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The Wednesday Wheelhouse – Ruminations on All Things Sports and Otherwise

Posted on 19 November 2008 by Alex Thomas

What’s on your mind today on this chilly Wednesday in Baltimore?

-On Monday night I attended the annual Baltimore Ravens All-Community Team Auction to benefit several of the Ravens charities. I always hype these events because the Ravens do such a great job catering to their sponsors and fan base. It was another well-run event, with great food, even better company, and a chance to socialize with players like Ray Lewis, Troy Smith, Matt Stover, Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Jason Brown, and several others. Senior VP Kevin Byrne and Troy Smith were the MCs and guided the players on stage to talk to the community. Each player told us what they were doing to benefit the City of Baltimore, and it was refreshing to see so many high profile players doing all that they can to help others. Jason Brown was the life of the party. He certainly knows how to work a crowd and should make a great broadcaster someday.

-It will be interesting to see how the Ravens respond against the Eagles this week. I think the Ravens took this loss to the Giants personally. Not because they lost, but because of HOW they lost. I’d be surprised to see Brian Westbrook get more than 50 rushing yards this week.

-I was working at Conrad’s Crabs this past Sunday, filleting fish and talking sports with the customers, which is definitely one of the highlights of the job. Around 7 o’clock the place was packed (as usual), and most people were sitting around waiting for a bag of delicious steamed Maryland crabs. During that time, the TV was tuned to the Steelers/Chargers game. Toward the end of the game, one of the customers uttered a famous line from the movie Anchorman. I’ll give you a hint (because I can’t actually type the line into my blog): it was the famous line that Ron Burgundy said on-air that inevitably got him fired from the TV station. Remember: “Ron Burgundy will read anything you type into the teleprompter.” The PG version: Thanks a lot, San Diego. I’m still laughing about that…

-I hate the Eagles as much as I hate the Redskins. It’s because of one thing and one thing only, and this applies to both teams. Their fans hold this arrogant sense of accomplishment as if they’ve won something recently. Not to mention I’ve heard stories of Eagles fans cursing at children that wear the opposing teams’ jersey. Classy. In a past blog, I’ve mentioned that many of my life-long friends are Eagles fans…we just don’t hang out on Sundays.

-Entering the rumor mill, it looks like the Orioles are going to make a strong play for both Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett. It’s fish or cut bait time for Andy MacPhail. Time to use some of that MASN “revenue.” Some may call it revenue. I call it loot because they basically stole money from Comcast subscribers, and the only way to rectify such a crime is to make an Andre The Giant-sized cannonball splash in the free agent market. If we see more of the same, i.e. Brad Hennessey and Donnie Murphy, maybe it’s time for a “Free The Birds 3”. And this time, let’s do it in the off-season by picketing in front of the Warehouse. I dunno, just a thought…

-Unfortunately Drew Forrester beat me to the punch on blogging about the Towson/Navy opener, otherwise I would have posted a blog about it myself. I was there too, donning my WNST polo, and I met a lot of WNST fans. I spent the majority of the time with Jimmy the Usher and Mike, who took his son to the game. We stood on the baseline near the Towson bench and watched Pat’s Cats punch the Midshipmen in the mouth. The Tigers won 86-68, but the score would have been much more lopsided if the Tigers weren’t taking stupid shots early, which Pat Kennedy addressed during a timeout with about 8 minutes to go in the first half. Troy Franklin looked great in his limited playing time against Navy (he was limited because of early foul trouble). He has great court vision, shooting ability, and inside toughness for a smaller guard. Brian Morris also played well, and Josh Thornton led the scoring attack with 24 points.

-The first snow flakes of the year fell on Baltimore yesterday afternoon, as Mother Nature yielded some sporadic flurries. With all of this talk about global warming, I’m pretty sure Baltimore weather will never change, because weird stuff like this happens all of the time. Snow before Thanksgiving? Last year, I came home for Christmas break and wore flip flops and shorts on December 27th…it was 64 degrees that day.

