The Ravens have had a very unique year. Perhaps no other team could do what the Ravens have done and Saturday night was a microcosm of their season.
How many teams could respond to the special teams mistakes the Ravens made? Those returns should have been momentum builders for the Broncos and momentum killers for the Ravens. Yet, the team, and more importantly, Joe Flacco responded in a game that many will remember for a very long time.
In addition to overcoming big plays, they have dealt with heartache in the passing of Art Modell and Torrey Smith’s brother, and a three game losing streak that had many writing them off.
Injuries on both sides of the ball but particularly on defense have been a theme of the season. Before the season even started, the team lost Terrell Suggs, the reigning defensive player of the year.
But things only got worse for the defense. At one point, Dean Pees had to use fifth and sixth string players at the cornerback and inside linebacker positions.
Injuries were so bad that Carry Williams and Ed Reed were the only two starters on defense that did not miss any time due to injury.
But the defense survived and got better as the season progressed.
Despite all of this, the Ravens get their chance at redemption this Sunday. While the Ravens beat the Patriots in week three, a playoff rematch is what the Ravens have really wanted. This will be a fantastic game and would be fitting if it came down to a field goal once again.
In last year’s game, Joe Flacco outplayed arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. That is not debatable. But Flacco was aided by a Patriots defense that was among the worst in NFL history, especially against the pass. This year, the Patriots defense is much better, particularly at the cornerback position with the addition of Aqib Talib.
Even though the Patriots defense has improved, Flacco will have a lot of confidence from his performance against the Broncos. While the Patriots will have a better game plan to defend the deep ball, Flacco will have success with shorter to intermediate passes to Anquan Bodin and Dennis Pitta.
Flacco should also be aided by tremendous pass protection. The team has finally assembled their best offensive line and it has payed off. McKinnie and Oher neutralized the most dangerous pass rushing duo in the NFL and the interior of the line is better with Osemele at left guard.
As always, the running game needs to be a big factor for the Ravens to win this game. Ray Rice must be aggressive, unlike his performance against the Broncos. Rice had a great game but was not hitting the holes with the explosiveness in which he usually does.
I am not going to predict this game just yet. But expect a fantastic game that will come down to a photo-finish.