Call it the Bean Town Beat Down, the Boston INT Party or whatever else you wish, Sunday’s dominant performance by the Ravens over the New England Patriots was both laughable and quite enjoyable, and has stoked the excitement and enthusiasm of the fan base to near record levels.
That’s right, confidence is riding high with a team that was maligned throughout the season for their lackluster performances, and a team that travels to Indy to face an opponent who hasn’t managed to lose a game in which they were trying to win in just about an entire calendar year. But why wouldn’t this team and their fans be confident about their chances?
One demon exorcised, and one more to go right? The Ravens Redemption Tour began with a huge bang in New England on Sunday; and if redemption is the order of the day, then there could be no better place to continue that theme than at the new home of our old friends in Indianapolis.
The realization that the Ravens had never beaten the Patriots in their history was surprising to some, when presented in the lead up to last week’s game, but there are few if any Ravens fans that are unaware of the team’s struggles, particularly recently, against the Colts.
Since 2002 the Ravens are winless in 7 tries against the Colts, including one particularly frustrating playoff loss here in Baltimore; and most of those weren’t even close. But after exorcising the demons of 0-5 against a New England team that on top of that was undefeated in the playoffs at home going back to the 70’s? In the face of that, the Colts simply don’t seem so daunting.
In fact, if you were looking at trends, outside the obvious head to head, it would seem that most other trends would favor the Ravens going into this weekend’s contest. The Ravens, after all, have won 6 road playoff games since 2000, that’s 2 more than any other franchise. Further, despite a disappointing 1-2 home record in the playoffs, the Ravens are an impressive 6-2 all time on the road in the playoffs, obviously usually as the underdog. In fact, the Ravens have never lost a playoff game outside of Baltimore or Pittsburgh in their history. That points pretty strongly to the Ravens chances in this one.
Of course, if the Ravens are to really stand a chance in this one, most will point to the Colts decision to begin resting starters in the middle of their week 15-game against the Jets as a major precursor. If nothing else, the Colts own history should have taught them better. When the Colts take the field this weekend, it will mark their 10th playoff appearance in the last 11 years. In 4 of the last 5 seasons, and again in this one, the Colts earned the right to rest their starters down the stretch if they so chose, and in each case they did. And in each case they saw their playoff dreams come to an end without even reaching the Superbowl. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the last time these two teams met in the playoffs was the only time in recent memory that the Colts didn’t afford themselves the luxury of letting down early, and as we all know, it was also coincidentally, their only Superbowl run.
Surprising as it may be, given the regular season accolades of the 2 teams by comparison over the last 2 seasons, the Ravens still have one more thing working in their favor that the Colts don’t. Make that 3 things. The Ravens have now managed to win 3 playoff games in the last 2 seasons, while the Colts remain 0-1 when it really counts. Improbable as it may seem, outside of that Superbowl run in 2007, the Colts have only won one other playoff game since their ouster in the 2004 AFC title game.
History and trends aside though, there are few who could have watched what the Ravens did on Sunday in New England and not take notice. There’s no doubt, that like in all professional sports, despite players’ best efforts to give 100% all of the time, somehow once the NFL playoffs roll around, everything changes. The stakes go up, emotions run high, and momentum can swing on a dime. There’ll be no convincing me that when they take the field on Saturday night, after having not played a meaningful snap of football in nearly a month, the Colts can possibly be anywhere near ready to match the intensity of a Ravens team that’s been playing playoff football for the better part of 5 weeks now. Even though the Ravens weren’t able to get the win that they thought they needed against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, there’s no substitute for an experience like fighting for your playoff life against an already heated divisional rival who has also reached the point of desperation. What have to Colts done to prepare for intensity like that?
Looking back at this seasons match up against the Colts, it’s easy to see, that if they take even a quarter of football to ramp up to the Ravens’ level of intensity on Saturday, it may be too late for them. It’s safe to say that this is a far different and probably a far better Ravens team than the Colts saw here a few weeks back. The Colts are a different team now too, whether they’re better or worse remains to be seen.
One thing that seems all but certain, is that should the Colts come up short of the ultimate goal that they’ve laid out for themselves this season, that of winning a Superbowl, the blame will be laid squarely at the feet of first year coach Jim Caldwell, and particularly that decision to begin resting those starters, seemingly an eternity ago. If they fail to win it all, the fans and media will turn on Caldwell in a heartbeat, even more than they have already.
If you remember the looks on the faces of the Colts starters as they came to grips themselves with Caldwell’s decision, they didn’t quite seem sold either. Throwing Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark out on the field the following week in terrible conditions against the Bills for just long enough to reach the personal milestones of 100 catches further mixed the message of one goal that Caldwell force fed his team just a week earlier.
If adversity sets in for the Colts early in this one, watching them turn on one another would seem all but inevitable, and priceless too by the way. If the Ravens somehow jump on the Colts early on Saturday like they did to the Patriots, it could be another banner day in Baltimore football history. I do love a laugher, and we just don’t play enough of those, one against the Colts would be enjoyable beyond anything that I can reason at this point. Then again, if the Ravens jump on anyone like they did the Patriots on Sunday, that’s all she wrote.
Survive and advance, my heart can take it.