-HBO should pay me because I keep hyping season five of Entourage, and rightfully so. Did anyone else see that episode on Sunday night? It was more shockingly dramatic than comical, which was a different spin for the Entourage fan base in a good way. It drew me into the actual storyline instead of the debauchery, drinking, and naked girls (which are highly entertaining in their own right). This season has truly been the best yet, and I hope HBO renews the Entourage contract. Do yourself a favor and check out the new season with Comcast On Demand if you haven’t done so already.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

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The Young and Restless

Posted on 14 November 2008 by Brian Billick

As I prepared for my game this week between the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs I had a chance to see first hand what the Chiefs are going through with their purging of their roster and building anew this franchise. Trading away their best defensive player (Jared Allen to the Minnesota Vikings) and loading up on draft choices this year you can clearly see the commitment the Chiefs have made to the future, and the growing pains they are experiencing at 1-8.

Seeing Herm Edwards and Carl Peterson put this plan in motion, I can’t help but think back to the 2002 season when Ozzie Newsome and I were faced with the same task.

As much as we as coaches would like to think otherwise, our jobs (particularly that of a head coach) are inexorably linked to the finances of any given situation. In 2000 the Baltimore Ravens reached the top of the professional football pyramid winning Super Bowl XXXV and then returning to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs in 2001. The price was unavoidable, however.

In 2002, the Ravens fielded the youngest team ever (19 rookies) in the history of the NFL. The decisions made in the preceding years to the “Cap Purge” of 02’ were all made with the consensus agreement that the team would have to be gutted after the 2001 season. With every signing leading up to the Super Bowl year General Manager Ozzie Newsome would make the obligatory observation, “Now we all know the piper has to be paid in 2002, right.” It was an acknowledgment by all involved that the expenditure “over the cap” had an unavoidable consequence in today’s NFL. That for every dollar “over the cap” you spend you will be devoid of those dollars in subsequent years.

At the heart of the Ravens’ Championship year were players like Shannon Sharpe, Priest Holmes, Rob Burnett, Duane Starks,Tony Siragusa, Qadry Ismail, Sam Adams. Jeff Mitchell, Jamie Sharper, Jermaine Lewis and even future Hall of Fame Rod Woodson would all be victims of the financial “balancing of the books” that every team must come to recon with.

It was only fitting that the cover of the 2002 Ravens’ Media Guide adorned the oil portraits of myself and Ozzie. Indeed, we where left with the task of rebuilding a championship team with our “financial” hands tied behind our backs. We did so in the only way left to a team in this situation and that is to draft and draft well.

Draftees like Jamal Lewis, Adalius Thomas, Todd Heap, Gary Baxter, Casey Rabach, Edgerton Hartwell, Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver, Dave Zastudil and Chester Taylor would team with holdovers Chris McAlister and future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden to form an AFC North Division Championship team in 2003. They key was the franchise’s willingness to take the dramatic steps to “purge” their championship team of older and more expensive talent and replace it with younger more affordable players.

The problem lies in being a victim of your own success. When you draft well, even though the young player comes cheaper, they play themselves into the higher priced market that makes it increasingly tough to keep all of your good players. Ultimately, the successes of drafting Ed Reed, Todd Heap and Terrell Suggs then forced the Ravens to let go of Jamal Lewis, Adalius Thomas, Gary Baxter, Casey Rabach, Edgerton Hartwell, Anthony Weaver, Dave Zastudil and Chester Taylor. It has become a vicious cycle, in a reverse of nature, the “young eating their old.”

In training camp of the 2002 purge year Todd Heap had a humorous, but acute observation. We had long had a tradition on our team that the most veteran players got to sit in first class when we traveled. Typically that would be seven or eight players, usually with 10+ years in the league. Todd Heap, who was just entering his third year in the league, at our first OTA with this young group observed, “Coach, looks like I am going to be in first class this season.”

Having spent the day with Herm Edwards, it’s clear he is finding the same things I did in 2002. Though tough getting through the loses, it was one of the most enjoyable years I have had coaching. Working with and developing the young talent is what being a coach is all about. Herm will also find that by having to play so many young players you are going to learn a great deal more about them than you might otherwise have a chance to do. Next year when he looks at his roster and sees a bunch of 2nd and 3rd year players he will not have to worry about how they will play in their first starts. They will all have 10 to 16 games of playing experience.

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Just how good are the Ravens?

Posted on 10 November 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

It’s not time to start printing playoff tickets just yet but if there’s any message that the Ravens sent to not only the Houston Texans but the NFL in general yesterday, it’s that this team is suddenly “for real.”

