Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to training camp

Posted on 13 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With the tentative start date for training camp only two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Matthew Judon and the Ravens have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to strike a long-term deal and avoid the outside linebacker playing for the $16.8 million franchise tag amount. Deadlines drive negotiations, but the economic uncertainty stemming from the pandemic dims optimism. They’re not alone.

2. The dearth of lucrative extensions around the NFL this offseason didn’t stop Kansas City from signing Patrick Mahomes to the largest contract in league history. Upon seeing the news of the $450 million deal, I couldn’t help but ponder Lamar Jackson’s celebration sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.

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3. It still hasn’t sunk in that we’ll see fewer than 14,000 fans per game at M&T Bank Stadium if spectators are even permitted to attend at all in 2020. The thrill of going to a game — and even the annoyances — won’t be taken for granted whenever normalcy returns.

4. Coaches will bristle at the reduced or canceled slate of preseason games, but I won’t shed any tears over the disappearance of shoddy exhibitions masquerading as premium entertainment. Good organizations will evaluate young players just fine. Incompetent ones probably weren’t getting it right anyway.

5. An above-average player from the moment he stepped on the field three years ago and developing into one of three Ravens cornerbacks ever to make a Pro Bowl, Marlon Humphrey just turned 24. With another top-shelf campaign at that age, why wouldn’t he expect to become the NFL’s highest-paid corner?

6. It’s easy — and fair — to point to Greg Roman’s run-first scheme creating so many open throws, but Jackson leading the NFL in expected points added on passes into tight windows throws cold water on any lingering doubts about the reigning MVP’s passing ceiling. Just enjoy the ride.

7. That doesn’t mean Jackson and the offense are destined to be better or as good as they were in 2019. Especially in the midst of a pandemic that’s disrupted much, the variance of a 16-game schedule could rear its head more than ever. Pro Football Focus explores that nicely HERE.

8. According to PFF, the Ravens enjoyed a lead for 644 offensive snaps last year, the league’s most by a margin of 57 over second-place New England. Regression toward the mean in this area wouldn’t be surprising, but that could provide Jackson the opportunity to show growth when playing from behind.

9. Kudos to the NFL for exploring a pragmatic answer to help make playing football more feasible this fall by working with Oakley to develop face shields for helmets. The question will be how many players find them comfortable enough to buy in.

10. Less credit to the rule prohibiting players from exchanging jerseys after games, which feels much more like security theater. If we’re testing players and deeming them safe enough to play for three hours, this shouldn’t be a concern. If it is, you can probably guess what I’d say next.

11. Recency bias hurt the fan-voted “All-Time 25 Team.” Jackson over Joe Flacco was wrong but forgivable, but Steve Smith over Derrick Mason, Torrey Smith, and Qadry Ismail was bad. This wasn’t about projecting the future or recognizing the best overall player who happened to once play here. Mason deserved better.

12. Speaking of the upcoming 25th season, I’ll offer a final mention of my series on the top 25 regular-season moments in franchise history. At a time with little taking place in sports, I enjoyed this stroll down memory lane. Let’s hope we have the opportunity to witness more this fall.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 2: “We know what kind of quarterback we have”

Posted on 26 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 3 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens had clobbered Pittsburgh in the 2011 opener in Baltimore.

But that didn’t matter now as they traveled to Heinz Field to take on a Steelers team that had won four straight entering November. A loss would drop the Ravens to third place behind both Pittsburgh and surprising Cincinnati in the AFC North, making their Week 9 clash on Sunday Night Football a crucial one.

Doubts about quarterback Joe Flacco persisted despite his comeback win in Pittsburgh the previous year as the Ravens had lost their home rematch in December — costing themselves the AFC North and a first-round bye in the process — and had blown a 14-point halftime lead in the their 2010 divisional-round defeat to the Steelers. Flacco was far from the only reason the Ravens lost those games, but he hadn’t played particularly well in some key moments as questions continued about his ability to lead his team to a championship. A stretch of lackluster performances in October hadn’t helped perceptions either.

The game started with a bang as Ray Rice took an inside hand-off, cut left, and galloped 76 yards for an apparent touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, reminiscent of the way the Ravens had begun the Week 1 blowout win. However, rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith was flagged for holding, negating the score and setting the tone for what would be a defensive battle for much of the night. The teams combined for five field goals in the first half with Billy Cundiff’s 51-yarder sending the Ravens to the locker room with a 9-6 lead at intermission.

