Fans of the Baltimore Ravens have been angry and frustrated since December began, knowing their team was a lot better than what they had shown the past three weeks. Losing two games on the final play and the other while being blown out at home left them in a foul mood.
That all went down the drain yesterday as the Ravens may have played their best game of the season, since the stakes were never higher as when the New York Giants came into town with payoff implications critical for both teams. Although the Ravens knew they had a playoff berth locked up, the AFC North title was still on the line.
The Giants desperately need the win just to remain in the playoff race. There was nothing to hold either team back from putting out their finest effort in this "playoff-type" of atmosphere. In gambling terms, both team were "all-in."
The Ravens got out of the blocks quickly, scoring a touchdown on their first possession and never looked back. In the past, once the Ravens got a decent lead, they sat back into what fans called Cam Cameron's "Prevent Offense," but this time they had their collective feet on the Giants throats and kept pressing down.
Baltimore won every phase of the game and even though the win was by a solid 33-14 score, the final margin wasn't even that close until a late Giants TD. The Ravens have had trouble keeping the ball in their possession, but yesterday totally reversed that trend, with almost a two-to-one margin, holding the ball for over 39 minutes to the Giants 21.
The Ravens 290 offensive yards in the first half was the most the Giants have given up in a game's first 30 minutes all season. Not only did Baltimore have over 500 yards of total offense, Joe Flacco threw for over 300 yards and BOTH Ray Rice (24 attempts for 107 yards) and Bernard Pierce (14 for 123)went over the the century mark.
After severely damaging his hopes for a huge payday after the season, Flacco rebounded in the season's most important game, going 25 for 36 for 309 yards. He threw for two TDs and ran for one, with a final QB Rating of a lofty 114.2. Four receivers had over 50 yards worth of receptions and each one had a catch over 27 yards.
Defensively, it looked like the Ravens of the past, with constant pressure and solid tackling. Although Baltimore only had three sacks of Giants QB Eli Manning, he suffered nine QB hits and non-stop pressure, as he was forced to hold onto the ball since his receivers were blanketed all day. To Manning's credit, he did not make any stupid throws that resulted in an interception, but his accuracy was questionable all day, as evidenced by his final stats line of 14-28 for 150 yards, one TD pass and a 78 QB Rating.
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is really coming into his own, leading the team in tackles yesterday with five. Although five may not seem like a lot of tackles, the numbers were spread around pretty evenly, signalling a total team effort. Considering the Ravens offense had the ball so much, there were only a total number of 36 tackles awarded all day to the defense. When the Ravens run 81 offensive plays to the Giants 45, that's what happens for a well-rested Ravens defense.
In addition to the great games for Flacco, Rice and Pierce, the offensive line has to be pointed out for their best game of the season, since the aforementioned stats could not have happened without protection and run blocking. Flacco was not sacked all game and only hit twice all game, proving that while ineffective under pressure, he can be deadly if given enough time to show off his rocket arm.
The Ravens now have decisions to make as to who will play in the season finale that effectively doesn't matter. Baltimore is once again the AFC North Champs and will host the Indianapolis Colts in two week at M&T Bank Stadium. A few more weeks of consistently playing to their potential and the Ravens could once again be playing into late January and dare we say, February?