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First aid & Band aids don’t aid Ravens’ Festivus run

Posted on 30 November 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

As a card-carrying, eternal purple optimist, I suppose today is a day when my lavender heart gets tarnished. I’m going to do the unthinkable and be rational in my observation of where the Ravens are and where they could be heading between now and Jan. 3 in Oakland.

After seeing how this works over the last decade, since the Ravens really became a competitive squad in 1999, I think the NFL really boils to one thing – talent not withstanding – it’s injuries.

And this is why I think the Ravens are doomed this year, why they aren’t a good bet to make it through this minefield of games against the mostly lousy NFC North:

The most injured team in December loses. The healthiest team – with talent and key positions in tact – in January wins.

Right now, after watching them the past few weeks and after walking into the Ravens locker room last night, my veteran sportswriter eyeball test tells me that any purple Festivus miracle this year is a major, major uphill battle.

Part of why the team stinks right now is because they’re battered and bruised and the locker room looks like the walking wounded.

And it’s not just the devastating Terrell Suggs, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Fabian Washington injuries, it’s more about the walking wounded right now who are playing at far less than 90% and giving it all they have but just can’t perform at a Pro Bowl level with a variety of limiting injuries.

Let’s address the gimpy infirmary, not to mention the other aged players like Matt Birk, Trevor Pryce and Derrick Mason on the Ravens:

The three best players on the Ravens – and I’ll take any argument here – are Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco and Haloti Ngata. Right now, they are the “Purple Hearts,” if you will.

Let be honest – the NFL is all about speed. It’s the most significant attribute any player can have and it’s universal. Why do you think they spend so much time on 40-yard dashes at the combine every year? Speed kills. If you don’t have it, you don’t win.

Ray Lewis has a bad foot. Joe Flacco has a bad ankle. Haloti Ngata has a bad leg.

Lewis has shown it less in his gait than Flacco or Ngata (and the naked eye can tell from just watching them take normal walking steps in between plays what’s going on there) but he’s just as bad off from what we can tell and his several days of missing practice last week would tell you all you need to know. Lewis LIVES for practice. He loves it!

Flacco just looks like a mess right now. He’s all heart, but it’s pretty clear he’s gimpy and he got rolled up on again last night. Planting, moving, having a busted play become a big gainer – all of that is questionable on any given play. It also looks like his throws are sailing because of these subtle adjustments he’s making on the fly with monsters trying to tear his head off.

Ngata, another one with a heart the size of his own giant girth, is only playing on select downs and is about as banged up as any guy I’ve seen in my years of doing this who is still going out there on Sundays. Kinda reminds me of the year Peter Boulware played with one arm. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is mixing up the units and keeping Kelly Gregg, Justin Bannan and Brendan McKinney fresh, but there’s a major difference between a healthy Ngata and the rest of these guys – especially if you’re talking about 60-70 snaps a game.

This, my friends, is bad for the purple business and the Ravens aren’t going very far for very long with the trio of Lewis, Flacco & Ngata on the hobble.

How long will it take them to heal? Will they heal in the midst of five more games, three more roadtrips and 15 more hours of the physical hell the NFL game wreaks on the framework of these massive bodies?

We’ll see. But I wouldn’t take odds that any of these injuries are going to miraculously heal. They’re nagging, prolonged bouts.

It’s not that I don’t think the Ravens are “good” enough. Properly assembled and with less injured personnel, I’d think they Ravens would be a division winner – and that’s just if they had a kicker who was NFL-caliber the first half of the season.

But right now, at 6-5 with trips still pending to Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Oakland, the road is fraught with more bumps and bruises.

Coach John Harbaugh will downplay all of this. These guys won’t even address their injuries when we ask them on Wednesday’s media day. That’s fine. They shouldn’t talk about it.

But any astute observer would tell you that the Ravens are among the most banged up teams in the league and all at key positions. And banged up teams don’t fare well in the cold having to go on the road. And this is before we address the obvious shortcomings this 6-5 unit has as a whole.

They’re weak on special teams returns and magic. They’ve been previously weak on kicking and the team missed another 54-yarder that could’ve won the game on Sunday night. The offense has been nothing special and the wide receivers have been MIA some weeks. The pass rush has been less than we’ve known it for a decade and don’t get me started on the secondary, which is also playing with spare parts now that Washington is on IR and Frank Walker and Chris Carr continue to get exposed in key situations.

Sure Ray Rice has been explosive. And there have been times, especially early in the year, when the offense looked like it was in sync and could dazzle us with 30 points every week. But that’s not what we’ve seen in large part since September.

