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The Drop, The Miss, and The End?

No breakout- no point. I mentioned before the Ravens were going to have to execute nearly flawlessly in order to win in Foxboro. They didn’t, and they didn’t.

Defense and Special Teams came up with some big plays except for one small one at the end…; but defense couldn’t make a third down stop on New England’s side of the field, or a goal line stand. And the defense got zippy pass rush –again. Whether by design or lack of execution, the defense registered one sack. One sack is a Brady dream. For two playoff games now we have not been able to get any pressure on the QB. Yes, we kept Brady in check, but he still made the plays he had to and he still was able to do just enough to win. We forced two punts –that’s it. And not only couldn’t the defense mount a goal line stand, they let Brady drive down the field, almost at will. One touchdown stop- turn one of the touchdowns into a field goal or make the stand, game could have been very different.

The O-line was *okay*, and I am being generous. They didn’t generate a push in the running game until well into the second half, and even then it wasn’t always consistent. They allowed three sacks and never really ever set up a clean pocket on a consistent basis. And the two or three times the Patriots run blitzed, we failed to mitigate it.

While Flacco made some inhuman throws, he also made two or three bad decisions, including the pick. Give Flacco credit- the Pitta TD, the Evans almost TD and a few others were incredible throws. One where he overthrew Torrey –that was off his back foot, with no follow through and he basically flicked the ball and it still went fifty, sixty yards in the air –inhuman. He made throws today that I am not sure anybody else in the league could have made. Maybe a healthy Peyton, maybe Brady…

Flacco had 300+ yards, 2TD’s (1 pick), 61% completion, a 95.4 rating. Very pretty numbers. He statistically out performed Brady: 61% completion, 239 yards, 0 TD’s (1 rushing) 2 picks, 57.5 rating. 57.5!!!!!! Flacco had the "Brady" numbers. Brady had very pedestrian to poor numbers. Brady completely misfired on a wide open Gronkowski. He also misfired on several other throws, including the two picks, although the second was a pretty incredible play by the Ravens defense, the ball was still underthrown. Is Brady catching *any* flack for his performance? None. Not a peep. Flacco turns in the kind of statistical performance that folks clamor for, and he gets the L. I have said it before, I would rather have an okay to good QB performance if it results in a W, than pretty numbers and losing.

And the drops. Dickson killed us. There were one or two others, and of course Evans. We can give explanations all we want- still not 100% healthy, has not played very much so maybe his head and concentration aren’t where they are supposed to be, yada yada yada, but dammit man, careers are defined by the Super Bowl. You have got to hold onto that like it is your first born.

Special Teams had the big play on the Laquan forced fumble, but then Cundiff couldn’t deliver. The most important field goal yet in his career and he flubbed it. You can say that Koch didn’t get the ball turned around completely, but a 36 yarder? Cundiff has to be able to get that through, even if the hold is not perfect. That was almost Norwood-esque. That is the kind of kick that can change a kicker’s career for the worse.

Cam called an okay game. Again, not a perfect game when it needed to be perfect. I really only have a problem with the one call on second a fifteen –a bomb which fooled nobody and of course forced a punt; and would have liked to have gotten Rice a few more touches, but the game flow may have hindered that somewhat. I also really liked that we went for the win at the end instead of just driving for a field goal. I was thinking –where is this coming from? I thought they were going to throw a couple of quick outs to creep closer. Even with the specter of a potential game ending pick, we kept firing into the end zone up until the very end.

Bottom line is, I think we have seen all that Cam has to offer. Not sure what more he has the capacity to produce. Cam needed to be primetime and he was a daytime soap opera rerun. There probably is a place in the NFL for Cam, but for a (now) veteran offense that needs to be taken to the next level, I do not believe Cam has the ability to evolve the offense to where it needs to be. Yes drops, yes lack of receiver experience and injuries at times, but a top-notch OC, while maybe not being able to overcome all of those issues, at least will show you some progress. I think we can all agree the offense really didn’t progress in any area other than Rice. But Rice is truly an elite back and a top three talent. I think there are any number of young, hungry, intelligent and gutsy assistants and QB coaches who look at the Ravens and think, "Yeah, I could do this, this and this…"

A cynical fan could blame all of this on David Reed. I honestly believe if yesterday’s game was at M&T, we win. If David doesn’t have one of the worse single player performances in the history of the Ravens, who knows… But Reed is one of 53 and they should be able to overcome that and still win the Seattle game. If Cam doesn’t gift wrap the Jags game for Jacksonville, who knows- the Ravens get the #1 seed instead of the #2 seed. But the problem is, this team should be able to have a larger margin of error. It should not require a near perfect regular season in order to ensure a #1 seed to give the Ravens a little breathing room, and the Ravens should be able to weather a few bad bounces on the road in Foxboro and still come away with the win, especially when you win the turnover margin three to one –this team is far too talented and far too experienced, yet it is architected so that in order to succeed *everything* must fire perfectly –no margin for error.

There could be a fair amount of turnover. It has been two years for questions about Birk continuing playing, 2-3 for Reed and three now Ray Lewis. Birk I think will hang them up. Reed should hang them up for his own safety’s sake and quality of life.

Ray Lewis is a tough one. His ability is not where it once was –we can all agree with that. More and more he gets blocked when before he had the speed to either avoid the block, or strength to shed the block. But the leadership and communication he brings are unquantifiable. He is one of the few, in any sport, that truly raises the level of those around him when he plays. His contract has ended. I do not see Ozzie paying him six+ million a year (again). I do not see Ray playing for a greatly reduced salary, if he still wants to play. It could get Favre-esque…

But the Ravens will be okay. The Ravens will experience some potentially major turnover next year, but it is still a relatively young team, especially on offense. Rice just turned 25 yesterday; Torrey was a rookie but will come back next year as a legitimate number one –no doubt. We have decent (Dickson) to very good (Pitta) tight ends that will only be in their third year. McKinnie and Gurode are potential stopgap measures (assuming Birk retires) for a year, so the Ravens need to address center and left tackle now. Not sure if the future is currently on the roster (Harewood? Reid? Boren? Newton?), available in the draft or acquired through free agency, but it needs to be addressed now. But the offensive skill positions are set for years; and we have 3/5 of the O-line settled if Grubbs remains (and potentially 4/5 if McKinnie is kept on for another year).

The Steelers are showing their age; as are the Patriots. And the Patriots have zippy in the pipeline defensively. In many ways, this year may be the last hurray for the Patriots. Oh, they will still be a formidable team next year, probably win their division yet again, but they barely beat a flawed Ravens team on their home turf. Brady cannot keep carrying this team and Belichick can only hide things for so long and perform out of this world coaching gyrations before it catches up to you. Honestly, I think the Texans, if 100% healthy, could be the new power in the AFC next year.

Winning at least one playoff game four years in a row, going to the AFC championship game two out of four years –pretty amazing. A good season, and a great past couple of seasons. And a break or two here or there, and things would have been very different.