That the Ravens struggled to beat the lowly Arizona Cardinals was a surprise to most of us, but in the aftermath of Sunday’s 30-27 thriller, the best thing to do is simply put it behind you and focus on something else much more important.
Joe Flacco beating Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh this Sunday.
That’s how it’s going to be viewed and, honestly, that’s the territory you’re in if you’re Flacco and you play in the AFC North and your first three seasons have been filled with losses at Heinz Field that have either ended your season or temporarily halted your drive to the playoffs.
Five Heinz Field visits for Flacco and four losses, with the only win coming against Charlie (Brown) Batch last October when Big Ben was suspended.
It should be noted, of course, that John Harbaugh, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ray Rice also have the same record (1-4) as Flacco in those five trips to Pittsurgh since 2008.
It is, after all, a team game, and the Steelers have routinely had the Ravens’ number at Heinz Field in the John Harbaugh era.
But these days, the NFL game is mainly about your quarterback – as the Colts are proving week in and week out – and this Sunday’s affair will be won by one of the two guys behind center.
I’m guessing Roethlisberger, simply because he’s done it time and time against the Ravens, but I sure as hell hope I’m wrong.
Roethlisberger is, of course, what we all want Joe Flacco to be. He’s a gamer, a winner and a guy who doesn’t always look the part, but somehow usually winds up on top when the final whistle blows. Yes, sort of like Flacco’s performance against the Cardinals on Sunday. He wasn’t any good in the first half, but Flacco put the offense on his back in the final 30 minutes and made the throws that mattered in rallying his team from a 24-6 halftime deficit. It was very Ben-esque.
That’s actually become a major part of the problem here in Baltimore as the fans go through their week-to-week evaluation of Flacco. They want him to be something he’s not. They’re asking for Joe to be Brady or Manning or Roethlisberger or Brees when, honestly, he’s not even Matt Schaub yet. He can’t run from the numbers he’s posted this season to date – 8 TD’s, 6 INT’s and 7 fumbles. Those look like something Bruce Gradkowski might post. At the 7-game mark, those aren’t good for a starting quarterback who has taken every snap thus far. But he’s performed *well enough* in 4 of the team’s 5 wins to date and it’s safe to say that without him, Baltimore wouldn’t be 5-2.
But the seven games played are history and what’s next is what’s important now.
Beating Pittsburgh on Sunday in their building.
Last January as I walked across the bridge leaving Heinz Field and headed for the bus and a sorrow-filled 4 hour ride back to Baltimore, I went as far as to say that everything the Ravens would do in preparation for this 2011 season should be done with one thing in mind: “Does it help us beat the Steelers?” Every player signing, every cut, every draft pick, every trade…every single player that puts purple on in 2011 should wear that jersey only after the front office has answered “yes!” to the question, “Does this guy help us beat Pittsburgh?”
If the Ravens go there and lay an egg on Sunday, it’s not the end of the world and AFC supremacy is still very much up for anyone to take. For those of you keeping score at home, there was a playoff team LAST season that only scored one touchdown in 4 of their 16 regular season games. Talk about an up-and-down offense. In 25% of their games a season ago, that team only managed to reach the end zone one time. Know who it was? The team that won the Super Bowl. Included in those four one-TD games was a 7-3 loss at Detroit in December, for those of you who don’t remember how the Packers 2010 season went on a week-to-week basis. So if the Ravens don’t win on Sunday, it’s not like the season ends.
But if they do go to Pittsburgh and lose — and Roethlisberger once again outduels Flacco at Heinz Field — it will simply be a case of the same old-same old. And it will serve as a stark reminder to the Ravens that the AFC North still goes through the Steel City, no matter what the opening day score in Baltimore might have suggested, and it’s largely controlled by the play of Roethlisberger, aka “The Ravens Killer”.
If the Ravens can’t win on Sunday in Pittsburgh, they’re just another team who can’t win a big game at Heinz Field.
And at some point soon, the Ravens and Flacco are going to have to shed that label if they want to be great.
The Steelers figured that in order to be great THIS season, they couldn’t let Tom Brady come in to their building and beat them this past Sunday. New England lost.
If the Ravens truly have a great team — and Lord knows none of us REALLY knows which Ravens team will show up this Sunday – they’ll go in there and figure out a way to steal a win. It might be 13-10 with Flacco managing an efficient passing game and Ray Rice churning out 94 yards on the ground. Or it could be 27-21 with Flacco forced to take the offense downfield in an impressive 2-minute drive to end the game, similar to the manner in which he operated under pressure last October when his final minute TD throw to T.J. Houshmandzadeh gave the Ravens a win over Batch and Company.
A win is a win.
The Ravens need one this Sunday.
And so does Joe Flacco.
If he’s honestly going to work his way up the ladder of NFL quarterbacks and dance near that “elite” level, Joe has to handle the pressure of Sunday’s game and leave Heinz Field a winner.
It’s a quarterbacks league.
Your guy wins it for you. Or the other guy wins it for them.
This one is on Flacco. That’s a lot of pressure to put on the quarterback, but it’s the same pressure applied to Roethlisberger last Sunday when he welcomed Tom Brady into his stadium and walked away a winner 60 minutes later.
Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh will come down to Joe Flacco’s ability to rise to the occasion.
How will he handle it?