The Steelers drove to the Baltimore red zone on the first drive of the second half before 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs intercepted Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the short flat. With that turnover, the Ravens methodically moved down the field and took advantage of a 23-yard pass interference penalty as Rice’s 4-yard touchdown run increased the lead to 16-6 with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter.

The Steelers weren’t going away, however, as Roethlisberger bounced back from his mistake to lead an 11-play, 80-yard drive resulting in a 1-yard touchdown run for Rashard Mendenhall to make it 16-13 early in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens then marched to the Pittsburgh 36 before an all-too-familiar feeling of dread returned. On third-and-8, Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison sacked Flacco, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Steelers. Moving to the Baltimore 25 on five plays, Roethlisberger scrambled right on third-and-5 and found Mike Wallace in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:59 to play.

On the ensuing possession, three straight Flacco incompletions resulted in a punt that Steelers receiver Antonio Brown returned to his own 46. The Ravens were in serious trouble as Pittsburgh had the ball, good field position, and a 20-16 lead with 4:30 remaining.

After converting a big third down, the Steelers moved into field-goal range before making a costly error. On fourth-and-5 from the 29, indecisiveness struck the Pittsburgh sideline as Roethlisberger initially lobbied to go for the first down and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was late sending kicker Shaun Suisham onto the field, resulting in a delay of game. With Suisham kicking into the tricky open end of Heinz Field, a 47-yard attempt would have been far from a sure thing, but the penalty instead prompted a Jeremy Kapinos punt that pinned the Ravens back at their own 8-yard line.

Ninety-two yards were needed with just 2:24 and one timeout remaining, a far more difficult position than the previous fall when Flacco had found T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the game-winner in Pittsburgh.

A 21-yard completion over the middle to Anquan Boldin got the Ravens out of the shadow of their own end zone at the two-minute warning. A 13-yard sideline strike to seldom-used undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams moved them to their own 42. A few plays later, Baltimore faced a fourth-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 49 when Flacco again found Boldin over the middle for 10 yards to extend the game.

But that’s when the drive began going sideways. On second-and-8 from the 37, Flacco escaped pressure, climbed the pocket, and threw deep to a wide-open Smith, who dropped the ball in the end zone. Boldin would catch the third-down pass to move the chains on the next snap, but the veteran receiver then dropped a perfect throw over the middle that would have moved the Ravens inside the 10.

As Cris Collinsworth remarked on the NBC broadcast, “Joe Flacco is doing a great job on this drive, and his receivers are completely letting him down.”

Facing third-and-10 from the 26, Flacco and the Ravens still had a timeout, but only 16 seconds remained. Undeterred by Smith’s drop moments earlier, Flacco threw deep to the sideline as the second-round rookie gave a veteran-like nudge to Steelers cornerback William Gay and caught the redemptive touchdown with eight seconds to go.

There was instant silence in Pittsburgh. In a throwback rivalry in which the most defining moments had always gone the other way, the Ravens finally enjoyed theirs in the national spotlight.

The 23-20 win proved to be the difference in the Ravens winning their first division title in five years and clinching a first-round bye. But it meant more than that for Flacco, who had orchestrated the most brilliant drive of his career. The touchdown pass in Pittsburgh the previous year had flashed his late-game ability, but leading a 92-yard march in a Sunday night road game against his biggest adversary was special, especially considering the aforementioned drops and the celebrated Ravens defense had given up 14 points in the final quarter.

No, Flacco wasn’t Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning and never would be, but he had touched greatness when it mattered most. And while the misfortunes of Cundiff and Lee Evans 2 1/2 months later in New England meant the Ravens would wait another year to finally taste Super Bowl glory, that 2011 win in Pittsburgh eliminated any doubt that such a postseason run was possible, whether Flacco’s critics wanted to admit it or not.

“Maybe people will stop putting him down now. We know what kind of quarterback we have,” Boldin said after the season-sweeping win over the Steelers. “There was no panic with our offense, and I think you saw that. A lot of it starts with our quarterback. He was real poised.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 4: Ruining homecoming

Posted on 23 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 5 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2008 Ravens were a Cinderella story with the clock threatening to strike midnight.

Coming off a 5-11 campaign that resulted in the dismissal of longtime head coach Brian Billick, Baltimore had been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises with former Philadelphia special teams coordinator John Harbaugh now in charge. An elite defense and robust running game had led the Ravens to an impressive 9-5 record entering Week 16, easing the pressure on rookie first-round quarterback Joe Flacco.

