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Patriots Dominate Ravens

December 23, 2013 in Observations

In the worst loss under head coach John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens were dominated at home by the New England Patriots in a 41-7 loss. The loss drops the Ravens to 8-7 and severely damages their playoffs chances. The win for the Patriots makes them 11-4 and they clinched their division prior to kickoff with a loss by the Miami Dolphins.

The Ravens were beaten in all aspects of the game and the team showed no sense of urgency despite the fact that they were fighting for a playoff spot.

This lackluster play led to the largest home loss in team history (34 points). The previous worst was 27 points to the Kansas City Chiefs back in 1999.

How bad did the Ravens play? Even the ever-reliable kicker Justin Tucker missed a field goal (37-yards) breaking his streak of 33-straight makes.

The Patriots jumped out to an early lead at M&T Bank Stadium and never looked back. Two first quarter touchdowns put them up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and they tacked on a field goal before halftime. This 17 point deficit for the Ravens was the largest halftime deficit of the season and the largest since 2011.

At halftime, the Ravens almost had as many penalty yards (65) as total yards on offense (71). The offense never got anything going and the first time they made it into Patriots' territory was in the second half.

Finally, the Ravens scored with 9:21 left in the fourth quarter on a quarterback sneak from Joe Flacco. This put an end to the Ravens' streak of seven quarters in a row without scoring a touchdown as they scored no touchdowns last week and went three quarters this week without one.

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

By then though, it was too late as the score was 20-7 and after the Ravens failed on a fourth down play with just under seven minutes left in the game, it was over.

The Patriots proceeded to march down the field on eight run plays and scored a touchdown with 2:05 left. After this, the Ravens admitted defeat and sent in backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Things got worse for the Ravens then as the first snap that Taylor took he wasn't able to bring in and the Patriots recovered it for a touchdown. A few plays later, Taylor threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown as well making the score 41-7.

Entering the game, the Ravens had won 10-straight regular season home finales which was the NFL's longest active streak.

Joe Flacco
Contributing to the Ravens' poor performance was Flacco who didn't look himself all game long.

The reason for this is that he was playing with a mild MCL sprain in his left knee. This injury forced him to wear a bulky breach on his knee. The injury and the brace clearly effected him throughout the game and is one of the reasons why the Ravens' offense was never able to find any rhythm.

For the game, he went 22-of-38 for 260 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 56.9.

On the second play from scrimmage for the Ravens he under threw a wide open Torrey Smith on a deep pass. Smith had to slow down and wait for the pass after beating the cornerback that was covering him. This time waiting allowed the deep safety to come over and breakup the pass. A good throw here likely goes for a touchdown which would have given the Ravens an early 7-0 lead making it a completely different game.

Flacco's first interception came when he tried to loft a pass over a linebacker to Jacoby Jones. Flacco wasn't able to get the pass over the leaping linebacker. This linebacker deflected the pass and the cornerback, who was a step or two behind Jones, was able to corral the pass. Jones had his man beat, but Flacco wasn't able to get the pass to him. This interception came on the drive after the Patriots first touchdown and gave them the ball on their own 47-yard line. This led to the Patriots second touchdown of the game.

The second interception came on a third and two quick pass to tight end Dennis Pitta. Flacco threw the pass just slightly to the outside of Pitta and it looked like Pitta was expecting a pass to the inside. The ball bounced off of Pitta's hands and right to a Patriot. The blame on this interception can be spilt because Flacco was slightly off target, but Pitta still needs to be able to catch that pass. This game the Patriots the ball on the Baltimore 43-yard line and led to a field goal.

With those two interceptions, Flacco now has 19 on the season. This is tied for the fourth-worst in the league and is by far the most that he has thrown in one season. His previous high was 12 which occurred in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

He also had another interception dropped when he overthrew Jones by about five yards on a deep pass. The ball hit the safety right in the hands, but he wasn't able to bring it in. Jones was double-covered by a cornerback who was stride-for-stride with him and a safety over the top, so I don't know why Flacco even threw the pass.

On a fourth and three play on the Ravens' first drive of the second half, he threw to Jones on an out route, but it was broken up. On the play, he had Pitta wide open underneath for the first down and it is not like Flacco couldn't have seen Pitta as he was in the same area as Jones, just not as far downfield. It looked like Flacco made his mind up before the ball was snapped on who he was going to throw to on this play.

He was sacked four times on the day so the offensive line didn't give him much help, though one of the sacks is on him. This occurred on a third and five where he couldn't find anyone to throw to (a common theme in the game). So, he started to move around in the pocket, but he lost his footing and fell. It was his left leg that went out from underneath him — the one that has an injured knee. He admitted after the game that this is what caused him to slip and fall.

Lastly, he scored the Ravens only touchdown of the game on a one-yard quarterback sneak on second and goal. This is his first rushing touchdown of the season and the first in five games for the team.

Overall he, like the rest of the team, had a bad game. The Ravens are going to need to put this one behind them and bounce back as they try and make the playoffs while facing the Cincinnati Bengals this week in Cincinnati. The Bengals have already clinched the AFC North, but are still playing for seeding.

Ray Rice
Going up against the second-worst run defense in the league, Rice had a chance for a big game, but he wasn't able to produce the way he would have liked.

Carrying the ball 11 times, he ran for 40 yards — an average of 3.6 yards per carry.  One of his rushes went for a first down: a gain of four on second and three. This came the play after he gained seven yards on first down. On a fourth and one run from the Patriots' four-yard line late in the third quarter, Rice came up inches short.

In the passing game, he caught two passes for 23 yards. One of his catches went for a first down as well: a gain of 10 on a second and eight. His other catch was a gain of 13 on a second and 19 screen pass.

With his two catches, he now has 51 catches on the season. This marks the fifth-straight season for him with 50 catches. A sixth-year veteran, Rice has been the starter for the last five years. This streak is tied for the second-longest in Ravens' history with tight end Todd Heap. The record is six-straight seasons which was set by wide receiver Derrick Mason.

Torrey Smith
Catching three passes for 69 yards on eight targets, Smith led the Ravens in receiving yesterday.

However, his first catch didn't come until midway through the third quarter. A likely reason for this is that the Patriots had cornerback Aqib Talib covering him for most of the game. He is the Patriots' shutdown cornerback and they have him follow their opponent's best receiver around the field.

All three of his catches went for first downs. His big play of the game came on a third and six where he gained 42 yards on a curl route. He caught the pass and then stiff-armed a defender away. This allowed him to sprint up the sideline for a big gain and put the ball on the Patriots' 13-yard line. His other two first down catches were gain of 10 on second and six and 17 on second and 10.

He also drew a pass interference call that put the ball on the Patriots' two-yard line. This penalty gave the Ravens 23 yards and two plays later, Flacco scored on his quarterback sneak.

Marlon Brown
At the other receiver for most of the game was Brown who recorded four catches for 51 yards on seven targets.

Three of his four catches went for first downs: a gain of 14 on second and five, a gain of six on third and eight and a gain of 21 on on second and three. On this gain of 21, he ran a shallow crossing route along with Pitta. He bumped into the player covering Brown by mistake (he didn't see him until it was too late). This freed Brown up for yards after the catch as there was no defender trailing him. He was going to make the catch regardless, but this contact freed him up for a much bigger gain.

On this catch, Brown hurt his hip on the tackle. He landed on this hip as he fell to the ground. This injury caused him to miss the rest of the drive, but he was back in on the next drive.

A problem for the Ravens' receivers this season has been getting separation from defenders and this game was no different. Smith, Brown and the other receivers have problems creating separation and this is one of the reasons for the offense's struggles this year.

Offensive Line
Giving up four sacks and averaging 3.28 yards per carry on designed rushes, the offensive line again struggled this week.

Three of the four sacks are the responsibility of the offensive line as Flacco fell on one which was talked about above.

All three of these sacks came from the right side of the line which is manned by right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher.

One sack came on a third and eight and resulted in a loss of seven. It was a simple cornerback blitz and Oher blocked the defensive lineman that crashed to the inside after lining up over him. The cornerback then came into the area vacated by the lineman. Oher needs to see this and block the cornerback while allowing Yanda — who was blocking nobody on the play — to take the defensive lineman.

Another sack came on a first and 10 where Oher allowed fast pressure off the edge which forced Flacco to step up in the pocket. By stepping up to avoid the pressure from the outside, he went right into the lineman that Yanda was trying to block. This sack went for a loss of seven as well and put the ball on the Ravens' three-yard line.

The last sack was solely on Oher. It came on a third and six and he was beaten on a bull-rush. The defensive lineman just overpowered Oher on the way to sacking Flacco for a loss of five.

Center Gino Gradkowski snapped the ball wide right of Taylor who was in for his first snap. This bad snap was recovered by the Patriots for a touchdown. Yes, the game was already over when this happened, but this is and inexcusable mistake.

Left guard A.Q. Shipley has flagged for illegal use of hands to the face.

Arthur Jones
One of the the breakout performers of the season for the Ravens has been Jones who was expected to start at defensive end, but wasn't being counted on to produce the way he has.

Currently, he leads the defensive linemen in tackles with 53 and he had another good game against the Patriots in run defense.

He totaled eight tackles, tied for the second most on the team, and four of them were for run stops. These run stops were for gains of zero, negative two, two and three. The last two were shared with Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody respectively. The most impressive ones — gains of zero and negative two — were solo though.

On the negative side, Jones was penalized for illegal use of hands to the face. He also left the game with an apparent concussion and didn't return. This is something that should be monitored as the Ravens prepare for the Bengals. Earlier in the season against he Bengals he had four tackles and one sack.

Haloti Ngata
Next to Jones on the defensive line is Ngata, who plays the all-important nose tackle in the Ravens' 3-4 defensive scheme.

With the second most tackles on the defensive line with 45, he is having a good season as a run defender, but his pass rushing has suffered since moving over from his defensive end spot that he play last season.

Against the Patriots he had six tackles and three of them were run stops (two were shared). On a first and goal run play for the Patriots, he stopped the play for a gain of two. He also had a run stop for a gain of two which was shared with Jones and a run stop for a gain of one which was shared with Chris Canty, the other starting defensive end.

For the second straight game, and the third time this season, Ngata got his hands on a pass at the line-of-scrimmage. This pass deflection came on a first and 10 pass play.

Terrell Suggs
After recording nine sacks in the first eight games of the season, Suggs had gone six-straight games without a sack entering the game yesterday.

Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Late in the third quarter, he beat the left tackle with a hesitation move on third and two inside the Patriots' 15-yard line. Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady saw Suggs coming and fell to the ground to avoid getting hit hard. Touching Brady down, Suggs had his first sack since week nine against the Cleveland Browns which was Nov. 3.

This sack gives him 10.0 on the season and this is the fifth time in his 11 seasons that this has happened. (The other times were 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2011).

Along with his sack, he had five tackles and two quarterback hits.

Three of his tackles came in the form of run stops. These were for a loss of three and two gains of two. The second of which was shared with middle linebacker Daryl Smith.

On another run play, Suggs had good penetration and was in line to make the play for little to no gain, but the Patriot trying to block him was flagged for holding, the correct call.

Daryl Smith
Leading the team, and the game, in tackles by three was Smith who has done this plenty of times this season. With these 11 tackles, he set a new career high. He entered the game with 107 which was his career high set in 2009 and tied again in 2011.

During the Patriots second drive, he left the game with an injury and missed the rest of the drive. He was able to return the next time the Patriots had the ball though.

As usual, he blitzed multiple times during the game and — as usual — he had success, recording half of a sack, his fifth of the season. This sack came on a third and nine and resulted in a loss of eight. He, along with outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, got to Brady and took him down. Originally, the officials threw a flag for defensive holding on one of the Ravens rushing the passer. However, the flag was waved off and no number was ever given.

In pass coverage, he allowed two passes to be completed for 14 yards and one went for a first down. On the one that went for a first down, Jameel McClain forced a fumble as the receiver, Danny Amendola, went to the ground. This was recovered by cornerback Lardarius Webb. However, this play was reviewed and replay showed that Amendola's forearm was down before the ball came loose. Smith also had a pass defensed on a second and seven play.

Moving to run defense, he had two run stops and both of them are shared. The first was a gain of two which was shared with McClain and the other was a gain of two which was shared with Suggs.

Cornerbacks
Brady and the Patriots' passing attack didn't do much damage to the Ravens as he went 14-of-26 for 172 yards and one touchdown. However, he was efficient and had a quarterback rating of 87.3.

Webb allowed two of these passes to be completed for 10 yards and neither of these two plays went for first downs. He had good pass coverage on a deep pass on second and 10 and was rewarded was a pass defensed, his 21st of the season which is a new career-high. Entering the game he had 20 which was his previous high which was set in 2011.

He had four tackles and one of them was a run stop for a gain of two. He has always been a willing run defender which is something you don't see in most cornerbacks. On the negative side, he was called for two penalties. The first was for illegal contact and the other was a personal foul for unnecessary roughness with just over two minutes left in the game. The game was already decided by then so it wasn't needed. CBS never showed a replay of this penalty so I don't know what he did to warrant the flag.

After going up against Calvin Johnson last week, Jimmy Smith allowed three catches for 38 yards and three first downs. One of these first downs came on a third down. Along with giving up these catches, he had four tackles and was called for two penalties. The first was a pass interference in the end zone which gave the Patriots the ball on the one-yard line. This penalty was for 34 yards and the Patriots scored the next play. He grabbed wide receiver Julian Edelman so this was the right call. The other penalty was a personal foul on a punt return which pushed the Ravens back to their own seven-yard line. Again, CBS didn't show a replay so I don't know what Smith did.

As the nickel cornerback Corey Graham was tested in this game and only allowed one catch which went for 15 yards and a first down. He missed a tackle on the play which allowed the receiver to pick up extra yards.

AFC Championship Rematch: Ravens vs Patriots

December 21, 2013 in What to Look For

In the last two seasons, the AFC Championship Game has consisted of the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots. Both times the game has been played in New England and each game produced different results.

The first time around, in 2011, the Ravens suffered a heartbreaking defeat 23-20. With under one minute left in the game, wide receiver Lee Evans had the game-winning touchdown catch in his hands, but Patriots' defender Sterling Moore was able to knock it loose at the last second. Two plays later, the Ravens attempted a 32-yard field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. However, kicker Billy Cundiff missed it wide left and the Patriots won the game. They would face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI where the Giants won 21-17. This game against the Patriots is still a sore spot for Ravens fans.

Last year, the Ravens headed up to Foxboro looking for revenge. The Ravens had defeated the Patriots 31-30 in the regular season on a 27-yard field goal from new kicker Justin Tucker. Wide receiver Torrey Smith played the game of his life catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns just hours after finding out about the death of his younger brother Tevin.

A regular season victory isn't the same though. For the Ravens to come full-circle on the Patriots, they needed to win a playoff game in Foxboro. At halftime in the 2012 AFC Championship Game, the Ravens were down 13-7 and weren't playing great. In the second half, quarterback Joe Flacco came out firing and three three touchdown passes. This spearheaded the Ravens comeback and led them to a 28-13 victory.

This victory sent the Ravens to Super Bowl XLVII where they faced the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans where the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after an eventful 34-31 victory.

1.  Joe Flacco
If the Ravens are to defeat the Patriots for a third straight time, they are going to need Flacco to play like he did in last season's two games.

In the regular season matchup, he went 28-of-39 for 382 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 117.7. With the Ravens down 30-21 with 7:29 left in the game, they got the ball and he led them on a drive then ended in a touchdown pass to Smith with 4:01 left. After the defense forced a Patriots punt, Flacco and the offense got the ball back with 1:55 left. A few plays later, the Ravens had the ball on the Patriots' nine-yard line and sent in Tucker for the game-winning field goal. With the game on the line, Flacco led the Ravens on two scoring drives late in the game to win.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

In the playoff matchup, the Ravens came out with a conservative game plan, but changed it at halftime to let him throw more. This resulted in the Ravens scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half and a trip to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. For the game, he went 21-of-36 for 240 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a quarterback rating of 106.2.

The Patriots have been a team that he plays better against due to his familiarity with them. He has played them six times going 3-3 including 2-1 in the playoffs. In these games, he has thrown 12 touchdowns compared to four interceptions and has completed 63.5 percent of his passes.

This year, he seems to be having a down year after winning the Super Bowl. He has thrown for 3,460 yards, 18 touchdowns and completed 58.9 percent of his passes. Along with these stats, he has also thrown a career-high 17 interceptions and has a career-low quarterback rating (76.5). His previous high in interceptions was 12 which he has done three different times.

Part of the reason why he is having a down year is the struggles of the rest of the offense. Anquan Boldin, a key receiver from last year, was traded away and tight end Dennis Pitta dislocated and fractured his hip in training camp. He has only returned recently and the game this week will be his third of the season. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection and run blocking. The lack of an effective run game has pushed more onto the shoulders of Flacco.

One thing that he has done well this season is come through late in games. In the last two game, he has led two game-winning drives and in the first game, he led two touchdown drives in the final few minutes.

Playing in the clutch is one of the most important attributes that a quarterback can have in his arsenal and it is something that can't be taught. You either have it or you don't. And Flacco has it.

If the Ravens can get another good performance from Flacco, then they are going to be tough to beat.

2.  Tom Brady
Speaking of quarterbacks that perform in the clutch, the Patriots have a pretty good one themselves in Brady.

While Brady is a first-ballet Hall-of-Fame quarterback, the Ravens' defense has given him trouble in the past. Since 2008 — when Flacco entered the league — Brady has thrown six touchdowns and nine interceptions against the Ravens while completing 60.2 percent of his passes. In his eight career starts against the Ravens, he has completed only 57.7 percent of his passes and has thrown two more interceptions than touchdowns. These are his worst numbers against an opponent.

One reason that the Ravens have been able to find success against him has been because of the numerous blitzes that the Ravens run. The Ravens' defense has been able to confuse Brady at times with their blitzes.

Directing the Ravens' signals on defense every other year has been Ray Lewis, another first-ballet Hall-of-Fame player. However, he retired in the offseason and left a huge void in the middle of the Ravens' defense. Taking over Lewis' spot has been Daryl Smith, a veteran signed in free agency.

He has exceeded expectations for the Ravens as he has 107 tackles (tied for a career-high), 4.5 sacks (career-high), three interceptions (career-high) and 18 pass deflections (career-high and a Ravens' franchise record for a linebacker). He has also done a good job of calling the signals for the defense.

Brady will be missing many of his top targets in this game. All three of his favorite targets from last year won't play as tight end Rob Gronkowski is out with a torn ACL and MCL, tight end Aaron Hernandez is in jail awaiting trial for murder and wide receiver Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency. On top of that fourth-round pick wide receiver Josh Boyce is out with an injury, second-round pick wide receiver Aaron Dobson is questionable and undrafted free agent wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is also questionable. His most targeted receiver this year is Julian Edelman who has 89 catches and his previous high was 37. Coming in second is Danny Amendola, a free agent signing to replace Welker, but he has missed four games with injury.

Despite all of these injuries and changes, Brady has still led the Patriots to a 10-4 record.

The Ravens will need to play physical with the receivers on the outside as both Edelman and Amendola are under six foot tall. The defense will also need to pressure Brady with various blitzes to force him to make quick decisions under pressure.

3.  Big Plays
This game has massive playoff implications so there will be a playoff-like atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. In games like this, big plays will be the difference.

Big plays can be one of two things: a large gain or a turnover.

Starting with large gains, these can come in many different forms. There could be a big kickoff or punt return, a long pass or catch and run, or even a long run after a handoff.

In the return game, the Ravens have a clear advantage with Jacoby Jones returning for them. The first-team All-Pro kick returner from last season missed a few games at the beginning of the season with a knee injury and then struggled in his first few games back. Now though, he is in full stride and has been busting out big returns in recent games. Against the New York Jets four weeks ago, he returned a punt 37 yards and had 108 punt return yards on five returns. Three weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers he returned a kickoff 73 yards and almost scored a touchdown. Against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago he did as he took a kickoff 77 yards with 1:16 left in the game to give the Ravens the lead. Last week against the Detroit Lions he returned a kickoff 36 yards to the Ravens' 33-yard line to set up the Ravens' game-winning drive.

In the passing and rushing game, the Ravens and Patriots are balanced as the Ravens have the advantage passing and the Patriots do rushing the ball.

Moving to the turnover battle, the Patriots have the advantage. They have a turnover differential of plus six compared to the Ravens one of negative two. The Patriots have forced 25 turnovers (14 interceptions and 11 fumbles) while only turning it over 19 times (10 interceptions and nine fumbles). The Ravens have forced 20 turnovers (12 interceptions and eight fumbles) while turning it over 22 times (17 interceptions and five fumbles).

Last week, the Patriots were even in turnover differential as they threw for one interception and forced a fumble. The Ravens were plus three as they intercepted three passes while not turning the ball over.

This game is going to come down to who can make a big play when is comes down to it. Both the Ravens and Patriots have shown this ability and are balanced in this aspect.

4.  Run Game
A battle of bad meets bad when the Ravens have the ball on offense as the Ravens' run game ranks worst in yards per attempt and the Patriots' run defense ranks second-worst in yards per game.

The struggles for the Ravens stem from an ineffective offensive line and running backs that can't break tackles. This is a killer combination (and not in a good way). This has led to 3.0 yards per carry which is worse than all teams in the league and the next worse is at 3.3.

The offensive line has failed to provide any holes to running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. They haven't played well either though as they have failed to break tackles and take advantage of a hole when there has been one.

Injuries have been the main fault behind the Patriots' bad run defense. Starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are out for the season with injuries and the same goes for linebacker Jarod Mayo. These three (especially Wilfork and Mayo) were the better run defenders on the Patriots and their losses have really hurt the Patriots.

Rice has run up the middle a lot this season and with the Patriots hurting in that area, expect more of the same. One of the two units has to give way and have success for once. Right?

Ravens vs Patriots Injury Report

December 20, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Doubtful
CB Asa Jackson (Hamstring)

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Questionable
LB Elvis Dumervil (Ankle)
QB Joe Flacco (Knee)
LB Albert McClellan (Neck)
RB Ray Rice (Quadriceps)

Probable
TE Dallas Clark (Illness)
S Brynden Trawick (Ankle)

Patriots

Out
WR Josh Boyce (Ankle)

Questionable
CB Kyle Arrington (Groin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (Knee)
WR Aaron Dobson (Foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (Groin)
OT Nate Solder (Concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (Knee)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (Hip)

Probable
QB Tom Brady (Shoulder)
WR Danny Amendola (Groin)
OT Marcus Cannon (Ankle)
S Steve Gregory (Finger)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (Knee)
OT Will Svitek (Ankle)
CB Aqib Talib (Hip)

Lessons Learned:Worst Losses In Baltimore Ravens Franchise History (Part 2)

May 29, 2013 in Ravens Greatest Games

I know-I know, making you wait for the final eight Greatest Games in Ravens history is becoming excruciating. However, there are still five games remaining in the 10 Greatest losses in Ravens football history. With that said, no excruciating loss list would complete if it did not include at least three games between the Ravens and Steelers in the top five—- but ironically enough, the Steelers did not factor into the top two. No peeking please

A Little Ravens-Steelers By The Numbers Before We Move Forward:

Baltimore, while closing the gap on their hated rivals in terms of wins and losses all time, is still just 15-19 vs. Pittsburgh during the regular season—And 0-3 in the playoffs. I could have done a top 20 list and put 15 of the 22 losses (including playoffs) to the Steelers on the list and not one Ravens fan would have disagreed.

Excruciating is the only way to describe many of losses the Ravens have suffered at the hands of the  black and gold, especially within the last five seasons. Including the playoffs, the Ravens are 5-7 vs. the Steelers during the Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh era (2008). It has been during this time that this rivalry has become the best in all of sports.

Yes, even better than Yankees-Red Sox and Duke-North Carolina.

This rivalry is the best because every game played between the teams always means something. Each game always feels like a playoff game and it almost certainly has playoff implications. The intensity on the field and in the stands is the best of its kind—And this game means something to the NFL each time it is played.

Ravens-Steelers

Since the 2000 season, the Ravens and Steelers have appeared in five Super Bowls, winning four of them. They have played in eight of the AFC Title games, including one in which they faced each other in 2009. That game did not make this list simply because of the fact that Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh were rookies and the Steelers were expected to win.

Simply put, no other rivalry in the NFL delivers as much as this one does with the consistency it brings year in and year out.

What makes this rivalry even more intense and many of the losses so tough to swallow is the margin of defeat. It is bad enough to lose to the Steelers but when it is by a combined 16 points in five regular season games since the o8 season, it is no longer tough to swallow, it’s downright torturous.

Now factor in that during each contest, the Ravens either were ahead or tied with Pittsburgh during the fourth quarter and as a Ravens fans, on certain Monday mornings (and one Tuesday in 08) you start looking for a ledge from which to leap.

We will start with one from the good ol days. A contest that if you were at Memorial Stadium that afternoon, you wish were not by the time it ended.

No.5 October 5, 1997:  Thank God For the other Birds in Town:

Mussina celebrates

The Ravens managed to split with the Steelers when they arrived in Baltimore in 1996. The Ravens were blown out 31-17 and then the 3-9 Ravens defeated the 9-3 Steelers by the same score on a warm rainy day to kick off the month of December.