If Bill Parcells coined the phrase, “You are what you are!” than the Ravens of 2009 are the embodiment of that expression. They’re 6-5.

I want to believe. I’m going to pick them to win every week. I’m going to travel to Green Bay with a bus full of purple zealots on Sunday and Monday. We’re going to root hard and hope for the best.

But this injury thing, for me, it’s unshakeable. The late-season, winning NFL teams are usually much, much healthier than the Ravens appear to be here on Dec. 1.

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With Big Ben & Polamalu out, no excuses for Ravens tonight

Posted on 29 November 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

As we all now know, the Steelers will play tonight’s game here in Baltimore without their two best players, with the late subtraction of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joining safety Troy Polamalu in the black and gold infirmary.

It is not lost on any Ravens fan that tonight it’s clearly: advantage Baltimore.

Big Ben, as ‘yins from ‘donton affectionately call him, has been poison for anything in purple since he entered the league. He is the Ravens kryptonite. Polamalu’s interception of Joe Flacco in Pittsburgh last January must be considered the most heartbreaking play in the history of the franchise.

I don’t think I need to remind you that the Ravens are on a three-game losing streak to our friendly neighbors from the northwest.

Or that this is their first appearance on Baltimore turf since hoisting a second Lombardi Trophy to the Tampa skies last Febuary.

Or that, at 5-5, a loss to the Steelers tonight will effectively end the Ravens season.

I hate the Steelers. You hate the Steelers.

Let’s hope that attitude — and a few first downs and quarterback pressures along with some goofy white towels we’ll all be waving — are enough to keep the Ravens season alive tonight.

I get the feeling we’ll be feeling the loss of Fabian Washington more than we realize — just like when Chris McAlister went away two years ago — but there are no excuses for a Ravens loss tonight.

We can’t cry about Terrell Suggs not suiting up (of course, John Harbaugh has played the cat and mouse injury report game all week with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.)

Flacco needs to be crisp and sharp. Billy Cundiff can’t miss field goals. Matt Katula needs to snap straight. The offensive line can’t create pre-snap penalties. The defensive front seven must make Dennis Dixon run for his life like the rookie quarterback he is tonight.

The game is on national television. It can’t be a coming out party for some guy from Oregon we’ve never heard of.

The only thing worse than losing to the Steelers at home to effectively end our season with leftover turkey from Thanksgiving would be the thought that it happened at the hands of some guy named Dennis Dixon putting on a black and gold cape.

A disturbing thought.

Let’s hope we don’t go there…

The Ravens must win tonight.

My updated prediction: Ravens 34, Steelers 9

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Wednesday Morning’s Crabs and Beer

Posted on 25 November 2009 by Glenn Clark

Didn’t quite get everything in today, sorry about that. Have to get out to 1 Winning Drive to hear from John Harbaugh and company…..

For the record; I’ll say Maryland 68, Wisconsin 62 today. But I’m not exactly comfortable.

Let’s see what everyone else has to say….

Best of Tuesday’s WNST Blogs:

Glenn Clark says Terps must shake off loss to Cincinnati, prove they can beat good teams away from Comcast Center before ACC play begins

Derek Arnold says Jared Gaither, Michael Oher ‘Played like Ravens’ in loss to Indianapolis

Bob Haynie says Ravens need to ‘defend home turf’ Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium

Glenn Clark says Ravens signed Cary Williams from Titans practice squad

Glenn Clark says FB Charles Ali takes Matt Lawrence’s roster spot

Thyrl Nelson doesn’t particularly like Flacco, Ray Rice as fantasy plays against Pittsburgh

Ed Frankovic offers thoughts from Capitals owner Leonsis on passing of Pollin

RAVENS:

The Official Site’s Mike Duffy says Fabian Washington, Matt Lawrence placed on IR

The Official Site’s Mike Duffy says Harbaugh believes Reed’s fumble ‘not reason (Ravens) lost’ to Colts

The Official Site’s Mike Duffy says Flacco ‘struggling’ to find receivers not named Derrick Mason, Ray Rice

The Official Site says Ray Rice, VanDeSteeg, Paul Kruger say Ngata, McKinney could put away most turkey on Thanksgiving

Steelers Official Site’s Bob Labriola says Tomlin reported Roethlisberger ‘symptom-free’ after head injury in loss to Chiefs

Steelers Official Site’s Teresa Varley says Tomlin knows turnovers, special teams play killing Steelers despite ranking very high in AFC in offense, defense

Steelers Official Site says team signed Rocky Boiman, Corey Ivy

The Sun’s Mike Preston throws some blame towards Ngata for unnecessary roughness penalty in loss to Indy

The Sun’s Peter Schmuck says other teams around AFC helping Ravens stay in Wild Card picture

