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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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Matt Stover: One of a Kind

Posted on 04 December 2008 by Brian Billick

Rick Gosselin is one of, if not, the best NFL writers in the country.  Writing for the Dallas Morning News I thought Ravens fans would appreciate Rick’s comments about Matt Stover.  Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis are the “icons” of this franchise but Matt is one who also needs to be constantly brought up in the discussion of who are the most important players in the Ravens’ short history.

Rick wrote the following:

“Matt Stover is an NFL conundrum. He has played in two NFL cities and worn two different uniforms — but has only played for one franchise in his 18-year career. Stover is the place-kicker for the Baltimore Ravens and the last holdover from the franchise’s stay in Cleveland as the Browns. Stover was five years and 480 points into his career when Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996 and renamed them the Ravens. A Lake Highlands product, Stover has spent the last 13 years of his life in Baltimore kicking his way into the NFL’s top five all-time scorers. Stover ranks fifth with 1,905 points. The top five are all place-kickers, and Stover is the only one who has done all of his scoring for one franchise. Here’s the list of the NFL’s all-time top scorers:

Player Seasons Teams Points
Morten Andersen 25 5 2,544
Gary Anderson 23 5 2,434
George Blanda 26 4 2,002
John Carney 21 7 1,926
Matt Stover 18 1 1,905

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

Posted on 18 November 2008 by Alex Thomas

That was a thorough thumping the Giants handed the Ravens in the Meadowlands, but (and I can’t stress this enough) it’s not the end of the world. Chalk that one up to a rare bad day for the Ravens defense, who ran into a buzz-saw in the Giants running attack.

Some thoughts on the game:

-The Giants are just a better team than the Ravens right now. This loss is not a reason to jump off the purple bandwagon. I still think they’re going to make the playoffs as a six seed. By the looks of things, that could put us in another post-season match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers. So to all of you bandwagon jumpers, don’t poison the purple kool aid for the rest of us.

-Jared Gaither, who was playing with one arm, did an excellent job on Justin Tuck. How many times did we hear his name called on Sunday?

-Looks like the Giants have a pretty good run defense too. The Ravens running game did absolutely nothing, which made things exponentially harder on Joe Flacco and the pass protection. Under those circumstances, Flacco and the pass protection played pretty well.

-Derrick Mason, who was also playing with one arm, continues to prove how valuable he is to this offense. He snagged seven balls for 82 yards and except for the interception that was his fault, he played very well. He is the only receiver on this team that can consistently get open. The next best WR stat? Mark Clayton: 1 catch for 10 yards. Ouch.

-If you check last weeks prediction blog, I hinted that Brandon Jacobs could be the first back to rush for 100 yards on the Ravens. He would have rushed for 200 if he didn’t hurt his knee. The Old Browns front 7 played like…the Old Browns. I have a feeling that Ray and company will make a strong comeback this week against a banged up Brian Westbrook.

-I feel terrible for Matt Stover. He’s had such a great career, but has had one of his worst careers as a pro this season. He’ll probably be the next Raven inducted into the Ring of Honor.

-My game ball goes to Joe Flacco, who played much better than the C- that Mike Preston gave him. It’s so refreshing to see a quarterback stand tall in the pocket and make plays in the face of a relentless Giants pass rush. Bring on the Eagles.

Who gets your game ball?

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Are they who we thought they were?

Posted on 16 November 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

Any amateur football talking head can tell you that if you run the ball and play defense you’ll have a chance to win in the NFL. Of course, when you can’t stop the run it makes for a long afternoon for your defense.

We’ve all been spoiled by the Ravens’ defense over the past decade. They’ve consistently nullified the running game of every team in the league over the past three seasons but today’s effort at Giants Stadium was pedestrian at best and we saw the result: Giants 30, Ravens 10.

The Ravens got humbled today at the Meadowlands, beaten badly by the defending World Champions, who at 9-1 seemed to be toying with them after jumping out to a 20-0 lead with three straight scoring drives to start the day. It was a thorough beating by the NFC leaders, showing the Ravens to be more pretenders than contenders for a Super Bowl title at this point.

The Ravens knew all week that the running game of Brandon Jacobs and company was coming but they were helpless to do anything to stop it. You had to know they were in the trouble the first time Ray Lewis got punched five yards backwards on the first drive.

As for quarterback Eli Manning, he didn’t have to do much. Manning managed the game, made a few passes when he needed to but wasn’t ever put in any third and long situations that needed to be converted.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t have his best effort, but certainly wasn’t helped by the deflected passes off the pads of Derrick Mason and company. Flacco showed himself to be fleet afoot and there was a point there at the end of the third quarter when it even felt as though the Ravens might be en route to pulling a Cleveland-style comeback.

But, in the end, the Giants proved to be a formidable foe, forced turnovers and punts while keeping the Ravens in ugly down and distances most of the afternoon.

The most disturbing part of the afternoon were the penalties on both sides of the ball, frustrating occurrences that stopped drives and allowed the Giants to stay in control.

Matt Stover missed a field goal.