On an unseasonably warm October Sunday the following season, Baltimore sports fans were in frenzy. The Ravens finished the month of September 3-2 and were returning home from a three game road trip in which they went 2-1, to host the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh and their yellow towel flying faithful entered Memorial Stadium with a 2-2 record, one-half game behind the Ravens. Baltimore sports fans were partying hard on this day, as the Ravens-Steelers game was just the prelude to the other Birds in town, who were looking to close out the Seattle Mariners later that afternoon in the A.L.D.S. at Camden Yards.

The Ravens came out of the tunnel crazed and ready for war, which is exactly how their fans were in the seats. As kickoff approached, the momentum carried over into the game. The Ravens led 21-0 early in the second quarter, thanks to two Vinny Testaverde touchdown passes. He connected with RB Eric Green and TE Brian Kinchen while former Steeler and current Ravens RB Bam Morris, scored on a one yard run in between.

Thanks to a three-touchdown lead and of course, the opponent, Memorial Stadium was once again the world’s largest outdoor insane asylum, as it was known during the days of Unitas and company. The frenzied crowd did not even notice that Steelers QB, Kordell Stewart scored on a one-yard run and by halftime; the Ravens led 24-7 following a Matt Stover 37-yard field goal.

Ravens fans felt good about what they just witnessed during the first 30 minutes, but the phrase “a tale of two halves” had to be invented for this particular game because that is exactly what the Memorial Stadium crowd witnessed over the game’s final 30 minutes.

Ray Lewis and Tyrus McCloud leave the field stunned

Ray Lewis and Tyrus McCloud leave the field stunned

Pittsburgh’s Will Blackwell returned the second half kickoff 97-yards for a quick Steelers TD and just like that— the Steelers were within 10-points. In fact, the Steelers would reel off 28 unanswered points, including three touchdown passes by Kordell Stewart, before Testaverde found Derrick Alexander to cut the Steelers lead to 35-32.

Kordell Stewart sealed the Ravens fate by dashing 74-yards down the left sideline for Pittsburgh’s final gut wrenching touchdown of the day. The Steelers took a safety on a punt to make the final score 42-34 sending the Ravens fans home more than sick to their stomach.

On the day, Stewart threw three TD’s to match his three int’s and for 246-yards. He also rushed for 78-yards and two more touchdowns. In all, Stewart factored into five of the Steelers six touchdowns on the afternoon.

Thankfully, the other Birds in town handled their business later in the day as Mike Mussina outdueled Randy Johnson and the Orioles eliminated the Seattle Mariners in four games in the ALDS to advance to the ALCS.

The Ravens never recovered. Baltimore lost five of their next seven games, including playing to a lethargic 10-10 tie with the Eagles. Vinny Testaverde and company finished the 97 season 6-9-1 and were battered a month later in Pittsburgh as the Steelers embarrassed the Ravens 37-0.

No.4 December 5 2010: Strip-Sack-Fumble—Game Over

Which games to pick to make this list was not very hard. I knew the exact date of this particular game by heart and almost did not have to look up the stats.

a pic is worth a 1000 words

a pic is worth a 1000 words

The Ravens and Steelers entered this nationally televised Sunday night contest with, as usual, the AFC North division title on the line. The winner of this game would likely enjoy a bye week to start the playoffs and have to visit the other in order to make it to the Super Bowl. On a night where the Ravens were in perfect position to take control of the AFC North, they just could not take the Steelers down, literally.

This game, more than any other in the series before it and since, typified this rivalry.

The two teams share the color black as one their primary colors, on game day they add the color blue. As is usually the case when the Steelers and Ravens meet, the trainers were busy tending to injured players throughout this contest and it began in each team’s first offensive series. Haloti Ngata broke Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s nose following a sack and Ravens tight end Todd Heap strained a hamstring on the first play from scrimmage and did not return.

It certainly did not stop there. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller suffered a concussion in the third quarter in a collision with Ravens cornerback Chris Carr and the Steelers lost right tackle Flozell Adams, who sprained his ankle in the third quarter. The hitting was so hard that even Pittsburgh's punter was injured. Daniel Sepulveda tore his right ACL in the second quarter, and placekicker Shaun Suisham was called upon to punt for the remainder of the game.

Players play hurt in this game. Roethlisberger, who now had a broken nose, was also playing on a broken bone in his right plant foot, which he suffered during an overtime win against Buffalo the week before.  Who said kickers and punters are not tough, Sepulveda, even with his tore his right anterior cruciate ligament managed to hold for kicker Shaun Suisham’s field goals of 45 and 19 yards.

The Ravens Defense dominated the game, as the team appeared ready to sweep the Steelers after beating them in Pittsburgh two months before on a Joe Flacco last minute TD pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh.

They shut out the Steelers offense in the first half but Pittsburgh got a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter to close to 7-3. However, the Ravens responded with a 60-yard march that ended with a 24-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

Pittsburgh then closed to 10-6 with a 16-play, 79-yard drive that consumed more than 9 minutes and was extended by two pivotal penalties against Baltimore. But the Steelers had to settle for a field goal with 12:46 left after a 28-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Wallace set up a first-and-goal from the 2.

The Ravens had the lead, the ball and control of the game with less than four minutes to play. Flacco appeared to be on the cusp on ending Ben Roethlisberger’s five game winning streak versus his team. Looks can be deceiving in this series. With a four-point lead and following a Steelers punt, the Ravens took over with 4:43 to play in the contest. The offense began the drive the right way by running the football but then inexplicably, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron went with a different strategy.

On second and eight, Flacco threw a pass to Derrick Mason, which luckily for the Ravens drew a pass interference penalty on CB Bryant McFadden. On the next play following the penalty, Ray Rice gave the Ravens a very manageable second and five on their own 43-yard line and that’s where the wheels fell off.

Instead of running Rice again to set up a third and short and killing more time off the clock, Flacco dropped back to pass——but he never had time to set up, Troy Polamalu was standing on the right edge of the Steelers defensive line showing blitz during the entire presnap and delivered the rush as shown.

"Everybody watching TV at home, everybody in the stadium, you all know it you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he's coming," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had 1½ sacks. "It was just like, I hope we have a plan. It just didn't feel good when I saw that hair at the line."

Once Flacco received the snap, No.43 was there and within a split second, the ball was on the ground where Linebacker LaMarr Woodley picked up Polamalu's strip sack of the Ravens quarterback and three plays later the Steelers led the game. The winning touchdown came on a catch by RB Isaac Redman, who ran through Ravens safety Dawan Landry for a nine-yard touchdown with just under three minutes remaining.

The Ravens still had one more shot and in fact ran 10 more plays getting to the Pittsburgh 34 yard line but instead of trying a 48 yard field goal to tie the game, head coach John Harbaugh, play caller Cam Cameron and QB Joe Flacco felt they could repeat the finish from the October game. Instead, on fourth and two with 37 seconds to play, Flacco threw an incomplete pass at rookie tight end Ed Dickson's feet.

The win gave the Steelers a one game lead in the division and left the Ravens and their fans with many questions. Several questions haunted Harbaugh during the post-game press conference.

Why were the Ravens throwing the ball on second-and-5 when they had a four-point lead with 3:22 remaining? And did the Ravens consider challenging the fumble? Flacco had his arm cocked back when Polamalu slapped the ball away.

Why did the Ravens go on fourth down instead of attempting a 48-yard field goal? Harbaugh’s response was quick and decisive, “It was a tough wind up there," Harbaugh said. "It was really outside our range that we designated going in. We felt like we had a better chance to get the first down than we had to kick that field goal at that time."

When a reporter pointed out that Cundiff had made three kicks from that distance or beyond, Harbaugh snapped back, "Were you down there on the field? Did you see the way those balls were tracking in the field goal pre-game? It was a tough kick. I'm pretty good at that. I have been doing it for a long time. I understand what those guys can do and what they can't do. It would have been a very low percentage kick."

The loss was even tougher to swallow when you consider it was the reason the Ravens had to travel to play the Steelers a few weeks later in the playoffs, which oh by the way, brings us to No.3 on our list.

No.3 January 15, 2011: The Same Old Song and Dance:

And Again

The Ravens entered this contest feeling as if they had given the Steelers the opportunity to play their AFC Divisional playoff game (SEE ABOVE GAME) at home. The banged up Steelers won the division and earned a first round bye while the Ravens were feeling good themselves after thumping the Chiefs in KC, 30-7 the week before in the Wild Card round.

The Ravens' fifth game at Heinz in three seasons began as many had ended at the big ketchup bottle, with the team trailing. The Ravens, who had given up one touchdown in each of their previous two games, gave up one on the opening drive. A questionable 37-yard pass interference penalty on the Ravens' Josh Wilson helped Pittsburgh sustain a drive that saw Rashard Mendenhall score from 1-yard out to put the Ravens in an early hole.

But the resilient Ravens proved again why they have the best road winning percentage in the playoffs since 1960 and responded with 21 straight points.

The first quarter closed with two touchdowns by the Ravens in 27 seconds. Ray Rice scored on a great rivalry type 14-yard run, bouncing off Troy Polamalu to reach the end zone. But that was trumped by one of the strangest plays in Ravens' history — and perhaps NFL playoff history.

After Terrell Suggs hit the ball out of Roethlisberger's cocked arm, it flew forward and lay at the 13-yard line for 5 seconds with four players standing around it. Noticing no whistle had blown, defensive end Cory Redding picked it up and ran into the end zone. Watching at home you may have thought the play to be one where a player picks up a ball and runs down the field hoping it was a turnover but ultimately the play is blown dead. However, on this occasion the official signaled touchdown and the Ravens led 14-7 following the extra point with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Ravens would add another touchdown following another Pittsburgh turnover. The Steelers , which had turned the ball over 18 times in 16 games that season (tied for the third-fewest in the AFC), fumbled again in the second quarter. In a pile, the Ravens' Dannell Ellberbe knocked the ball from Mendenhall and Ed Reed recovered it at the Steelers' 16.

The Ravens converted another turnover into a touchdown on a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap from Joe Flacco. Getting a pick from T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Heap was wide open in the end zone to increase the Ravens' lead to 21-7.

All of the momentum and good fortune seemed to be real when Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham was wide left on a 43-yard field goal to essentially end the half. But as I said once already when talking about this rivalry, things aren’t always what they appear to be and what happened next could only have ever been forgotten by Ravens fans with a Super Bowl victory.

In a season where the Ravens coughed up nine fourth quarter leads and lived dangerously with games on the line, they chose the third quarter to do so on this night. The Ravens, who had not allowed a touchdown in the third quarter all season, gave up two at Pittsburgh because of turnovers.

The first fumble of the season by Ray Rice (first of the year), an interception by Flacco and a fumble by Flacco (center Matt Birk snapped the ball too early) — all in Ravens' territory – turned a 14-point lead (21-7) into a three-point deficit (24-21) in a matter of 12 minutes.

Webb can only look on

Still, the Ravens did not roll and over die but maybe they should have because that may have been easier than watching how Pittsburgh eventually won this game.

Playing the field position game, Baltimore forced Pittsburgh to punt from their 10-yard line with 6:09 to play in the contest. Cornerback Lardarius Webb returned the punt 55-yards for an apparent touchdown but Marcus Smith was called for holding and the Ravens took over on the Steelers 29-yard line. This was only a prelude to what was going to happen next.

On the first play, Flacco completed a 21-yard pass to Todd Heap setting up first and goal at the Steelers eight but Pittsburgh’s defense tightened and the Ravens were forced to kick a game tying field goal.

With 3:24 on the clock, Big Ben took over at his own 35-yard line and managed to convert two third downs, the first a 12-ard completion to Hines Ward giving the Steelers a new set of downs with 3:34 to play.  The second third down conversion was the killer. It came on third and 19 and was the last play before the two minute warning.

The Ravens brought little pressure on the play instead opting to sit back but they didn’t sit back quite far enough. Roethlisberger heaved a 58-yard pass down the right sideline to rarely used Antonio Brown, the Steelers' eighth-leading receiver inexcusably got a couple of steps behind cornerback Lardarius Webb to make the catch and deliver the second to last dagger of the game.

The Ravens broke the cardinal rule in football. Never get beat deep late in the game with the score close. The last dagger would be inflicted by Rashard Mendenhall, who capped the devastating drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to put Pittsburgh ahead, 31-24, with 1:33 left in the game.  On the Ravens' final possession, Flacco threw two incompletions and was sacked. Their last play — on fourth-and-18 — was an incomplete pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who just dropped the ball.

The Steelers would defeat the New York Jets the following week to advance to Super Bowl XLV, where they would lose to the Green Bay Packers. The Ravens were left to pick up the pieces once again following another devastating loss to the Steelers.

The Ravens would go onto sweep the Steelers the following season and opened the year by trouncing Pittsburgh, 35-7 in Baltimore. However, none of those wins could totally hide the pain Ravens fans were feeling from having lost the last two games to the Steelers, losses that cost the Ravens the division title and a likely shot at the Super Bowl.