Any team that can go on the road and paste a team 41-13 in November to go to 6-3 must be taken seriously as a January threat.

Sure, it’s easy to say this: “Who have the Ravens beaten this year that matters?”

The answer: Cleveland twice, Oakland, Cincinnati, Miami and now Houston – combined record of 13-29.

Fair enough.

But the next seven weeks will work all of that out.

Are the Ravens a mediocre team that has bested a homely lot or an emerging playoff team waiting to break out and start beating some quality opponents?

There is one thing we know for sure.

With a date at the Meadowlands pending – and yes, we still have a handful of seats left on our “Miller Lite Purple Bus” to the swamps of Jersey this Sunday – the Ravens now control their own destiny in this chase for playoff football and a potential AFC North division crown.

It’s down to the Ravens and the Steelers in the AFC North and as tough as the purple schedule looks during the upcoming holiday season, it’s not any easier for yins’ donton either.

The Ravens have played nine games and have laid just one egg. They could easily be 8-1 with a little luck and some fourth quarter defense in the losses against Tennessee and Pittsburgh.

But I’m delighted with 6-3 and an emerging offense, stingy defense and the veteran play of Ray Lewis, Trevor Pryce and company leading the way for John Harbaugh’s troops. Yes, it’s been a VERY good year thus far, especially given the team’s modest expectations to be a .500 outfit.

There’s no crystal ball and no telling how the team will fare when the likes of the NFC East comes calling. But all of a sudden the upcoming matchups against Jacksonville and Pittsburgh at home don’t look so lopsided and quarterback Joe Flacco has looked less like a rookie than a veteran game manager and occasional long ball tosser who, combined with an effective three-headed backfield of Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain, looks to be a factor in this run for January football.

It’s officially “Festivus” season in Baltimore.

Break out the purple lights.

Break out the expectations of fun on Sundays.

And by all means, enjoy this rarest of seasons – a November and holiday full of cheer, potential and hope for a playoff berth.

The good news came in waves yesterday.

The most significant developments happened on the offensive side of the ball, where Derrick Mason went down with a separated shoulder and Todd Heap got off the milk carton of the purple offense.

No doubt that No. 86 has heard the whispers of his pending demise and answered yesterday with his best game of the season.

Meanwhile, Ray Lewis turned in an effort with the impact he formerly had as a much younger man. Two interceptions, running sideline to sideline to once again hold an opposing offense’s star running back to less than 100 yards of rushing.

That makes 29 in a row, if my count is right.

Haloti Ngata’s interception at the goal line sparked a defensive effort that was classic Ravens defense but his contributions on every play should be earning him a grass skirt en route to Honolulu in early February. You’d be hard-pressed to find me a defensive tackle who is playing the game at a higher level right now as the defense continues to break the will of opposing running backs and frustrate and chase quarterbacks each Sunday.

Next up: the World Champion New York Giants.

They had their hands full with Philadelphia last night.

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The afterglow of Cleveland

Posted on 03 November 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

With just over a quarter remaining in yesterday’s key divisional AFC North matchup, the Ravens were 14 points down on the road, the Browns fans were coming to life with a chorus of “Hang on Sloopy” (don’t ask…just watch the video!) and the vultures were circling our black birds at Cleveland Stadium.

Some of the Cleveland “faithful” had already begun to pile out onto the street to watch Bruce Springsteen perform before the Barack Obama rally, which was literally adjacent to the stadium (think as close as Oriole Park is to M&T Bank Stadium).

The Browns had our rookie quarterback on the run. Our beaten defense had been pushed around for 30 minutes – or as Terrell Suggs said: “We were getting our asses handed to us.” And staring at a two-touchdown deficit on the road in a hostile environment, it didn’t feel as though a comeback was in the offering.

Todd Heap hadn’t caught a pass. Willis McGahee was on the pine. The backend of the secondary, while not looking like Ike Booth and Donny Brady circa 1996 was still not Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle in their prime for sure.

But, as we learned in the locker room after the game, it was about that time that Ray Lewis came to the forefront on the sidelines and talked about playing a full 60 minutes of football. He talked about believing and not quitting. All of the stuff many may view as “rhetoric” when it doesn’t work was viewed as gospel once the Ravens came storming back to score 24 unanswered points during the final 16 minutes of the game.