Flacco threw a few bad balls that thwarted drives.

And the Ravens’ secondary play and tackling was suspect most of the day as well.

It was flashes of Billick-like frustration in the fourth quarter as Flacco moseyed up under center and the team wasted four minutes on a fruitless 30-yard drive while down 27-10.

At 6-4 no one should be disappointed. Of course, San Diego could’ve helped but inevitably fell short as well in Pittsburgh.

But the truth as the team turns for the home stretch – a literal reference when they play four of the final six games at M&T Bank Stadium – is this:

The Ravens have beaten the smelliest teams in the league – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Oakland – and lost in various ways to the only four playoff-caliber foes they’ve seen in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tennessee and now the New York Football Giants.

Until they can run with the big dogs of the NFL, they can continue to chalk up wins against the likes of Cincinnati, who sits on their schedule as a Thanksgiving dessert two weeks from now.

But Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and Pittsburgh again are also on the slate and it will take a better effort than the one we saw today to get the Ravens to the promised land of a 10-6 season and a playoff berth.

As John Harbaugh said in his postgame new conference, “There’s plenty of work to do.”

Amen.

That was a tough one today.

Are the Ravens the below-average team that Vegas had at a “6-win over/under” during August?

Or are they the 6-3 juggernaut who entered today on the heels of beating bad teams 41-13 on the road?

Or are they somewhere in between, just ripe to have a late-season collapse amidst the “going getting tough” schedule that began in earnest at 1 p.m. today?

After a 6-3 start, an 8-8 season would be a massive disappointment.

Some of us had our purple holiday lights ready to hang for Festivus season and our next promotion, “The Miller Lite Purple Palace” promotion, which will begin tomorrow on WNST.

Based on what we saw today and the big guy in the No. 27 getting out on the edge and the general exposing of the backend of the defense, perhaps we should hold off on that Festivus celebration for a few more weeks.

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Off to Cleveland

Posted on 02 November 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

It’s always the best way to visit Cleveland – in and out. So, I’m on the 8:05 flight and we’ll be checking in throughout the day on WNST.net.

I’m checking out the parking lots in downtown Cleveland on wnsTV (always interesting). The folks there still have such venom for Art Modell that it’s impossible for anything mentioning the word “Baltimore” with them that doesn’t set them off.

And it’s always a little “rowdy” in Cleveland on gameday. The atmosphere is always fun and threatening, because the home fans are inspired. Or at least until the guys in the orange helmets do something wrong.

Then it turns into a home game for the Ravens.

It should be a good game, maybe the best on the docket for the weekend for pure “who’s is going to win” debate.

No C-Mac (we think, anyway).

A two-game winning streak. The Browns receiving corps could make it interesting. Ray Lewis loves going to Cleveland.

It’ll be 60 degrees. Close game. Could come down to Matt Stover.

Hey, I’m just guessing.

Gonna be a fun day…

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Ravens crush woeful Raiders, 29-10

Posted on 26 October 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

The Raiders have played an interesting foil in the annals of Baltimore football history.

There was the “Ghost To The Post” thriller on Christmas Eve in 1977. The Raiders were the first team to come to Baltimore to play the Ravens in 1996. And, of course, it was a trip to Oakland and a win in the AFC Championship Game in 2001 that took the Ravens to Tampa and a Super Bowl title.

Today, however, the Raiders look to be a shadow of their famed black and silver pirate crest, a hapless franchise with second-rate talent and an owner that makes Peter Angelos seem sensible.

What the hell happened to the “commitment to excellence”?

We’ve seen some bad football teams roll into Baltimore since the Ravens came to town 13 years ago challenging the great Billy Jo Hobert, but today’s effort by the Raiders might’ve been one of the worst we’ve ever seen in the Charm City. That’s about as bad of a football team you’re gonna find with the red, white and blue NFL crest on it.

Their offense was hopeless, the special teams were poor – making Jim Leonhard look like Dante Hall in his prime – and the defense was good enough to allow a slow, 6-foot-6 quarterback to spread wide and catch bombs from the backup quarterback. And who Tom Cable and where is Lane Kiffin?

If Al Davis were in his right mind, he’d be ashamed of what a cruel hoax this is on the Raider Nation and the Black Hole. Next week, they might want to try to show up against the Falcons.

Sure, the Ravens looked great today and we’ll all gladly take this 29-10 win. At 4-3 on Halloween, this 2008 season has some real life and some real promise as the purple heads to Cleveland next week where a win puts them on a fast track for a potential playoff berth. It would be time to bust out the “P” word (or is it still Festivus?). No one could argue with 5-3 at the turn, even if the second half appears to be helluva challenge with so many potential playoff teams on the slate in November and December, including the entire firing squad of the NFC East.

But I can’t fathom how the Raiders are going to win another game with that band of ragamuffins.

Let’s take it around the victorious purple locker room:

Joe Flacco wasn’t brilliant today (12 of 124 for 140 years) but he threw a TD, ran for one and damn-near CAUGHT one. The maturation of Flacco as a rookie is going swimmingly well for the team, with him getting all sorts of initiations to victories, defeats, road and home games and all sorts of looks from defenses around the NFL. I’m glad we bought the stock months ago.