No.2 January 22, 2012 AFC Championship game: “He Missed it” “He dropped it”

wide left Billy

I’ll bet many of you had this one pegged for the top spot. However, the fact that the game was in New England and the Ravens were not really given much of a chance to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots drops it to No.2 for this list.

This may have been the most heartbreaking loss of all time but in order to be No.1 the game had to be heartbreaking, disappointing and unexpected in a sense. While our hearts were broken, as Ravens fans, you couldn’t hang your head after this contest. You had to be proud of how the Ravens played and most notably, QB Joe Flacco, who clearly outplayed the Patriots Tom Brady.

In fact, Brady admitted after the game that he was bad——"Well, I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us," Brady said after throwing for 239 yards, with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. "I'm going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I'm proud of this team, my teammates."

The shocking part of this game was how good New England’s 31st ranked defense played. The Ravens Defense was awesome and the Ravens offense did more than enough to win their second trip to the title game in four years but a dropped touchdown and a missed field goal proved to be the Ravens undoing.

A 16-10 deficit early in the third quarter became a 20-16 Ravens lead by the start of the fourth. That is because Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 3:48 left in the third quarter, and then the Ravens converted Danny Woodhead's fumble on the ensuing kickoff into a 39-yard field goal.

Brady may not have been great (22-for-36 for 239 yards and two interceptions) but he consistently moved his team down the field and did so on the ensuing drive following the Ravens field goal. Behind short passes and the running of Benjarvis Green-Ellis, the Pats offense answered with an 11-play, 63-yard drive. It ended with Brady plunging in on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line.

The two quarterbacks traded interceptions during the rest of the final frame and following an Ed Reed pass breakup while covering Aaron Hernandez on third and four with 1:56 to play in the game, the Ravens got the ball back with one last shot.

"Touchdown….noooooo….he dropped it!"

Flacco trotted onto the field and promptly led his team down the field. He would get them as far as the New England 14-yard line but that was it. Facing second and one, Flacco threw a perfect back shoulder pass to Ravens WR Lee Evans in the end zone. Evans appeared to catch the ball and in fact, thinking it was a touchdown, Flacco threw his hands up and started running toward Evans. The Ravens' sideline erupted and the play was announced as a touchdown on Ravens radio as well as the CBS national telecast by Jim Nantz but Patriots DB Sterling Moore swiped at Evans’ hands and at the last possible second, forced the ball from Evans’ hands and onto the New England turf.

The pass was ruled incomplete. Heartbreak for sure, but the Ravens still had a few chances and at the very least had Mr. Automatic, Billy Cundiff, who had not missed a fourth quarter field goal kick all season. Following an incomplete pass to TE Dennis Pitta, who was again covered by Sterling Moore, Cundiff strode onto the field to send his team to overtime.

Except this time— Cundiff pushed the ball wide left and following a Brady kneel down, the Patriots were off to the Super Bowl. This game is also No.2 because the Ravens returned to the scene of the heartbreak last January and dismantled the Patriots to advance to and eventually win– the Super Bowl. As the article is titled, LESSON LEARNED!

No.1 January 13, 2007: Peyton’s Place?

The 2006 Baltimore Ravens had what many believed to be the team to beat heading into the playoffs. At 13-3, they had just finished the season with the best record in franchise history. They rolled into the playoffs winning nine of their final 10 games with the best defense in the league (nothing new) and finally had their savvy veteran quarterback in Steve McNair, who led the team to 353 points, 12th in the NFL that season.

Expectations were high as the Ravens even enjoyed their first franchise playoff bye and the No.2 seed in the AFC.

With the Ravens resting during Wild Card Weekend, Baltimore football fans watched their old team, the Colts, dismantle the KC Chiefs to set up a date with Baltimore football destiny. Finally, the great football fans of the Charm City would have a real shot at closure. The Baltimore football faithful could finally put to rest the 1984 sneaking out in the middle of the night divorce that led to 12 years of dark Sundays in Baltimore.

Surely, the Ravens were primed to take down Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional round to advance and likely host the AFC Championship game for the time since 1970 when the Baltimore Colts beat the Oakland Raiders. After all, the Chargers were the No.1 seed and no one actually thought they were going to win a playoff game, which meant a win over Indy and the Ravens were hosted the game that determined who went to the Super Bowl.

The hype was off the charts. Every poster, tee shirt, billboard and even local commercials were all hyping the big game. Many still proclaimed this as a chance at revenge. Even Johnny Unitas tee-shirts popped up with him in a Ravens uniform pitting No.19 against No.18. Simply put, it was out of control craziness in Baltimore as game time approached. All anyone, even if you were not a football fan in Baltimore could think of was beating the Colts in the playoffs in Baltimore.

As crazy and unpredictable as the hype was, the game was worse. If you were told before the start of this contest that the Colts, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, would not score a touchdown, but instead kick five field goals, you would almost assuredly be making plans for where you were going to watch the AFC Title game the following week. That is exactly what happened.

The problem is the Ravens offense was worse. They managed just two Matt Stover field goals and signed during the offseason specifically for his playoff experience,  Adam Vinatieri provided the Colts with all the offense they needed to advance to the AFC championship game. Vinatieri kicked the five field goals and put his name in the NFL record book to boot Indianapolis past the Ravens 15-6.

This was such an odd set of circumstances that it is still hard to imagine. The Colts won despite gaining only 261 yards on offense. Since Peyton Manning arrived in 1998 and up to this point, they had never won a postseason game in which they gained so few yards. If you are wondering about the regular season, they had won three games since 1998 with so few yards (although Manning only played a few plays in one of them, the 2005 regular-season finale). During the 2006 regular season, the Colts' lowest offensive output was 272 yards in a 21-14 win over the Jaguars back in September.

The Colts-Ravens game was only the fourth of the 422 postseason games played in NFL history (including the Eagles-Saints game) in which neither team scored a touchdown. But get a load of this: Since the NFL started keeping statistics in 1933, the Colts-Ravens contest was also the first game in either regular-season or postseason play in which each team had the same number of pass plays (31, a total that includes times sacked) and the same total of net passing yards (161). (Oh, yes, each team also was intercepted twice and, of course, had no touchdown passes.)

Lessons learned, tears to cheers last February!

How many other times had we seen a 15-6 final score in the NFL? Never before in the postseason and just once in the regular season: a 15-6 win by the Brooklyn Dodgers over the Eagles at Ebbets Field in Nov. 1941.

All very strange and odd to say the least. The Ravens, as they were assembled, never recovered the following season, as the defense seemed to finally throw in the towel on the Brian Billick led offenses, which seemingly failed to produce when it mattered most during his career.

Due to injuries, Steve McNair would play in just six games the following season, as the Ravens went 5-11 and Billick was fired following the season.

Leaving the stadium that day, you could literally hear a pin drop, or it may have even been tears. This game was and still is the most heartbreaking and most disappointing loss in franchise history. There is no debate in my mind and even though it does not involve the Steelers, losing to the Colts at home when you are coming off your best season and a bye week in the playoffs stung as bad as any loss I can ever remember.

To make matters worse, the Colts would go onto to win Super Bowl XLI a few weeks later with an impressive 29-17 victory.

Check back periodically before the end of the month here on Fanspeak.com for the conclusion of the 20 Greatest Games in Ravens History.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons Learned: The 10 Worst Losses in Ravens Franchise History Part 1

May 27, 2013 in Ravens Greatest Games

If you have followed my series, The Ravens 20 Greatest Victories in Team History, then you know we have reached the best of the best in the short but very successful history of the Baltimore Ravens. We have reached crunch time in that we are down the “Elite 8”. Half of those Elite 8 will be revealed later today but before I continue, I could not help but think of how much sweeter some of the wins felt after some of the heartbreaking losses the Ravens have suffered through their 16 seasons.

In the words of the late great Jim McKay, the former sports broadcaster and mister do everything for ABC Sports, who also happens to be a native Baltimorean, you simply cannot enjoy the “thrill of victory” without having experienced the “agony of defeat”.

Flacco hangs his head in defeat

While the Ravens are owners of two Super Bowl victories since the 2000 season, Ravens fans have had plenty of tough losses along the way.  Before I deliver the greatest eight games in franchise history, allow me to create a tad bit of pain first. You know what they say, nothing in life is easy.

These losses have helped Ravens fans appreciate watching the likes of Ray Lewis, Art Modell and most recently, John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco hoist the beautiful silver trophy they simply call “The Lombardi”

However, following some of these notorious let downs, hoisting the Lombardi was the furthest thing from Ravens fans minds.

No.10: October 31, 1999 Bills Put Flutie Flakes in Halloween Bags

Under first year head coach Brian Billick, the Ravens were 2-4 heading into their Halloween affair with the Buffalo Bills. Just six games into the Billick era, whispers had already begun that a familiar script was starting to shape in Baltimore—one that would plague Billick’s entire nine-year career.

The defense plays well enough to win; the Ravens get some production out of their running game, but little—very little from their quarterback and the passing attack. The mold of the 2000 defense was starting to take shape in 1999. On this day, the Ravens held the resurgent Doug Flutie and Bills to 249 yards of total offense, intercepted three Flutie passes and knocked down 12 more.

Ravens prevent themselves from winning vs. Flutie

However, the most questionable call of the game was their defensive alignment on a fourth-and-15 from the Ravens' 39-yard line with 2: 36 left in the game. Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis went into the prevent defense and the prevent defense did its job—it prevented the Ravens from winning the game.The Ravens had gotten pressure on Flute all afternoon with at least a four-man rush, but this time the Ravens chose to rush three. Flutie waited, waited and then waited for his receivers to clear before running for 17 yards. Four plays later, Flutie, rolling to his right, passed 5 yards to running back Jonathan Linton in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 1: 35 to play in the contest. With no formidable offensive attack, the Ravens day was finished.

Billick was down about his team’s inability to hold a 10-3 lead in the fourth quarter. Following the 13-10 loss Billick said, "Obviously, this is a very tough, emotional loss for us," Billick said. "It was hard-fought; it's very frustrating, it's very difficult. I guess it's my inexperience as a head coach not knowing what to say to them to ease their pain. All I can say is that we have to learn from our mistakes and go back to work."

Despite winning a Super Bowl the following season, the Ravens poor offensive play with even worse play at the quarterback position would show it’s ugly head on many game days, including this afternoon. The Bills scored their 10 fourth-quarter points off two turnovers by the Ravens' QB Tony Banks, who was making his first start at quarterback. Buffalo was only 5-for-18 on third downs and averaged just 3.5 yards per play. The Ravens sacked Flutie three times and harassed him throughout the game. The Ravens controlled the tempo of the game until a fourth-quarter meltdown.

Banks was forced to play because of the ineffectiveness of Scott Mitchell and Stoney Case. Seeing those three names makes even harder to believe that the current Super Bowl winning QB and game MVP resides in the Charm City doesn’t it Ravens fans.

No. 9: December 5 2004 Ravens Defense Allows 24 in Fourth

The Ravens entered this home game in December with a 7-4 record and their playoff destiny firmly in their own hands. They would leave it in total disarray and flounder down the stretch, failing to make the postseason.  The Ravens suffered a 27-26 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that was as devastating as it was disturbing, with a monumental fourth-quarter collapse that stunned an M&T Bank Stadium crowd of 69,695 and put the team's season on notice.

Palmer led a 24-pt 4th qtr comeback

The NFL's stingiest defense allowed Carson Palmer to pass for 382-yards and three touchdowns, as Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh combined for 232 of them and all three Palmer TD tosses. The Ravens allowed 24 points in the fourth quarter – the most ever in franchise history – failing to protect a 20-3 lead. Baltimore’s secondary gave up 200 yards passing in the final period as the Bengals converted for scores on their last four drives, marching 19, 76, 68 and 60 yards.

The loss to the Bengals seemed to send the Ravens into the tailspin to complete the season, as they missed making the post season. Baltimore finished the season 2-2 with a 9-7 record, six games behind the 15-1 Steelers. The NY Jets and Denver Broncos stole the Wild Cards– both with 10-6 records.

No.8 September 6, 1998: The First of the Worst:

Ravens beat writer Mike Preston said it best when starting the article describing the Ravens 20-13 loss in the first regular season NFL game ever played at Baltimore’s new stadium. Preston wrote, “It took the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland nearly 14 years to get a new stadium constructed, and the Ravens only three hours and one minute to lose their first game in the facility. The new $223 million stadium was a house of horror for the Ravens, who self-destructed and had their coming-out party ruined in a 20-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers before 68,847 at Ravens stadium at Camden Yards”.

Rod Woodson

The first games of Ted Marchibroda’s last season as Ravens head coach would play out like a lot of his previous 32 during the team’s first two seasons in their new town, in disappointing fashion.