But the Ravens were coming off a heartbreaking home loss to Pittsburgh that clinched the AFC North championship for the rival Steelers the previous Sunday. The margin for error was gone for even a wild-card spot with Indianapolis on its way to securing the No. 5 seed with a nine-game winning streak and New England having the same record as the Ravens despite losing all-world quarterback Tom Brady in the season opener. A daunting trip to Dallas to take on the playoff-hopeful Cowboys threatened to put Baltimore’s playoff hopes on life support.

The story was bigger than playoff ramifications, however, with “America’s Team” closing Texas Stadium with numerous Cowboys legends present for the nationally televised Saturday night affair and post-game ceremony to follow. The Ravens were keenly aware of rumors — later confirmed — that Dallas owner Jerry Jones had requested Baltimore as the final “homecoming” opponent to help close the iconic venue. There was also the matter of Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett having declined an offer to become the Ravens’ new head coach 11 months earlier, paving the way for Harbaugh to accept the job.

The script wouldn’t go as Jones and the rest of the football world anticipated.

Despite a DeMarcus Ware strip-sack of Flacco setting up an easy touchdown early in the first quarter, the Ravens suffocated the Cowboys offense for three quarters with All-Pro safety Ed Reed intercepting Tony Romo twice. Only red-zone inefficiency kept the game close with Dallas native Matt Stover booting three short field goals in the first half to give Baltimore a 9-7 lead that endured late into the third quarter.

Seemingly ready to settle for another field goal, the Ravens ran a fake with holder Sam Koch for a first down that set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to veteran wideout Derrick Mason, who was playing with a painful shoulder injury. The score increased the lead to 16-7 and set the stage for one of the most memorable quarters in franchise history.

After registering no more than 24 yards on any of its first nine drives of the night, the Cowboys offense came alive to begin the final period with a 35-yard field goal to shrink the deficit to one score. The Ravens answered with another Stover field goal to make it 19-10 with 6:30 remaining, but Dallas wasn’t going away as Romo threw a 7-yard touchdown to future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens with 3:50 to play.

Trailing by just two and with all three timeouts remaining, the Cowboys knew their chances would come down to stopping the run with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron unlikely to take any chances with his rookie quarterback. To that point, the Cowboys had held Baltimore to a respectable 3.7 yards per carry and called a run blitz before running back Willie McGahee took the inside hand-off on first-and-10 from the 23.

Breaking a couple feeble tackle attempts, McGahee sprinted 77 yards for the touchdown before a stunned crowd of 63,800 that had finally come alive moments earlier. The second-longest touchdown in franchise history — for the moment — gave the Ravens a 26-17 lead with 3:32 to go.

But the Cowboys still weren’t finished as Romo moved his two-minute offense down the field, finding Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten for a 21-yard touchdown pass to again make it a two-point game with 1:36 remaining. Still holding three timeouts and having scored on three straight drives against a tired Ravens defense, Dallas kicked the ball deep and again only needed to stop the run to keep hope alive.

On first-and-10 from his own 18-yard line, Flacco handed off to the 260-pound Le’Ron McClain.

Breaking a couple tackles before delivering a vicious stiff arm to Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin, the surprising Pro Bowl selection who led the 2008 team in rushing galloped 82 yards for the score, tying Jamal Lewis for the longest run in team history. Once again, the crowd was stunned.

On consecutive offensive snaps, McGahee and McClain had produced two of the three longest runs in Ravens history to deliver the knockout blow and close Texas Stadium for good. The outcome put Baltimore only a home win over lowly Jacksonville away from a playoff berth and an unforgettable run to the AFC Championship game.

The Ravens also took great satisfaction in ruining the party for the media darling Cowboys, who would also lose at Philadelphia the following week to miss the playoffs.

“We had a lot of politics that really made this game more fun,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the 33-24 win. “They personally recommended us as their homecoming opponent. We just fed off that. We fed off it the whole game.

“We hope they enjoy their ceremony tonight, but I guess we were the dynamite.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 5: “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle”

Posted on 19 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 6 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2012 Ravens were a tough team to figure out.

Long before they’d win Super Bowl XLVII or go through a brutal December, there were fair questions about a group that had won two games by over 30 points, lost one by 30 points, and barely squeaked by some of the worst teams in the league over the first three months of the season. The Ravens were certainly good, but were they as great as an 8-2 start often suggests?

For much of their Week 12 clash with San Diego, the answer appeared to be no. The Ravens offense sleepwalked through the first half at Qualcomm Stadium, managing no points and just 90 total yards as the Chargers led 10-0 at intermission.

A 54-yard completion from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith on the opening drive of the second half set up a Justin Tucker field goal, but the offense again went quiet until midway through the fourth quarter. Doing the heavy lifting throughout the day to keep the score close, the Baltimore defense surrendered a long drive resulting in a field goal to give San Diego a 13-3 lead with 7:51 remaining in regulation.