The Sun’s Kevin Van Valkenburg says Mason having ‘up and down’ season-similar to rest of team

The Sun’s Edward Lee says Grubbs not even aware he had been honored by Pro Football Weekly

The Sun says Big Ben will play as long as he continues to pass concussion tests this week

Carroll County Times’ Aaron Wilson says former kicker Hauschka tried out for Falcons

Carroll County Times’ Aaron Wilson says death of former Ravens hopeful Tony Fein ruled accidental

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette says Polamalu ‘not likely’ to play Sunday

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Scott Brown says Dennis Dixon will back up Roethlisberger Sunday night

USA Today has Ravens 14th in power rankings

5 of 8 USA Today analysts pick Steelers

USA Today’s Pete O’Brien picks Steelers 17-16

NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks says Ravens playoff chances hinge on health of Terrell Suggs

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco has Ravens 17th in power rankings

Fox Sports’ Adrian Hasenmayer has Ravens 8th in power rankings

TERRAPINS BASKETBALL:

The Official Site says Greivis Vasquez scored 19, but Terps fell to Cincinnati in semifinals of Maui Invitational

The Official Site provides numerical evidence of loss

The AP says Gary Williams knew Terps were hurt by Cincy’s Yancy Gates inside

The AP says Terps will face Wisconsin in 3rd place game today at 4:30

The Diamondback’s Eric Detweiler says former Maryland target Lance Stephenson chipped in 11 points, 8 rebounds for Cats

Washington Post’s Steve Yanda says Mick Cronin wanted Bearcats to get inside to Yancy Gates

Washington Post’s Steve Yanda says Landon Milbourne struggling in Maui

Washington Post’s Steve Yanda says James Padgett played well in loss

Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bill Koch says Deonta Vaughn tallied double double for Bearcats in win over Terps

TERRAPINS WOMEN’S BASKETBALL:

The AP
says Kizer scored 20 as Terps topped Samford

The Official Site provides numerical evidence of win

The Diamondback’s Jonas Shaffer says Frese pleased with how Terps bounced back from first loss of season

Washington Post’s Camille Powell says Terps shook off loss to Mississippi State with big performance in win over Bulldogs

TERRAPINS FOOTBALL:

The Sun’s Laura Smitherman and Don Markus say Martin O’Malley doesn’t want public funds spent on buyout for Fridge

The Sun’s Jeff Barker wonders how Byrd Stadium fans will react to Friedgen Saturday

The Sun’s Matt Bracken says Archbishop Carroll LB prospect Attaochu interested in Terps

Washington Post’s Steve Yanda says associate AD Brian Ullmann claimed school hasn’t asked for public funds

Washington Post’s Eric Prisbell says Gloria Friedgen, Debbie Yow attended Ralph’s Tuesday press conference

Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens says Friedgen wouldn’t talk about future Tuesday, only Boston College game

Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens says Chris Turner, Kenny Tate ‘questionable’ for Saturday’s game against BC

Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens says Ralph would prefer not to play Danny O’Brien Saturday

Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens says Terrell Skinner will play in East-West Shrine Game; Travis Ivey, Cory Jackson will play in “Texas vs. The Nation” all-star game in El Paso

Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens says James Franklin expects both Chris Turner, Jamarr Robinson to be available Saturday

ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich says Dave Shinskie, Maryland QB’s likely to combine for a number of turnovers Saturday

NAVY FOOTBALL:

The Official Site says John Dowd named Academic All-American by ESPN The Magazine

Annapolis Capital’s Bill Wagner says Niumatalolo trying to keep Mids focused on football during Thanksgiving trip to Hawaii

Annapolis Capital’s Bill Wagner says former Navy assistant Jeff Monken appears poised to accept Georgia Southern job

Washington Post’s Camille Powell says game at Aloha Stadium allows 5 Hawaii natives on Navy team to play at home

NAVY BASKETBALL:

The Official Site says Chris Harris, Jordan Sugars combined for 61 points as Mids topped Towson at Alumni Hall

Washington Examiner’s Kevin Dunleavy says Romeo Garcia dished out 9 assists for Mids in win

TOWSON BASKETBALL:

The Official Site says RaShawn Polk’s 19 not enough as Tigers fell to Midshipmen

The Official Site provides numerical evidence of loss

The AP says Jarrel Smith added 15 points in loss for Tigers

MORGAN BASKETBALL:

The Official Site says Reggie Holmes tallied 34 points as Bears won stunner at Arkansas

The Official Site provides numerical evidence of win

Arkansas Official Site says Rotnei Clarke’s 26 not enough as Razorbacks fell to Morgan in Fayetteville