The Ravens did not make big plays: Cornerback Rod Woodson dropped an interception that would have been a touchdown midway through the first quarter. Running back Priest Holmes tripped over his own feet coming off a block from wide receiver Michael Jackson in the first quarter, so what should have been a 27-yard touchdown run turned into a 4-yard gain — 1 short of a first down — leading to a 41-yard field goal by Stover. Jermain Lewis dropped two passes, one a potential 54-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Stover missed three field-goal attempts.

Ugly-Ugly-Ugly would be the only way to describe this one. "We helped them out today," said defensive end Michael McCrary. "I don't care what anybody thinks, we gave it to them. We didn't come in with an attitude that we were unbeatable [after a perfect preseason], but today we found out that we can lose. It's a shame, but good teams rebound from losses like this. We've got to."

At 6-8, the Ravens would not be a good team in 1998. Nevertheless, a good mixture of youth and veteran leadership laid the foundation for what would happen just two seasons later.

No.7 November 18, 2001: Elvis, Please Leave The Building:

If there was ever a game that showed the 2001 Ravens were not going to repeat as champions this was it. Elvis Grbac, who replaced SB XXXV winner Trent Dilfer, threw four interceptions in a performance that typified his one-year stay in Baltimore. The Browns won the earlier meeting between the two teams 24-14. The only reason that game isn’t also on this list is it took place in Cleveland—-But this contest is as deserving as any to make the dreadful countdown.

A painful day for Elvis

The Browns picked up where they left off in Cleveland by storming to a 20-7 at halftime before finishing off the Ravens 27-17.

Ravens fans will remember Grbac played one season in Baltimore before retiring from the league. Considered an outcast from his team and with dissension sitting on Grbac’s head having replaced the popular Dilfer at QB, tossing four int’s in this home contest did nothing to endear him to his teammates or the passionate fans in Baltimore.

Grbac was no “Hon” to the Charm city faithful and his breakdowns caused rumblings in the locker room and a ripple in the division standings, dropping the Ravens 1 1/2 games behind the AFC Central-leading Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens remained in second place, but only a half-game ahead of the Browns, which swept the season series from the Ravens and now held the edge in any tiebreakers.

Despite poor and inconsistent play from Grbac more often than not during the 01’ season, the Ravens would still manage to return to the playoffs but were decisively beaten by the Steelers in the second round.

No. 6  December 3, 2007: Ravens Almost Pull MNF Football Upset:

The story of the 2007 regular season was the undefeated New England Patriots. What many NFL fans may or may not remember is the closest the Pats came to losing their perfect season occurred on Monday Night Football in Week 13, as an underachieving Ravens team with Kyle Boller at QB, almost derailed New England’s 11-0 start.

The Flag toss by Bart Scott

However, the Ravens, as they seemingly did many times during the 07 season, beat themselves and managed to lose the contest. Baltimore was on the brink of a historic upset but killed their chances with mistakes, penalties and bad coaching decisions to finish the game.

With 1:48 left in the game, an ill-advised timeout called by Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan nullified the fourth down stop of Tom Brady’s lame QB sneak. The whistle gave New England another chance to continue the drive and we all know what happens when Tommy Terrific get two shots at glory. (Unless he is playing the Giants) Brady capitalized, eventually throwing an 8-yard touchdown to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds remaining to secure win number 12 with a 27-24 victory on a cold night in Baltimore.

Other mistakes cost the Ravens as well. They failed to run on third-and-two late in the fourth quarter and linebacker Bart Scott was called for two unsportsmanlike penalties in the final minute.

Despite allowing the late TD, the never say die Ravens almost won the contest on the game’s final play. Kyle Boller threw up a Hail Mary, which found Ravens WR Mark Clayton at the Patriots' 3-yard line but he was tackled after catching the prayer, ending the game.

A distraught Billick following the loss

The Patriots took another step in their march to a perfect season, improving to 12-0 and the Ravens, who entered the game as 19-point underdogs, lost for a franchise-worst sixth straight game despite putting together their best performance of the season. This would prove to be Ravens head coach Brian Billick’s last season, as the Ravens would win just once more the rest of the season finishing the year at a disappointing 5-11.

Check back in a few short hours as I deliver five through one and then get your emotions back on track with No.8 through No.4 in the Greatest Games Series.

Have a great Memorial Day.

Ravens 2013 Schedule, Second Half Predictions

April 24, 2013 in NFL SCHEDULE

By Alan Zlotorzynski: On Monday, I broke down and offered my predictions for the first half of the Baltimore Ravens 2013 schedule. Today, I offer up the second half.

The Ravens own the fifth toughest strength of schedule heading into the 2013 season. Nevertheless, the toughest part of that schedule, at least according to the wins and losses of their opponents from last season is yet to come. During the first half, Baltimore played just three teams that made the playoffs last season but did play five games on road. 18_ScheduleAnnouncement_news

This means the second half of the 2013 schedule will be played predominantly at M & T Bank Stadium, where under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have a .825 winning percentage losing just seven times in five years.

I had Baltimore opening the season with a loss to Denver before rebounding 10 days later to win three in a row, including a ruining of Ed Reed’s homecoming with a victory over the Houston Texans in Week three. Following a win at Buffalo, I foresee the Ravens traveling to Miami and showing Dannell Ellerbe what he could have been a part of had he stayed in the Charm City, with a close win in South Florida.

I then have the Ravens hitting a bit of snag. I predicted Baltimore would enter the bye week losing back-to-back games to the Packers at home and Steelers in Pittsburgh. What ails any Ravens losing streak is always a game vs. the Browns. This season will be no different, as the purple and black regroup following the bye week with a win and sixth consecutive sweep of the Cleveland Browns, to finish the first half with a 5-3 mark.

The combined record of the teams Baltimore played in the first half for last season was 67-61 (.523) and while that is nothing to shake your head at, the second half, at least on paper, poses a bit more of a challenge. During the final eight games, Baltimore’s opponents strength of schedule record for 2012 was 70-58 (.546).

The Ravens will play four games (2 vs. Cincinnati) against three playoff teams and the Bears, who won 10 games last season but did not qualify for post-season play. Some quick highlights of the second half shows that two coaches will face a Ravens team that have strong Baltimore ties. The first made his coaching name in Baltimore and the other grew up there and attended Mt. Saint Joseph High School in West Baltimore.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and the NY Jets visit on Nov 24 and although NY will not be bringing their cornerback island with them, Sexy Rexy is sure to have his troops fired up and ready to play. Baltimore will then travel to Detroit, who finished a disappointing 4-10 last season and are coached by Jim Schwartz.

Sexy Rexy and Jim Schwartz

Schwartz grew up In Baltimore and can still be seen rocking out to the Baltimore based 80’s hair band, KIX. He knows everything there is about places like Hammerjacks, his favorite baseball team is the Orioles and he even still talks with that endearing” Bawmer” accent “Hon”.

The Ravens, who faced the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year in Week 3, when JJ Watt visited with the Texans, will host the 2012 NFL MVP in early December, when “All Day” Adrian Peterson comes to play.

In addition, who could forget that M & T Bank Stadium will once again host the largest dessert night in America on the fourth Thursday in November when the Steelers come to town for some pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving night.

If that’s not enough for you, how about an AFC Championships game rematch for the second consecutive season in Baltimore, as the Patriots close out the 2013 home portion of the schedule when Tommy Boy and Co. come calling three days before Christmas.

The suspense is killing me, as to how these games will turn out, so here are my predictions for the Ravens second half schedule:

WEEK 10 RAVENS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

NFL experts predict that the Bengals will challenge for the AFC North crown next season and it may be hard to argue against them. Head Coach Marvin Lewis finally has his foundation up front on the defensive line, as the Bengals return all four starters from the best defensive line in the AFC North.

Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko will wreak havoc in the division. Cincy also has solid depth in Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry at the ends. There are young inside with Brandon Thompson and Devon Still, both of whom were drafted a year ago.

The problem may be at linebacker where James Harrison and not Karlos Dansby was signed– typical Cincinnati if you ask me. The signing is puzzling when you factor in Harrison's declining sack total (six last season), injuries (seven games missed due to injuries the past two seasons) and age (he turns 35 next month). He has never played in a 4-3 defense and he has been on the field for 77 percent of his team’s defensive snaps since the start of the 2011 season, which ranks 56th among linebackers over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Cincinnati could not possibly be a playoff three years in a row could they. Maybe, Nahhhh—not with Mike Brown still running the show. They are good enough to earn another season series split with Ravens but playing in Baltimore on this day means a mark in the loss column.

The Ravens, who have won four of the last five contests against the Bengals, losing only last season’s finale when the second and third stringers came into play after the first and second series of the game, make it five out of six as they pull away late with a victory and a 6-3 record.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 27 CINCINNATTI BENGALS 17

RAVENS RECORD 6-3

WEEK 11 NOV.17 RAVENS AT CHICAGO BEARS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

A game that was once billed as Ray Lewis vs. Brian Urlacher, the Monsters of the Midway vs. the team that sports uniform’s the color of a deep bruise, will now see the marquee read, “Joe Cool and the Super Bowl Champion Ravens travel to the Windy City to take on Jay Cutler  and the Chicago Bears”.

Lewis is at ESPN and Urlacher is still looking for a team for next season, so this contest is likely to be a showdown and The Soldier Field Coral between two gunslingers at quarterback.

While many like or are Luke warm to the Bears offseason, I think it stinks. Naming a former CFL head coach (Marc Trestman) to the same post in the NFL to replace Lovie Smith, who won 10-games in 2012, is not an upgrade.  Chicago overpaid for left tackle Jermon Bushrod and while I know he is a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, the Jay Cutler “does not have enough weapons or protection” arguments are getting old fast.

With No.54 and No.52 gone, it's to 5 & 6 to steal the show in Chicago

Cutler was sacked 38 times in 2012. That was fifth most in the NFL but, take a look at the production for the other 4 NFL quarterbacks that were sacked more often. Aaron Rodgers (51), Phillips Rivers (49), Andy Dalton (46) and Andrew Luck (41) were all on their bottoms more often but three of the four managed to make the playoffs. I know it is tough to win 10 games and miss the playoffs but after starting the season 7-1 and finishing 3-5, the QB has to take a good portion of the heat, especially when your defense was responsible for most of the seven wins to start the year.

I honestly expect the Bears to a mess at this point. This game represents a stretch of six games that see “Da Bears” play the Packers, Lions, Rams, Vikings and Cowboys.  If Flacco can beat Manning in zero degrees with 30 mph winds in Denver in January, then he should expect to win the shootout in Chicago vs. a disgruntled Jay Cutler on the third Sunday in November.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 33 CHICAGO BEARS 24

RAVENS RECORD 7-3

WEEK 12 NOV.24 BALTIMORE RAVENS VS. NEW YORK JETS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

The Ravens will return home for a critical stretch drive that sees them play four of their final six games in the Charm City. The first will be against an old friend, former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and his NY Jets.

Have you ever heard that if you cannot locate the sucker at a poker table you are the sucker, well the same can be said of the Jets schedule.  If you cannot find the weak link on your schedule, then chances are your it and the Jets are indeed the weak link for many teams this season.

The good Ol days

It is entirely possible that Sexy Rexy will not even be the Jets head coach at this point. With NY having Revis Island towed down the Atlantic, up the Gulf of Mexico and into Tampa Bay, the Jets may be lucky to win four games this season.  Quck….name me two players from each side of the ball besides Mark Sanchez for the Jets. Can’t do it can ya. This should be a nice way for the Ravens to kick off the stretch drive. The biggest concern for the Ravens in this one will be staying healthy. The Steelers come to town just four days later to play on Thanksgiving night.

The Ravens are 7-1 vs. the Jets in franchise history.  Their only loss came back in 1997 during the Ravens second season in Baltimore. Ryan is 0-2 vs. his former team, losing 34-17 in his return trip to Baltimore in Oct. 2011.

It seems as if it were just yesterday the fans of Baltimore were upset that owner Steve Bisciotti chose John Harbaugh over Rex Ryan to be the head coach after Brian Billick was fired. Now I guess we know why he made the choice he did and as everything takes shape in NY, for the worse at this point, it appears the decision wasn't so much an indictment on Harbaugh being better than Ryan, as much as it was an indictment on Rex not being ready to be a head coach. This will not be close but the Ravens win with class, something the Jets organization has lacked recently. Flacco and company will have their way and the defense is facing Mark Sanchez, enough said.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 27 NY JETS 3

RAVENS RECORD 8-3

WEEK 13 NOV.28 RAVENS VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8:30 P.M NBC)

For tolerating the Orioles unwillingness to work with the Ravens, so they could celebrate their Super Bowl victory in a Week 1 contest with Denver at home, the NFL has rewarded the great fans of Baltimore with Ravens-Steelers II on Thanksgiving night.

Unless you are the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, playing on Thanksgiving is usually a once in a generation deal. Not so for the Baltimore Ravens, who hosted Harbaugh Bowl I two seasons back on Thanksgiving night when the San Francisco 49ers were thumped at M & T Bank Stadium.

While that game was fun and carried a ton of sentimental value, this contest will be all about knocking the “stuffing” out of each other.  The wild card in this contest is where Pittsburgh will be at this point in the season.

Ravens to play rival Steelers in 2nd Turkey Night game in 3 years

The Steelers have a very manageable schedule and only five teams play a softer slate in 2013 than does Pittsburgh. However, this is the NFL and with all of their off-season losses, it is hard to imagine Big Ben and company actually contending for a division title but they are the Steelers and that’s probably right where they will be.

I have Pittsburgh taking the first contest at the big ketchup bottle on the three rivers, so even at 8-3, this could be necessary win for the Ravens. I never head into any game vs. any team, much less Pittsburgh, thinking or even believing the Ravens will blow them out (except the Jets) but the Ravens have done it before and I feel will do it here.

This will not be a three-point game, as so many before this one has been. The Steelers walk into M&T Bank Stadium thinking they are a lot better than they are and can only watch as a Ravens team begins to come together, as they always seem to do when it matters most in the season. Outplaying Big Ben is no longer an issue for Joe Cool, as the Ravens win for the fourth time in six games vs. their archrivals to gain a split in the season series. Not only do they win but they do so in convincing fashion.

RAVENS 34 PITTSBURGH STEELERS 10

RAVENS RECORD 9-3

WEEK 14 RAVENS VS. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

The Ravens stay right in the friendly confines of the Big ATM to host last year’s league MVP and the Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens will get a real good idea of how far their run defense has come in this contest for obvious reasons. Stopping All Day Adrian Peterson will be the key and in the words of former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick, “you can’t stop Peterson, you can only hope to contain him”. I expect the Ravens to do just that.  I believe the Vikings will not be a playoff team this season and by this time, head coach Leslie Frazier could be firmly on the hot seat.

ALL DAY

The Vikings play the fourth toughest road schedule in the league next season and will be towards the end of a stretch of games that will have seen them play in order the Giants, Packers, Cowboys, Redskins, Seahawks, Packers and Bears before visiting Baltimore. This is no easy task and it is likely the Vikings will be beat up a bit or trying to fight for their playoff lives.

If somehow Minnesota is sitting pretty at this point, then QB Christian Ponder has developed into a top-notch passer and that to me is unlikely. I like the Ravens but I do not think it will be easy. Even if Frazier is on the hot seat, they play hard for him and will do so in this contest but the Ravens will prevail for win number 10.

RAVENS 23 MINNESOTA VIKINGS 17

RAVENS RECORD (10-3)

WEEK 15 RAVENS AT DETROIT LIONS (8:40 P.M. ESPN)

The Ravens will look to even their all-time Monday Night Football record at 9-9, with a victory in the Motor City vs. the Lions. The problem is, I do not think it happens.

Head Coach Jim Schwartz is again likely to turn around a squad that finished 4-12 last season and have them knocking on the door of at least a Wild Card berth at this point.  This team has too many weapons not to succeed and the addition of Reggie Bush in the backfield cannot hurt.

Schwartz-Harbaugh II

What the Lions need to be a better team, Thursday’s NFL Draft has in abundance. The Lions need help on the offensive line and could use a defensive end. There are players in this draft the Lions could have starting for them next season if they have done their homework, which I would like to think a Baltimore raised blue collar boy, Jim Scwartz, has done.

I am calling it now, if the Lions draft well, they will push the Packers for the division title and they will need this game more than Baltimore will at this point. The Ravens beat Detroit badly in Baltimore back 2009. Ray Rice rushed for 166 yards and added another 59 receiving. They will need another big time performance from him to win this game.

At 10-3, the Ravens appear ready to clinch their sixth straight playoff appearance. In fact, for the second consecutive year, the Ravens will clinch a playoff spot on this weekend, despite losing to the Lions. Calvin Megatron Johnson, Matt Stafford and Reggie Bush will be a little too much for the Ravens on this night.

The big question is, can Jim Schwartz get off the field without almost getting into a fight with another Harbaugh?

Detroit Lions 27 Ravens 17

WEEK 16 RAVENS VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (8:30 P.M. NBC)

For the second consecutive year, the Ravens and Patriots will hook up in an AFC Championship game rematch. There are no longer any secrets between these two teams. They are officially rivals and while it may not be Patriots-Jets or Ravens-Steelers, this game has become one of the must see on the NFL schedule.

Last season the Patriots held halftime leads on the Ravens in both of their games only to watch Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense score a combined 38 second half points to go 2-0 vs. Tommy Terrific in 2012. That has never happened during the Brady-Belichick era to the Pats.

The Week 3 contest last season, which the Ravens won 31-30 on a controversial last second Justin Tucker field goal, will forever be remembered as the game when Torrey Smith returned to the team to play following his brothers tragic death during the early morning hours on game day.

Of course, who could forget the Ravens win in New England in the AFC Title game. On the arm of Joe Flacco and the concentration of Anquan Boldin, the Ravens scored 21 unanswered points and shutout the top offense in the league during the second half to win 28-13 to advance to Super Bowl XLVII.

The Patriots would like to forget but they only way to bury that demon is to win in Baltimore. You can believe the evil genius of Bill Belichick will pull out all of the stops to ensure that happens.  N.E. will be out for revenge and be possibly trying to lock up a bye week with a win in Baltimore.

Flacco has had the edge on Mr. Bundchen

The team they could likely be battling for one of those byes could be the Ravens. The Pats have not had a great offseason and another surgery to TE Rob Gronkowski’s arm, his fourth, does not bode well for Tom Brady’s high-powered offense, which needs to find another wide receiver.

Brandon Lloyd is gone and Wes Welker is now in Denver. Brady’s favorite target (Welker) has been replaced by a player many called a “poor man’s Wes Welker”, Danny Amendola. The draft is going to be big for the Pats but they only have five total picks. However, starting with the 29th pick, they have three selections within a span of 63 picks (29, 59 and 91) with which to do some damage. The Patriots do not currently own any picks, in rounds four through six but have the 20th and 29th picks of the seventh round.

While I believe the Patriots are playoff bound once again in 2013, it will not be because they are so much better than everyone else is during the regular season. This playoff run could strictly be a byproduct of getting to play six games within their own division this season.

The Ravens and Patriots along with a select few other franchises are considered cream of the crop run organizations. Even with all of the losses in Baltimore, I think the Ravens are a better team and in a better position from an organizational standpoint. Including the playoffs, the Ravens will win their third straight over New England in what promises to be a high scoring affair.

Ravens 38 New England Patriots 31

RAVENS RECORD 12-3

WEEK 17 RAVENS at CINCINNATTI BENGALS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

This game could mean nothing to the Ravens, or it could mean everything. If the Raves are indeed 12-3, then another win could lock up a No.1 seed for the first time in franchise history and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I expect the Bengals to be fully engaged in a battle for one of the two Wild Cards spots, which makes this a high stakes game for both teams.

With that said, there is a big difference between needing to win a game to make the playoffs and needing to win a game to play all of your playoff games at home. If you do not believe me, just ask the Houston Texans, who watched the No.1 seed slip away last season in Week 17 because having already locked up a playoff spot and at least one home playoff game could not get motivated enough to beat a division rival on the road to finish the season.

I think the Bengals scenario gives them the edge in this one and the fact they are at home cements the deal in my mind that Cincy wins the game.

Relax Ravens fans; didn’t the boys lose in the “Natti” to close out last season as well?

CINCINNATTI BENGALS 24 RAVENS 20

For the third time in four seasons, the Baltimore Ravens will finish the season 12-4 and in doing so win their third straight AFC North championship. Unlike the NY Giants last season, the Ravens will have an opportunity to defend their Super Bowl title.

Because the Ravens accomplished this with what amounts to essentially a new defense, in terms of faces—- and after trading away Anquan Boldin, John Harbaugh will be the NFL Head Coach of the year—–and deservedly so.

RAVENS FINAL REGULAR SEASON RECORD 12-4

Please be sure to join Stephen Shoup and myself on the Fanspeak Radio Network tonight through Saturday night for all of your 2013 NFL Draft needs. Tonight, (9:30 p.m.) Stephen and I will deliver our final first round mock drafts as well as any NFL Draft news and notes.

Tomorrow, we will start our NFL Draft coverage the same time as the Draft begins at 8:00 p.m. We will stay on the air until 11:00 p.m. breaking down every pick and trade made. We will do the same Friday and on Saturday, we will have a three hour draft wrap-up show that will start a half hour following the final pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.

If you have not already done so, please be sure to download the 2013 Fanspeak NFL Draft Guide, available for free right here on Fanspeak.com.

 

Win In The Trenches, Win The Game

January 31, 2013 in Super Bowl XLVII, What to Look For

Super Bowl XLVII is being dubbed as the "Harbowl" because of brothers John and Jim Harbaugh being the head coaches of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers respectively.  While this is a good storyline, it won't exactly determine who will win this game.  These two teams played last season on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore and the Ravens won 16-6.  Both teams are similar to those teams from 2011 but, there are still many differences.  In this game, the key will be winning the battle of the trenches.

1.  Offensive Line
The biggest reason the Ravens are in the Super Bowl, in my opinion, is the offensive line.  You can argue other things like the defense stepping up, Ray Lewis announcing his retirement, and Joe Flacco but, without the offensive line, Flacco wouldn't be playing as good as he has.  Without Flacco, the Ravens wouldn't have made it this far so, the offensive line is a big deal.

Throughout the postseason, the offensive line has given up only four sacks in three games.  In the regular season, they allowed thirty-eight sacks in sixteen games.  This comes out to 2.38 sacks per game.  Sacks isn't the whole story though, as the line was allowing constant pressure during some games which gave Flacco no chance to complete was pass.  In fact, in the game against the Denver Broncos in week 15, the line allowed eighteen hurries, ten knockdowns, and three sacks (not counted as knockdowns) on forty pass attempts.  In their matchup in the Divisional Playoffs, the Broncos only had one sack and never had much pressure.

The reason for this sudden change was a change in the line itself.  Starting LG Jah Reid was injured for the Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts.  This forced a complete reshuffling of the line.  Normal LT Michael Oher went to RT, normal RT Kelechi Osemele went to LG, and backup Bryant McKinnie went to LT.  McKinnie started at LT last season but was forced to the bench when the Ravens drafted Osemele. Before the next game, against the Broncos, the Ravens placed Reid on injured reserve which locked in this lineup for the rest of the playoffs.

On to Super Bowl XLVII, the line will face a tough matchup with the 49ers who finished the regular season 3rd in total yards allowed and 2nd in points per game.  The biggest challenge will be for the left side of the offensive line.  Left tackle McKinnie will go up against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aldon Smith who has 19.5 sacks this season.  Right guard Marshal Yanda will face All-Pro DE Justin Smith.  One stat in favor of the Ravens is that neither has recorded a sack since week 14 against the Miami Dolphins.  The reason for this is Justin Smith then missed some time with a triceps injury.  This shows that without Justin Smith, Aldon Smith is an "average" pass rusher.  Even in their two playoff games, Aldon Smith has no sacks and Justin Smith has been playing injured in those two games.

Since Yanda is an All-Pro guard, the Ravens will hope he can handle Justin Smith one-on-one.  This then allows more attention to go to Aldon Smith with McKinnie probably getting some help from a tight end or a running back.  If Yanda can handle Justin Smith, it frees up the whole offensive line.  It means on run plays C Matt Birk and LG Kelechi Osemele could double team NT Isaac Sopoaga and lets FB Vonta Leach get to the second level and take out one of the 49ers All-Pro ILBs in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

The key for the Ravens offensive line is to stop Justin Smith.  If they can do this with just Marshal Yanda then it will free up other lineman to block linebackers and the rest of the defensive line.  Anytime you can get offensive lineman on linebackers in the run game, it is good.  In the passing game, if the line can hold up, Flacco should play similar to how he has so far in the playoffs.

2.  Joe Flacco
Speaking of Flacco, he has big responsibilities in the game.  This is his chance to show the world that he is an elite quarterback like he said before the season.  So far this postseason, he has been elite going 51-of-93 for 853 yards with 8 TDs, 0 INTs, and a QB rating of 114.7.  His passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions, and QB rating are all the best for QBs in this postseason.  

Beyond the stats, he has gone into Denver and beat MVP candidate Peyton Manning and went into New England and beat Tom Brady.  Not only did he beat both, he outperformed them and now he finds himself in New Orleans for the Super Bowl while they watch from home.

The best part of Flacco's game this postseason has been the deep passing game.  On passes to wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, Flacco is averaging 16.7 yards per completion.  During the regular season, the 49ers were good at stopping the deep pass but, in the playoffs, they have regressed and quarterbacks are 10-of-15 for 264 yards with 3 TDs, 1 INT, and a QBR of 100.  If you want to see a full chart for this click here.