The time was now for Flacco and the offense to come alive if the Ravens wanted to win their fourth straight game. The fifth-year quarterback did exactly that, going 7-for-8 for 86 yards on a drive ending with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta to shrink the deficit to 13-10 with 4:19 to go.

Inspired by the reappearance of the offense, the Ravens defense forced a quick three-and-out and Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones returned the punt 23 yards to the Baltimore 40. After picking up one first down, however, the ensuing drive quickly began unraveling.

A rare Marshal Yanda holding penalty pushed the Ravens back into their own territory. And following back-to-back incompletions, Flacco was sacked and stripped by Chargers outside linebacker Antwan Barnes on third-and-20, setting up what seemed to be an impossible situation entering the two-minute warning.

What could the Ravens do on fourth-and-29 from their own 37-yard line? Take a deep shot to Smith or Jones in hopes of at least drawing a pass interference flag? Throw a strike down the seam to Anquan Boldin and see if the tough-as-nails receiver breaks a tackle or two?

With time to throw and looking downfield, Flacco checked down with a short pass to the right flat just beyond the line of scrimmage.

Really?

You’ve got to be kidding.

Seriously?

“It was really kind of a Hail Mary situation,” Flacco said after the game. “We were running down the field and I was hoping because they were playing so soft, sometimes you can kind of get in behind one of those guys and catch them flat-footed and maybe find a soft spot and rip a ball real quick into somebody. I didn’t really see anything like that. I didn’t want to just throw a Hail Mary.

“I wanted to give somebody a chance.”

Ray Rice, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who often carried the Ravens offense in those years, got that opportunity.

With an effort one could hardly believe, Rice eluded a few tacklers, cut all the way across the field to the left, and got a crushing Boldin block on Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle before lunging for the first down. A replay review moved back the initial spot of the miraculous play, but a measurement still gave the Ravens a first down, keeping the drive alive.

A 38-yard Tucker field goal moments later tied the game and the Ravens won with another Tucker 38-yarder late in overtime, but all that transpired the rest of the way couldn’t come close to matching Rice’s extraordinary effort. What we didn’t know was how critical the victory would be at a time when many were pondering the 9-2 Ravens chasing a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

The win over the Chargers would be the Ravens’ last for a month as they’d lose their next three games and fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would be replaced by Jim Caldwell. It’s impossible to know how losing to San Diego might have impacted the remaining five games on the schedule — the Ravens rested multiple starters in their Week 17 loss at Cincinnati, for example — but finishing 10-6 compared to 9-7 was the difference between winning the AFC North and being the No. 6 seed.

The significance in the big picture only added to the mystique and real-time insanity of “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle” as the fifth-year running back nicknamed the play.

“It was just total will,” Rice said after the 16-13 overtime win. “Once I made the first guy miss when I cut back across the grain, I actually saw the defense had to flip their hip and I kept eyeing the first down. I looked and said, ‘Should I keep running to the sideline or should I just keep trying to get up field?’ And that’s what I did. I just kept getting upfield.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on training camp preparations and other topics

Posted on 10 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens coaches returning to the Owings Mills headquarters this week and the NFL releasing protocols for training facilities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The July 28 report date for training camp is seven weeks away, but much work remains regarding COVID-19 protocols. The recent expansion and renovations of the team facility helps, but spacing lockers six feet apart for a 90-man roster will be quite a challenge by itself.

2. NFL Network’s report on the possibility of the preseason schedule being shortened was hardly a surprise since there was growing support for that long before the pandemic. The bigger question might be whether that sparks permanent change to the exhibition schedule.

3. Pittsburgh moving its camp to Heinz Field raises a fair question for teams that already struggled to find space for 90 players before even factoring in social distancing. A shorter preseason makes you wonder if that high number is absolutely necessary if you want to minimize health risks. Difficult questions.

4. Patrick Queen, Devin Duvernay, and Malik Harrison are the only 2020 Ravens draft picks yet to sign, but we’re approaching the time when you’d expect those rookie deals to get done. Of course, the pandemic could always complicate that timing.

5. Social media hardly provides a complete picture of the work so many players are putting in right now, but James Proche has logged recent workouts with Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, and Trace McSorley. Good for the sixth-round rookie wide receiver getting acquainted with Baltimore quarterbacks.

6. You won’t find a more respected person in the organization than tight ends coach Bobby Engram, who was nominated for the PFWA’s George Halas Award for overcoming adversity to succeed. I recommend this piece from The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec if you’re unfamiliar with the Engram family’s story.

