Ray Rice had a solid, if unspectacular, day, picking up 70 yards on 14 carries, and adding another 19 on four receptions. For the season, Mighty Mouse ended up with 1,339 yards on the ground, a 5.3 average, 702 receiving yards, and 8 total touchdowns. Ray Rice defined “Play Like a Raven” in 2009.
In Week 17, though, he was overshadowed by another Ravens running back.
Played Like a Raven – Willis McGahee
Willis, I gotta say, played like a guy that was auditioning for his next team. It is pretty well understood that McGahee will not likely be a Raven at the start of 2010 training camp, but, hey – if his “proving” of himself for the rest of the NFL can benefit the purple and black like it did Sunday in Oakland, then we certainly shouldn’t complain.
Willis busted out the second 77-yard touchdown of his B’More career (the other being 2008 in Dallas), on a play that featured one of the sickest stiff-arms you will ever see. Raiders safety Hiram Eugene will never live that one down, and the play is sure to be on his “lowlights” reel now and forever. You could almost hear Willis McGahee yelling to Eugene “GET OFF ME,” as he threw him to the turf. Willis appeared for a second to be on the verge of running out of gas before he reached paydirt, but he turned the jets back on at around the 15, and made it to the end zone for his second of three touchdowns on the day.
If Willis can put together a string of performances like that, where it is obvious to all watching that he has easily the freshest legs on the field, it could add a whole new dimension to the Ravens’ already very potent rushing attack, and make them a dangerous playoff team this postseason.
Honorable Mention – Dannell Ellerbe
McGahee was obviously the star, but we’d be remiss to neglect to mention Ellerbe. The rookie out of Georgia was right in the middle of the defense’s two biggest plays on the day. First, he intercepted JaMarcus Russel as the big dumb QB tried to force the ball to his tight end, and nearly returned it for a touchdown. Then, when Antwan Barnes stripped Russel a few series later, Ellerbe was “Dannelly-on-the-spot,” falling on the ball to effectively seal the Ravens’ playoff berth.
Ellerbe has filled in more than admirably for Tavares Gooden the last few games, and his interception was especially promising to see considering how much trouble the Ravens LBs have been having in coverage lately. Ellerbe has been solid against the run all year; if he can become a competent cover backer, he could easily find himself starting in purple for a long time.
Did Not Play Like a Raven – Joe Flacco
It pains me (and worries me) to saddle Natty Joe with this for the second time in five games. Joe bounced back nicely after the Green Bay debacle, playing well against Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, but he was ugly to watch in Oakland. His 102 passing yards were the lowest in a single game of his 2-year career, and his 11 completions were the fewest of 2009, tying for second lowest of his career. He looked absolutely flustered and confused by the Raiders pressure and coverages alike. What has been an increasingly-concerning season-long issue of lack of pocket presence came to a head on one particular play where he scrambled around and then ran a full yard past the line of scrimmage before overthrowing Ray Rice in the end zone. The guy just seems to have no clue where he is, or what is going on around him in the pocket. Joe absorbed four more sacks, and that is now 10 in the past three games – hardly a trend you want your offense to be on headed into the playoffs.
Flacco hardly lit the world on fire during his first stint in the postseason – his numbers for the three playoff games in 2008:
33-75, 44%, 437 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 50.8 Rating.
With the Ravens’ defense not playing at the level they were a year ago, Flacco’s numbers will undoubtedly have to improve this January for the Ravens to stand any chance. With Ray Rice and now Willis McGahee competently backing him up, it should take a lot of the pressure off Joe, and allow him to return to his cool, calm, efficient ways.
Let’s hope so, anyway.