In the era of the internet, it doesn’t take long to ferret out the bitchers, moaners, whiners, complainers and bridge jumpers on a fall NFL Sunday afternoon. Being the social media zealot that I am, it’s easy to feel the temperature of the never-ending Baltimore “barstool” here at WNST.net during our Purple Haze live chats as well as all over Facebook and Twitter during games. For an old fart like me, it’s quite compelling (if not entertaining) to gauge the shaky and ever-changing morale of the purple fan base during each possession, each drive and each success and failure by the Ravens.
To say Sunday’s performance by Joe Flacco was a hot button would be an understatement. I could only hope that the Orioles 14-year free-fall would have such relevance and concern to the Baltimore sports community.
Sure, Flacco stunk. He stunk early and often and looked bewildered at different points during the first half of a 5-for-18, 23-yard first half. The second half started with a solo burst of offensive success as Flacco led the team into the Bengals’ end zone on the initial drive but in the end it wasn’t good enough as he threw four interceptions in a wretched 15-10 loss in Cincinnati, where the Ravens haven’t won since Anthony Wright was commandeering the purple ship. As Flacco said in his somber post-game comments, it wasn’t his best day or one that he’ll look back on with pride.
Seeing Flacco play through pain last December and January (while John Harbaugh continually lied to the fan base and everyone else while his quarterback limped on and off the field) and seeing him get up from brutal hits over and over again should speak to the resilience of No. 5. He’s not a particularly compelling personality or interviewee but you can’t question the kid’s toughness – physically or mentally at this point – and certainly his ability and the positive results speak for themselves.
If there’s ever a guy who we have to expect to bounce back from a bad day or should be given a “hall pass” for a stinker, it’s Flacco. In his two-plus years here, he’s been dubbed “Joe Cool” for a reason. Your blood might curdle and your emotions might shoot high and low, but Flacco is unflappable in most circumstances that I’ve witnessed – on and off the field.
So while the reactionaries and arm-chair head coaches are yelling the “Bench Flacco” refrains – and it’s more comical (if not sad, really) — the very real concerns I have are more about the locker room than the barstool.
It’s now common knowledge that Anquan Boldin went postal on Flacco in the locker room during a halftime rant that apparently has alarmed more than one person in the organization who witnessed it within the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium around 2:20 p.m. on Sunday.
Boldin, who is most famous around the NFL for chewing out his then-offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago, might’ve had his own way of motivating Flacco, who clearly responded in some positive fashion on the first drive culminating with a 31-yard TD pass to Derrick Mason.
But the demeanor of the locker room and the many outsized egos of the offensive personnel is a much larger issue than whether Marc Bulger should be inserted as a starting quarterback.
Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, whose new “rah-rah” coach in Seattle wanted no part of even having him on the roster four weeks ago, lived in a constant circus in Cincinnati with his offensive unit’s personalities. He’s grown up immersed in the drama of “gimme the ball.”
And Mason has been a grandstander (some might call it a “leader”) of the largest magnitude both in Tennessee and here in Baltimore over the past five years, especially when the ball hasn’t been thrown in his direction.
And running backs? Ray Rice is clearly the guy who should be getting the ball but former college superstar and first-round draft pick Willis McGahee thinks he’s still a No. 1 back. And fullback LeRon McClain would rather carry the ball than block and had his own level of success two seasons ago when he was asked to shoulder the load. McGahee got the ball three times yesterday and McClain just once.
Did we mention tight ends? The Ravens now have three legitimate weapons there with Todd Heap, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who are all more offensive-minded than stay-at-home blockers in the system.
So, here’s the biggest problem: they still only play with one ball in the NFL. There’s only one place Flacco can throw the ball at any given time and that’s only when he’s not running for his life after the offensive line deteriorates in front of him. Cam Cameron and Flacco have a lot of egos to feed, especially the morning after losses when the quarterback struggles and the wide receivers don’t get the damned ball.
It’s not hyperbole to say that the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town and with our fabled quarterback history here dating back to Vinny Testaverde, Eric Zeier and Scott Mitchell, yelling for the No. 2 will seemingly always be in vogue in tough times for many “real” and “educated” Ravens fans.
So, then, assuming the obvious that a quarterback change is the last thing on the mind of Harbaugh and Cameron, what’s really wrong with Flacco and the offense that a home game against the once-again lowly Cleveland Browns can’t fix?
Let’s start with better play from the offensive line, which hasn’t really done Flacco any favors in regard to giving him an appropriate amount of time to execute the offense with the injury to Jared Gaither and the constant flip-flopping of the personnel.
This week the Ravens will get a reprieve. They have a full week of rest. Finally, they’ll have a home game against the once-again 0-2 Browns, who have their own coaching and quarterback controversies to debate. (Unlike the Ravens, they have some real problems over on the shores of Lake Erie.)
Flacco has only led the team to two consecutive playoff berths and an AFC Championship Game in his two seasons in Baltimore. If he hasn’t bought himself a “free pass” for an awful effort against a rock-solid Cincinnati Bengals defensive unit, then we just have awful, unappreciative and uneducated fans.
The Ravens are 1-1. They were underdogs in both games and played on the road against back-to-back playoff teams that also used their respective off-seasons to improve. And defense and defensive pressure and scheme confusion are the calling cards of the Bengals and Jets defenses. (And if you look behind the bench, you’ll see two of the finest defensive minds in the game, who both sport gold, diamond rings with purple birds and “Invictus” slogans.)
Don’t jump off the purple bridge just yet!
And please don’t yell “Bench Flacco” or write it on Facebook or Twitter during the second quarter of the second week of the season and then expect me to think you know anything about football.
The Ravens lost 15-10. The defense was its usual self and if the Terrell Suggs roughing call wasn’t made there’s a decent chance the Ravens could be 2-0 this morning. And let’s not forget the special teams meltdown on the kickoff in the fourth quarter, which was the beginning of the end in Cincinnati.
It’s not time to panic. It’s certainly not the time to even discuss benching Joe Flacco for Marc Bulger in Baltimore.
Let’s discuss how to get the ball to these hungry and capable wide receivers, keeping them happy and putting the Ravens in the win column.
That’s the discussion we’ll be having this week and all season here at WNST.net and in all of the places on the internet we call a barstool for cogent conversation for intelligent Baltimore sports fans.
Hope to see you at Fattie’s in Essex tonight for the Coors Light Neighborhood Tour and some Monday Night Football and conversation.
And in case you missed Ray Lewis’ classic rant in the locker room yesterday, just click play and enjoy: