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Getting a grip on the Festivus activities

Posted on 23 December 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

So, it looks like we’re getting into the playoffs. Well at least we can talk that way for a few more days and as a 10-point favorite against Jacksonville this weekend (and please note the gametime change to 4:15 p.m., which means the coldest possibilities for us) the Ravens should win. Heck, if they don’t win they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs, really.

So, assuming that the Ravens are going to win this week and advance to the playoffs I started putting together playoff possibilities onto a cocktail napkin on Sunday and this is what I came up with…and I can’t imagine the NFL scheduling gods could have cooked this weekend up with a whole lot more drama than what they have – several cool matchups and playoff spots on the line in both conferences.

Indianapolis can now pack their bags for Denver or San Diego. But that Sunday night game is gonna be a good one. You gotta think that the Chargers have all of the momentum and the home field. What a story that would be, digging out from 4-8 to make the playoffs. Kinda unheard of…

Clearly, Nasvhille and Pittsburgh are just sitting tight, taking a “bye” week before their official byes. And as we saw two years ago, that extra slacker time isn’t always the best route. Two of the last three Super Bowl champs (Pittsburgh 2005 and N.Y. Giants 2007) have come from the No. 6 hole and not only won three in a row on the road but also overcame the extra game and the lack of a bye. You’d figure that being a higher seed would be a good thing but the recent history doesn’t support it.

And the Ravens (or the eventual No. 6 seed) will be headed to the AFC East winner. If Miami beats the Jets, we’re headed to South Florida. If the Jets beat the Dolphins, we go to New England provided they win in  Buffalo (hardly a given).

And such begins any legitimate Ravens fan’s aspirations of catching fire and making January 2009 one helluva memorable month. Here are my thoughts:

1.    Miami is the Ravens’ best first-round path. While the flights are jam-packed (good luck trying to get to South Florida next weekend if the Ravens make it there!), the weather and a matchup where the homefield won’t be so unkind is favorable for the Ravens. It certainly beats going to frosty New England, which is the worst scenario for the Ravens. If the Jets win and the Patriots flop this weekend and we wind up at the Meadowlands against Brett Favre, I still like our chances. Just FYI: if the Ravens go to New England or New York, we’ve already got “Miller Lite Roadtrips” ready to go! If the Ravens play in Miami, we will not be offering a trip.
2.    A Ravens win at the AFC East champion would take them to a path that’s well-traveled and familiar to Ray Lewis, Matt Stover and any real Ravens fan: Nashville. Clearly, the Titans would rather not see No. 52 coming back into the former Adelphia Coliseum in January. And assuming another Tennessee road miracle win…
3.    The AFC Championship Game could be in Pittsburgh (assuming they don’t choke the weekend of Jan. 10-11) or San Diego, Denver or even Indianapolis, if they could win two in a row on the road and take down the Steelers at Heinz Field.

Of course every fan of every team is plotting their own pathway through their respective conference playoff possibilities. This is the joy of having a Festivus celebration – the possibilities and hope that even being a “potential” No. 6 seed affords. And, we still have to win a game at home this weekend against a feisty Jacksonville team to do that.

As we’ve seen over and over again in the NFL: NO ONE LAYS DOWN late in the season. Well, no one but the Arizona Cardinals, any way…

The lowly Seahawks, Redskins and the Bills all pulled off upsets over playoff-inspired favorites last Sunday. The Jaguars played the Colts extremely tough last Thursday night and they’ll have two extra days of rest before coming here this Sunday. Maurice Jones Drew got dinged up very late in the game against Indy, so it’ll be interesting to see how effective he’ll be this week but he’s an explosive threat, like a human pinball or a poor man’s Barry Sanders. He’ll present speed issues for the Ravens defense in the middle of the field.

There’s no “counting chickens” as a Ravens fan. This Jaguars game is hardly a walkover in my mind. But a win this week opens all sorts of doors of possibilities for 2009 and dreams of an improbably Super Bowl run with a rookie coach, a rookie quarterback and a veteran Hall of Famer inspiring the troops in the September of his career.

The storylines for the Ravens are obvious:

Ray Lewis in a walk year trying to win another Super Bowl…

Trevor Pryce going for No. 3…

Derrick Mason and Samari Rolle, who both came up one-yard short almost a decade ago, getting another chance…

A first chance for Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Todd Heap and other Pro Bowlers to win a championship…

Will it start in Miami?

Or New England?

Or a trip to the Meadowlands for Favre and the Jets?

