Are they who we thought they were?

November 16, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

Any amateur football talking head can tell you that if you run the ball and play defense you’ll have a chance to win in the NFL. Of course, when you can’t stop the run it makes for a long afternoon for your defense.

We’ve all been spoiled by the Ravens’ defense over the past decade. They’ve consistently nullified the running game of every team in the league over the past three seasons but today’s effort at Giants Stadium was pedestrian at best and we saw the result: Giants 30, Ravens 10.

The Ravens got humbled today at the Meadowlands, beaten badly by the defending World Champions, who at 9-1 seemed to be toying with them after jumping out to a 20-0 lead with three straight scoring drives to start the day. It was a thorough beating by the NFC leaders, showing the Ravens to be more pretenders than contenders for a Super Bowl title at this point.

The Ravens knew all week that the running game of Brandon Jacobs and company was coming but they were helpless to do anything to stop it. You had to know they were in the trouble the first time Ray Lewis got punched five yards backwards on the first drive.

As for quarterback Eli Manning, he didn’t have to do much. Manning managed the game, made a few passes when he needed to but wasn’t ever put in any third and long situations that needed to be converted.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t have his best effort, but certainly wasn’t helped by the deflected passes off the pads of Derrick Mason and company. Flacco showed himself to be fleet afoot and there was a point there at the end of the third quarter when it even felt as though the Ravens might be en route to pulling a Cleveland-style comeback.

But, in the end, the Giants proved to be a formidable foe, forced turnovers and punts while keeping the Ravens in ugly down and distances most of the afternoon.

The most disturbing part of the afternoon were the penalties on both sides of the ball, frustrating occurrences that stopped drives and allowed the Giants to stay in control.

Matt Stover missed a field goal.

Flacco threw a few bad balls that thwarted drives.

And the Ravens’ secondary play and tackling was suspect most of the day as well.

It was flashes of Billick-like frustration in the fourth quarter as Flacco moseyed up under center and the team wasted four minutes on a fruitless 30-yard drive while down 27-10.

At 6-4 no one should be disappointed. Of course, San Diego could’ve helped but inevitably fell short as well in Pittsburgh.

But the truth as the team turns for the home stretch – a literal reference when they play four of the final six games at M&T Bank Stadium – is this:

The Ravens have beaten the smelliest teams in the league – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Oakland – and lost in various ways to the only four playoff-caliber foes they’ve seen in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tennessee and now the New York Football Giants.

Until they can run with the big dogs of the NFL, they can continue to chalk up wins against the likes of Cincinnati, who sits on their schedule as a Thanksgiving dessert two weeks from now.

But Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and Pittsburgh again are also on the slate and it will take a better effort than the one we saw today to get the Ravens to the promised land of a 10-6 season and a playoff berth.

As John Harbaugh said in his postgame new conference, “There’s plenty of work to do.”

Amen.

That was a tough one today.

Are the Ravens the below-average team that Vegas had at a “6-win over/under” during August?

Or are they the 6-3 juggernaut who entered today on the heels of beating bad teams 41-13 on the road?

Or are they somewhere in between, just ripe to have a late-season collapse amidst the “going getting tough” schedule that began in earnest at 1 p.m. today?

After a 6-3 start, an 8-8 season would be a massive disappointment.

Some of us had our purple holiday lights ready to hang for Festivus season and our next promotion, “The Miller Lite Purple Palace” promotion, which will begin tomorrow on WNST.

Based on what we saw today and the big guy in the No. 27 getting out on the edge and the general exposing of the backend of the defense, perhaps we should hold off on that Festivus celebration for a few more weeks.

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