Sorry for the late posting today. Like so many of you, I did my fair share of celebratin’ after this one, and as a result was in no shape to attempt coherent thoughts until about dinner time today. Well worth it, if I do say so myself. As a matter of fact, I look forward to doing it 4 more times over the next 6 weeks.
The Ravens absolutely dismantled a pretty listless Jacksonville Jags squad yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium. It was the home finale for our purple birds, and what amounted to their lone home playoff game of this particular Festivus season. Since the Buffalo Bills were unable to tame Matt Cassel’s Patriots (and the wind) in the early game, the Ravens’ playoff lives were at stake, and the B’More crowd was aptly amped up. The decibel level at the purple palace rivaled that of the runway over at BWI, as I could tell even from my seats, which were up around the flight altitudes of some of those planes.
The Ravens took an early 3-0 lead on a 32-yard Matt Stover FG, which had been set up by a beautifully thrown and caught 48-yard bomb from Joe Flacco to Mark Clayton. How Clayton was able to corral that ball, which was blown around by the 15-mph winds, I’ll never know – but it wasn’t even Mark’s best of the day. That distinction came on a 47-yarder from Joe Cool late in the 2nd quarter, on a ball that was about even with my sight line at its apex.
Jacksonville struck back though, scoring on a 23-yard TD pass from David Garrard to Alvin Pearman, and the Jags led 7-3 after the opening period. That would be the last time the Jags would score.
The crowd became eerily silent and nervous after that play, but Joe Cool would have none of it. “Hop on my back, B’More, we’re going to the playoffs,” Flacco’s play assured us, as he had his best day yet as a pro. He was 17-23 for 297 yards, and the two long passes to Clayton were the most beautifully thrown balls we have seen around these parts in many a year. Joe took only 1 sack, didn’t turn the ball over, and finished the day with a passer rating of 115.8. After a string of mediocre games in front of his adoring fans (seriously, did anybody in Baltimore NOT get a Flacco jersey for Christmas?), Joe finally dazzled us in person.
The Ravens defense, playing without Fabian Washington, who was a late scratch because of a toe injury, clamped down after that early hiccup. By holding the Jags scoreless over the final 45 minutes, the Ravens managed to accomplish a feat not seen since the 1962 Green Bay Packers: no visiting team put up more than 13 points in Charm City all season. Fast Eddie Reed had not 1, but 2 more interceptions, to give him the outright NFL lead for the 2nd time in his career. Reed should garner heavy consideration for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year – yes, Ed Reed, playing at about 75%, is still better than the rest of the league. Incredible. Eddie also laid a vintage Reed crushing hit on Reggie Williams for a 2-yard loss (the play where Suggs got his obligatory stupid penalty for roughing the passer.)
Ray Lewis also recovered 2 fumbles, as the Ravens ended the season +13 in turnover differential, good for 3rd best in the NFL. Their 26 interceptions led the league in that category. Baltimore also finished the season #1 in the NFL in time of possession, at 33:23 per game.
That last stat would not be possible if not for the incredible play of the Ravens’ offensive line and running backs. Le’Ron “Pain Train” McClain ran for 70 yards on 25 carries and added 2 more touchdowns to give him 10 for the 2008 season, and Willis McGahee scored on an impressive 13-yard draw play. McGahee is showing the kind of speed and elusiveness we have not seen from him all year, and is hopefully, along with Ray Rice, finally getting healthy in time for the playoffs.
That’s right, Ravens fans. Playoffs. The most improbable and unexpected season in the Ravens’ short history was not to be ended prematurely. We could have been forced into wondering “what if?” if they had been unable to pull off the victory yesterday, and spent all offseason agonizing over those painful last minute losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee. We’d have been rationalizing until training camp to ourselves, saying how the year was still a success because the team so exceeded all expectations, even if they playoffs weren’t in the cards. Well, the Ravens saved us all that shit and gave us what we really wanted: a playoff berth. And, to be honest, we love the Ravens’ chances.
Up first are the equally surprising Miami Dolphins, who the Ravens pasted 27-13 in Week 7. We’ll delve into that match up as the week goes on.
For now, let’s all take a deep breath and take in this beautiful Festivus air.