Can the Ravens avoid an upset at the hands of the Jaguars – who were truly Kyptonite to this franchise in the early years when they won the first eight matchups of the rivalry – to earn the No. 6 seed. For better or worse, the playoffs come to Baltimore at 4:15 this Sunday in what amounts to a “play in” game for the franchise and the city.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, indeed…

Happy Festivus to all…

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Beating the Redskins in Baltimore…is anything better?

Posted on 08 December 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

Let’s start by stating the obvious: any win over the Washington Redskins is a great win, especially when you only get that opportunity every four years. With so much at stake after the Steelers wild comeback over Dallas (the tailgate was essentially a giant, frigid outdoor viewing party), it became more of a playoff game for the Ravens and they answered the bell on Sunday night with a resounding 24-10 win over their weaker rivals from the D.C. beltway.

Of course, the real playoff game comes this Sunday when the Steelers come to town for another huge game that will dictate whether the Ravens are “just” a playoff team or whether they’re built to win in January. A loss, and the playoffs are in peril and they’ll need to claw and scratch just to get in and go on the road for the month. A win over Pittsburgh here, and the Ravens can legitimately start talking about a first-round bye.

What a long, crazy, unexpected season this has been. Last night was an “instant classic,” a legendary memory, both good and bad. Beating the Redskins like dogs might be the most fun you can have as a Ravens fan but the sheer volume of burgundy and gold that made its way into our stadium was disgusting. And the weather was absolutely bone-chilling.

For those of you who didn’t attend, it was by far the coldest game in Ravens history, our own personal Ice Bowl. With the wind, it was brutal — so cold that the crowds started heading for the exits at halftime and some of us couldn’t blame them. It’s been almost three decades of waiting for the Redskins to return to Baltimore and I honestly didn’t enjoy the whipping as much as I thought I would just because I was a giant block of ice by the second quarter.

As I peered around at everyone in my section and the missing seats around the stadium, I think most people were thinking what I was: “Just get this game over with so I can go someplace warm!”

Lots of observations:

It’s pretty apparent what kind of amazing season Ed Reed is having. He’s a ballhawk, setting up quarterbacks, following their eyes and when the ball is thrown down the middle he is always in the right place. He is a tip-ball master. It’s uncanny, really. Let’s not forget that three months ago in Westminster there were organization-wide concerns that he’d never set foot on the field in 2008. The first six weeks of the season, he played with one arm and avoided contact on most plays. And after last night’s stellar game, many in the local media were talking MVP (or at least defensive MVP) accolades for No. 20.

Needless to say, virtually everyone in the locker room had something to say about Ed Reed here on wnsTV.

Ray Lewis played another “throwback” game last night. He was all over the field, sideline to sideline and was robbed of a fumble recovery on the sack of Jason Campbell that was whistled too soon. Had that call gone the Ravens’ way, the game might’ve been over much earlier given the momentum at that point.

Joe Flacco continues to impress anyone who watches this team. We keep waiting for the rookie mistakes, the confusion, the errors. Since the Indianapolis meltdown, the team is 7-1 and that must be credited to Flacco, who has truly been “Joe Cool.”

And the patchwork Ravens offensive line keeps changing parts but not outcomes. Flacco has managed to avoid major hits, even scrambling when needed and the line has been tenacious.

You gotta love the Ravens’ two midgets in the secondary, Corey Ivy and Jim Leonhard are truly unsung heroes on this 2008 team. They both made some big plays and vicious tackles against the Redskins, but if you ever meet them you’ll be shocked at how small they are. They’re truly “normal” sized guys and in my 13 years of going through the Ravens locker room there haven’t many like them. Maybe Jermaine Lewis and B.J. Sams would be in the club but not many more. Just amazing the heart these guys show being on the field with the giants. It’s inspirational, really, because you know they’ve been told all of their lives that they were too small to play in the NFL.

When the game got tight late in the 3rd quarter, the running back situation and atrophy became a factor and Le’Ron McClain once again emerged as a force late in the game. No one wants to tackle him in the 4th quarter when he’s running downhill. Willis McGahee and Ray Rice were both dinged up and their status will be a daily story in Owings Mills this week as the preparation for Pittsburgh week begins.

Overall, it’s been a dreamy kinda season. There’s no “tell all” explanation for why this team is 9-4 in a year when most “experts” in their own building would’ve been delighted with 8-8. And the notion that when the schedule came out in April we’d be sitting here with a chance for a first-round bye in January  as we put up holiday lights – well, it’s impressive and exciting for the whole city and anyone who is Ravens onlooker.

So out come the Festivus lights and the possibility of January fun!