And, lo and behold, the Ravens created their first miracle of the John Harbaugh administration and gave us our best memory of Cleveland yet, a stunning 37-27 victory on The Lake. (Well, it’s at least the the best memory in Cleveland since the Roberto Alomar homer back in 1996.)

While the real world is in a seemingly constant state of financial crisis and life isn’t a whole lot of fun for most of us from the gas pump to the checkbook, it’s stupid stuff like sports that can create a little bit of fun and a diversion from daily life. At least here in Baltimore with the fantasyland that sports provides us, it’s turning into a very good year for our football team, which makes for nice Monday mornings.

Hell, it makes for great WEEKS in my world, where everywhere I go and everything I do leads me into a conversation about football and the Ravens.

So, on a personal note, there’s nothing more gratifying than when the Ravens win.

It helps WNST morale. It helps the morale of the community. And it makes food taste a little better and the beer is, to quote Chuck Thompson, a little colder.

The Ravens are 5-3, headed off to play Houston in six days and apparently will draw the Sage Rosenfels quarterback card instead of Matt Schaub, who left the Texans’ game early yesterday.

Ray Lewis is playing like a man possessed, showing himself to be the veteran leader in his “walk” year that we’ve been wanting to see as fans.

It’s officially time to start talking about “Festivus.”

(Does John Harbaugh even know about this sacred football holiday?)

And then there are the three “rookies” who stepped to the podium after yesterday’s gritty, improbable win.

Ray Rice had as big of a day on the road when it mattered against a division rival as you can imagine a rookie having. (Although he’ll be hearing about getting knocked out of bounds short of the end zone a few times this week from teammates.)

Joe Flacco was almost flawless in his effort yesterday and continues to show poise, confidence and ability that are beyond his years.

And rookie coach John Harbaugh is starting to show results in the only place it really matters: the team is 5-3 and could be in first place by the end of the night.

Only time will tell if yesterday’s offense-defense bonding on the Lake will take root and this will be a playoff team (or maybe even a true contender for a Super Bowl title in this oddest of seasons).

The conversations here and around town will talk about the obvious problems: the lack of a bye week, the powerful NFC North teams looming during the holidays and tough games and the secondary will probably be a question mark until proven otherwise. There will be plenty of time to debate all of this, week to week, as the team continues to mature.

But yesterday was one for the books — a classic, an unexpected gem to begin the Festivus season. Not even being stuck in the Cleveland airport for three extra hours last night could wipe the smile off of my face.

As I walked to the subway after hearing about 25 minutes of Springsteen (as many of you know, one of my favorites), we strolled to Tower City Mall as Bruce broke out an acoustic version of “The Rising” and dedicated it to Barack Obama, who was about to take the stage.

Bruce could have just as easily sent that one out to the purple birds, who were trying to navigate the insane scene of 100,000 people on the square downtown en route to the airport for a “rising” of their own.

The rising to the top of the AFC North, creating even more separation from the whole state of Ohio.

The rain began to fall on the Cleveland night as the sun set before 5 p.m. for the beginning of a long, cold winter on Lake Erie.

The Ravens are 5-3. The Browns are 3-5.

Going in opposite directions once again.

The bad news?

We’re all stuck rooting for the Redskins tonight.

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Selig makes the right call in Philadelphia

Posted on 28 October 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

Even the blind squirrel finds the nut eventually, my Mom once told me. And for once, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball did the right thing.

Calling the game when they did in its suspended fashion was absolutely the obvious choice in deciding this sticky weather situation.

Via the magic of the internet and the Comcast DVR, I’ve had quite an evening. My evening began at the Ravens team Halloween party to benefit Goodwill Industries at Dave & Buster’s at Arundel Mills Mall. My comrades Casey Willett and Ray Bachman joined me and we did a series of wnsTV interviews with Joe Flacco, Todd Heap, Jason Brown and Jameel McClain. It was a great party, raising over $100,00 for the charity and there were 15 Ravens players in the house, including co-host Mark Clayton, Haruki Nakamura, Adam Terry and a bunch of others.

I got home at 10 p.m. I had both the World Series and the Tennessee-Indianapolis game set on the DVR. I got caught up in the baseball game before we even left the bar and joined it in real time. By 10:30, it was raining pretty hard and anyone who was watching had to be asking the same question we were: “Why in the world are they playing? This is no way to settle a World Series title!”

