BALTIMORE — In many ways, the Ravens’ 24-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday was a reflection of their entire 2012 season.
The outcome and final stats looked better than they felt over the course of the game, particularly in the first half when the Baltimore offense sputtered and the defense reaffirmed its “bend but don’t break” mentality after being on the field for over 19 minutes prior to halftime. The Ravens ultimately set a franchise playoff record with 441 yards of total offense and registered eight plays of 20-or-more yards after leading by a narrow 10-6 margin after the first 30 minutes.
Quarterback Joe Flacco finished with 282 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 completions, setting a new team playoff record with a 125.6 passer rating, and wide receiver Anquan Boldin produced a Ravens’ playoff record 145 receiving yards on five catches.
The second-half performance is one we’ve seen before as Flacco and the Ravens looked every bit the part of an elite offense.
“We were very efficient on offense,” Harbaugh said. “We were averaging nine yards per play until we took a knee there at the end. We didn’t have as many plays as we would have liked to have, but we sure were having success with our plays.”
That efficiency was absent in the first half as Flacco went 5-for-12 for 108 yards and Boldin failed to register a catch on two targets. And the unit’s inability to sustain drives for portions of the first and second quarter could have spelled troubled for a tired defense against a better opponent, but the Ravens prevailed as they should have against the inexperienced Colts in Baltimore.
As maligned as the offense has been this year — coming to a climax with the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on Dec. 10 — the numbers suggest it’s one of the best assembled in the 17-year history of the franchise. The Ravens set franchise records for most points (398), fewest turnovers (16), and most plays of 20-or-more yards (73) this season, but few would regard them as having a very productive offense.
Sunday’s up-and-down performance had a similar feel before the Ravens were able to pull away, but that’s been the story all season. Very little has come easy, even if Sunday marked the fifth margin of victory all season of more than one possession.
“It wasn’t as clean as we wanted it to be,” center Matt Birk said. “But, that’s what we do. We just kept fighting, we just kept plugging away.”
Perhaps Boldin said it best in explaining the Ravens’ approach in the first half, equating it to a heavyweight fighter feeling out his opponent in the early rounds.
The veteran wide receiver certainly helped in providing the knockout punch with an 18-yard touchdown catch with 9:14 remaining to put the Ravens up by two scores. Indianapolis had no answers for the savvy Boldin, making you wonder why Flacco and the Ravens didn’t call his number more frequently in the first half.
“We wanted to show them a couple looks and see what we got early,” Boldin said. “We kind of wanted to hold some things back until the second half. We got the looks we thought we were going to get.”
Sunday’s performance was good enough to dispose of Indianapolis, but the Ravens now face the daunting challenge of going to Denver to take on the Broncos, the team that demolished them in Baltimore less than a month ago. Denver hasn’t lost a game since the beginning of October and will be the clear favorite, and the Ravens haven’t exactly inspired confidence very often when playing away from M&T Bank Stadium.
A full 60 minutes resembling what we saw in the second half on Sunday will be a necessity in order for the Ravens to have any chance of pulling off an upset against Peyton Manning, the man who’s disposed of them twice in the postseason in the last seven years. There will be no time for feeling out the opposition or Manning and the Denver offense will jump ahead early and won’t look back.
Ray Lewis wasted no time in moving past his final game in Baltimore, eliminating any doubts of his ability to reboot emotionally after such a memorable day. The 37-year-old linebacker hopes this time around will be different against the Broncos with him and several others back and healthy for the rematch.
“I’ve already turned my iPad in to get Denver film now,” said Lewis, who finished with a team-high 13 tackles in his first game since Oct. 14. “It’s on to the next one. That’s one thing about being in this business for so long. Denver is going to be well-rested. We saw them earlier in the year, but now we get them again with all our guys back. We are really looking forward to it.”
We’ve waited all year to see the “real” Ravens show up, but Sunday is exactly what we’ve seen for much of the season. We witnessed a group capable of playing as well as anyone in the league in the second half, but mistakes and a lack of productivity allowed an inferior Colts team to hang around in the first half.
That won’t get the job done against the teams remaining in the postseason. The foot needs to be on the gas pedal from the opening kickoff next week.
The Ravens talked a good game following Sunday’s win, with several players embracing the opportunity to meet the Broncos again. You can only wonder if they’ll feel differently beginning at 4:30 p.m. next Saturday.
“[I'm] really looking forward to it,” Boldin said. “I was hoping we would get to them. So, they’ll see us next week.”
Which Ravens team will we see?
Will it be the offense that produced 253 yards of offense and the quarterback who threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns after halftime? Or will we see the sputtering unit we saw for much of the first half?
Can the defense offer enough resistance against Manning and the Denver offense to keep the Ravens in the game?
It’s difficult to forget the 34-17 beating they took just three weeks ago to Manning and the Broncos. Why would this time be any different, especially with Baltimore going on the road?
“We’ll make it different,” Boldin said.
Then, it’s time for the Ravens to show up for a full 60 minutes to prove it.