We are still looking for entries to our “Miller Lite Purple Palace” promotion where you can win tickets to the Green Bay roadtrip next fall and a visit from the WNST crew if you have the coolest Ravens set up in your home.

A purple basement?

A dedicated room for all things Festivus, with autographs, pictures, memories?

A purple holiday set up under the tree? Or maybe the whole TREE is purple?

Maybe your friends or relatives need to know about the contest as well?

Send your pictures and/or your videos. We’re entering the final week of the contest. Click here for more details.

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THE COMPLETE ART MODELL PRIMER & FAQ REGARDING HIS HOF CANDIDACY

Posted on 03 December 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

Here is a primer on all things Canton, Pro Football Hall of Fame voting, the politics, the rules, the history and most importantly “Where Art Modell stands” in his lifelong quest to be bronzed and rightfully enshrined amongst the greats of the NFL game. You can also listen to Tuesday’s interviews with Peter King and Len Shapiro in our audio vault for more discussion about the reality of Art’s bid. Shapiro wrote a huge piece yesterday in The Washington Post pimping Modell’s candidacy and calling it a “travesty” that he’s not in Canton. It’s a must read!

(Incidentally, I’d love to link to a story in The Baltimore Sun regarding Modell’s candidacy, but once again our friends on Calvert Street are asleep at the wheel. Nice job of sticking up for your own, boys!)

This getting into the Hall of Fame business is more about politics and less about achievements these days if my research and the people I’ve chatted with who are in the room are really being honest.

The “clear cut” guys – this year it figures to a slam dunk for Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe and Bruce Smith as inductees – are mere formalities in many ways. Wide receiver Cris Carter is a bit of a holdover from last year, and figures to be a major factor with his gaudy stats. So, for the sake of argument, let’s just make them automatic and play for the bottom of the card, which appears to be the remaining one or two inductees. No one needs to make any strong argument for the non-bubble guys. It’s always the fringe people or the overlooked people who create the emotional stirs and long, heated debates in the minds of the voting committee.

There are 43 men and 1 woman who vote for the inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. There are 12 at-large members plus one representative from each of the 32 NFL cities/teams on the committee. Scott Garceau is Baltimore’s local rep. Mike Preston was formerly on the committee until 2004, when the Tribune Company decided to make it “against company policy” to vote on such committees because of “conflict of interest” concerns.

The 2009 list of 25 candidates will be pared down to 15 before Dec. 17th, when all 44 members must have their ballots and recommendations received. On Jan. 31, 2009 – the day before the Super Bowl – this group of 44 will enter the same room in Tampa and arguments will be given for all 15 candidates, plus the two senior committee nominees (this year it’s Claude Humphreys and Bob Hayes up for induction).

Let’s be straight: Virtually none of the candidates have anything left to “give the game” outside of Art Modell and Ralph Wilson, whose legacies and franchises live on in Baltimore, Cleveland and Buffalo. Paul Tagliabue is the only other “non player” on the current ballot of 25 names. All 22 of the others will be judged by their play on the field over the years, and virtually everyone on the HOF committee of 44 feels that “players” trump “contributors” when it comes time for voting. So, at best, Modell’s candidacy could be derailed by most anyone who actually stepped between the lines and played the game.

For the record, Tagliabue has many supporters among the 44, who all came in direct contact with His Commissionership many times over the last 20 years as he was the ultimate power broker in the sport for nearly a generation.

SO, HOW DOES ART MODELL GET INTO THE HALL OF FAME?

Good question. At this point, I believe it’s simply a matter of someone in our community (us?) making a stir and making it a viable, public outcry of support for Modell. Trust me, no one in Cleveland and not many amongst the 44 people in the room feel inclined to “jump on the table” for Art Modell. Other than Garceau, who is a staunch supporter of Modell (but who admits that having worked for the club as a play-by-play voice for a decade appears as a conflict of interest in that room), only Len Shapiro of The Washington Post has shown any partiality or inclination to grandstand on behalf of Modell. Another retired former voter and proponent of Modell is former USA Today columnist Gordon Forbes, who sends information to the current panel each year on behalf of Modell.

Here is the official “selection process” from the Pro Football Hall of Fame site.

I don’t think it’s as much about the facts of Modell’s contributions since 1961 to the NFL at this point. I think there’s some clear politicking – or lack thereof – going on. I’ve been told there are two major factors at play:

1. The move from Cleveland has created a “he’ll never get in because of that” mentality amongst some in the room and all of his other accomplishments have been diminished like Pete Rose’s sin of gambling on the game in baseball or Mark McGwire’s “not here to talk about the past” confession. For some, Modell is a lifelong pariah never to be recognized after “kicking the dog” on the cover of Sports Illustrated in Nov. 1995.