So, they halted the game in a rain delay right after the Rays tied the game 2-2, and 45 minutes later (after we had started the Colts-Titans game on the DVR), we heard about the “suspended” status on MLB.com. We tried for a few minutes to get the info about the rules, the makeup time and date — ya know, the basic 411 and “what are they doing?” stuff. Ten seconds later, I’m listening to the Bud Selig press conference in real time on the internet as I watch the second quarter of the football game from Nashville. And this shapes up to be a pretty good game right now.

(Shh, don’t wreck it for me!! And don’t send me result-related texts in real time during a gamenight. I’m in delay probably 80% of the time.)

It’s a perfect sports world, being around and on the internet in 2008, right?

I’m pretty sure the game is over and I’m avoiding surfing the web because I’m now watching the second half of the Titans-Colts game in delay.

It’s midnight. One false move and “Titan win late” or “Colts pull out big road win” headline blare and it wrecks my whole night.

I have no idea who won and I might even turn it off and pick it up in progress for breakfast. In my living room, sometimes Monday Night Football often becomes Tuesday Morning Football. With coffee and cereal…

Certainly tonight has been memorable and Game 5 of the 2008 World Series has instantly become a fascinating “footnote” in baseball history.

The game is suspended. And they’ll pick it where they left off. And the darts will come from every direction.

Should they have even played past the fourth inning?

Should the Phillies be ahead or tied?

Does Bud Selig have the power to change the rules and decide anything he feels like deciding on short notice?

And they might not even play until Thursday night with the weather forecast ominous over the next 48 hours. Who knows?

But it’s gonna make for a good water cool talk.

Or a day’s worth of sports talk radio.

Hey I’m watching a great football game and we’ll pick the baseball tomorrow.

Or Wednesday.

A perfect sports night…

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I heart 1983 & The AirTran Curse

Posted on 16 October 2008 by emilyagueda

I cannot let this anniversary pass without reminiscing on one of the most celebrated sports events in my life.  A middle class family of 6 doesn’t spend a lot on outside entertainment.  When it came to baseball, even though my mother spent most of her formative years at the stadium watching home team – the team her father managed – my sisters and I never set foot in a stadium.  The O’s pennant run and World Series victory gave me my one chance as a kid to get close to the team I listened to on the radio and watched on TV.  It was the biggest surprise of my life when my parents packed us up in the big brown station wagon and took us to the airport to greet our victorious team.  That memory is ingrained in my head.  I hope to do that again in my lifetime.

For some reason, last night driving home, the Todd Heap AirTran billboard jumped out at me.  Does the AirTran billboard have the same power of a Madden NFL cover shot?  I seem to remember the last version of this billboard had Steve McNair, with Danica Patrick in between.  Interesting.  Although, getting into a public girl fight might not merit as a curse fulfilled.

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Today we continue out education about the 2008 Ravens

Posted on 05 October 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

The undefeated Tennessee Titans roll into town believing (as they should) that they are a Super Bowl contender. Sure, the Ravens are 2-1 and are one play, one red flag, one fumble, one whistle away from being 3-0.

But today the Ravens will have the chance to show us whether they’ll be a very good team this year, or simply one of the many who will be playing “win one, lose one” style in the NFL.

They’ll either sport a pedestrian 2-2 by the end of the day or they’ll be 3-1 at the quarter pole. And either one of them is perfectly acceptable to me.

A month ago many us of believed they’d stink. A win today here against the Titans would make them 3-1 and they would be getting the kind of attention playoff teams will get from the national media.

But let’s be honest: beating the Clevelands and Cincinnatis at home doesn’t earn you honors in the AFC in 2008. We’re pretty sure they both stink.

But beat a 4-0 team and you’ve showed the entire NFL something.

Concerns for the Ravens today:

How will the offensive line and a max protect serve quarterback Joe Flacco against a defense as tenacious and talented as Jim Schwartz’s bunch in blue?

Where’s Willis McGahee? We all like Le’Ron McClain but I’m not sure the Ravens can win if he’s the feature back for the entire season. Unless the offensive line becomes more seasoned and dominant at the point of attack more consistently.