The AP says Joe Davis scored 18 points for Razorbacks in win

Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s Bob Holt says Reggie Holmes’ big game against Hogs came just 2 days after tough performance in loss to Louisville

COPPIN BASKETBALL:

The Official Site says Vince Goldsberry lead way with 18 as Eagles beat UMBC in Catonsville

The AP says Kareem Brown scored 17 points for Eagles in win

UMBC BASKETBALL:

The Official Site says Chauncey Gilliam scored 20 points, but Retrievers fell to Coppin at RAC Arena

The Official Site provides numerical evidence of loss

LOYOLA BASKETBALL:

The Official Site says Shane Walker tallied double double as Greyhounds topped Dartmouth

The Official Site provides numerical evidence of win

The AP says Brett Harvey chipped in 10 points for Hounds in win

HOPKINS FOOTBALL:

The Official Site says Mike Stoffel, Steve Levinson named Academic All-American by ESPN The Magazine

MT. ST. MARY’S BASKETBALL:

The Official Site previews tonight’s battle with Niagara at Knott Arena

The Official Site offers complete Mountaineers-Purple Eagles release (pdf)

COLLEGE OF NOTRE DAME BASKETBALL:

The Sun’s Mike Klingaman says cancellation of season ‘heartbreaking’ for Gators

ORIOLES:

The Official Site’s Spencer Fordin says Chris Ray thinks ‘offseason regimen’ will have him in better shape in 2010

MLB.com’s Lisa Winston says Birds ‘exercising patience’ organizationally (REALLY?)

The Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec and Dan Connolly say former Nationals reliever Mike Hinckley signed minor league deal with O’s

The Sun says former bench coach Jauss gets same job with Mets

HORSE RACING:

Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee says Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra back to work

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS:

Frederick News-Post’s Joshua R. Smith says Hagerstown fighters Jacob, Joey Kirwan; Myersville fighter Paul Mann looking to make mark in local MMA scene

BALTIMORE BULLETS:

The AP’s Joseph White says Bullets/Wizards owner Abe Pollin passed away from cancer at 85

SOME QUICK THOUGHTS:

-Welcome to Baltimore Charles Ali and Cary Williams. If one of you ends up making a contribution, it will be a very pleasant surprise.

Talk to you tomorrow.

-G

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Lots of questions but not lots of answers for Ravens

Posted on 22 November 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

To say that frustration has fallen across the land here in Baltimore along with an early sunset would be an understatement. Today, once again, the sun continued to set on another season of Ravens football as the Ravens dropped their fifth game of the season as the Indianapolis Colts walked across the purple bird toward the visiting locker room as the winners in their former land of Baltimore.

Today, it is NOT the land of pleasant living.

After a 7th-consecutive disgusting loss for a fan base who built that horseshoe for the Irsay family before having it shoved up its civic backside in March 1984, there are many questions, but few answers the Ravens can provide beyond a disappointing 5-5 record.

Ed Reed and Ray Lewis didn’t even chat with the media. (Why Reed was trying to pitch the ball in that situation is just inexplicable — except that he’s been doing it for a decade, Brian Billick-be-damned!)

John Harbaugh had a rather terse “no comment”-style response in regard to this action.

I’m not a guy who’s ever looked for “goats” in losses. I’ve been around this game long enough to know that mistakes of the physical nature are usually deemed “acceptable.”

It’s pretty apparent that the Ravens have guys in the secondary who are physically over-matched or outrun at various points. That, in a way, is OK. They’re trying hard, doing their best, trying to get in a position to make a play. Domonique Foxworth, Frank Walker, Fabian Washington, Chris Carr — they’ve all had bad days and bad plays in these 10 games, but no one is confusing their results with their effort.

But the mental mistakes? Well, those are the ones that the coaches hate the most. In tennis, they’re called “unforced errors.”

Today, the Ravens made way too many mistakes in decision-making, and most of it came in the last few minutes of the game, opening the door for the Indianapolis Colts after spending much of the day on the all-too-rare “right side” of the Baltimore-Indianapolis 25-year karma.

The Ravens got several calls from the officials and a few good spots. Most of the “breaks” went their way vs. the Colts. They stripped the ball at the foot of the goal line to avert another Indy touchdown in the first half. They picked Peyton Manning twice early and played very, very well on defense all day, especially considering that they were playing the best quarterback on the planet with the fewest weapons and the worst secondary they’ve fielded during the lopsided rivalry.