7. The value of the return specialist isn’t what it used to be due to rule changes in the game, but I can’t recall the last time we weren’t talking about that spot being a question mark around this time of year. The days of Jacoby Jones?

8. In contrast, Sam Koch is the only player to have any punts for the Ravens since 2006 and Justin Tucker is the only one to make a field goal since 2012. That continuity is just remarkable compared to most teams. Tennessee had four different kickers last season alone.

9. We’ve talked so much about inside linebacker the last couple years that I couldn’t help but notice Ravens coaching analyst and former player Zach Orr celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday. He thankfully escaped football without serious injury, but you wonder how much better he might have become.

10. Dick Cass, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, Steve Smith, Calais Campbell, and Queen were among the current and former Ravens joining over 1,400 sports figures in signing a letter to Congress requesting an end to qualified immunity. I applaud them for making their voices heard.

11. Have you ever imagined what might have happened if Baltimore signed Colin Kaepernick? Does he replace a Joe Flacco who had a bad back in 2017? Reunited with Greg Roman, does Kaepernick thrive and keep the starting job? Does Lamar Jackson then wind up elsewhere? Quite the potential butterfly effect.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for putting out the following video for high school and college graduates. We all had different school experiences, but I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy those final weeks or to celebrate these accomplishments with friends and family.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass, during the first half at an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 10: “Not bad for a running back”

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 11 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

No one knew exactly what to expect from Lamar Jackson entering his first full season as starting quarterback.

The 2018 first-round pick had replaced longtime starter and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco midway through his rookie season and helped rally the Ravens to their first postseason appearance in four years. Jackson’s athleticism was off the charts, but questions persisted about his passing despite some encouraging flashes playing in an offense that hadn’t been built around his special talents. His rookie campaign ended with a poor performance in a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that garnered some boos from his home crowd, but Jackson vowed to teammates he’d improve.

The harshest claims that Jackson was a running back masquerading as a signal-caller were absurd, but that’s not to say many saw the 22-year-old as an MVP candidate in his second season either. At least one Vegas oddsmaker gave unproven quarterbacks such as Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Mitch Trubisky better MVP odds entering 2019. Improvement in Jackson appeared evident from the early days of training camp, but we wouldn’t have to wait long to see just how much better he was.

The Ravens kicked off the season in Miami — just 30 miles from where Jackson grew up in Pompano Beach — and wasted little time jumping all over the hapless Dolphins with a run-heavy opening drive for a touchdown and an Earl Thomas interception that gave the ball back to Baltimore near midfield. From there, Jackson began an aerial assault that dwarfed anything he’d done in his rookie season and immediately started shifting perceptions about his passing ability and ceiling as an NFL quarterback.

On the first play of the Ravens’ second drive, the Miami defense bit on a run fake as Jackson connected with rookie Marquise Brown over the middle for a 47-yard touchdown. Just the fourth wide receiver selected in the first round in franchise history and also a South Florida native, Brown immediately showed off his game-changing speed despite an abbreviated summer in which he was still recovering from January foot surgery.

The pair hooked up again in even more impressive fashion on the next drive. Forgoing an opportunity to take off as left tackle Ronnie Stanley signaled for him to run for an easy first down to move the chains, Jackson uncorked a near-50-yard bomb that hit Brown in stride for an 83-yard touchdown, the fifth-longest pass play in Ravens regular-season history.

The young quarterback would throw three more touchdowns before being relieved by backup Robert Griffin III with the Ravens leading 52-10 to begin the final period. In just three quarters, Jackson had completed 17 of 20 passes for a team-record-tying five touchdowns, 324 yards, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the first in franchise history. The game was not only the best of his young career, but Jackson had put forth the best statistical performance ever by a Ravens quarterback.

It was all “not bad for a running back” as Jackson quipped after a game in which he ran only three times for six yards, one of those attempts being a kneel to end the first half.

Doubters still noted the Dolphins being one of the NFL’s worst teams, but Jackson proved the performance was far from a fluke as he’d throw five touchdown passes in a contest twice more, post another perfect single-game passer rating, and lead the league with 36 touchdown passes to lead a record-setting offense and the best regular-season team in Ravens history at 14-2. He would become just the second unanimous AP NFL MVP, the second youngest behind only Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown to win the award, and the first Raven to earn the honor.

And, oh yeah, his 1,206 rushing yards broke the NFL single-year record for a quarterback, making his tiny Week 1 running output an amusing footnote in a historic season.

