blown or missed coverages. Week one of the preseason- okay expected. Week three of the regular season? No way no how.
I am not putting Joe Flacco in The Bad like last week because he actually had a good game, but that pick was horrid. In addition, he tried to be too cute on too many throws and tried to float too many rainbows into tea cups. Both Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty could have had easy picks. It seemed to me that after a terrible first couple of series, when Flacco ran for the first down, the contact seemed to have jarred something in him as after that he was quick, decisive, aware of the pocket and on target. Then he seemed to lose focus again in the second half until the last two drives.
Offensive play calling was slightly improved this week, but again, twice we had third and long (10 – 15 yards) and decided to try a bomb to Torrey. And thank goodness Torrey got his helmet on the ball on one of them to prevent a pick. Why are we paying Anquan Boldin? His bread and butter on a third and fifteen, is, from the slot, to run a 12 yard crossing route and pick up four or five hard YAC for a first down. What gives? And it seems that we just never get a feel for the game, during the game. We string together a few good things on offense, and then we abandon them. I just don’t understand.
One last thing. The fourth down call was absolutely the right call by the coaches. Players just did not execute at all. I might question the selection of running back as Rice can make guys miss in the backfield and turn nothing into something, but that play’s failure is squarely on the players, particularly the O-line.
Make no bones about it. This was an "ugly" win. Ugly wins are good because they count just as much as the other wins. And Young Tuck’s game winning kick was about as ugly as one can be. There was definitely a snap/hold issue so can’t lay all the blame on Justin. He made the kick –that is what counts. And I do disagree with the coaches letting the clock run down to 2 seconds. Harbs had two TO’s left. Stop the clock at :09. In case of a botched snap, can reset and do over. If you make it the first time cleanly, at most you have seven seconds left. Squib kick, at most Brady gets one downfield shot. With Ed Reed, Lardarius Webb, et al, back there, I’ll take my chances on a Hail Mary.
The ugly ugly continues to be the refs. Both teams, organizations, coaching staffs and cities have a lot to complain about. Not sure which side benefited more from the "calls" and non-calls. Baltimore? New England? No, wait, it was Arizona! That is who benefited the most from the calls last night. Moreover, somebody is going to get hurt. Not saying the Schaub-Tyson-ear thing was a direct result of the replacement refs, it wasn’t, but I could easily see something like that, or something stemming from something like that leading to a serious injury which will be squarely on the replacement refs.
Cleveland will be here, what, tomorrow? For whatever ails the defense, whatever issues Pees is trying to work out, the Browns will hopefully be the elixir required. Reed is an enigma. I have not seen him hit like that since the Clinton administration, and yet he commits a bone-headed helmet-to-helmet. He knows better than that. I am having a difficult time deciphering if he still has it, has lost a step, is an All-Pro, just bored, or an alien in disguise left over from the "Men in Black" movies…
Am a little worried with the short week, there are going to be some tired players Thursday night. Couple that with a very young offensive line who are not yet used to the quick turnaround of a Thursday night game, I am concerned that a Brown could slip through and get a free run at one of our star players. But if all goes according to plan, Friday morning we all wake up 3-1, perfect in the division, perfect in the conference. We hung a loss on the Patriots which could be huge at the end of the season for playoff seeding. Oakland hung a loss on Pittsburgh which is an early Christmas present for us. At the quarter pole, Ravens could be in great position in the AFC!