2. Over the years, some of Modell’s detractors have minimized his role and the legend of his involvement in the basic tenet of the merit of his candidacy: his role in the television negotiations and growth of the game with the networks and revenue. Time and the death of his contemporaries has definitely hindered Modell’s bid for Canton as much as anything because the very people who knew, felt, respected and lived through his many contributions are not the ones making a case for him at this point. Pete Rozelle, Wellington Mara, George Preston Marshall and Lamar Hunt are not here to be involved in the discussion although all of them no doubt believed in Modell’s Hall “worthiness.”

It’s now in the hands of the storytellers and some on the committee have heard conflicting reports as to whether Rozelle was the “smart one” and Modell was simply a guy who was the “No. 2” and simply got the credit of associating with the league. Of course, the mere fact that Modell came from a background of New York television in the late 1950’s would tell you that his network expertise was a key factor in the exponential growth of the league and its revenue during his tenure on the “television committee” for nearly 30 years.

From the Thanksgiving doubleheader to Monday Night Football, from winning an NFL Championship in Cleveland to winning a Super Bowl in Baltimore, from being involved at the game’s highest level since 1961 and being a massive part of shaping the sport for longer than most of us have been on the planet, Modell certainly deserves a better fate in Canton during the September of his life.

Certainly, most on the committee must believe that if Art is going to live long enough to see his own induction, the time is NOW for some action here in Baltimore.

We plan on creating some noise this week and hope that you’ll join our Facebook effort to help Art and raise awareness in Baltimore this week in anticipation of having a national audience here on Sunday night for the Redskins game.

WHO ARE THESE 44 GUYS ANYWAY AND HOW DID THEY GET ON SOMETHING AS IMPORTANT AS THE HALL OF FAME VOTING COMMITTEE?

Below is the list of the Hall of Fame voting committee, as selected by a board at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio:

Bernie Miklasz, Bob Gretz, Bob Oates, Charean Williams, Charles Chandler, Chick Ludwig, Clare Farnsworth, Cliff Christl, Dan Pompei, Dave Goldberg, David Climer, David Elfin, Don Pierson, Ed Bouchette, Edwin Pope, Frank Cooney, Howard Balzer, Ira Kaufman, Ira Miller, Jarrett Bell, Jeff Legwold, Jerry Green, Jerry Magee, Jim Trotter, John Clayton, John Czarnecki, John McClain, Kent Somers, Len Pasquarelli, Leonard Shapiro, Mark Gaughan, Mike Chappell, Mike O’Hara, Nancy Gay, Paul Domowitch, Paul Zimmerman, Peter Finney, Peter King, Rick Gosselin, Ron Borges, Sam Kouvaris,  Scott Garceau, Sid Hartman, Tony Grossi, Vinny DiTrani and Vito Stellino are the list of people.

Obviously, some of these names are more familiar than others. Some are frequent contributors to WNST. Some of them you know from television. And two of them – Miklasz and Stellino – were journalists here in Baltimore and covered the Colts leaving for Indianapolis. So, there’s plenty of perspective here on the NFL and plenty of expertise.

WHO ARE THE 25 NOMINEES ON THE CURRENT BALLOT?

Cris Carter Wide Receiver 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins

Roger Craig Running Back 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings

Terrell Davis Running Back 1995-2001 Denver Broncos

Dermontti Dawson Center 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers

Richard Dent Defensive End 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles

Chris Doleman, Defensive End-Linebacker 1985-1993, 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers

Kevin Greene, Linebacker-Defensive End 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers

Russ Grimm Guard 1981-1991 Washington Redskins

Ray Guy Punter 1973-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders

Charles Haley, Defensive End-Linebacker 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys

Lester Hayes, Cornerback 1977-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders

Cortez Kennedy, Defensive Tackle 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks

Bob Kuechenberg Guard 1970-1984 Miami Dolphins

Randall McDaniel Guard 1988-1999 Minnesota Vikings, 2000-2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Art Modell, Owner 1961-1995 Cleveland Browns, 1996-2003 Baltimore Ravens

John Randle, Defensive Tackle 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks

Andre Reed Wide Receiver 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins

Shannon Sharpe, Tight End 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens

Bruce Smith, Defensive End 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000-03 Washington Redskins

Ken Stabler, Quarterback 1970-79 Oakland Raiders, 1980-81 Houston Oilers, 1982-84 New Orleans Saints

Paul Tagliabue Commissioner 1989-2006 National Football League

Steve Tasker, Special Teams-Wide Receiver 1985-86 Houston Oilers, 1986-1997 Buffalo Bills

Derrick Thomas Linebacker 1989-1999 Kansas City Chiefs

Ralph Wilson, Owner 1960-current Buffalo Bills

Rod Woodson, Cornerback-Saftey 1987-1996 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers, 1998-2001 Baltimore Ravens, 2002-03 Oakland Raiders

HOW SIGNIFICANT IS TONY GROSSI OF THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER?