Will Todd Heap become more involved in the offense? Most of us thought Cam Cameron’s offense would use Heap in the same role as Antonio Gates in the San Diego scheme. That hasn’t happened yet.

When the Titans have the ball it will be interesting to see if the Ravens’ defense can goad Kerry Collins into some of the problems he had back on Jan. 28, 2001 when he was leading the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Collins is now playing the “Trent Dilfer role” for the Titans. He protects the ball. He manages the game. And he’s been undefeated doing it for a team that wants to smack you in the mouth and get turnovers on defense.

Theoretically, this is a good match up for the Ravens because the Titans don’t have the long-ball arsenal and quick attack style that teams like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati like to employ. This is one day when you’d think the gambling style Rex Ryan’s defense likes to utilize won’t be as susceptible to big plays or big breakdowns, especially in the secondary.

But the Ravens are going to have to keep Flacco and the offense on the field and they’ll need to run more effectively than they have so far this season. (Or at least in the way that they controlled the ball in the fourth quarter of the Cincinnati and Cleveland wins.)

Albert Haynesworth, Kyle Vandenbosch, Keith Bullock and company are stingy. They stuff the run. They sack the quarterback. They ball hawk. And they take the ball away.

The Titans have manhandled all four of their opponents. Pound for pound, they have been the best team in the NFL so far this season.

Today’s task is a tall one for the men in purple.

But it’s a day to figure out whether that 2-0 start was an aberration or whether the Ravens have arrived in 2008 as a legitimate playoff contender. Today is a reality check for the whole city.

Win today and we can start discussing the possibility of the “p” word and being a legitimate contender.

A loss today and staring the down the barrel of a trip to visit Peyton Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis next week, and all of a sudden the Ravens’ prospects aren’t looking so rosy.

Get’s your “Let’s Go Flacco!” signs and enjoy the game!

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Ravens Q & A time

Posted on 30 September 2008 by caseywillett

After a hard fought, tough loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last night, it is time for another edition of Ravens questions and answers.

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It was fun for a little while, wasn’t it?

Posted on 30 September 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

I suppose it was too much to ask for this season, this 3-0 thing.

We went to Pittsburgh 57 strong on the Miller Lite Purple Roadie. We sat in the upper deck. We raised hell as the videos will attest. We really had a lot of fun and cheered a lot and had a lot of high fives.

And when the Ravens were winning 13-3 at the half, it was one big freaking party as we looked out over the bright lights of Pittsburgh. Drew and Glenn were talking smack. The Steelers fans were strongly considering not returning to their seats in the second half and Joe Flacco was running around like Fran Tarkenton on the Heinz Field sod.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier. (Well, at least not since 13-3 two years ago!)

But the NFL is an unforgiving roller coaster as those few seconds of torture in the third quarter showed us. A bad punt, a bad penalty, a busted coverage, a missed tackle, a slip and sack and fumble combo for the quarterback – and voila – it’s suddenly a long ride home from Western Pennsylvania.

Another loss in Pittsburgh. Another knife from Ben Roethlisberger in overtime.

But, we could hang our hats on the good things over the next six days:

The Ravens had the lead for much of the game and really kinda manhandled the Steelers in their own crib. If not for two plays – the Fabian Washington whiff to the Chris McAlister miss to the Ed Reed slip, and the subsequent Joe Flacco fumble on the sack – the Ravens beat the black and gold up pretty good last night.

The place was silent much of the evening and even when the game was tied 20-20 late in the fourth quarter, at least 10,000 of the Steelers’ “faithful” had made their way to the exits. I’ve been making this trip for 12 years now and the crowd was the lamest I’ve seen in the new ballpark.

And even after “blowing the lead,” Flacco led the team back down the field to score the tying touchdown. And before that, the defense even chipped in with a goal line stand to force a field goal from 1st and goal inside the 5-yard line.

For those of us who thought 8-8 this season would be a moral victory, it’s nights like these that make us believe the team might be better than we think.

After 180 minutes of play – and maybe I’m delusional here – but I think the Ravens might be pretty good. And I’m as sold on Flacco (or WHACKO 4 FLACCO) as the next guy.

By the way, you might want to join Brent Harris and Brad Jackson and the Purple and Black Attack out at High Topps in Timonium from 6 til 8. Joe Flacco is tonight’s live guest. (Hint: order the chicken fingers…they’re really good!)

