Two games ago, Joe Flacco was the goat of Baltimore.
For four plays in Sunday’s game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ravens fans were probably throwing Torrey Smith into that argument. He was a draft bust…no question about it.
Two weeks ago, there were fans calling for Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. Cam Cameron had to go.This team was never going to achieve greatness-instead continuing to dissapoint against the likes of Tennessee and Jacksonville.
But that same amount of minutes later…things were entirely different as Flacco found Smith on a game-winning touchdown with just eight seconds left on the clock to not only get the monkey off both their backs, but also put up defining moments for both the fourth-year quarterback and his franchise trying to achieve superiority in the AFC.
Now, with only two losses in the conference, and the “elite” teams in the AFC-Buffalo, San Diego, New England, Pittsburgh all losing Sunday-the Ravens clearly are in great position to host games in the playoffs this year and make that trip to Indianapolis that much more easier.
There are those who said this day would never come.
What are they to say now?
This is a game-and a throw in particular-that could mean a lot for Joe Flacco’s career. Flacco finally got his first win in Pittsburgh against a Ben Roethlisberger-led Steeler team, and he was the reason behind it. You can’t say Ed Reed saved the day with a game-clinching interception return. You can’t say Ray Lewis made a saving tackle on fourth down to hold the Steelers. Ray Rice didn’t have an 80-yard run and didn’t carry the load for the Ravens offense.
Instead, Flacco found Torrey Smith and put a “W” in his team’s pocket while quarterbacking only the second Ravens team to sweep the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular season.
Give credit to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for putting faith in his quarterback. Given Flacco’s struggles against the Steelers in the past, he could have put his faith elsewhere.
But for the Ravens to convert 14 3rd-downs into a new set of downs-the most ever against a Steeler defense-and for Flacco to get 18 first downs with his arm-be clear with this.
Joe Flacco is a franchise quarterback. He may not be of the caliber of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, but Sunday proved he can win you games, and ones against caliber opponents.
This game could have been a lot different if Ray Rice’s 76-yard touchdown run was not negated by a holding call by eventual hero-Torrey Smith.
It was yet another big run by Ray Rice against the Steelers, who of course had a 36-yard run on his first touchdown against the Steelers Week 1.
But while Ray Rice is the gas that gets the Baltimore offense going, tonight just wasn’t his night to combust and shine.
Flacco was the star tonight, and that’s a good thing for an offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron who can feel confident in giving the ball to either of his backs.
This unit goes along right with Joe Flacco, and while Torrey Smith’s 26-yard score may be the highlight of the night, you have to take into account what the man opposite Smith in Anquan Boldin did for Flacco.
Boldin converted a catch into a first-down on all but one of his catches Sunday night, and four of them were on third or fourth down.
In fact, Smith’s game-saving touchdown may not have happened had it not been for Boldin’s catch on 4th and 1 at midfield, and his 11-yard catch on 3rd and 8 to put the Ravens at the Steeler 26.
Before the season, fans were crying sour milk over the losses of Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, saying that those two were the security blankets that Flacco would be lacking in 2011.
Those two have done nothing this year with their respective teams in New York/Houston and Arizona for Heap.
But Anquan Boldin had a field day against Ike Taylor, and a problem in 2010 for the Ravens was that Anquan Boldin didn’t get the ball enough. I think that problem might be remedied this year.
Give credit to LaQuan Williams for playing the third wide receiver role well (2 catches, 28 yards) and the guy that not a lot of people might not be talking about on Monday is tight end Dennis Pitta, who in his last two games has 11 catches for 90 yards.
The Ravens have played their best football this year up front with Ben Grubbs at the left guard spot, and even with Grubbs not at 100 percent Sunday night, everyone on the Ravens offensive line played at a high level.
Bryant McKinnie returned to the dominant form that he experienced Week 1 against the Steelers, and did a fantastic job going up against a determined James Harrison on the other side.
Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda controlled the middle against a mammoth tackle in Casey Hampton, and rookie Jah Reid saw considerable playing time in a jumbo set package to protect Joe Flacco.
It’s a formation that the Ravens regularly run against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but given the time Flacco had Sunday night at times against a devastating pass rush, they may want to run it more regularly even against other teams.
It was a concern though for the unit to not punch it in on the goal line on their first possession, but the Ravens were lucky enough to not have those four points matter.
This was a rare night off for this unit only getting one sack of a beaten-up quarterback, but a performance tonight by this defensive line is one I will take, and the team won.
Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee split the team’s lonely sack, and they held Rashard Mendenhall to 52 yards on 13 carries. Mendenhall appeared to be getting some yards early on, and if the Steelers had taken an early lead, they could have controlled the tempo of the game with the running game.
Max Starks at the left tackle position for the Steelers may have been Pittsburgh’s Most Valuable Player doing a fantastic job of controlling Haloti Ngata and anyone else lining up against him.
If you have to pick one star unit for the Ravens defense, this is probably it. They patrolled the middle of the field against Roethlisberger and played okay defense against the short passing game of Heath Miller, Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and others.
Suggs even stepped in front of a screen pass intended for Wallace, and the turnover led to the Ray Rice’s 4-yard score that put the Ravens up 16-6 with 6:09 left in the third quarter.
Jarret Johnson was second on the team in tackles with five, and Jameel McClain-often criticized for his poor pass coverage at times-had a decent game moving to the ball and clogging up the passing lanes.
The receiving corps of Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, and Heath Miller that the Steelers sent out Sunday night in my opinion could have been a matchup problem for Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb, but they rose to the occasion and didn’t allow the two speedy receivers to get behind them.
Roethlisberger’s lone touchdown pass to Mike Wallace came on a broken play where Roethlisberger did what he does best-make a throw on the run outside the pocket.
And take into account that Roethlisberger have seven seconds to make a throw.
If the Steelers offensive line gave Ben Roethlisberger seven seconds every time he dropped back, he would have won 7 championships as opposed to two.
And the pass wasn’t intended for Mike Wallace. It was intended for Brown.
But those things happen, and give credit to the Ravens for not giving Roethlisberger enough time at the end of the game to make that play.
Ed Reed played within himself and didn’t bite on any bad plays, and Bernard Pollard was very physical over the middle.
We said it earlier in the year.
When Sam Koch only has to punt twice in a game, you’re doing alright.
However, the guy not doing alright at this time is kicker Billy Cundiff, who in the off-season was paid by the Baltimore Ravens to be that franchise kicker worthy of making the big opportunity when it counted the most.
Cundiff was 3-of-4 with a long of 51 yards Sunday at Heinz Field, but what’s troublesome is his 40-yarder that he missed on the Ravens’ second drive of the game.
It was a difficult kick going into the open end of the stadium in Pittsburgh, but Cundiff already has missed more field goals in 2011 (4) than he did all of last year in his Pro Bowl trip (3).
You can make excuses for the misses, but those are opportunities that could come back to haunt the Ravens in the playoffs should they have to make another trip to Heinz Field.
Lord willing…that doesn’t happen.
And if you’re David Reed, you can never fumble the ball on a kickoff.
Like my analysis? Disagree? Comment below or call into “The Realtity Check” with Glenn Clark 410-481-1570 Monday! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!