Terrell Suggs, for all of his stupid bluster and idiotic pronouncements, certainly showed up to play today and made his presence felt anywhere around JaMarcus Russell, who looks like the next No. 1 QB bust of this decade.

Ray Lewis continues to dazzle in his contract walk season, making play after play and I’m still not sure that Justin Griffith made it anywhere near the goal line on that lone touchdown, but he’ll no doubt still be feeling that hit on Wednesday.

Let’s hear it for Jim Leonhard, who has become a fan favorite with these “little guy” efforts on defense and special teams. He’s MY SIZE for crying out loud, but he plays like a giant on the field.

The running game was effective all day, racking up 192 yards on 46 carries as the Ravens controlled the clock and exhausted the Raiders’ defense. The three-headed monster of Ray Rice (8-64), Willis McGahee (23-58) and Le’Ron McClain (7-32) has been more effective than any of us realized back in training camp. And let’s give the offensive line some props as well — even with Adam Terry and Marshal Yanda out, they’re still protecting Flacco pretty well and allowing the backs to move the ball.

Even Matt Stover had a perfect day, which we’ll need more of as the weather turns and the games become tight enough that his foot will surely play a major role in deciding the season.

But the biggest game ball goes to John Harbaugh and the coaching staff, who have held the team together through several crises this season, not the least of which was the notion that the team didn’t have enough talent to compete:

•    The quarterback carousel during training camp and prepping and winning with a rookie signal caller in the NFL.

•    The horrendous injury/age situation on the defensive side of the ball, with Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Kelly Gregg and Dawan Landry all out of the lineup. And that’s not to mention various dings to Willis McGahee, Terry and the loss of Yanda on offense.

•    The bad, ugly, brutal loss in Indianapolis and a three-game losing streak and the bounce back in Miami and again today. Good teams rebound. The Ravens have nicely. That’s good coaching and a lot of heart.

•    The difficulty of navigating and covering for the stupid comments and actions by some of his childish players (this was essentially what got Brian Billick fired). Not only did Chris McAlister not play today, no one even bothered asking where the hell he was. (Disciplined? Absolutely. But will they say it was his leg? Absolutely. They should just come clean and tell the truth, instead of this silly gameplaying that went on last week.)

One more game ball might go to the Ravens’ still-stellar front office acumen in picking talent. Jameel McClain, Willie Anderson, Evan Oglesby and Brandon McKinney all made plays today and none of them were on the team in August. Hats off to George Kokinis and Ozzie Newsome, who have improved this team coming out of Westminster.

The real test, of course, comes in January when the team’s 2008 record is public.

But so far, at 4-3 with winnable games on the horizon in Cleveland and Houston, the Ravens are far more interesting, entertaining and enjoyable than any of us thought possible eight weeks ago.

And if crappy teams like the Raiders are on the schedule (and there’s at least one left with Cincinnati) we’ll take them every week.

As long as the Ravens show up and beats them in the fashion they did today, it’s fun for all of us.

I’ve never been more excited about a trip to Cleveland…

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Coach Harbaugh speaks on Chris McAlister’s status and Terrell Suggs comments

Posted on 24 October 2008 by caseywillett

Here are some news and notes as it relates to Ravens on Friday:

-Chris McAlister took 11 reps on Wednesday and has not practiced the last two days. So do not look for him to start on Sunday.

-Derrick Mason missed the last two days of practice with a severe headache. Mason attended meetings this morning but did not practice.

-Coach Harbaugh said that all of the talk about Terrell Suggs, Troy Smith, and Chris McAlister, has not been a distraction for the team. Some of the guys have joked with Suggs about it, but that is about as far as is it goes.

-Terrell Suggs and Coach Harbaugh have discussed his statement about Troy Smith should be the starting quarterback and that it is a non issue and he takes Suggs at his word when he said he just thought they both should play.

Here is the statement released by Terrell Suggs about the statements that he made about the bounty:

I’ve got to set the record straight about what I said about so-called bounties. I tried to explain this on Wednesday, but it keeps coming back up.

“We, the players, don’t pay each other to take another player out of the game. And you know coaches don’t do that. As I said before, we prepare to stop the other team’s best players every week. Those are the players who can beat you with big plays. For example, we’ve focused all this week on stopping the Raiders’ running backs. We’ve focused on them in practice and in meetings. They are marked men by our defense – we have to know where they are on every play, and we can’t let them get rolling on Sunday.

“When I did the radio show in Atlanta, that’s what I meant and I thought that’s what I said. I did repeat the word bounty early in the interview after the guy asking me the question used the word. That was a mistake. I misspoke, and I’m sorry for that.

“I hope that clears this up.”

Jim Leonhard  took some reps as the backup holder for Matt Stover. He is doing this because he would be the guy if something was to happen to Sam Koch. This is because Todd Bouman will be the 3rd string emergency quarterback.

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