Of course, there would be other memorable moments from Jackson that season such as his fourth-down touchdown run in Seattle, his incredible spin and 47-yard touchdown scamper in Cincinnati, and his Monday Night Football performance in Los Angeles, but what he did in that season opener made his harshest critics look foolish and prompted so many to fully realize just how special he could be.

“He’s definitely better. He’s worked really hard,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the 59-10 demolition. “I think he’s only going to continue to improve because he wants to work at it. He was a rookie last year. He didn’t practice much throughout the course of the year. So, he’s had a chance to be with the No. 1 offense on a daily basis, and he did a great job with it.

“Again, this is just a start. This is just one game.”

Just a start and just one game indeed.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 11: Saluting Heinz Field

Posted on 05 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 12 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Before there was “January Joe,” real questions persisted about Joe Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.

His rookie season brought encouraging signs and easily cleared the low bar of the Kyle Boller era, but Flacco was mostly along for the ride as a terrific defense and a bruising rushing attack led the 2008 Ravens to an AFC Championship game appearance. His play took a substantial step forward in the 2009 regular season, but a Week 17 hip injury severely hampered him in January as he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in two playoff games.

Even the start of the 2010 season was rough as Flacco threw five interceptions over the first two games, making a Week 4 trip to Pittsburgh feel like a pivotal test in the third-year quarterback’s development. Winless at Heinz Field since 2006, the Ravens were taking on a Steelers team that was 3-0 despite backup quarterback Charlie Batch filling in for the suspended Ben Roethlisberger. If Baltimore couldn’t come away with a win in Pittsburgh this time around, you wondered when it would ever happen for Flacco and third-year head coach John Harbaugh.

But anything can go in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry as a defensive struggle ensued.

With the Ravens trailing 14-10 after a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run midway through the final quarter, Flacco had the opportunity to make his mark and quiet his doubters. Thanks in large part to completions of 21, 11, 10, and 11 yards, the Ravens had two shots from the Pittsburgh 2 to take the lead with less than three minutes to play.

On third-and-goal, Flacco’s pass to a blanketed Derrick Mason was broken up at the goal line. After a timeout, the Baltimore quarterback then threw incomplete to Anquan Boldin, turning the ball over on downs with 2:40 left and only one timeout remaining. Flacco and the Ravens looked like they would come up short in Pittsburgh yet again.

But instead of sulking over the offense’s inability to put the ball in the end zone, the Baltimore defense stuffed Mendenhall on three consecutive runs to force the Steelers to punt from their own 3. A Pittsburgh holding penalty on Daniel Sepulveda’s 47-yard punt gave the Ravens possession at the Steelers’ 40 with 1:08 remaining. It was the latest miscue in a mistake-prone game for Pittsburgh that included two missed field goals by Jeff Reed to keep the Ravens within striking distance.

If not now, then when?

Flacco connected on three straight passes to put the ball on the 18 with 37 seconds remaining. On the next play with Ray Rice and Todd Heap picking up a blindside blitz perfectly, Flacco pumped and hit veteran wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in stride in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Houshmandzadeh — the former Cincinnati Bengal who had just joined the Ravens a few weeks earlier — saluted a stunned Pittsburgh crowd while the normally stoic Flacco pumped his fist in celebration.

The Ravens defense finished it off with a Ray Lewis interception on the Steelers’ next play from scrimmage to give Flacco and Harbaugh their first win in Pittsburgh.

Of course, the moment didn’t transform the young quarterback into “January Joe” overnight as Flacco would experience some more hiccups and the Ravens would suffer another crushing playoff defeat at Heinz Field a few months later. But the touchdown to Houshmandzadeh showed what the Delaware product could do in a critical moment against the toughest of opponents on the road.

“I think there are going to be a lot of defining moments for Joe, but this is going to be one of them,” Harbaugh said after the dramatic 17-14 win to improve his team’s record to 3-1 on the season. “This is going to be one that all the Ravens fans are going to remember for a long time.”

The best was yet to come.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 12: “Almost as if he knew what was coming”

Posted on 04 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 13 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

We forget how close Ray Lewis came to leaving the Ravens.

After bristling at the notion of accepting a hometown discount and much chatter about his interest in joining the Dallas Cowboys, Lewis became a free agent for the first time in his career in late February 2009. However, when outside interest proved not to meet his financial demands, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year eventually re-signed with the Ravens, who were coming off an AFC Championship appearance in the first year of the John Harbaugh era.

Entering his 14th season and already with 10 Pro Bowl selections under his belt, Lewis was eager to prove he still had plenty of good football left at age 34. The San Diego Chargers would learn that the hard way in Week 2 of the 2009 season.

