Like most of you, at about 2:30 Sunday afternoon I was ready to put this game in the rear view mirror and never speak of it again. Just as the Ravens completely phoned in the first half of the game, I was preparing myself to do the same with this recap – something like “Ravens lose. You don’t want to hear about it. The end.” Entering the locker room trailing 24-6 to a 1-5 football team that hadn’t won a road game in their last 10 tries, following directly on the heels of the debacle in Jackonville Monday night, it was looking like the Ravens’ 2011 season was coming apart at the seams before our eyes.
Then, of course, the second half happened.
The Ravens came out and scored a touchdown on their opening drive, with Anquan Boldin putting the team on his back Greg Jennings/Marshawn Lynch – style, and they would ultimately outscore Arizona 24-3 over the game’s final 30 minutes for a last-minute victory that sealed the largest comeback (21 points) in franchise history.
It was truly a tale of two halves. In the first, things were going about as expected, with the defense stifling the Cardinals and the offense relying heavily on Ray Rice after Monday’s struggles, but ultimately failing to manage points, even when they did move the ball.
Then the oblong pigskin started bouncing the Cards’ way. Just like a few weeks ago against Houston, it seemed as if every time the ball hit the turf, it went right to an Arizona player.
Jarret Johnson causes a Kevin Kolb fumble, Arizona recovers.
Joe Flacco gets hit and fumbles, and the Cardinals fall on it on the Ravens’ 1 yard line.
The B’More special teams unit misses five tackles to allow a punt return touchdown.
Flacco puts one right in Torrey Smith’s chest, Smith bats it up in the air, and it goes right to a waiting white jersey.
It was looking like just another of those days.
But the Ravens went into the locker room and decided collectively – Anquan Boldin most specifically – that they weren’t going out like this. They weren’t going to fall to 4-3 in front of a home crowd that had been basically forced into booing them as they left the field following what was now six consecutive quarters of horrific offensive football (13 points total over the past 1.5 games).
It was a new team in the second, as Flacco would snap out of his funk with the team going shotgun no-huddle. He was 5/5 on the opening drive, and Boldin drew a pass interference flag in the end zone to set up what would be the first of Ray Rice’s three touchdowns in the half. Two drives later, Joe would hit Boldin four times for 80 yards on a single series, including ANOTHER pass interference in the end zone that led to a Ray Rice score.
As the quarter came to a close, the game’s third end zone PI – Rice TD sequence put the purple and black up 27-24.
On Arizona’s ensuing drive, though, they were the ones that were beneficiaries of the yellow laundry raining down on the M&T Bank Stadium turf. Twice Ravens penalties kept the Cardinals’ drive alive on what initially looked like failed 3rd down attempts. The second negated an Ed Reed interception that likely would have helped seal the game. Throw in a rare dropped pick by Ray Lewis (that would have probably went for six), and Arizona, despite themselves, had pulled the game back even.
A beautiful Sam Koch punt with just over three minutes to play that pinned Arizona at their own two could have very well been the play that really decided the game. That punt put the Cards in a precarious position of trying to move for the winning score but also having to be cognizant to not go quickly three-and-out to give the Ravens the ball right back. Though they managed a first down on a Kolb scramble, they ended up having to punt from their own 5 with just over a minute to play anyway.
On second down, Flacco hit Torrey Smith – after missing the rookie from Maryland a handful of times throughout the game – for a 36-yard gain that set the Ravens up at the five yard-line and a chip-shot game winning kick.
Boldin’s beastly 7 catch, 145 yard performance against his former team certainly earns him the offensive game ball. Credit is also due Flacco, who set career highs in attempts and completions once Cam Cameron got his head out of his own rear end and let the fourth-year quarterback do what he does best.
Speaking of that, the Ravens unfortunately find themselves at a bit of an offensive crossroads. Their best offensive player is their running back, and they have perhaps the NFL’s best blocking fullback. However, their quarterback does his best work – by far – in the shotgun, due in no small part to the offensive line’s complete inability to block anybody for any appreciable amount of time or pick up blitzes effectively (Arizona sacked Joe three times in the first half, and defenders were in his face on seemingly every drop back).
There is no clear answer. It will be very interesting to see what the game plan is next week against a Pittsburgh defense that is again playing at a high level (today holding the great Tom Brady and his New England passing attack under wraps).
On the defensive side of the ball, Terrell Suggs had perhaps the game of his life. He sacked Kolb once, but barely missed on two others, had nine tackles (at least four for losses), and hit Kolb as he was throwing to force the lame duck that Jameel McClain would ultimately intercept.
Paul Kruger had his first multi-sack day as a Raven, hauling Kolb down twice. As a whole, the defense racked up six sacks on the day, and had another overall strong performance, allowing only 207 total yards and stopping 9/11 Arizona third-down tries.
This schizophrenic B’More team needs to find some consistency, and fast. They travel to Heinz Field next week, and since nobody told the Patriots that Pittsburgh is now old and slow, the Steelers and Ravens enter the game even in the loss column with two each. Following that, they travel cross-country to take on Seattle before coming home for crucial matchups against the upstart Bengals (5-2) and 49ers (6-1).
The team that played the final two quarters on Sunday – and not the one that played the previous six – needs to show up for these games.
On offense, anyway.
The defense is fine.
It would also be great if some of these fumbles would start bouncing to the good guys.