Sluggish 17-10 win over Bucs sets up pivotal showdown with Steelers

November 28, 2010 | Drew Forrester

At some point, the Ravens are going to pay the price for sleep walking through one half of football offensively.

Oh, wait, that already happened in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago.

But it didn’t happen on Sunday in Baltimore, where the supposedly-good Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed up – sort of – and were stifled by a pestering Ravens defense that saved the day in a 17-10 win that moves the Ravens to 8-3.  For the second straight week, Baltimore’s offense managed only two touchdowns, but the defense rose to the occasion like “the old days”, limiting Tampa Bay to 101 yards of rushing and shutting down much-heralded quarterback Josh Freeman.

The Baltimore scoring was limited to just one quarter, as the Ravens accounted for all 17 points in the 2nd quarter. The second half was mainly an exercise in clock management for Joe Flacco as the Buccaneers kept the home team off the scoreboard while putting up a late score themselves. They’ll be lots of “a win is a win” being thrown in Owings Mills on Monday and that’s the truth — once the final score is up, nothing can change a team’s record. But these games of sporadic offensive output have to be reduced if the Ravens hope to seriously challenge for AFC supremacy in January.

The triumph over Tampa Bay sets up a terrific late-season showdown in Baltimore next week with the 8-3 Pittsburgh Steelers, who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Sunday in Buffalo when Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson dropped an easy touchdown catch in overtime and Pittsburgh later converted a field goal to win, 19-16.

Maybe next week the Ravens will put together 60 minutes of good offensive football.  Or at least 45.

If they do, there’s a good chance they’ll beat the Steelers and virtually clinch the AFC North – barring a late-season collapse – with four weeks remaining.

But at some point this season, John Harbaugh’s team is going to get punished for not being able to put together a representative effort in both halves of the game.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen at all, let alone next Sunday against the Steelers.

Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Ravens motored out to a 17-3 halftime lead, based mainly on a solid 2nd quarter that included a horrible pass interference call on the Bucs’ Aqib Talib and a nifty Joe Flacco to Derrick Mason TD throw from 10 yards out late in the period.  The lead was made possible by an energized Baltimore defense that featured the club’s best pressure on the quarterback all season.  That kind of harrassment made for a long day for Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, who excelled at running around and looking busy, but there usually wasn’t anything left at the end of the effort.  If not for a late 4th quarter TD toss to Kellen Winslow, Freeman’s afternoon would have been highly reminiscent of the kind of day Kyle Boller previously enjoyed in this building…in other words, lots of sweat, nothing to show for it.

Offfensively for Baltimore, Joe Flacco’s numbers would indicate that he enjoyed a productive day.  The 3rd year QB was 25-of-35 on the day, with 289 yards in the air and 2 TDs for a QB rating of 103.2.  Ray Rice was again quietly effective, rushing for 85 yards and catching another 47 yards worth.  He also put the finishing touches on the win with some late-game excellence that killed the clock after the Bucs cut the lead to 17-10 with 3:11 remaining in the contest.

The only bad news for Baltimore came on the injury front, as three starters missed extensive time due to in-game setbacks. Le’Ron McClain appeared to the best worst of the three, with a left ankle injury that occurred in the 2nd quarter and required him to be assisted to the locker room by team personnel.  Dawan Landry (concussion) and Michael Oher (knee) both missed the last 25 minutes of the game but Oher used his Twitter account late in the game to alert his followers that he was fine and expected to play next Sunday against the Steelers.

Another Sunday, another strange type of victory for the Ravens, who continue to plod along as one of the league’s most successful teams but still don’t appear to be hitting on all cylinders.

And that could be a good thing, perhaps, because there’s certainly an argument that the team’s most complete football lies ahead.

Or, it could be just the kind of thing that catches up to them in January when the post-season rolls around and the quality of the opponent dictates that you can’t sleepwalk for 30 minutes.

Next Sunday will tell us a lot more about the Ravens.

Pittsburgh comes to town.

What else can you ask for?