Expect the Ravens to come out passing against the 49ers.  Against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, they came out running and it didn't work.  In the second half, they started to pass the ball and this second half performance won the game for them.  Don't expect the Ravens to abandon the run game though as they will need it for play-action passes and the Ravens always seem to lose when they don't run the ball.  As always, they will use Smith to take the top off the defense and then use Boldin and TE Dennis Pitta across the middle of the field.

Joe Flacco

The Ravens will need one more good game from QB Joe Flacco to win the Super Bowl.

3.  Stopping the Run
When the 49ers played the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Playoffs, the Packers couldn't stop QB Colin Kaepernick or RB Frank Gore.  In the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Falcons were able to stop Kaepernick from running but couldn't stop Gore.  If the Ravens want to win, they will have to at least contain both of them.

Coming into this game, the Ravens Defense is on fire.  They have given up 14 points per game in the playoffs and have only allowed four touchdowns.  Despite the Ravens not having played a good running teams in the playoffs, they have a few advantages over the Packers and the Falcons in stopping the 49ers run game.

The best defense to run for stopping the option, which the 49ers will run, is the 3-4, which the Packers use but not the Falcons.  However, the Packers Defense has consistently been awful over the last few years.  The Ravens run the 3-4 defense and, they have the right personnel to stop the outside runs.

Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw has been one of the best run defenders at his position all season long.  Therefore, expect him to play a little bit more than usual on Sunday.  When you think of Terrell Suggs, you think of a pass rusher, not a run defender.  However, Suggs has become a good run defender over the last few years and it has become the most evident this year.  Due to all of his injuries limiting his pass rushing ability, Suggs has become a better run defender.  Paul Kruger also will play at OLB for the Ravens but he is mainly a pass rusher so he won't be talked about here.

The outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense are the most important players in stopping outside runs, which is mainly what Kaepernick does.  Since the Ravens have a pair of good outside linebackers, the should be ok in this part of the run game.  They also showed this in their week 14 matchup against the Washington Redskins.  While the Ravens lost, they were able to limit QB Robert Griffin III to 34 yards on 7 rushes before he was hampered by a knee injury.  Therefore, it is Gore that the Ravens will have to really worry about.

The outside linebackers will have to set the edge for runs and probably will be assigned to Kaepernick on the option plays.  This means that the rest of the front seven will be responsible for stopping Gore.  This is what the Falcons couldn't do and the Ravens could fall in the same boat. The nose tackle position has been very inconsistent for the Ravens this year with not very good production.  This allows lineman to get blocks on the linebackers which can spring the running backs free.  This is never good for a run defense as it allows constant runs of five yards or more.

A way to fix this is putting normal DE Haloti Ngata at NT but this all but eliminates him from rushing the passer which he is so good at. Therefore, the Ravens will have to stick with Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody at NT.  Them, along with DEs Ngata, Arthur Jones, and Pernell McPhee will need to get push and take on blockers to disrupt the runs and allow the linebackers to run free and make tackles.

Expect the Ravens to have schemed up a decent way to stop this high powered run game of the 49ers.  However, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are great offensive minds which means they also will have schemed up something.  This means it will come down to execution and who can make plays.

4.  Pass Rush
Containing Kaepernick isn't the only thing the Ravens outside linebackers will have to do, they will also have to generate a pass rush when the 49ers pass it.  It will be a tough challenge for the Ravens pass rushers as the 49ers line has only given up two sacks this postseason but, they did give up forty-one sacks in the regular season which ranks tied for 23rd best in the NFL.

The Ravens, on the other hand, recorded thirty-seven sacks in the regular season, tied for 15th best, and have six sacks in the postseason.  In the game against the Patriots, they recorded no sacks but were able to have constant pressure.  Rushing the passer isn't all about sacks, most of it is getting enough pressure to force the ball out of the quarterback's hands before he wants to throw it.

Playing the 49ers, the biggest problem with getting pressure is the threat of Kaepernick to scramble and pick up chunks of yards.  Therefore, don't be surprised if the Ravens have either a linebacker in the middle of the field spy Kaepernick or just tell the edge pass rusher to contain on certain plays.  This should limit the scrambling ability of Kaepernick on pass plays.

On to specific players, OLB Paul Kruger had been quite a tear since week ten against the Oakland Raiders.  He had a total of ten sacks in nine games starting with that game.  His streak finished after a 2.5 sack performance against the Colts in their Wild Card game.  He has been shut out in the last two playoff games though.  The Ravens will need Kruger to regain his late season form to get pressure on Kaepernick and disrupt the 49ers passing game.

On the other side of the line will the Terrell Suggs.  Suggs has overcome a torn achilles and a torn biceps to be able to play this season.  In the regular season, Suggs was only able to record two sacks in eight games.  In the postseason, however, Suggs has two sacks, both against the Broncos.  Suggs will need to be in top form as the 49ers have a great offensive line, plus he will have big responsibilities in the run game.

While Kruger and Suggs will rush from the outside, Haloti Ngata, Arthur Jones, and Pernell McPhee will rush Kaepernick from the inside.  Of those three, McPhee has turned his game on recently.  Against the Patriots he batted down two passes including one that resulted for an interception.  In the previous game, he had a strip sack of Peyton Manning.  McPhee had been limited by injuries all year but now, he seems to be back in form.  Jones had 4.5 sacks in weeks 12-14 but has no others on the season.  Ngata, has been a force inside when healthy and, he seems to be in good health right now.

As stated above, who ever wins in the trenches will win the game.  So, it might not be as fun to watch as a high powered passing offense, like the Patriots, but the battle in the trenches will be great to watch as there will be some great matchups and, most importantly, it will determine the game.

Paul Kruger

Ravens OLB Paul Kruger will be a key player in Super Bowl XLVII.

Four Ravens With Super Bowl Experience

January 27, 2013 in Super Bowl XLVII

With the Super Bowl being one week away, we should look at what experience the Ravens will have in New Orleans.  The Ravens have four players who have played in the Super Bowl before and their head coach along with both of their coordinators have been to the Super Bowl.

The first, and most obvious of the Ravens to play in a Super Bowl, is LB Ray Lewis.  He is the only player on the Ravens team with a Super Bowl ring.  Lewis got his ring in Super Bowl XXXV where the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7.  This is the only other time the Ravens have made it to a Super Bowl and Lewis is the only player left from this team.

In the game, Lewis only had 3 solo tackles, 2 tackle assists, and 4 pass defensed.  However, Lewis still was able to win the Super Bowl MVP. The reason that Lewis won the MVP was he was the leader of a defense that allowed no points (the Giants returned a kickoff for a touchdown). In fact on ESPNs Super Bowl MVP page, it just says "Led a dominant Ravens Defense" under why he received the award.  Every MVP except one, Super Bowl XII, has the players statistics.  During that season, Lewis was also the Defensive Player of the Year and he led arguably the best best defense in history.

Ray Lewis

Ravens LB Ray Lewis was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV.

In his post game press conference, Lewis said "I told Shannon Sharpe [TE] and I told Jamal Lewis [RB]: Give us 10 points and the game is over. That's not boasting. If you give us 10 points, game over.  You go down against our defense, you're in a whole lot of trouble.  We've dominated people like that all year.  And they didn't score on us.  Make sure you quote that.  They didn't score on our defense."  As you can see, Lewis was very proud of his, and the defense's accomplishments.

The next Ravens player who has made a Super Bowl is fellow LB Brendon Ayanbadejo.  Ayanbadejo was part of the Chicago Bears when they made it to Super Bowl XLI.  The Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 29-17.  Ayanbadejo only played special teams for the Bears and recorded 1 tackle during the game.

Starting WR Anquan Boldin was part of one of the most unexpected Super Bowl runs ever.  He played a key part in getting the Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII.  In the regular season, the Cardinals went 9-7 and many people believed they didn't belong in the playoffs at all.  The Cardinals run was ended by the Pittsburgh Steelers as they handed the Cardinals a 27-23 loss on an improbable touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left.  Boldin had 8 catches for 84 yards including a 45 yard catch. For that season, Boldin had 89 catches for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns in the regular season.

Last is backup S James Ihedigbo who played for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI which was last year.  Despite the Patriots losing 21-17 to the New York Giants, who like the Cardinals went 9-7 in the regular season, Ihedigbo played a decent game.  He had 5 tackles as one of the starting safeties.  However, Ihedigbo was covering Giants WR Victor Cruz on his touchdown catch.  At the end of training camp this year, Ihedigbo was cut and the Ravens quickly signed him.  By beating the Patriots twice, including the AFC Championship Game, Ihedigbo has is revenge and now is going for back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

On the coaching side of things, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was the Colts QB coach/assistant head coach when they beat  Ayanbadejo and the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.  This experience should be helpful during preparation for the Super Bowl over the next week.  Since he was also the assistant head coach, Caldwell would have had more responsibilities than a regular QB coach.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been to two Super Bowls with the Patriots.  The first was Super Bowl XXXIX where he was the LB coach and the second was Super Bowl XLII as the defensive coordinator.  The Patriots won the first Super Bowl but not the second.  The loss in Super Bowl XLII wasn't exactly on Pees because his defense only gave up 17 points.  They did give up 14 points in the 4th quarter but, coming into the game, the Patriots would have been happy giving up 17 points as their offense was one of the best in history.  However, the Giants were able to stop this high-powered offense.

Head coach John Harbaugh has been to the Super Bowl once when he was the Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator.  The Eagles faced the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX and as we already know, the Patriots won.  The Eagles special teams didn't give up any touchdowns and the longest return they allowed was only 26 yards.  It definitely wasn't Harbaugh's fault that the Eagles lost.

Now, what does this mean for the Ravens?  It means that they have some experience in all aspects of the game.  On offense, they have Boldin, a veteran receiver and a key players, and the offensive coordinator in Caldwell.  On defense, they have Lewis, a great leader, and coordinator Dean Pees.  Both Ayanbadejo and Ihedigbo play special teams so they will bring experience to that part of the game.  It is good that the three most important coaches all have been to the Super Bowl as they have already been through this before.

The San Francisco 49ers don't have the same experience at the top of their coach staff as head coach Jim Harbaugh went to Super Bowl XXXVII as the Oakland Raiders QB coach and neither offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio have been to a Super Bowl.  The 49ers do have more players who have played in Super Bowls as they have five players with Super Bowl experience.

It will be interesting to see how experience ends up impacting the game.  It is interesting that the teams combined will only have a  total of nine players with Super Bowl experience which is probably a recent low.

Ravens Advance To Super Bowl XLVII

January 22, 2013 in Observations

In a rematch of last years AFC Championship Game, the Baltimore Ravens outlasted the New England Patriots by a score of 28-13.  At halftime the score was 13-7 to the Patriots.  Once the second half started the Ravens had a new offensive scheme, pass the ball.  This worked as it led to 21 second half points.  The defense rose to the occasion and shut the Patriots out in the second half.  In the first half, the Ravens were out played but, in the second half, the Ravens outplayed the Patriots.  Before this game, the Patriots had won 71 games in a row under head coach Bill Belichick when leading at half, including a 67-0 record when the quarterback is Tom Brady.  Now the Ravens will head to New Orleans to play in Super Bowl XLVII.  They will have the San Francisco 49ers who are coached by the brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh.  The game will take place on February 3rd and kickoff is at 6:29 pm Eastern time.

The Red Zone
The Ravens play in the red zone, on offense and defense, is what won them this game.  On offense, they made it to the red zone four times and, scored four touchdowns.  This offensive efficiency can make an offense almost unstoppable, as long as they can actually get to the red zone. On defense, they allowed the Patriots to make it in to the red zone four times but, they only scored one touchdown.  The Patriots also got to the Ravens 24 and 22-yard line but, the Ravens were able to force interceptions both times.  This red zone defense describes this years Ravens Defense.  They are not the best in the league anymore however, once the other team makes it to the red zone, they dig in and stop the offense. It is very hard to lose a game when you have these two stats on your side.

Joe Flacco
For Flacco, it was almost like two different games.  In the first half, he went 6-of-12 for 81 yards with 0 TDs or INTs.  This isn't bad quarterbacking but, it also isn't how an elite one plays.  In the second half though, he went 15-of-24 for 159 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  For the game, he went 21-of-36 for 240 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  His QBR was 80.2 and his QB rating was 106.2 compared to Tom Brady's QBR of 45.1 and QB rating of 62.3.  Brady also threw 2 INTs.  So, for the third time in as many games, Flacco has outplayed Tom Brady and, two of these games have been the AFC Championship.

As stated above, the Ravens offensive strategy in the second half changed.  In the first half they had been doing a lot of run plays, especially on first down.  The offense just looked really conservative in the first half.  At halftime, there were some changes as the Ravens came out throwing in the second half.  In fact, Flacco accounted for 70% of the Ravens offense in the second half.  With this change, the offense started to move the ball.  Soon they had taken a 14-13 lead and they never looked back after that.

