One of the greatest Raven playoff games ever. Heck, one of the greatest *NFL* playoff games ever. The "Ice-Bowl", Buffalo's improbable comeback against Houston (led by U of Maryland's own Frank Reich), the "Music City Miracle", and now this one. You have the "Immaculate Reception", "The Catch" and now what, "The Bomb"... "Flacco Fling"? Not enough gravitas.
Baltimore is not a warm-weather or dome city. But it is not a frigid city a la Green Bay. At minus two degrees Fahrenheit, spittle freezes before it hits the ground and blood does not flow as often to the extremities (the body's natural attempt at keeping the core warm) which means normal tasks involving hands and feet become quite difficult, such as gripping or catching a football, making a plant or cut; or kicking for that matter. The fact that the Ravens were able to go into such a harsh environment and were able to perform as well as they did, is nothing short of phenomenal.
Corey Graham. Who is this guy? Where'd we get him from? Manning is going to have a long off-season with visions of #24 in his nightmares.
Kruger. Boy has his game really come on. He is now fighting through holds and still able to apply pressure. And he kept his composure -no stupid PF's.
Ngata. He is not 100%, but each week he seems to be getting just a little bit better. Not dominating, but at times applied just enough pressure up the middle, in both the pass game and run game to make a difference.
Ellerbe. He is the real deal. Hope we are able to keep him and Kruger next year.
Suggs. "Quietly" led the team in tackles with 10 (Ray-Ray also had 10). Anybody else see what I am seeing? I am seeing a guy who is getting further and further away from a serious injury. Who each week seems to be getting back a little bit more of his old repertoire. If this guy is near 100% healthy, I almost feel bad for the other teams left in the tourney. Almost.
McPhee. Limited playing time and he still gets a sack. As much as I hate the prospect, now, of losing Kruger, looks like we have more young guys to step in and step up.
Ray Lewis. He's old and slow. Yet somehow led this defense with 10 tackles, one or two for a loss if my memory serves. But while Ray has obviously lost about three steps, he has never lost his leadership and will to win. A lot of folks think that stuff is overrated. And it is for the most part; except for the few, once in generation athlete. Jordan had it, Gretsky had it, Ray has it. These are guys who are Hall-of-Famers in their own right, heck some would say some the greatest ever in any sport, and they are able to elevate the play of those around them. It sounds corny, but Ray willed this team to win Saturday night.
The Entire Defense. Held Peyton to three trips to the end-zone, in his house, with the altitude, against the crowd, being old, slow and everything else. They held Peyton to one(-!) touchdown in the last three and half quarters in the game! Think about that- Ravens' defense basically held Peyton one TD on his home field almost the equivalent of a full game. The end of the game is when it counts the most and the defense took the game away from Manning. Yes, they took it from him, stared back at him, and dared him to do something about it. Sit down, Peyton.
Pees and Caldwell. Both designed an excellent game plan for going against Denver, in their place, and both made adjustments throughout the game. Who would have guessed that our Special Teams would spot Denver 14 points, yet our offense would go toe-to-toe with Peyton; that our defense could basically neuter Peyton from mid-way through the second quarter onward?
The O-line. Flacco was officially sacked one time. That was the #2 defense in the NFL that our reshuffled and patchwork line beat. Yes, they beat them. If Flacco gets sacked a few more times, if he is not able to move around a bit in the pocket to extend a few plays, very different outcome. This was the best game the O-line has played in a long time.
Yanda. Solid game run blocking a stout Denver front and protecting Flacco, but definitely gets an assist on Rice's late in the game conversion for a critical first down.
Boldin. Kind of an up and down game, but still managed 6 for 71 including a couple of critical conversions. And his blocking is second to none for a WR.
Dickson. Where ya been all season? The play where he kind of sneaks out of the backfield and gets lost in the crowd and then he finds himself in space, Cam is probably still scratching his head trying to figure that one out. It is a thing of beauty to see his athleticism.
Pitta. He had a drop, late; but he made up for that -more on that in a minute. What does Suggs call him, the "white American Express"? Gronk-Hernandez may get all the press, but Pitta-Dickson is looking pretty good.
Ray Rice. Guess what? He had 30 rushes for 130+ yards. And a score. He is simply amazing. Just when you think the opposition has basically taken him out of the game, BOOM! He rattles off a soul-eating 30 yard scamper. And when Pierce went down, he shouldered the load and was still running hard at the end. May not have been many yards in the second OT, but it was enough.
Jacoby Jones, WR. One bone headed drop, but then he makes the catch of his career. He beat his man, he focused on the ball, he caught it cleanly and waltzed into NFL history. #3 WR's for the Ravens have been historically monumentally disappointing and heart-breaking. Not Jacoby. I think he just washed that taint right off the Ravens.
