CHARLOTTE, NC. — The Baltimore Ravens (7-3) are no longer the dominating defensive juggernaut that intimidated opponents and broke records at the start of the 21st century.
There was a time when allowing a 100 yard rusher or a 300 yard passer was not only unlikely-it was rather close to impossible.
That time has come and gone.
While the Ravens still have a better than average defensive unit, they are no longer a group that strikes fear in the collective hearts of opponents. In fact, there have been times this season that the defense has been a liability for the team.
Even while Sunday’s 37-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers (1-9) was one of the team’s best defensive performances of the season, they still allowed Panthers RB Mike Goodson to net to reach 120 yards rushing, even if the final 22 came after the game was no longer in the balance.
But the Ravens’ defense did something Sunday that at times they had failed to do earlier in the season. They made significant plays when they were most desperately needed.
Just 10 days earlier, the Ravens defense had failed to make those most significant plays, as Matt Ryan directed the Atlanta Falcons on a game winning TD drive that took just 45 seconds. Clearly the memories of the Week 10 Georgia Dome failures stuck with the defense in the 4th quarter Sunday.
“The defense has gotta be able to finish and that’s exactly what we did” said LB Jameel McClain. “It’s definitely important to finish off strong.”
After Panthers QB Brian St. Pierre struck WR David Gettis for an 88 yard 4th quarter touchdown to pull Carolina within 20-13 of the Ravens, the defense stood tall. Not only did they hold the Panthers scoreless the rest of the way, they added on the game’s final two touchdowns to put things away.
S Ed Reed and LB Ray Lewis intercepted St. Pierre on consecutive plays, both of which were returned for touchdowns. (S Dawan Landry actually crossed the goal line on Reed’s pick following a well-timed lateral). Those plays were reminiscent of the way the Baltimore Ravens would traditionally win football games in the past 10 years.
“That’s kind of vintage Ravens right there” said LB Terrell Suggs, who particularly appreciated Reed’s lateral. “We used to always pitch. We gotta get back to being the old us.”
This version of the Ravens’ defense is unlikely to get back to that once dominant level, but it was certainly fun to see a reminder that they’re still capable of making the types of plays necessary to finish off games when things get interesting.
The success of the 2010 Baltimore Ravens will be decided by their balance, as the NFL has become a league where teams must be equally capable in every facet of the game. But the pendulum hasn’t fully swung. They are not quite a team that will ONLY go as far as QB Joe Flacco and their offense will carry them. They’re a team that will succeed based on how well all three units (offense, defense and special teams) play together. That’s the way the National Football League works now.
On Sunday, Flacco noted that the offense hit a “lull” in the 3rd quarter, allowing the Panthers to get back into the game. When they did, the defense was there to pick them up and finish the job.
The argument will be made that the Ravens’ defensive success Sunday is nullified by the fact that it came against a Panthers team with one win on the season and a quarterback who entered the game having made as many pro starts as Glenn Clark. Those arguments are relevant. But it does not change the fact that the defensive success was necessary late in the game, and that the defense came through when most needed.
Hopefully the same thing will happen if the Ravens need it against better teams left on their schedule like the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers.
But for one day Sunday, it was certainly a lot of fun to see a reminder that the unit is still plenty capable of getting the job done when necessary.
Hear from Flacco, Lewis, Suggs, McClain, Reed, Head Coach John Harbaugh, WR Derrick Mason and TE Todd Heap following the win NOW in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net!
LB Tavares Gooden is scheduled to join Drew Forrester Monday morning at 9:40am on “The Morning Reaction” on AM1570 WNST!