Isn't it a heck of a lot easier to wake up on Monday mornings after a Ravens' win? It sure makes looking forward to posting on this blog a lot more positive, thinking on what good to write about, instead of just complaining. Can you imagine what the die-hard Browns fans are posting? From what I saw when I peaked in on their site after yesterday's game, it was anger and hostility. Funny though, the anger and hostility was not aimed at the Ravens, or even us fans, but at the Browns, specifically Romeo Crennel and Derek Anderson. Not surprisingly, there was little or no credit given to the Ravens for their 37-27 comeback victory yesterday. Rather, they continued to mock our team, saying how bad we were and we had ONLY beaten a terrible team (their Browns) twice and until we beat the Steelers, they still think we stink. I guess they just think they stink more than us, so beating them is no big deal!
However, this is the NFL. Now sitting at 5-3, the Ravens are smack dab in the middle of the playoff hunt with half the season completed. While we should not even mention the "p" word until after week ten at the earliest, you can't help but feel a certain level of confidence after sweeping the season series of a tough divisional opponent. Our five wins have all come at the expense of teams with losing records, but that can be deceiving if you look at who those teams beat. The Dolphins beat New England, San Diego, Buffalo and now Denver. Yet, we went into their crib and punked them. The Browns crushed the defending Super Bowl Champs NY Giants while handing them their only loss of this season so far. They also went on the road to Jacksonville and upset them, yet we put up 37 on them on their field. If you look at those angles, then the parity in this league should only make our 5-3 record look even better and more legitimate. With the Ravens fifth win in eight games, we have now won as many games this season as we did all of 2007, when we finished 5-11. Something tells me we will be drastically improving on that embarassing season.
What went right yesterday? Well, to be honest, I just don't have the time to list everything that pleased me. However, to fall behind by two touchdowns usually meant "implosion time" for the Ravens. Yesterday, I saw a focused team calmly go about getting back the first TD, then rely on the defense to get them the ball back. Their confidence soared behind their rookie QB, who never seemed to panic as he continued his incredibly quick growth as a NFL starter and candidate for Rookie-of-the-Year. Zero turnovers in three straight games while throwing sharp passes that we only dreamed of in Baltimore, as it is apparent that we have our QB of the future in the present. To me, one of the biggest signs of his poise and confdence came in the third quarter when we were inside our 20 yard line with a third down and 16 yards to go, now down by two TD's. Normally, you'd expect a short pass, draw play or worse, and then a punt out of the end zone as our downward spiral continued. Instead, Flacco rifled a bullet over the middle to his favorite target, Derrick Mason, for a 20 yard gain and a first down on our way to a TD to get back into the game. If Mason isn't one of the best possession receivers in the NFL, then pray tell me, who is better? Another long drive, capped by a 28 yard catch and run by Mason for the tying TD and we were back to even. A fourth straight three-and-out by our defense, assisted by some very questionable, conservative playcalling, not to mention a dropped pass by Braylon Edwards, and we got the lead on Matt Stover's third FG of the game. The nail in the coffin was the interception return for TD by T-Sizzle in a virtual replay of the exact same thing he did in Miami two weeks ago. Something tells me Suggs is going to get a hefty pay raise for next year by the Ravens, who have no intention of letting him test the free agent market.
With key starters on both sides of the ball injured and out for the game, the reserves stepped up and played huge roles in this victory. None was bigger than the rookie from Rutgers, Ray Rice, who ripped through and around the tough Browns run defense for 154 yards, easily a career high. He is surprisingly strong and hard to bring down for a relatively small RB, and showed the speed that transformed the Rutgers football program from a joke into a legitmate contender for the Big East crown during his time there. Combined with the bruising of backfield mate Le'Ron McClain, they made the absence of Willis McGahee virtually negligent. Wide receiver Mark Clayton seriously showed up for the first time this season since his opening day TD run on a reverse to help defeat the Bengals. He had 80 yards, but none more important than his first TD reception this season on a great diving catch in the first quarter. It's great to see how he can complement Derrick Mason when he's open. Unfortunately, Todd Heap again returned to invisible status, although his blocking seemed greatly improved on a couple of key runs by Rice. The offensive line opened huge holes for the RB's and provided enough protection for Flacco to find his open receivers. The Ravens heavy packages, which included overloading one side of the line with two tackles, seemed to overwhelm and flatten Cleveland's front line of defense, anchored by Shaun Rogers. Rogers is spoken of in NFL cirlces as one of the best DT's in the game, but I still wouldn't even consider trading Haloti Ngata or perhaps even Justin Bannan for him, the way they're playing.
Notice how the only Ray I've mentioned has been Rice, not Lewis? The defense gave up two TD's and two FG's, and it certainly could have been worse, if the Browns had stuck to the success they were having passing the ball. Instead, they stubbornly kept trying to run the ball rather than move it through the air, where they seemed to be widely successful, throwing to both Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. Our secondary was depleted by injuries and both corners were having trouble keeping these guys covered. For whatever reason, the Browns played a lot like the Ravens in our losses, trying not to lose, rather than put us away by continuing to attack. As bad as the corners were, you've still got to understand that these guys are nickel or dime-backs, not NFL starters. We need our front line guys to get healthy or other teams won't be as cooperative as Cleveland was yesterday.
Special Teams deserves a special mention and not from a complementary angle. Their tackling was abysmal on both the kickoffs and punt returns. While Brendon Ayanbadejo had a couple of loud hits, the rest of the guys couldn't stay in their lanes and keep Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs from ripping off huge returns to set up the Browns' offense in great field position. The first return for TD after the Ravens went up 10-0 put them right back into the game after we were beginning to make this game look like a rout in the first quarter.
Overall, you've got to be stoked after this one. Going to Houston next week to make up the game postponed due to Hurricane Ike won't be an easy one either, if there are such things in the NFL. The Texans lost in Minnesota yesterday but had previously won three in a row. They'll look to get back on track and have one of the best big receivers in the game in Andre' Johnson. Unless the Ravens corners get healthy quickly, we're going to need another great performance like yesterday's if we expect to continue this streak, which then heads to the Meadowlands to face the Giants in two weeks before finally coming home to host the Philadelphia Eagles.
It's a long streak, but we're on our way after a crushing blow to the Browns' season and a series sweep of Cleveland. Now, we have to do the unthinkable, and that is to actually root for the hated Washington Redskins to beat the equally hated Pittsburgh Steelers tonight on MNF and put us in a first place tie in the AFC North, even though the Steelers hold virtually every tie-breaker at this point of the season.
Hard to say it, but "GO 'SKINS!!!