Torrey Smith. What he did to Champ Bailey -no NFL player should be able to do that to a Pro-Bowler who is a first ballot HoF'er. Champ was to Torrey what the new fish is to the king of the cellblock. I was beyond cringing watching Torrey *smoke* Champ for two, almost three times. Torrey does not have a lot unnecessary brashness for a WR. Actually, he is very low-key for a legitimate, true #1. Could you imagine if that had been TO, or Moss or Keyshawn or the receiver formerly known as OchoCinco? There would have been a riot....
Jimmy Smith. Hey, a Jimmy sighting. That tackle that pinned Denver deep was critical to setting up Peyton's fall. Although even after that play he looked a little gimpy. He may be battling injuries all season and in many ways, this season cannot end soon enough for him so he can get his sports hernia/back/leg(s)/whatever fixed properly.
Young Tuck. Rookie kicker, 47 yarder, in Mile High, a place he has never kicked before in, hostile crowd, crappy field conditions, post-season and possibly a Super Bowl on the line. Yet he nailed it. With distance to spare. I remember a chip-shot 32-yarder in the postseason, under much better conditions, that a veteran kicker could not convert...
Joe "Gloves are for Pansies" Flacco. C'mon haters- where you at? Come out, come out where ever you are... Joe wants to complete a few bombs over your head. First, the immediate game. He matched Peyton blow-for-blow. Does anybody realize how hard it is to chuck a football 40, 50 yards in the air when it is -2 outside and hit a target blazing down the field? With 300+ pound bodies wanting to turn you into a eunuch falling all around you? And he did it *three* times and almost a fourth? I'll say it loud and I will say it proud: he out-dueled Peyton, at Peyton's Place. Yes, he fumbled once, but given the conditions, can't expect much better. That was his only real goof-up. No other turnovers, and he would have made Unitas proud with the deep game.
Now, let us look at Joe's last three playoff games. He has outdueled two First Ballot Hall of Famers, and a potential Rookie of the Year, two out of three on the road. In this three game playoff trend, he has completed 56% of his passes, averaged over 300 yards per game, 7 TD's vs. 1 pick for a cumulative rating of a gaudy 110, and a ridiculous 10 Y/A. If a team is a #1 or #2 seed and their QB gives them three games in a row like this, they are the proud owners of a new Lombardi.
No bad. Ravens penalties, while not great, were a big improvement.
Special Teams. Not only coverage, obviously, but they couldn't spring Jacoby.
Doubters. 99% of the free world outside of Baltimore gave the Ravens not a single chance or even a prayer of winning. I can understand Denver being favorites. And Peyton. And the #2 defense. And the altitude. And the home field advantage. And... But the Ravens are not a Johnny-come-lately to the playoffs. This is veteran team who owns the longest current NFL playoff streak. You can never, ever discount a veteran team, especially one with a Ray Lewis. Nine and a half point dogs? I bet Vegas would like to have that one back...
The game clinching play was the 3rd and 13 completion from our own 3 in OT. Here is why this will go down as one of the most important plays in Ravens lore. This play was just as important as Rice's 4th and 29 conversion in San Diego in terms of extending our season. If we do not convert, we are punting from our 3 and at best, Peyton gets setup at midfield. Two completions later, Prater kicks the game-winner. Even though we ended up punting on this drive, I knew we were going to win because by getting the ball out to the 30, it flips the field position battle. Forcing Peyton to start in the shadow of his own goalpost is a world away from setting Peyton up at mid-field. Flacco to Pitta on the seam, in OT, at Mile High, on 3rd and long, in -2 weather, -that was a 100 million dollar hook-up.
Joe Flacco has won more regular season games, more playoff games, in the first five years of a career, than any other QB in NFL history. He has won at least one road playoff game for five straight seasons -nobody else can lay claim to that. He will have gone to three Conference Championship games in his first five years. Beyond incredible. Pay the man. Seven years at $100M. If he is able drop a ring on the negotiating table, that *thunk* is probably worth another thirty million and an extra year.
John Harbaugh is now tied, I think, for third place on the all-time list for coaches with road playoff wins. And he has only coached for five years.
Now is the game that everybody wanted; well, everybody in the State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Patriots didn't want to travel to Denver and the Ravens believe they had the game last year -some unfinished business still left for Baltimore. It may not mean much, but Baltimore does get an extra day of rest. The Ravens are playing a hot hand right now- it is as if they have gotten inside every opponents' OODA loop. The play calling is sharper, leveraging players' strengths instead of trying to fit square pegs in round holes. And the defense keeps getting better and better as guys get healthier.
I don't know if Sunday's upcoming game will be a classic like this past Saturday's. But I do know that the Ravens are going to fight with every ounce of their being, down to the last man, to the last tick of the clock. The Patriots *want* the Ravens. Be careful what you wish for as the Ravens are on a mission; they are focused like never before and on point.