Not only did the Baltimore Ravens control their own playoff destiny but they also controlled a couple of other teams' destiny as well. The Ravens 21-13 win at the Oakland Raiders secured a Wild Card berth and effectively knocked the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the post season at the same time Regardless of what happened this season with all our frustrations, that combination tasted a s sweet as anything you could wish for.
Now as the AFC's 6th seed, the Ravens get the opportunity to exact revenge on the New England Patriots when we travel up to Foxboro for the Wild Card playoff round game on Sunday at 1pm. After all this team endured all season long, the fact that the team persevered and survived to fight another day makes me proud to have stood by this team through thick and thin, as critical as I and other Ravens fans have been along the way However, as we wrote about last week, this trip to the post season has indeed been earned while other teams can just sit on their sofas and their fans can whine and complain all they want.
A lot of things went right yesterday in the Ravens victory that saw them finish with a 9-7 record. While it certainly was not the AFC North title they were seeking, it was better than the oddsmakers had us doing, as they had the total wins for the team in Las Vegas at 8.5 and even the reliable source, Football Outsiders, had us having a disappointing season and not making the playoffs. Whether or not you want to term the season "disappointing," they are still in the playoff mix and we all saw along with the rest of the league, what this team can do once they get into the dance.
It was great to see the Ravens get back to basics, relying on the running game to support the air attack. Behaind Willis McGahee's career best 167 yards and Ray Rice's 70 yards, the Ravens rolled up their second best game total of 240 rushing yards against one of the NFL's weakest run defenses. While QB Joe Flacco's stats weren't anything to write home about, they were enough to join in the win and without the mistakes that plagued the team in so many of their disappointing losses, they can stick with any team in this league, as they have already shown. Being flagged five times for 37 yards means this team has the ability to win without giving games away with those ill-timed yellow flags being thrown all over the field at critical times. Creating turnovers and playing solid in the secondary gave our pass rush time to get to the QB and vice versa.
While in no way am I saying that the Raiders can come close to mimicking the New England Patriots, this was a good game to show we belonged in the dance as the Raiders had won games there over tough playoff teams this season (Cincinnati, Philadelphia), plus won on the road in Pittsburgh. Now we can go up to Foxboro and prove that early season close contest was not a fluke and not make the same mistakes. If so, this team has every chance to pull the upset and you can be sure the Patriots were not rooting for the tough and physical Ravens to be their opponents after limping out of Houston yesterday losing, injured and already battered.