In easily the most somber GOOBVISION to date, Goob looks back on the heart-wrenching AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.
In easily the most somber GOOBVISION to date, Goob looks back on the heart-wrenching AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.
Not like that.
Not. Like. That.
That’s the mantra I just kept repeating to myself over and over, for a good 30 minutes after the clock struck zero on the AFC Championship game, and on the Baltimore Ravens 2011-12 season.
It can’t end like that. A 45-10 beating like the Patriots handed the Denver Broncos a week earlier would have been infinitely easier to swallow.
Instead, to drive nearly 80 yards in the game’s final two minutes, only to have the potential game-winning touchdown pass dropped in the end zone and then the game-tying field goal flutter wide left from only 32 yards out?
This game will go down in infamy in Baltimore. Hell, I had Steelers fans on twitter after the game telling me they wouldn’t wish that kind of loss upon their worst enemy.
Sympathy from Steelers fans.
You know it’s bad.
If Lee Evans could have held onto that ball, we’d all be worshiping at the altar of Joe Flacco this morning. Sure, I’ve heard that the Patriots’ DB made a great play to strip the ball from Evans’ grip, and that’s true. Another case of “the other guy tries too.” But for Evans, the forgotten man on the Ravens’ WR corps all season, who had come to Baltimore after never playing a postseason game in his NFL career, this was the catch of his life.
It should have taken New England’s entire 53-man roster, plus every coach, trainer, ball boy, and front office member to pry that ball from #83’s fingers.
Pull it in. Fall down. That’s the ball game. The Ravens are headed to Indy.
Instead, the Ravens for some reason eschewed trying to simply pick up a yard on 3rd-and-1, which would have given them several more shots at the end zone. An incomplete pass later, the field goal team was – for some unknown reason – rushing onto the field to attempt to send the contest to overtime.
Meanwhile, the Ravens’ third and final timeout sits unused. Still.
After the game, John Harbaugh said that using the timeout never occurred to him.
Good to know.
Flacco, for his part, played the game of his life. Under intense pressure to perform (some of that pressure of his own doing), he did just that. The Ravens’ quarterback was 22/36 for 306 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Granted, he missed some throws. He should have had Torrey Smith for a long touchdown in the first quarter, but instead of planting his feet and launching it, threw on the run, and Smith had to come back to the ball.
Later, after the Ravens had recovered a Danny Woodhead kickoff return fumble, Flacco had Vonta Leach in the flat for a likely touchdown. Instead, he threw to the end zone for Kris Wilson, the pass fell incomplete, and the Ravens had to settle for a field goal to take a 20-16 lead.
As we saw, those four points would loom large.
The Ravens’ defense played well, intercepting Tom Brady twice and holding him without a touchdown throw. However, New England was able to run the ball effectively, picking up 96 yards on the ground. They got a yard when they needed it most, scoring on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter to regain a lead they would not again relinquish.
And just like that, it was over.
In Baltimore, we’ll always remember. “Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff” will forever bring back terrible memories of a day when our season was again, ended prematurely. When again, we seemed to have the better team only to watch them fail in the game’s final moments.
We can talk more about it later.
Right now, the pain is just too fresh.
Not like that.
Going back to the days of Brian Billick, it’s been a staple of Baltimore Ravens teams: they play better as the underdog. Linebacker Jarret Johnson, a Raven since 2003, admitted as much during an interview this week, and any devoted purple faithful can attest to it – they’ve just never handled being the favorite well. They’ll have to continue that tradition on Sunday, as the New England Patriots enter the AFC Championship game as touchdown (or more, depending on who you ask) favorites.
Many are pointing to the Ravens’ 33-14 win at Foxboro in the 2009 Wild Card game as evidence that the Ravens can go to New England and get the job done. However, that game seems more like an aberration than the norm, especially when you consider other recent Ravens-Patriots contests. Aside from that game, the other two times these teams have played since 2009 both came down to the wire. In the 2009 regular season, the Ravens were a Mark Clayton dropped pass on 4th down in the final moments away from a 1st-and-goal situation needing only a touchdown and an extra point to come away with a 28-27 victory. In the 2010 regular season, the Ravens took a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter only to see Tom Brady will his team to 13 unanswered points and a Steven Gostkowski game-winning field goal at the two minute warning of overtime.
These teams play close games. Expect a tight one Sunday.
On the other side, most national – and even some local – pundits are already dismissing the Ravens, based solely on their relatively “poor” showing against the Houston Texans last week in the Divisional Round. However, anybody that watches the Ravens regularly – especially this year – knows that what happens one week has very little bearing on what transpires the next.
This is a team that beat Pittsburgh 35-7, then lost at Tennessee 26-13, then pasted St. Louis 37-7 to start the year. They had a terrible loss in Seattle sandwiched by key divisional wins in Pittsburgh and against Cincinnati. The Ravens got physically whooped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against the Texans. What eases my mind is that not only is that an extremely rare occurrence for the Ravens, but it’s almost unheard of for it to happen two weeks in a row. They’ll be going up against a New England squad that is much more known for their finesse than their physicality, so the Ravens’ heavies that got their feelings hurt last week should be up for the challenge of having a solid rebound game.