But the holy trinity of mistakes — all by key members of the franchise — Flacco’s interception, Reed’s fumble and Harbaugh’s screwy use of the clock and the last, few precious timeouts put the Ravens with a full foot into the grave for the 2009 season with a 5-5 record. Only the late afternoon buffoonery of the Steelers losing to the Chiefs and the Bengals bungling a sure victory in Oakland could keep the Ravens off of complete life support. And that doesn’t factor in the relative mediocrity of teams like Miami and Denver, who have become the Ravens’ competition for a 9-7 playoff berth.

Harbaugh also has to accept the Ravens’ share of the responsibility for why Matt Stover was in a blue and white uniform today kicking winning field goals and the purple franchise is working on yet another kicker who missed a kick today in a game that was lost by two points.

So you think this game wasn’t won by the difference between Stover and Bill Cundiff?

Bad snap by Matt Katula not-withstanding, Stover made all of his tries, including the eventual game-winner with seven minutes remaining. Cundiff’s 30-yard near-whiff is the three points that would’ve won the game.

The kicking game has been the difference between being 7-3 and 5-5.

Period. Not a low blow, just a FACT!

So, just how big was the departure of Stover after all? And whose idea was all of this in the offseason?

For Harbaugh, the honeymoon with Charm City is on life support. The media are already agitated by his various peculiar idiosyncrasies and paranoid policies. And the Ravens are a breath away from elimination in 2009, which is probably just about what they’ve earned on the field with various degrees of poor play, poor preparation and lousy decision-making.

What the hell was Harbaugh thinking throwing that red flag after calling a timeout and not calling for a measurement? Honestly, that’s not a leader under fire in the NFL, that’s amateur hour! If that were any other coach blowing it on the other sideline, that’s exactly what we’d call it.

And, factor in the inevitable aging of a less-than-youthful roster and the injuries to the likes of Terrell Suggs, Todd Heap, Haloti Ngata and Brendon Ayanbadejo and you’ve got a recipe for under-achieving that falls far outside of just Harbaugh’s deficiencies. When injuries happen, teams don’t make the playoffs. You can check the track record on that.

You get the feeling that it’s just not meant to be for the Ravens of 2009.

Oh, and it’s Steeler Week here in the former land of pleasant living.

The Purple Haze is on at 7 p.m. tonight (and every Sunday night). Looking forward to chatting about the Ravens’ precarious situation in the NFL cosmos…

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At least one Harbaugh is a rock star…

Posted on 19 November 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

John Harbaugh is 5-4. His brother, former Ravens QB Jim Harbaugh, is 7-3 at Stanford and fresh off of knocking off USC and Pete Carroll last weekend. If you saw the game, you know that Harbaugh rubbed Carroll’s nose in the dirt when going for up a two-pointer while up 27 points in the 4th quarter.

I ran across a great story about Jim Harbaugh’s new-found rock star status in Palo Alto on www.sportsline.com written by Dennis Dodd. A great read!

I had a great time with Jim when he was with the Ravens in 1998. We did some radio shows together and he had a very quirky way about him, even then.

A funny guy, we once went to see Hootie and The Blowfish together with Tony Siragusa and Michael McCrary. I wrote about it in my book, Purple Reign. It was crazy night with a lot of twists and turns but I’ll never forget Harbaugh carrying a girl who was on crutches down a flight of steep stairs trying to help her.

He was really a good guy and he’s now the toast of the football world and the hottest coaching prospect in the business.

Good for him!

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Hey John: You can’t be 4-4 and seriously talk playoffs

Posted on 09 November 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Just judging from the sheer volume of social media I consumed all day yesterday, the fan base here is in “quit on the 2009 season” mode. The lofty expectations following a rookie campaign for John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco that ended in the AFC Championship Game led all of us in the Charm City to feel as though this year would somehow be better.

Well, we’re halfway through the race and things haven’t gone according to the best laid plan.

The Ravens have lost four of their last five, including yesterday’s turd in Cincinnati. The team, overall, just hasn’t been as good as advertised in many ways. The Bengals have now embarrassed the Ravens twice in four weeks en route to sole possession of the AFC North lead and have earned the right to crow.

While yesterday’s loss certainly felt like more of a beatdown than the final score — and we’ll get to Steve Hauschka’s missed kick in a minute — the NFL only counts one thing en route to a playoff berth in the tournament: wins. And right now, at 4-4, this isn’t going to get it done.

I could make excuses for all of the other three losses — and losing in the waning seconds on the road to New England and Minnesota doesn’t make you a bad team. But the pair of losses to the Bengals has been illuminating, especially when you consider Marvin Lewis’ recipe for building a team with a 6-2 start.

