HOUSTON, TX — The Baltimore Ravens (9-4) were effective or better in nearly every aspect of their 34-28 overtime win over the Houston Texans (5-8) Monday night at Reliant Stadium.
The offense put points up early, scoring an unlikely 21 points in the first half.
The defense was effective despite giving up two 21-point leads, as they rebounded and Josh Wilson returned a Matt Schaub interception for 12 yards for to seal the deal.
The special teams unit got not only more good football from kicker Billy Cundiff (three more touchbacks) and punter Sam Koch (five of seven punts left the Texans inside their own 20 yard line-including a crucial 58 yard bomb in overtime), but they finally broke through with a 103 yard touchdown from kick returner David Reed.
It was the type of game the Ravens needed after a heartbreaking 13-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 13.
Really…it was. Of course, we all know it doesn’t exactly feel that way.
The Ravens may have controlled play for the first 31:15 of their win over the only AFC South opponent they’ll face this season; but the Texans’ ability to get back into the game and force overtime will leave an uncomfortable feeling throughout Charm City, including the building at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills.
After breaking the game open with Reed’s kickoff return to open the 2nd half, the Ravens failed not only to score another point; but tallied just five first downs the rest of the way. In the same time frame, the Texans managed to rack up 401 yards of total offense and 22 points.
It was a crucial victory for a team trying to lock up at least an AFC Wild Card berth, with the AFC North still very much in the balance.
The win does move the Ravens ahead of the Jets for the fifth-seed in the AFC Playoffs.
The type of crucial victory that will be discussed as if it were one of the more devastating losses in the history of the franchise.
The type of victory that leaves a fanbase asking themselves 14 weeks into a season “is this team really any good?”
The answer of course remains the same. We just simply don’t know.
The reality is that fans are probably-at best-concerned.
“Concerned is probably a good word word” said Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh following the win. “Do we have things that we’re worried about? Do we have things we have to work on? Absolutely.”
It’s hard to find a balance between what wasn’t far from being the most painful collapse in franchise history and a victory that guarantees a third straight winning season and leaves the Ravens two games ahead in the race for the playoffs with only three games to play.
The Ravens are clearly a very good team, even if took a heroic TD return from CB Josh Wilson on an overtime interception throw from Matt Schaub to escape the Lone Star State with a victory. Teams don’t get to 9-4 without being very good.
But for a very good team, they have a number of problems. The pass protection was practically brutal, allowing five Texans sacks (and eight TFL’s altogether). OT Michael Oher admitted after the game “I’m hurting my team. I gotta get it done.”
The pass rush was also practically non-existent in the second half, although Harbaugh admitted post-game the team purposely didn’t go after Schaub out of respect for the Texans’ offensive play-makers.
Of the Texans’ 401 yards after halftime, 242 came via the air. After getting sacks from LB Terrell Suggs and DE Cory Redding in the first half, the Ravens failed to put Schaub in the turf again.
And the play-calling? Once again suspect.
Not only will defensive coordinator Greg Mattison be criticized for choosing to not rush Schaub late, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will face fire for his decision to again throw the ball with the lead in a 3rd and short situation late in the game. (This time there was 2:58 left and the Ravens were on the Texans’ 44. The play resulted in a Flacco incompletion, which in fairness wasn’t quite as bad as the Troy Polamalu sack and strip the week before.)
When I asked RB Ray Rice what he had hoped the call was going to be, he made his feelings known.
“I wanted to run it. I’m just being honest with you. I’ve never been a guy to question anything, but on 3rd and 1-I want the ball.”
Not exactly dissent, but not ringing support either.
Despite all of the concerns, the Ravens are still in very good position to reach the playoffs. But it isn’t exactly an easy road. After returning home from Houston, the Ravens will have a short week to prepare for a visit from the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints Sunday. The Saints just happen to find themselves in the thick of their own playoff race in the NFC South.
Anyone feeling comfortable about Sunday’s game?
There’s one Raven in particular who either isn’t as concerned as the rest of the city of Baltimore…or is at least doing a great job of hiding it.
“Keep giving me W’s” said future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis. “You can’t ask for (anything) else.”
There was a collective sigh of relief in the Ravens locker room following their Monday Night Football escape. And if they keep posting wins, it won’t matter if they give up 22 point leads in the second half of every game.
But after the team finishes exhaling, they’ll have to get back to work. They have a long way to go to prove they’re a championship caliber football team.
Hear from Harbaugh, Lewis, Suggs, Flacco, Rice, Wilson, Oher and WR Derrick Mason following the Ravens win in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net!