Six years ago, when Modell’s candidacy had its best chance – while Art still owned the team and was fresh off of the Super Bowl XXXV victory – it was shot down in a legendary way when Tony Grossi, Cleveland’s representative and outspoken hater of all things Modell on behalf of the greater Cuyahoga and Northern Ohio area, gave an impassioned speech about how what Modell did to his hometown should forever forbid his enshrinement to Canton. This much is public record.

Now, what influence that actually had on the other committee members is debatable. My sources tell me that there are “anti” candidate guys all over the room. As an example, I have a feeling Scott Garceau, who was the reporter told by Tagliabue to “build a museum,” won’t be voting the former Sun King commish into bronzeness anytime soon on behalf of Baltimore’s  shoddy treatment in 1993.

Over the years, my mentor John Steadman lobbied against John Mackey’s induction. It’s just the way these things go. Some people have an axe to grind. Some just legitimately look at a candidate like punter Ray Guy and say: “I’m not putting a punter in the Hall of Fame.”

In the case of inducting Modell, there is obviously plenty of precedent given Al Davis and Lamar Hunt and other contemporaries have long been inside the walls of Canton. There are also several owners in the Hall of Fame who have moved franchises from one city to the next.

If these 44 people entrusted to “get this right” are going to hold a business decision (and one that many of them couldn’t possibly understand) against inducting Modell into the Hall of Fame when that business move made a community like ours whole is preposterous.

I will be writing more later in the week about Art’s specific contributions here in Baltimore since 1996.

Feel free to comment and please spread the word about our plans for Sunday night and the Baltimore fans’ ability to affect this vote and get Art rightfully inducted into Canton.

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You Play The Coach – Which Raven Gets Your Game Ball?

Posted on 26 November 2008 by Alex Thomas

That wasn’t just another Ravens win, that was a statement to the rest of the NFL that the Ravens are true playoff contenders. I was down at Washington College (my alma mater) for the game. Considering I didn’t have to work, I stuck around and watched the game with the numerous Eagles fans who I have described in previous blogs. We usually don’t hang out on Sundays, but considering the entire cast of the men’s swimming ’08 alumni were there, I decided to give it a shot. Of course, I was in the comfort of other Ravens fans to ease the pain in case the Raven’s lost.

But they didn’t. In fact, they mopped the floor with the Eagles, and in the process have made themselves an integral part of Philadelphia sports lore: The Day the Donovan McNabb Era Ended.

The first half of this game was actually rather boring. Aside from a great play by Jarret Johnson and an Ed Reed pick that set up a great TD catch by Daniel Wilcox, both offenses were searching for a way, ANY way, to move the football down the field without bringing out the punter. But the second half, especially the fourth quarter, was filled with reasons for Ravens fans to cheer and Eagles fans to have another one.

I don’t understand how there’s any reasonable way you can substitute a potential Hall of Fame quarterback (after it’s all said and done…at this point, he’s in the Hall of Very Good) for a back-up with limited experience…on the road in one of the most intimidating atmospheres in the NFL in M&T Bank Stadium…against a ferocious defense that has already forced three turnovers.

Andy Reid made a bad call, and he’s trying to rectify it by starting McNabb on Thanksgiving night…sorry buddy, this isn’t going to save your job, or McNabb’s for that matter. The Eagles are a team ready to implode, which is kind of strange to think about considering how dominating they’ve been in the NFC in recent years.

Some thoughts on the game:

-Jared Gaither surprised all of us by playing against Philly, and he played a pretty good game considering he’s playing with one arm.

-Joe Flacco keeps getting better every week. Considering all of the pressure he was under, it’s amazing that he didn’t throw a pick. He’ll see similar pressure against Pittsburgh in a few weeks, so it’s good to see that he’s learning to protect the football.

-What happened to Brian Dawkins? Did he even play on Sunday? He is the heart and soul of the Eagles defense, and had literally no impact on the game. No wonder the Ravens put up 36 points.

-If I could give out an Unsung Hero award, it would undoubtedly go to Jarret Johnson.