The Bengals have just about everything you’d want — a world-class quarterback with a world-class wide receiver and a running back who runs like Jamal Lewis with a line that’s got a nasty streak. On defense, they’ve built through a young linebacking corps (sound familiar?) and a pair of first-round cornerbacks who allow the safeties and linebackers to play hardball with the pass rush. Oh, yeah — they also arguably have the best kicker in the sport.

The Ravens, as was in full display yesterday, are sorely lacking in various departments but especially the ability to get off the field consistently on 3rd down on defense. It’s been a defensive franchise for the better part of 11 seasons. All good things must end and the 2009 defense is not up to “Play Like a Raven” standards.

Is that Greg Mattsion’s fault? Is that because of the clear falloff at the cornerback position? Is it not having Rex Ryan? Is Bart Scott missed that much? Is Ed Reed OK? Will Haloti Ngata be injured all year?

The entire secondary was beaten in coverage during the first half and the penalties were dreadful. All over the field. Ray Lewis is still the Ravens best player when Ngata is not dressed and that speaks volumes.

The first three losses were “excused” in my opinion. Yesterday, however, did a lot to expose the Ravens as a team that’s pretty good but not a serious playoff contender, especially not with that secondary and lack of pass rush.

Sure, Haloti Ngata’s absence needs to be factored into the equation in the Bengals debacle, but the Ravens have sufficient depth at that position and I’m not sure Ngata would’ve been a difference maker in the outcome yesterday in Cincinnati.

As for the offense, Joe Flacco just was not good enough yesterday, nor was the offensive line, which played its worst game of the season. Penalties? All over the place and ill-timed. Productivity? How about making their first third-down conversion in the fourth quarter? That’s just putrid, unacceptable and not worthy of the NFL playoffs.

They didn’t run well. They didn’t pass well. They were out of sync all day and Flacco looked bewildered during his short stints in the first half. Flacco has now dropped five straight to teams led by Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.

Derrick Mason and Ray Lewis declined to comment after the game yesterday but I’m sure they’ll have something to say on Wednesday at The Castle.

Harbaugh did his usual tap dance around any tough questions from the media — (memo to John: denying that the team doesn’t tackle well is laughable at this point) — but it’s easy to do what you want when you’re in the AFC Championship Game and things are going better than advertised.

But when the team is a disappointing 4-4 at the turn and the one decision that’s truly pinned to Harbaugh’s special teams badge of expertise — the banishment of kicker Matt Stover in the offseason — costing the team team parts of two of the losses, the questions are only going to get tougher around the head coach and around Steve Hauschka.

This team was supposed to go to the playoffs. This team was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. The “upgrades” of the offseason were well-calculated and the draft went well. The Ravens and the fanbase were not prepared to be swept by the Bengals and be 4-4 at the turn.

All eyes will now turn to Cleveland, where the Ravens most certainly will awaken eight days from now at 5-4. Right? We can only hope…

The Ravens have amassed four losses and haven’t yet seen the Steelers, the Colts or a frigid December night at Lambeau Field and a West Coast trip to the zoo in Oakland in early 2010. There’s a lot of football left to be played.

The Ravens will sort this out on the field. They need to go 6-2 to have a chance. They need to go 7-1 to be assured of a spot.

If they do it, they’ll be good enough. If they lose two more times to the Steelers, they’ll be playing golf on Jan. 4th and deservedly so.

And if that happens, John Harbaugh’s gonna have a lotta ‘esplainin’ to do at that postseason press conference while he sits next to Steve Bisciotti and the Steelers and Bengals are still playing football…

Things like:

What really happened in the decision to replace Matt Stover with Steve Hauschka?

What really happened with Chris McAlister and how did we get sold that Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr are upgrades?

Why all the penalties?

Where is the pass rush?

Where is Willis McGahee?

Where is the urgency on offense when the team is down two scores with three minutes left?

Of course, Harbaugh doesn’t really like the tough questions but they’re coming. It’s a tough job. It’s been a lot of fun, this honeymoon of riches and a great start to his era in Baltimore. Getting to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie head coach indeed buys you a hall pass for a while.

I have a feeling a lot of that ended yesterday, with a sweep to the Bengals and a 4-4 record at the turn.

But, as Brian Billick would no doubt tell him, these Monday mornings aren’t a whole lot of fun when the town gets disappointed and the team plays poorly.

And someone has to answer the questions…

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Another prime example of what Al Davis & Peter Angelos have in common

Posted on 26 September 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Banning free speech and free access to information by legitimate journalists is now apparently catching on in the NFL, as Al Davis has banned former-QB and current CBS broadcaster Rich Gannon from the Oakland Raiders facility in advance of Sunday’s game against the Broncos.