I’m not printing playoff tickets just yet and I realize they’re staring down the barrel at undefeated Tennessee and a trip to Indy over the next 12 days, I’m not even sure they won’t be 2-3 by the time I turn 40 on Oct. 14th, but I am at least hopeful.

We’re going to have a real season and this team is fun to watch and fun to cheer for.

I saw nothing last night in Pittsburgh that embarrassed us as Ravens fans. John Harbaugh and his new staff have clearly been a nice changeup and the team is playing well and playing hard and staying competitive. You can make a case that they deserved to win last night and go 3-0.

And Joe Flacco has shown over the last three games that he’s the real deal. Or as real as anything we’ve had under center since the team left Cleveland 13 seasons ago.

Now, the bad news and reality check from last night:

They lost again in Pittsburgh. Right now, as I type this, we’re in Monroeville, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh and we’ve got four-plus hours of highway ahead and we lost.

Again.

And it makes me sick.

The aggressive penalties hurt. The inability of the offensive line to protect Flacco long-term worries me. The injury to Willis McGahee worries me. The age of the team and the breakdowns and depth issues in the secondary also concern me. And the missed tackles and their inability to corral Roethlisberger when it counted just killed them last night.

But at 2-1 with their loss coming in overtime in Pittsburgh on a nationally televised game where the rookie quarterback led a valiant comeback to score a game-tying touchdown, I think as a Ravens fan you have to be satisfied. Well, perhaps not “satisfied” but at least “upbeat” about the 2008 season.

But, no doubt, a 3-0 start sounded a helluva lot better back at halftime. But, alas, it was not meant to be.

The Ravens are on a short clock this week.

Bring on the Schwartzes. Bring on the vaunted Tennessee defense. And bring on Kerry Collins!

We’ve got a big week ahead and plenty to dissect from the loss in Pittsburgh.

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Let The Fun Begin! Who wants to go to Pittsburgh?

Posted on 22 September 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

For those of you wondering, these are the good days. The ones where you wake up and all of the years of your sports fandom are rewarded with a magical start to a Ravens season where hopelessness was the offseason prediction.

Three weeks ago, Las Vegas had the over/under on wins at six. And business wasn’t booming on betting the over, not even here at WNST where we all live to see the purple team win.

We love ‘em, but who knew that they’d actually be any good, right? This is when the real fun happens when we get a real season when we never expected it.

Look, they’re not the gonna win the Super Bowl every year and with the decade-plus-and-ongoing annual vomit the baseball team has served up for this community, we have to pick our spots.

THIS, most certainly, is one of those spots.

Get excited, yell loud, throw a WACKO 4 FLACCO sign in your car window or cubicle! Talk football at the watercooler and here at WNST.

YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BE EXCITED!!!
(If not now, then when? They could still finish 2-14. Who knows how this is gonna turn out? But I’m having fun!)

The mere notion that this team could have us wake up on the first day of fall undefeated (albeit 2-0) and in sole possession of first place in the AFC North with a pending extra 24 hours of preparation before playing second-place Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football seemed almost unthinkable 15 days ago.

(Apparently, many of the fellas in purple were lobbying HARD post-victory yesterday for a few days off but Coach HardBall had them back at the Bellagio for coffee and breakfast this morning. Another departure from Coach Billick, who most certainly would’ve told the team: “See you Thursday morning!”)

But here we are at 2-0 and in sole possession of first place and headed into the den of the lion in Steel City for a national TV game and if you’re not having fun yet, you should be.

Anyone smell a “coming out” party in Pittsburgh?

And with Ben Roethlisberger apparently on the shelf for next Monday, why not get a tad-bit optimistic, even if not fully delusional?

Think about it: a win on Monday Night and even Tony Kornheiser will have to do the Jim Mora talk on ESPN by the fourth quarter, right?

All the Ravens have done is take the field twice at home – playing each game literally “moment-to-moment” with significant injuries to Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Willis McGahee, Kelly Gregg and with a rookie head coach and a rookie starting quarterback and a rookie left tackle (we almost FORGET about Jon Ogden, which is ridiculous) — and dominate division opponents.

Not just overwhelm them, but make them freaking quit in a sea of purple!