-Matt Stover is still struggling to get elevation on his kicks.

-For the second time this season, the Ravens special teams cost the team a shutout. That has to be frustrating for Ray Lewis and Co.

-My game ball goes to Ed Reed. For several reasons, including the record-breaking 108 interception return for a touchdown that sealed the game. As Gerry Sandusky said: “You better believe the hay’s in the barn now.” I think it’s a no-brainer.

Who gets your game ball this week?

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A beautiful day: Ravens 36, Eagles 7

Posted on 23 November 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

The Ravens used an opportunistic offense and myriad of breakdowns by the hapless visitors to pummel the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium, 36-7 this afternoon.

Andy Reid’s benching of Donovan McNabb at halftime will surely be debated across three states and the calling for his head surely will begin for calling a pass play at the goal line early in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were about six inches from making it a one-score game.

Hard to say who was more quiet today at frigid M&T Bank Stadium today — the Eagles fans or the Ravens fans. It was a strange day of football all the way around.

The game was long and out-of-synch in its pacing and reminded me of what would be the beginning of the end of Brian Billick’s tenure here — the ugly game in Detroit two years ago.

Nothing the Eagles did went right. They got hosed on a couple of calls. Both of their quarterbacks threw hideous passes. The Ravens — and mainly Joe Flacco — stunk for most of the first half and the Eagles still couldn’t manage to score any points beyond the kickoff return, which clearly embarrassed John Harbaugh and his special teams sensibilities.

But feel free to roundly celebrate: the Ravens are 7-4 and looked quite impressive in the end in “playing four quarters” and out smash-mouthing their neighbors from Filthy.

It’s Thanksgiving and we have a lot to be thankful for football-wise in Baltimore because we can legitimately start talking playoffs with a chance to be 8-4 next Sunday with a strong effort in Cincinnati.

Where to begin?

Ed Reed ran a 108-yard interception back through traffic that seemed like the Stanford band. Ed Reed also got burned trying to lateral a ball to Samari Rolle in heavy traffic near the goal line. (Somewhere, Billick was still yelling at him!)

Dan Wilcox caught a TD pass after thinking he might not even play.

Jared Gaither played through the pain. Adam Terry left the game early with a concussion and the offensive line still kept coming back for more. At one point, Ben Grubbs left the game. And David Hale was spotted in there mixing it up quite a bit as well.

The Ravens continued to stop the Eagles rushing attack all day long, and seemed to welcome the benching of McNabb for Kevin Kolb, who was largely as ineffective as No. 5. His one drive of note to lead the team back into the game was nullfyed and reversed when Reed went the distance on one of the most amazing plays in Ravens history.

Le’Ron McClain continues to shine his own star as a fullback who has made a seamless transition into a big-time power back, rushing for 88 yards and one breakaway touchdown late in the game when most of the Eagles fans had put down their cheesesteaks and pretzels and headed back toward the Maryland House on I-95.

Mark Clayton was a factor in the game today and we’d love to see more of that. He also made fun of his own endzone celebration.

Jarret Johnson had a huge game and made a pick on McNabb that Harbaugh described as “one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen.”

Matt Stover hit a long field goal when the team needed it.

And Jameel McClain registered his second safety of the season and he’s only been on the team for a few weeks.

Overall, the defense was awesome all day. They pitched a shutout that was only tainted by the kickoff return by Quinton Demps. (Kinda reminded me of another game against an NFC East team where the only score was a return for a touchdown on an otherwise perfect day. Of course, it was a little warmer on Jan. 28, 2001.)

I’ll be writing some more later and posting post-game video. It was largely an “homage” to Ed Reed and the kind of game he had today. (And at one point, he fell to his knees and was all but tackled to leave the field when he couldn’t lift his arm.)

Feel free to throw your comments in and we’ll launch them soon enough.

A great day to be a Ravens fan. The team is 7-4 and headed to Cincinnati. This was a huge win.

And the Eagles fans were strangely silent from whistle to whistle, slithering out of the stadium while the Ed Reed celebration commenced right around 4 p.m.

More to come…

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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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More C-Mac talk,Rex – Rob Ryan,Suggs radio comments, Mike Singletary and Mike Nolan

Posted on 23 October 2008 by caseywillett

Here are some news and notes from Ravens today:

Here is Rex’s comments on C-Mac situation:

-Rex Ryan talked about how Jim Leonhard was in the game more than Ed Reed because of a certain package that the they had practiced more in it, but no one talked about it. Rex said it is his responsibility to get the job done no matter who is out there.

