It was a super day for the Baltimore Ravens franchise as they put on a first quarter clinic en route to a 33-14 whipping of the New England Patriots on their home turf in the opening round of the NFL Playoffs. There were lots of firsts for the Ravens on Sunday, as chronicled by Drew in this blog, and a city that seemed a little bit skeptical of this team’s ability to win in the post season will no doubt be going purple crazy all week as Baltimore gets ready to head to Indianapolis. We have several days to analyze that matchup and as Glenn mentioned in his blog, there are things that need some correcting. However, for tonight, this blog is just going to primarily talk about the positives (my dad would call this the anti-Phil Jackman blog - and Phil you know I still love ya!):
- I don’t think I am going out on a limb in declaring this the best performance by the team all season. They defeated an elite club that has a one of the best QB’s in the NFL by lining up and just physically beating the Patriots in nearly every aspect of the game. New England had the deer in the headlights look after Ray Rice went 83 yards on the game’s opening play from scrimmage followed by the Terrell Suggs sack and fumble of Tom Brady that set up the Ravens second touchdown. It was smash mouth Ravens football, no doubt.
- After the game Ray Lewis, who was outstanding with 13 tackles and a sack on Sunday, praised defensive coordinator Greg Mattison for coming up with a great game plan. Mattison, however, said that it was not his schemes, it was the players execution that did the job. Whatever the case, the Baltimore defense was the most aggressive it has been all year and clearly that style fits the personnel. New England only had 196 total yards, wow! Charlie Frye threw for 180 yards on the Ravens in the 1st half alone in last week’s victory in Oakland. #52 talked in the post game about disguising the blitz until the last second for fear of Brady recognizing it and checking off, something the 3-time Super Bowl Champion excels at. Well today, #12 had no clue what was coming most of the time and he played like it. Mattison felt that the team could generate pressure rushing just four players and for the most part he was right. If there is one thing I would like to see less of, it would be the three man rush. The NFL rules are set up so much for the offense that if you give the receivers time to get open they either will or likely draw a penalty.
- Speaking of penalties, Baltimore only was flagged 3 times for a total of 15 yards! That was incredible focus and discipline by a team that has struggled to maintain its composure in several instances this year. Yes, the team was winning so it was easier to stay in control, but mentally that may have been the best the squad collectively has executed all year. Not a single personal foul or pass interference infraction was whistled on the Ravens today.
- Did the offense remind you a bit of the 2000 Ravens in Tennessee? Baltimore only threw the ball 10 times and Joe Flacco completed just four passes (but two were huge ones to Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton to keep second half drives going). But when you get an early lead after an 83 yd scamper why not keep pounding the ball like the Ravens used to do with Jamal Lewis? The rushing totals were 52 carries for 234 yards, a 4.5 yard per carry average. The backs were good and the offensive line was flat out dominant. It is clear that a healthy Jared Gaither at left tackle plays a huge role in offensive success.
- The much maligned secondary was superb today forcing 3 interceptions and holding Randy Moss to 5 catches for 48 yards (and most of those came in garbage time). Dominique Foxworth, Frank Walker, and Dwan Landry might have had their best games of the season. The pressure put on Brady certainly helped and having a healthier Ed Reed at safety contributed as well. Ravens fans can only hope that #20 continues to progress physically this week because they will need his smarts against Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and company. Reed even had a good lateral today to Landry on his INT that put the Ravens in the red zone.
- Special teams were fairly solid. Tom Zbikowski’s 30 yard return after New England cut the Ravens lead to 27-14 put the ball near midfield and on the shorter grid the Ravens drove for the score that put the nail in the coffin in this one. Sam Koch punted well with two good kicks that pinned the Pats inside their own 20 yard line and even Matt Katula’s long snaps were better allowing kicker Billy Cundiff to hit on both of his field goals and all three PATs.
- The Ravens came out as healthy as you can be after 17 weeks of football and tight end Todd Heap’s back injury appears to be minor. So could a team that has been banged up so badly since starting 3-0 finally be getting healthier in some key areas (see Gaither and Reed)? One has to hope that is true and Flacco will likely have an easier time getting his aching hip loose in a dome instead of the freezing north east.
- All in all it was a very good day to be affiliated with the Ravens and somewhere heading south on I-95 at 1000pm on Sunday night there are two full buses of very happy people who decided to go on the WNST road trip to Gillette Stadium. Those people, and any other Ravens fan who attended the game in person, are truly great for showing such faith in a team that many thought would get beat today, including myself. As anyone that has traveled with WNST knows, WNST bus trips, whether to a Ravens game, a Caps or Bears hockey game, or to a horse race, is a ton of fun. I’m sure this weekend to Indianapolis will be no exception so sign up, if you can. By the way, it was great to hear Ravens Coach John Harbaugh mention and praise the support the team received from the Ravens fans who attended the contest today. So how about we more than double that for next week’s Saturday night contest and get at least five WNST buses going to Indy?
Happy Festivus! (que the Ravens Mania music now…)