The Cleveland Browns and the Cinncinati Bengals are both winless and tied for last place, a full 2 ½ games behind the Ravens in the division. They were both manhandled and suffered the indignity of having Coach HardBall go easy on them by taking a knee. Hell, we did it TWICE yesterday!

Who is writing this fantasy script, anyway?

The final score yesterday easily could’ve been 42-10.

(I told you Harbaugh was a nice guy!)

We can X and O regarding the games and the differences we’ve seen in Cam Cameron’s offense – and we will at WNST all week right along with you — but it’s pretty apparent that Joe Flacco is a difference maker.

No matter how he plays or what situation he’s been dealt, the young Jersey lad is showing the poise of a signal caller much more mature than his years or 1-AA experience in Newark.

Just watching him handle the media in the postgame and the answers he’s now giving amidst success are telling.

He said that the reason he isn’t demonstrative on the field is because his siblings would ride him and make fun of him after games when he was a kid. He didn’t want to look like a fool and get laughed at.

“I learned pretty early on to cut that out,” Flacco said. “Being calm is what you’re supposed to be when you’re the quarterback.”

So, after the first interception, Harbaugh said Flacco was over consoling him instead of vice versa.

Joe Cool, indeed.

But it’s not just the WACKO 4 FLACCO show.

There are heros – unsung and otherwise – all over the field.

Let’s start at the top:

Ray Lewis has been sensational, playing like the best 33-year-old future Hall of Famer in the game. It’s not like 1997 when he was flying all over the field and you notice him on every play, but boy is he showing up in the “walk” year of his career and playing like he’s supposed to play. He looks hungry!

Ed Reed, who looks like he’d rather do anything than tackle someone at this point, still not only gets on the field but is a game changer by his mere presence. He can’t tackle and is clearly a different guy on his approach, but you better not throw the ball in his vicinity. He will make you pay! (That said, he still takes more chances and freelances as much as anyone in the game and it almost cost them yesterday!)

Justin Bannan is playing his ass off. With Gregg out, many of the defensive “other guys” have stepped up. Jarret Johnson has made big plays. Jim Leonhard was one of the stars of the game yesterday and no one knew who he was at breakfast. And McAlister, for all of his indiscretions and crankiness, is a machine. He plays with such pride and skill it looks almost effortless. It almost makes you sad when you consider how good he is and how underappreciated he is and how he should’ve been a Hall of Famer. But he should’ve been a better teammate and worker as well over the years. Maybe he sees this a last chance for greatness in his prime?

McAlister is playing through some discomfort for sure and if he leaves the lineup the whole ship starts to sink pretty quickly.

The Dawan Landry situation yesterday was one of those eerie moments that we never forget. We go from having fun at a football game to pondering life’s deeper meaning in an instant. The good-news prognosis is heartening but you realize what a serious game this is between the lines. And Landry is one of the real good guys on the team, soft-spoken, smiling and modest.

Offensively, Todd Heap clearly wanted to redeem himself from the Cincinnati disaster. Le’Ron McClain looks like the second-coming of Christian Okoye. And when Willis McGahee wasn’t getting poked in the eyes and bleeding all over the place, it’s clear this multi-dimensional backfield is going to pay dividends. I’ll also mention Ray Rice, because he’ll be a major factor before this is over in this offense.

In the receiving corps, Derrick Mason has been solid, Mark Clayton has reemerged as a potential threat and everyone in the organization will tell you that Demetrious Williams has the most upside of the whole bunch if he can stay on the field. (And if nothing else, Williams’ new Kid N’Play haircut will get him some positive attention if even when he doesn’t catch a few passes!)

Six weeks ago we didn’t have a quarterback.

Four weeks ago, Joe Flacco was buried in a deep No. 3 seat on the QB depth chart.

Three weeks ago, it was Troy Smith’s team. The name Kyle Boller has now become a distant memory.

This crazy season has gotten off to the kind of start that you can only appreciate after a few 5-11’s and 6-10’s on the backside of playoff appearances. I always called those years the “character building” seasons back in 1996 and 1997 through Teddyball.

I’m actually thinking about running a bus up to Pittsburgh next Monday night.

Anyone interesting in joining me…Drop me a note to nasty@wnst.net

I’m gonna work on some tickets and a bus today.

The price range would be in the mid $200s…at least that’s the early line.

Hopefully we can fill at least one bus!

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

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