Coming off its third straight AFC West division title, San Diego was expected to be one of the top contenders in the conference, ultimately going 13-3 that year. Meanwhile, the Ravens had bested Kansas City in the season opener and now had a cross-country trip to Qualcomm Stadium to take on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

Despite playing without former league MVP and five-time Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers would move the ball throughout the game as backup Darren Sproles had an 81-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter and an impressive 278 all-purpose yards. But the Baltimore defense under new coordinator Greg Mattison practiced the art of bending without breaking by making four red-zone stops — including three inside the 10-yard line — to combat the 474 yards allowed.

Thanks largely to two Willis McGahee touchdown runs and two touchdown passes by Joe Flacco, the Ravens led 31-26 after Steve Hauschka tacked on a critical 33-yard field goal with 2:54 remaining. But Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers wasn’t done as he completed a 38-yard pass to Vincent Jackson to put San Diego in Ravens territory just before the two-minute warning.

The Chargers moved into the red zone over the next several plays to set up a fourth-and-2 from the 15 with just 37 remaining. What happened next would go down as one of the finest plays of Lewis’ Hall of Fame career.

Having already piled up a game-high 11 tackles — two for a loss — as well as a forced fumble, Lewis had been disruptive with several blitzes throughout the game. His reputation for film study was already legendary by this point, but Lewis had missed the tackle on the same inside run play to Sproles earlier, prompting the veteran middle linebacker to gamble and shoot the gap to try to slam the door on the Chargers once and for all.

As the legendary Dick Enberg described it on the CBS telecast, “Almost as if he knew what was coming.”

The 5-yard loss and fifth red-zone stuff of the afternoon turned the ball back to the Ravens as Flacco took the final knee.

Lewis had bigger moments in the postseason over his 17-year career, of course, but no play may have better displayed both his brilliance and ferocity on the football field. And Baltimore was sure glad he had stayed put.

“I played with John Elway and Terrell Davis, and that’s up there with anything I’ve seen them do,” Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said after the 31-26 win. “Just the magnitude of the play. It’s fourth down and game to go. It’s the kind of stuff that you write in ‘Remember the Titans.’

“It doesn’t happen in real life. But today it did. It couldn’t have happened to anybody else but him.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 14: Five touchdowns in 125 seconds

Posted on 29 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 15 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Some of the best moments are more manic than meaningful.

In 2013, the Ravens were a .500 team still hoping for a wild-card spot while Minnesota was on its way to a 5-10-1 finish when they met at a snowy M&T Bank Stadium in Week 14. The wintry conditions made it nearly impossible to see from the press box early in the first half, and the teams combined for just 13 points over the first three quarters of the game on the slippery turf.

The outcome appeared bleak for Baltimore when a Matt Cassel touchdown pass to Jerome Simpson gave the Vikings a 12-7 lead early in the fourth quarter and Joe Flacco threw his third interception of the game with just over eight minutes to play. The Ravens hadn’t scored since late in the first quarter in what was shaping up to be their worst offensive output of the year.

Getting the ball back at their own 36 with 6:32 remaining, the Ravens moved into the red zone thanks to a 37-yard pass interference penalty and plodded their way to the Minnesota 1 before being stopped on back-to-back plays. On fourth-and-goal Flacco jammed a short throw into the arms of Dennis Pitta for the touchdown, putting them ahead 15-12 with 2:05 to play.

Making his improbable return that day from a horrific hip injury suffered in late July, Pitta catching the game-winning touchdown would make a terrific story.

Or so we thought.

Coming out of the two-minute warning, the Vikings moved into Baltimore territory on a 27-yard pass to Simpson before running back Toby Gerhart — replacing the injured Adrian Peterson — took an inside hand-off and broke multiple tackles from a slipping-and-sliding Ravens defense on his way to a 41-yard touchdown. Just two plays turned euphoria into despair for the thousands of fans still braving the elements in Baltimore.

But it wasn’t over.

Preparing all week for the Vikings to use a “sky” kick to neutralize Pro Bowl returner Jacoby Jones, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg positioned his unit for a pooch return. Admittedly caught up in the moment awaiting the kickoff, Jones had to sprint up from the end zone to catch the short kick and then streaked down the left sideline for the 77-yard touchdown and a 22-19 lead with 1:16 to go.

Now, the Ravens could exhale, right?