On to more game specific things, Flacco never really got the deep ball going as his longest completion of the game went for 26 yards to Anquan Boldin.  The lack of a deep passing game can be attributed to the weather as it was very windy on the field with the wind at around 20 mph if I remember correctly.  All of Flacco's touchdown passes were good but the one that stood out to me was the first to Anquan Boldin.  The first was a play action jump ball.  After the fake, Flacco threw the ball up where only Boldin could get it.  Flacco also had one rush attempt where he scrambled and picked up 14 yards and a first down.

Joe Flacco

Ravens QB Joe Flacco celebrates throwing one of his three touchdown passes against the Patriots.

Ray Rice
Starting with his performance in the passing game, Rice had 3 catches for 22 yards on 4 targets.  Of these three catches, two of them went for first downs.  The most memorable was a 15 yard screen pass.  The Patriots originally had the screen covered but, Rice got away and Flacco threw it.  Rice broke three tackles on his way to the first down.  Now to the run game.  While Rice had 19 rushes, he only ran for 48 yards which is an average of 2.5 yards per carry.  Three of these rushes went for first downs.  One was a 5 yard run that put the ball on the Patriots 2-yard line after he ran for eight yards the play before.  Another of his first downs was a short run on a 2nd and 2 which put the ball on the Patriots 3-yard line.  The last of his first downs was a 3rd and 1 run with five minutes left in the game which helped run more time off the clock.  Along with his 48 rush yards, Rice also had a rushing touchdown.  He only went for two yards but, he broke two tackles on the way.  The play called for Rice to run up the middle but, like most of the game, there wasn't running room in the middle.  So, Rice bounced the run outside to the left and scored. The only negative from Rice is he had a false start on a 3rd an 8 from the Ravens own 29-yard line.  This was early in the game so it can probably be accounted to nerves.

Bernard Pierce
While couldn't get much going on the ground, Pierce had much more success.  On 9 carries he had 52 yards.  Three of these carries went for first downs.  One of them was a 2nd and 5 run for nine yards which put the ball on the Patriots 22-yard line and another was a 3rd and 2 draw that he was able to bounce outside for a gain of eleven, the longest rush by any running back in the game.  Pierce also had 1 catch for 8 yards.  This also went for a first down; it was a 2nd and 8 swing pass that just barely was enough for the first.

Torrey Smith
Unlike the Denver game, Smith wasn't able to catch a deep pass but, he still had an impact on the game.  Most of his catches were in the intermediate range due to the wind.  He had 4 catches for 69 yards on 9 targets.  He had three of these go for first downs.  The first was a 25 yard catch on play action on a 2nd and 6 which put the Ravens on the Patriots 15-yard line.  The second was a 2nd and 14 conversion that went for 23 yards.  Lastly, he had a 16 yard catch on a first down.

Anquan Boldin
This was another record setting game for Boldin.  With his two touchdown catches, Boldin became the Ravens all-time postseason receiving touchdown leader.  He had 5 catches for 60 yards with 2 TDs on 8 targets.  All of these catches came in the second half and only one wasn't a first down or touchdown.  One of these first down catches was a 3rd and 9 for 26 yards and the other was on 2nd and 10 that put the ball on the Patriots 10-yard line.  Boldin's first touchdown was on the first play of the fourth quarter.  The other touchdown (the first was discussed with Flacco), was on a 2nd and 4 and was for 12 yards.  Boldin lined up in the slot and ran a seam route, Flacco threw it up and Boldin caught it for another touchdown.

Anquan Boldin

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin celebrates a touchdown with WRs Torrey Smith (left) and Jacoby Jones (right) nearby.

Dennis Pitta
For the second game in a row, Pitta had 55 receiving yards.  This week he did it on 5 catches with 7 targets.  Three of these catches went for first downs, one for a touchdown, and the other was in the red zone.  Starting with his first down catches, Pitta had a 3rd and 4 catch from deep in Ravens territory, a 2nd and 10 catch for a gain of over 20 yards, and a 2nd and 4 catch that put the ball on the Patriots 13-yard line.  His touchdown was on 2nd and goal from the 5-yard line and was a quick pass.  Lastly, his other catch occurred on the play before his touchdown.  It was first and goal from the ten and he went over the middle.  Pitta caught the ball and took a big hit but still was able to hold on to the ball.  On the negative side, Pitta had a diving catch go right through his hands on a 3rd and 8.

Offensive Line
Yet again, the offensive line performed great.  They only gave up two sacks for a combined loss of five yards which is nothing in terms of sack yardage.  The first sack was given up by LT Bryant McKinnie on a 3rd and 6 from inside the Ravens own 10-yard line. The other sack was more of a coverage sack and Flacco was starting to scramble so it wasn't really the fault of the offensive line.  It only went for a loss of one so it was basically a failed run play.  None of the offensive linemen were called for a penalty which is very impressive.  In the run game, they got some movement but for the most past, there never were any big holes to run through.  Of the offensive line can protect Flacco like this for one more game, they could be tough to beat in the Super Bowl.

Haloti Ngata
Ngata may have only had four tackles but, for a defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense, that is good.  One of these tackles was a run stop for no gain.  The part of the game that Ngata was the best at yesterday was rushing the passer.  Ngata finished with three of the Ravens seven QB hits (they didn't record a sack but seemed to have a fair amount of pressure).  On a 4th and 4 play from the Ravens 19-yard line, Ngata had pressure with Terrell Suggs which caused Brady to throw the ball away.  Once the Ravens made this stop, it seemed like the Ravens were going to win and make it to the Super Bowl.  This play is an attribute to Ngata's speed as Brady had an open field in front of him but didn't run because he probably wouldn't have made it.  Ngata also had pressure on another play which caused a throw away.  The last play where Ngata caused a throw away was with two minutes left.  Ngata had pressure which caused Brady to throw the ball away.

Pernell McPhee
So how does a defensive lineman without a tackle make it here?  Simple, deflect two passes (including one that leads to a touchdown) and say that you have discovered Tom Brady's flaw.  First, McPhee batted away a pass in the fourth quarter that Dannell Ellerbe was able to intercept. After this interception, with seven minutes left in the game, it seemed like the game really was over as the Patriots never got the ball back until there were two minutes left.  The other pass deflection came with under two minutes left in game.  On to him discovering Brady's flaw, McPhee says "He throws all of his balls low."  When asked about how Brady has been so successful despite this McPhee said "He just throws it fast and he always gets good pockets.  But I tried to stay in front of him after watching film and knowing where he likes to go and how he likes to do it.  So that was my best advantage, just get my hands up."  This strategy clearly worked for McPhee as he had his two pass deflections at the line.

Pernell McPhee

Ravens DE Pernell McPhee batted down two passes at the line-of-scrimmage.

Ray Lewis
As usual, Lewis recorded double digit tackles with 14 but, according to Pro Football Focus, only two of those were defensive stops (runs for little or no gain).  Lewis was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit which was the right call even though it was pretty obvious that he didn't mean to do it. Lastly, after the game, Lewis fell to the ground and started saying "Hallelujah."

Dannell Ellerbe
Starting with pass coverage, Ellerbe gave up three catches for one first down.  With about seven minutes left in the game, Ellerbe intercepted Brady off of McPhee's tip.  This came the next play after Wes Welker caught a 56 yard pass.  The last positive for Ellerbe was a pressure on Brady which caused a bad deep pass that ended up going out-of-bounds.  Also on this play, Ellerbe was able to take down Brady.  On the negative side Ellerbe was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty after slapping a Patriots offensive lineman when a play was over. Ellerbe was retaliating to a late block but, you can't do that in the NFL and he was flagged, even if his slap barely was anything.

Terrell Suggs
While Suggs is though of as a pass rusher, he is actually quite a good run defender and this was on full display yesterday.  Suggs had two run stops for no gain including one on a 2nd and 1.  In the pass rush department he wasn't able to record a sack (like all of the Ravens) but, still had at least two pressures.  The first was on the 4th and 4 with Haloti Ngata as already discussed.  The other was with under two minutes left where he hit Brady as he threw causing an incompletion.

Walking off the field, Suggs was overheard saying "Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl. Arrogant f—ers" and "These are the most arrogant pricks in the world starting with Belichick on down."  He also said "That's funny, ever since SpyGate they haven't been able to win" though I don't know if he said this one to reporters or if he was overheard like the other two.  He did respond to reporters saying "All BS aside they are a hell of a ball club … They have the right to be arrogant."  While he may believe this, there is no reason to say this but, on the positive side, he didn't come out and say it to the media, he was just overheard.  Either way, the Ravens don't need publicity like this, especially after these two controversial things about the Patriots.

Bernard Pollard
It seemed like Pollard was all over the field going full speed all night.  He finished with 9 tackles, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble.  In the run game, Pollard had a run stop for a gain of two yards.  In pass coverage, he only gave up one pass.  On a blitz he was able to bat down a pass at the line-of-scrimmage.  This batted pass came on 1st and goal from the Ravens two-yard line.  On a 3rd and 4 from the Ravens 19-yard line, he had great coverage and forced an incompletion.  Pollard had a big hit on a receiver but was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit.  However, he led with his shoulder on the play and his shoulder hit the receiver on his head so I am going to call this one a bad call.

Lastly is the play we all remember, his hit and forced fumble on Patriots RB Stevan Ridley.  Pollard hit Ridley hard and they both lowered their heads on the play so it was a helmet-to-helmet hit but since it was a running back it isn't a penalty.  Ridley was unconscious before he hit the ground and on his way down, the ball came out of his hands and was recovered by DT Arthur Jones.  Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said "That [Pollard's hit] was the turning point of the game. A tremendous hit, football at its finest."  This play goes in line with Pollard's history with the Patriots.  In 2008, it was Pollard that hit Brady when he tore his ACL.  In 2009, it was Pollard that Welker was trying to avoid when he tore his ACL.  In 2012, it was Pollard that injured Rob Gronkowski ankle which limited him in the Super Bowl.

Bernard Pollard

Ravens S Bernard Pollard goes in for a tackle.

Cary Williams
Williams had a solid performance last night only giving up four completions and one first down.  He also had a deflection on a 3rd and 2 that went right to Paul Kruger but, since the deflection took a weird bounce off of Williams, Kruger dropped it because he wasn't expecting the ball to come to him.  Lastly, Williams intercepted Brady in the end zone with 1:06 left in the game.  After this interception the Ravens just took a two knees and the game was over.

Corey Graham
Like Williams, Graham gave up four completions, however, three of his went for first downs and the other was for the Patriots only touchdown of the game.  The touchdown was on a 3rd and goal from the one.  After the play, Graham and Chykie Brown were upset because they didn't communicate well after the Patriots motioned a receiver over.  This led to Welker being open for the touchdown.  Graham was also beaten on the first drive on a 3rd and 2 but Welker dropped the pass.  On a pass that Welker didn't drop, Graham was beat deep for 56 yards.  He bit badly on the double move leaving Welker wide open.  Ending on a positive note, Graham had a run stop for a loss of one on a 3rd and 2 which forced a field goal by the Patriots.

Jimmy Smith
This game was the first time in a while that Smith received substantial playing time.  Brown started as the nickel corner and then Smith took it over.  By the end of the game it seemed like they were being rotated.  This could have been part of the game plan to put Graham on Welker instead of Brown doing that.  This would mean that Graham would be in the slot.  Since Smith is better on the outside than Brown, he would come in when in nickel.  This is just a speculation so it will be interesting to see who is the nickel corner in the Super Bowl.

John Harbaugh

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh celebrates the Ravens win in the locker room.

Dannell Ellerbe Questionable

January 19, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Dannell Ellerbe

Ravens starting ILB Dannell Ellerbe is questionable with ankle and back injuries.

Out
CB Asa Jackson (thigh)

Questionable
LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle and back)
FB Vonta Leach (knee and ankle)
RB Bernard Pierce (knee)
WR David Reed (thigh)

Probable
RB Anthony Allen (head)
WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder)
CB Chykie Brown (shoulder)
DT Terrence Cody (ankle)
C Gino Gradkowski (head)
DT Arthur Jones (thigh and knee)
LB Ray Lewis (triceps)
LB Albert McClellan (shoulder)
DE Pernell McPhee (thigh)
DT Haloti Ngata (knee)
S Bernard Pollard (chest)
S Ed Reed (shoulder)
CB Jimmy Smith (abdominal)
WR Torrey Smith (back)
LB Terrell Suggs (achilles and biceps)
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

Patriots

*Note*  Earlier this week the Patriots placed TE Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve.

Probable
CB Marquice Cole (finger)
DE Chandler Jones (ankle)
OL Nick McDonald (shoulder)
DE Trevor Scott (knee)
RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)