– As to who decides who starts on defense, Rex Ryan made is very clear, “it is my call, always on defense.”

-Rex mentioned that he owes it to this football team to do what they think is best with match ups, even if that means taking out Ray Lewis.

On his relationship with Rob Ryan:

– ” We were really close, we still are very close. With dad’s profession, I always had my best friend with me when we moved.”

-“you look forward to seeing him, maybe going out to eat or something. You have to feel bad for someone, might as well feel bad for him. It is all about the win, hopefully our team will come out on top.”

-The defensive guys have said that the guy to getting JaMarcus Russell is to wrapping him up and wait for help to come.

On Terrell Suggs comments on the radio:

” I am getting it all second hand, I do not know all the particulars on it, so I would rather not comment right now til I hear it myself.”

On Mike Singletary getting hired in San Fransico:

“I am excited for Mike Singletary to get that opportunity, I think he will do a tremendous job.He probably gives the best speeches I have ever heard a guy give. I think the lost a heck of coach in Mike Nolan, I hate to see one of my friends lose a job when the season is not even over. I think that is kind of ridiculous, it is what it is. I guess adversity to some comes opportunity for others, hopefully Mike Singletary will do a good job in stay in that position, but i sure feel for Mike Nolan.”

-Cam Cameron mentioned that Willis McGahee took 30 cc’s off of his knee before the Miami game and having the game he did was impressive. Cameron feels like McGahee is getting healthier and that will benefit the offense.

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Ravens theme from locker room: “FINISH GAMES!”

Posted on 05 October 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

After today’s late afternoon debacle, I had the honor of walking from one end of the Ravens’ locker room to the other and I heard at least six guys say the exact same thing over and over again:

“We need to learn to finish games,” was echoed from Jarret Johnson to Joe Flacco, from Bart Scott to Willis McGahee.

For the second time in six days, the Ravens let “the better team” come back from a hole and beat them with late errors and breakdowns.

NFL coaches always accept physical breakdowns. If a guy beats you on a straight play, you tip your cap and get back in the huddle. But mental mistakes and stupid late penalities? Well, until the Ravens stop taking their licks 15 yards at a time at key junctures against teams with a lot of talent, they’ll never consistently win in this league.

The Titans clearly woke up on the wrong side of the Inner Harbor this morning, picking several chippy, dirty fights in the first half. But in the end it was the Ravens and late hits to the head that cost the team a 3-1 start to the 2008 season.

John Harbaugh now finally knows what Brian Billick went through with the tough-guy image the Ravens’ defense has grown up with over the last few years. Terrell Suggs will no doubt be hearing from the NFL on his post-game comments regarding officials and their getting drawn into the energy of the purple crowd.

“I was nowhere near his head,” Suggs said. “I think they had a big momentum shift. It was third down. We’re the bad boys of football. They’re always going to look at it like that because of the physical style of defense we play. They’re always going to have that close eye on us, (looking) for anything that’s too much.”

Suggs later even said the officials are looking for a big situation to call something.

But it’s never one play or one person.

The phone calls will come all day on Monday at WNST regarding:

•    Joe Flacco’s brutal pair of interceptions. The second one ended the game. The first one put the Ravens defense on a short leash and gifted the Titans three points and might have contributed to the next gaffe…

•    Harbaugh’s downright weird decision to kick a not-such-a-sure-thing 45-year field goal on 1st down with 14 seconds remaining in the half. It’s the NFL. If you can’t dirt the ball or even attempt to find a quick out and pick up a few yards and get out of bounds, you probably have the wrong players on the field.

•    Ray Lewis’ unbelievably inspired play during the 2008 season. Sure, it’s a contract year for Ray-Ray, but he’s flying around the field like a man possessed (and/or half his age). It’s impossible to not admire No. 52’s greatness and see his passion in the October of his career.

•    Ed Reed’s shoulder. It ain’t a secret anymore, this aversion Reed has to contact. His right arm is hanging ala Peter Boulware circa-1999. It’s a heroic effort but I’m not sure that he’s really helping the team if he can’t tackle at that position. Which leads to…

•    The rest of the secondary. Especially given the lack of deep depth in Frank Walker, Fabian Washington and Corey Ivy, it’s a crushing blow having Dawan Landry and Samari Rolle be out while Reed plays on one wing. For the most part, Chris McAlister has played quite well but the lack of depth across the backfield has been an invitation to pick on Walker and others.

•    Matt Stover. He’s been shaky this season and longer field goals have never been his strength. The miss today will get even more attention because of the playcall to even attempt it at that spot in the game, but Stover has to make that kick. You can blame Scott, Flacco, the secondary (or all of the abover) but if Stover hits that kick it’s a different game.