“Rich Gannon is not welcome here,” Raiders executive John Herrera said Friday when asked about the ban. “We told CBS we did not want him in our building, we did not want him to be part of our production meeting, and that’s where it sits.”

“He’s attacked us on a regular basis since becoming a member of the media,” Raiders King of Propaganda (also known as public relations executive) John Herrera said. “After affording him the opportunity to establish a career here, he has since gone on to attack us in a way that’s totally unacceptable.”

This has become a way of life in Oakland, as it is here in Baltimore with Peter Angelos in regard to me and WNST, who continually report the truth only to be scorned and castigated in an effort to undermine the credibility of our journalistic conviction. (Hey, WNST is a Top 100K Alexa company and the Orioles are 60-93 — not a low blow, just a fact!)

At least someone in the media in the Bay Area has some level of conviction and integrity to ask the team to explain the “corporate rationale.” But as you’ll see below, the goofy un-American, Marxist answers that you get from delusional, uber-wealthy 80-year old men are right up there with the nonsensical speeches of Iran and Libya’s leadership at the United Nations over the past few days.

And with Gannon, he’s a guy who wore the silver helmet and led the team to a Super Bowl seven seasons ago and was the NFL’s MVP in 2002. I just a kid from Dundalk with a microphone and a 25-year record of journalistic integrity.

Gannon’s crime? He had the audacity to say the Raiders should “blow up the building and start over again.”

“We think in a post 9/11 world, that’s not a very proper thing to say,” Herrera said. “It’s uncalled for. He seems to be a guy who can’t get over the fact that he played the worst Super Bowl game in the history of the game and he wants to blame everybody but himself.

“I guess it’s our fault he threw five interceptions.”

(I think this was known as the “sticks and stones” reasoning when I was 8 years old on the Colgate Elementary playground in Dundalk.)

CBS is outraged, the NFL is embarrassed (as they should be) and Rich Gannon is apparently amused, because he’ll be calling the Denver game at 4:05 p.m. in Oakland on Sunday no matter what Al Davis thinks.

This is a way of life in Oakland, as we’ve reported several times before.

So, you want to be a sportswriter, huh?

Here’s a classic video of the aforementioned Herrera attempting to humiliate and intimidate a Bay Area reporter last year over the Lane Kiffin storm, which all turned out to be true:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruiUgDyMf60[/youtube]

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‘Twas The Night before the Ravens opener…

Posted on 12 September 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

It kinda reminds me of Christmas Eve with anticipation. We’ve been waiting…and waiting…and waiting…and finally, football season is really here in Baltimore.

Wash away those ghosts of Troy Polamalu – the ones from the AFC Championship Game in January not the one from Thursday night – and let us begin a season anew.

First up, it’s the woeful Kansas City Chiefs. The general vibe around town all week has been one of supreme confidence. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed began their Wednesday press conference with dancing. John Harbaugh has sounded confident. Joe Flacco seems like a veteran all of a sudden.

I’ve quizzed several Kansas City media members and I had a chance to watch parts of two of their preseason games (both without Matt Cassel). No one is brimming with confidence in the land of the red Chiefs and no one really expects them to win tomorrow.

The Vegas line started at 10 ½ and has now moved to 13 points. Even if Matt Cassel plays on Sunday – and that seems to be a sure bet given their backup options with Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle – the Chiefs are a team of nobodys and “who is thats” coming in to serve the purple patrons an Opening Day patsy.

The Ravens should win on Sunday. There should be no excuses.

The team has looked brilliant in virtually every facet of first-team play through four preseason games. They’ve almost made it look too easy, even without Terrell Suggs for long stretches.

Confidence is high. Tailgates are sizzling with Roma Sausage and cold beer. Even the weather looks to be strong – forecast is 78 degrees and zero chance of precipitation.

So, just how will the 2009 season go for the Ravens?

The fans are abuzz with talk of depth at the wide receiver position. The offensive line is trying to find some depth to open up holes for a running back-by-committee arrangement with Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain and Ray Rice, who will probably be the leading rusher if they all stay healthy. And the health and productivity of Todd Heap is certainly a question mark.

But, offensively, it feels like Flacco will be asked to do more and looks more than capable of stepping up to that challenge.

Defensively, the eyes will always be on Ray Lewis, who is fighting Father Time with every season. Consider that he’s now survived two years longer than Jon Ogden and the likes of Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Chris McAlister, Duane Starks – who all entered the league after No. 52 – all seems to be done in the NFL. Lewis was considered a surefire Hall of Famer five years ago is now continuing to pile on his own legacy.

What kind of a year will it be for Lewis?

