This is it. The moment of truth. It all comes down to to 60 minutes on an acre of ground in southern Ohio. Win and the path to the Super Bowl goes through Baltimore, where the Ravens are 8-0, for at least one game. Lose and the path to Super Bowl XLVI becomes a near-impossible task of 3 consecutive road games, one of which would likely be at Three Rivers Stadium. The stakes have never been higher for a regular season Ravens game.
Which Ravens team will show up? For some inexplicible reason, they are only 3-4 on the road, with losses to underdogs Tennessess, Jacksonville, San Diego and Seattle. Meanwhile, they beat Houston, the Jets, the 49ers, Pittsburgh TWICE and the same Bengals we face tomorrow. That is a very impressive list of wins, showing the Ravens can beat ANYONE when they get their you-know-what together.
In their first meeting here, the Bengals were without rookie phenom receiver A J Green. He will play tomorrow, posing a big matchup problem for Ravens cornerbacks. It is crucial that Cary Williams, who suffered a concussion last week, be able to go for the Ravens tomorrow to help defend against the Bengals talented receivers.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton was very impressive against the Ravens last time. If there were ever a time for the Ravens to rediscover their pass rush, tomorrow would be it. If Dalton has time, he has shown he hass the ability to tear up defenses. So T Sizzle, Cory Redding, Haloti Ngata, McPhee, Kruger and Co. need to have a big game pressuring Dalton, knocking him down, and forcing the rookie QB to make a mistake.
What kind of game plan does Cam Cameron have drawn up? There is probably more pressure on him than anyone Ravens playeer or coach. The Bengals defense is good against the run, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens’ key playmaker, Ray Rice, should not touch the ball at least 25 times. The Bengals should also get a big dose of TEs Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Dickson had a sub-par game last week with a couple of key drops, but I expect him to rebound. G Marshall Yanda, whom many consider our best offensive lineman, is doubtful, so Andre Gurode, who was an All-Pro center with the Cowboys, has to step up big. Joe Flacco has to play smart and HOLD ON TO THE BALL. We cannot afford any more fumbles, especially on our side of the field.
I would say the intangibles favor the Bengals. The Ravens have already made the playoffs, whereas the Bengals pretty much need to win to get to the dance. They are playing at home, in front of a rare sold-out crowd. But Bengals players have not been in a high pressure game for several years, whereas the Ravens under John Harbaugh are battle-tested. They need to draw on that experience to play smart, get the Bengals crowd out of the game, and take care of business.
For the last three years, the Ravens got in as a wild-card, and managed to win one road playoff game before getting sent home, twice in Pittsburgh. Many consider the 2011 Ravens the most talented of the Harbaugh regime. It’s time to show that tomorrow, take home the AFC North Title, earn a first-round bye, then return to Charm City rested and ready. Who wants to come to Baltimore to play us in the playoffs? – Nobody.
The Ravens have positioned themselves well, in spite of some head-scratching losses this year. A loss tomorrow, followed by a 1st roud playoff loss, will haunt them the entire offseason, and have players and fans saying shoulda, coulda, woulda. That’s for losers. Winners show up in Indianapoolis the first Sunday of February and receive the Lombardi trophy from Colts Hall of Famer Raymond Berry. The Moment of Truth has arrived.