Hey, they’re 2-2. It could be a lot worse.

But blowing two nice leads against “quality opponents” isn’t encouraging especially when you consider the rough second half of the season the Ravens will have without a bye and having to take on the entire NFC East after mid-November.

Today’s loss doesn’t end their season by any stretch. But 3-1 sounds a helluva lot better headed to Indianapolis than 2-2.

These losses snatched out of the jaws of victory are tough to take.

And whatever you do, don’t look at the stats from the Titans game today.

You’ll be scratching your head until Wednesday trying to figure out how they lost this one.

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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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Crazy Beginning to ’08 NFL Season

Posted on 23 September 2008 by stevenlink

How crazy each year of the NFL it can be. This year, who could have imagined the Buffalo Bills, the Tennessee Titans, the Denver Broncos, and the Baltimore Ravens would be atop their respective divisions in the AFC? Who would have thought the Colts, the Chargers, the Jaguars, and the Browns would be at or near the bottom of their divisions at this point?

So with this crazy season so far, I thought of making a Top 5 “Who Would Have Thought” about the NFL list of 2008. Here is mine…

Who would have thought:

  1. The Lions were going to miss Mike Martz, and with him, the 49ers offense is actually legitimate this year?
  2. Indy would be winless at home?
  3. The state of Ohio wouldn’t have one NFL win?
  4. Miami would run all over New England, in New England, on the legs of Ronnie Brown?
  5. The Ravens are 2-0 with Flacco at the helm?

And finally:

6. Joey Porter, for the first time in his life was able to back up all the trash talk he made during the week leading up the game…

Okay so I threw in an extra one there, but really I could have had that list 20 items long.

Your Take: So what would be your Top 5 “Who Would Have Thought” about the NFL list of 2008 so far this season (or 6 or how many thoughts you have)?

The best news that came out yesterday was Ravens’ safety Dawan Landry will be able to recover from his spinal contusion and possibly get back to the field in the next few weeks. When you saw him take that hit from Jamal Lewis’ knee/thigh to his helmet, the first thought through most of our minds was probably, will he be able to play again? Thankfully he is alright and hopefully he can fully recover from this injury.

The game Sunday was smashing…literally. The most memorable hit I remember from that game was the frickin’ WWE style pile driver that Ray Lewis threw down on Kellen Winslow in the 3rd Quarter. I mean really, it was like watching The Rock pile drive Triple H into submission…but I digress. That hit and the interception was definitely the turning point of the entire game. Don’t get me wrong, the Ed Reed interception was pretty phenomenal as well, but I think when Ray laid that hit on Kellen, the defense decided to really kick it into that extra gear. I also think that the defense is playing with more determination because they have something to prove after last year, and most importantly, with the way the offense has been able to successfully move the ball, they finally feel like the game rests on their shoulders, unlike last year. This defense, if the offense can give them time to rest and catch its breath during the game and they stay healthy, could possibly be just as good as the one that stepped out on the field two years ago in 2006.

The Ravens face the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football. I can’t wait to see what our defense can do to the Steelers’ offensive line that gave up 8 sacks to the Eagles. I am also looking forward to see how Flacco will do in his first road game and in such a hostile environment such as Pittsburgh. Even with his two picks, one which was a blatant rookie mistake and the other a simple toss up, I think he is still making great progress and his apparently nerves of steel on the field is a calming change after years of the anxiety child Kyle Boller.

A big congratulation goes out to the Maryland Terrapin football team that followed up their surprising upset of Cal with an impressive win over Eastern Michigan. It seems that ever since Turner was named the official starter, and therefore no more of the usual quarterback controversy, the offense seems to finally be running at 100%. Hopefully they can keep up this momentum and the offense keeps rolling along.

How about Navy getting that win against Rutgers? That was a fun game to listen to on the radio. The Mids held their own against a team that I thought would at least be competitive in the Big East this year. But frustration has surmounted for the Scarlet Knights. After the last play of the game where Rutger’s starting quarterback, Michael Teel, landed a punch on his own teammate as they were walking off the field, sums up all the tension and emotions on that team. The most surprising part is how he will not be disciplined for his actions because Head Coach Greg Schiano said it was a great teaching opportunity. I think the great teaching opportunity would be for Coach Schiano to circle the wagons and get his team moving in the direction they were going two years ago when they were actually a formidable force in the Big East.

Don’t forget that WNST will soon be launching its new website…that is going to be even a better site to visit. Well, sayonara Bmore, I’ll get back at you next time.

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