And Ed Reed, who has had neck issues and certainly doesn’t appear set for a long, long career given his style of play and reckless abandon and penchant for physical contact?

Terrell Suggs appeared injured during most of camp but quieted all questions for me in the Atlanta game, when he looked dominant and healthy.

The secondary will have a fresh look with Dominique Foxworth and Fabian Washington mixing it up with Frank Walker, who has to earn a little more confidence from the purple crowd and probably will vs. Kansas City.

The defensive line appears to be the strength of the defense, led by Haloti Ngata who had a mysterious injury appear earlier this week.

Questions and more questions. We’ll have 16 weeks of this marathon.

The answers begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Bring on the season. Bring on the Chiefs. Bring on the roadtrips!

My prediction: Ravens go 12-4 and win the Super Bowl.

Baltimore 31, Kansas City 13

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Not Auto-Matt-ic: Paging Stover…Matt Stover!

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Not Auto-Matt-ic: Paging Stover…Matt Stover!

Posted on 31 August 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Just in case you’re wondering, the Ravens have NOT contacted Matt Stover about their kicking needs for the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 13. Not yet, anyway.

But, of course, there are more than just a few people around the Charm City who think that might not be a bad idea.

And the team is led by head coach John Harbaugh, who spent his entire existence in the world of special teams and kickers and punters. This has to perturb Harbaugh more than most coaches.

The kicking game and life in the NFL is a strange one. Here is this macho game played by the biggest, fastest and toughest guys in our culture and along comes a little kicker with it all on the line to win the game on his foot and the 40 yards between the line of scrimmage and goal posts.

It’s not a cruel joke or coincidence as much as it’s weekly reality in the NFL.


After he made the game-winning kick in Tennessee last January, the Ravens jettisoned Matt Stover for three reasons, really:

1. He wasn’t their best bet on kickoffs, which forced them to carry an extra man on the roster
2. He cost them a lot of money (more than $1 million per year) as opposed to a rookie who’d earn 40% of that
3. He wasn’t getting any younger and his distances seemed to get shorter each year, even if he was considered “automatic” inside of 45 yards

Now, with just this lame preseason finale in Atlanta awaiting on Thursday, the Ravens appear to have two young kickers but no one that they can truly trust with big games on the line.

Both Graham Gano and Steve Hauschka have managed to both do something that Stover never did in 14 years in a purple helmet: they’ve manged to make us actually think about the kicking game.

Stover was so automatic, so universally forgotten about that his presence was a bit of a security blanket. Like Ray Lewis has been at middle linebacker. Like Jon Ogden was for many years at the left tackle spot.

Think about all of the kicks Stover made over the years. How many of them do you really remember?

Sure he missed a few biggies – one in the AFC Championship Game in Oakland back in 2001 as I recall. His most memorable miss is almost certainly the 0-13 Miami 2007 “gimme” that contributed to Brian Billick’s ouster as head coach.

But he just came in, made the kick, praised Jesus and ran back to the bench.

Well, over the last three preseason games, not only have we witnessed the competition drama of these two nice young men trying to fill the shoes of a “once a generation” kicker, but we’ve had the “hold our breath” drama over whether the three points is actually going up on the scoreboard on something most Ravens fans have viewed as “Auto-Matt-ic”.

Neither one of them is stepping up even remotely to the level of confidence we had with Matt Stover.

So, will the Ravens call Matt Stover?

Probably not. (For all of the same reasons they had eight months ago.)

Will the Ravens regret not calling Matt Stover?

Only time will tell.

But Stover is available, in shape and waiting by the phone. (For the record, I hear he’s enjoying his first August off in 24 years…)

And if I know that much, you can bet that Ozzie Newsome can’t be too far away.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…

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Harbaugh refutes ESPN report regarding Ozzie’s interest in Vick

Posted on 13 August 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

On a bizarre night for breaking news in Baltimore — with Michael Phelps getting into an accident at Calvert & Biddle and Michael Vick abruptly signing in Philly — the wildest story came an hour after the Eagles fans went into deep shock and disgust when ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Ravens were very much in the hunt for Vick’s services.

ESPN reported that Ozzie Newsome wanted Vick and had a lack of agreement with owner Steve Bisciotti and head coach John Harbaugh.

It didn’t take me five minutes after the game to find one “off the record” official who called it “bulls**t” and John Harbaugh then told me he was happy to go on the record as saying “that’s completely false, completely untrue.”

Who knows what those conversations sounded like in Westminster last week but both of my sources were very perplexed and almost angry about the report.

Either way, we can collectively breath a sigh of relief that Vick isn’t heading here.

For the folks in Philadelphia the second guessing and the drama has only begun.

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