After two straight incompletions to begin the ensuing drive, the Vikings were seemingly on their last legs with a third-and-10 from their own 21-yard line with just over a minute to go. Cassel threw a short screen pass to the shifty Cordarrelle Patterson and the Ravens defense again showed little ability to tackle on the icy field, leading to a 79-yard touchdown.

Are you kidding?

This time, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh wisely booted the ball to the end zone, prompting Jones to take a knee for the touchback. But the Ravens were again in business when Flacco delivered a pretty 35-yard throw down the middle to Marlon Brown, the undrafted rookie wide receiver who had been one of the better stories of the 2013 season.

Two plays later, Flacco threw what would have been the game-ending interception if not for a questionable pass interference call on Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, adding controversy to an already wild finish. The ball went back to the Ravens at the Minnesota 27, and an 18-yard completion to Pitta put them on the 9-yard line with 10 seconds to play.

Knowing he was down to his final play or two, Flacco delivered a strike to the 6-foot-5 Brown in the back of the end zone for the acrobatic touchdown. A review confirmed the rookie had kept both feet inbounds, giving the Ravens the 29-26 lead in a defensive struggle that had become a wild shootout in minutes.

The final kick return to the Baltimore 48 was a relative bore as time expired.

Five touchdowns in the final 125 seconds of play.

What else needed to be said other than it being an unbelievable win for the Ravens?

“I’ve never played in a game like that. I’ve never even played a video game like that,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said after one of the wildest finishes in NFL history. “That’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 15: “I didn’t want to hurt my team”

Posted on 28 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 16 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Sometimes football and the tragedy of real life intersect.

The Ravens were preparing for Sunday Night Football and a 2011 AFC Championship rematch with New England when devastating news reached one of their young standout players very early on Sept. 23, 2012.

Tevin Jones, the 19-year-old brother of second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith, had been killed in a motorcycle crash in northeast Virginia. Those who followed Smith’s career dating back to his University of Maryland days were familiar with his challenging upbringing in which he helped raise his younger siblings, compounding what was already such a sad loss of life.

Smith left the team hotel and returned to his home state to be with his family as anyone could have understood football being the last thing on his mind at such a devastating time. But the 23-year-old still wanted to play that night and arrived back at M&T Bank Stadium around 4 p.m. on very little sleep.

His emotions were raw as the team held a moment of silence and and a national TV audience watched Smith wipe tears from his face as he sat on the bench moments before kickoff. The game held meaning for the Ravens after their heartbreaking loss to the Patriots the previous January — a contest in which the 2011 second-round pick scored a key second-half touchdown — but that story line took a backseat to Smith’s individual efforts less than 24 hours after his brother’s death.

The night started poorly for the Ravens, who trailed 13-0 and managed just 21 net yards in the first quarter. They finally awoke for the first drive of the second period, steadily moving the ball to the New England 25. On the 13th play of the drive, quarterback Joe Flacco threw the ball up to Smith, who hovered in the air to high-point a terrific touchdown catch over Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.

It was Smith’s first catch of the game as he rested on one knee, pointed to the sky, and bowed his head before teammates congratulated him and a crowd of more than 71,000 began chanting, “Torrey, Torrey!” as he jogged to the sideline. Baltimore had cut the deficit to 13-7, and that touchdown alone would have been special enough even if Smith hadn’t caught another pass for the rest of the night.

But he was far from done.

Having already eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for the third time in his young career, Smith went back to work as the Ravens trailed 30-21 midway through the fourth quarter. His 16-yard reception put the offense in New England territory as the Ravens continued driving to the 5-yard line. With just over four minutes remaining, Flacco scrambled to his right and made a tight-window sideline throw to Smith, who grabbed the touchdown against Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty.

Once again, the “Torrey, Torrey!” chants echoed.

Now trailing 30-28, the Baltimore defense got a stop on the next series and Flacco moved the offense back into field goal range before a pass interference penalty set up a chip shot for rookie kicker Justin Tucker. His 27-yard attempt barely squeaked inside the right upright — or did it? — as time expired to give the Ravens a controversial 31-30 victory and a sliver of revenge for the previous postseason disappointment.

The teams would meet again in the AFC Championship four months later with the Ravens prevailing on the way to their second Super Bowl championship, but that Week 3 win is remembered for the courage and dedication Smith showed in catching six passes for 127 yards and those two touchdowns. It was an inspiration for anyone who watched.

“This is new territory for me personally. I never really had to deal with a death in the family, let alone my brother,” said Smith after receiving a game ball in the emotional post-game locker room. “I didn’t want to hurt my team. I came here, [and] the more I was running, the more comfortable I started to feel.

“I’m glad I came back up here. I think it helped me out a lot.”

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