And they’ll need to – again, on both sides. On offense, they’ll need to do a much better job of opening up holes for Ray Rice and Ricky Williams to control the clock and keep Brady and his arsenal on the sidelines. They’ll need to protect Joe Flacco a lot better against a Pats’ pass rush that racked up 40 sacks during the regular season, and give him time to make throws to move the chains and take shots down the field to Torrey Smith or Lee Evans when they present themselves.
On defense, linemen Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Cory Redding, and linebackers Johnson, Terrell Suggs, and Paul Kruger will have to do a much better job of getting in Brady’s face than they did against T.J. Yates. Suggs has historically been a monster against New England and his favorite “pretty boy” Brady, and he’ll need to continue that string of dominance. In the past, the Ravens have had great success in getting Brady uncomfortable in the pocket. Even former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison had Brady on the run the last time these teams met, only to revert to his patented 3-man rush at the worst possible times.
Inconsistent or non-existent pressure on Brady will is a recipe for disaster against New England, as it has been for years now. The Patriots’ offense boasts dangerous weapons at pretty much every position – from Wes Welker and Deion Branch on the outside to beast tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in the middle.
A huge question in Baltimore this week has been “how will the Ravens deal with the New England tight ends?”
While the Ravens have basically NO linebackers who can be considered strong in coverage, they’ve still somehow managed to have success against opposing tight ends this year. They’ve given up the second fewest yards and touchdowns to tight ends in the NFL this year, and no tight end gained more than 73 yards in a game against them all season. It will take someone much smarter than me to explain that contradiction, but there you have it.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to moderately contain Gronkowski in a 25-17 win over New England earlier this year, and they did so by matching a rookie cornerback – not a linebacker or safety – on Gronk. As I said in my interview with Foxboro Blog earlier this week, I think the Ravens would be well served by doing the same thing with their own rookie CB Jimmy Smith. Smith is big and physical, and is probably the Ravens’ best bet to match up with the size and speed of the second-year tight end. The question is whether or not the team trusts a rookie to cover such a key cog in an explosive offense in the most important game of the season.
Pittsburgh also got physical with the Patriots at the line, specifically cornerback Ike Taylor on Welker. Personally, I’d put Lardarius Webb on Welker all afternoon; Webb has been the Ravens’ best corner all year, and seems to be peaking here in the postseason based on his two interceptions last week. The Ravens don’t typically match up their corners though, so it will be interesting to see how Chuch Pagano decides to try to attack New England.
Brady is undoubtedly one of the best ever, but he’s struggled against the Ravens. In his last four games against the purple and black, he’s managed just six touchdown passes while throwing six interceptions and being sacked 12 times, for a quarterback rating of 72.1. Compare that to his career rating of 96.9 against the league’s other 30 teams, and it’s obvious that he’s just not able to do the things he’s comfortable with against this Baltimore defense.
The Patriots defense, on the other hand, takes a lot of heat for giving up tons of yardage – 31st in the NFL. However, they were just 15th in points allowed, so you have to think that a lot of that yardage was due to the fact that teams were frantically trying to catch up to New England on the scoreboard after falling into an early hole. Still, after the defenses the Ravens have faced this season (10-2 against the teams that finished in the top 10 overall), going up against the Pats should be like swinging a baseball bat after taking the donut weight off; that is to say, much easier. There is no reason to expect the struggles they experienced a week ago against Houston to carry over to Foxboro. The last time Flacco went against this Patriots defense, he was 27/35 (77%), for 285 yards, 2 TDs, 0 turnovers, and a 119.3 quarterback rating. Similar success will be critical on Sunday.
I haven’t picked against the Ravens this season – while I’ll freely admit I’m a homer, I also honestly believed that every time they took the field, they had the talent and personnel to win the game. This time is no different. Sure, the Patriots have the pretty stats, but the fact is that they’ve only played two teams with winning records all year (three, if you want to count the now 9-9 Denver Broncos), and they lost both of those games (again, 1-2 if you count the Tebows). The Ravens, on the other hand, are now 7-0 against teams that made the postseason. They’ve proven they can hang with – and beat – the league’s best squads.
Sunday is another chance to do just that, and while it should be a nail-biter to the end, I believe they will.
Ravens 27 Patriots 24
Late January and Goob is still making Ravens preview videos (hopefully this will be the second to last, as opposed to the last, of the year). This time he takes aim at Tom CryBrady, Massholes, and wonders if Bernard Pollard has any more Pats-killing mojo left.
The latest great design from Maryland’s Team commemorates the Ravens’ undefeated 2011 at M&T Bank Stadium. An 8-0 regular season and 1-0 in the playoffs now gives the Ravens’ the NFL’s longest home-winning streak at 11 games. Celebrate by showing that wins in B’More are “Money in the Bank.”
As always, Nest readers get a special discount!
When you check out, enter code BMBNMoney, and they will take $1 off the already discounted price of $9.
Pretty sweet deal. So head on over and save yourself some money of your own. Maybe put it in the bank?
Last night I was a guest on “Kickin’ it With Keeler,” a podcast hosted by Ricky Keeler of Foxboroblog.com. Thanks to Ricky for having me on to talk Ravens/Patriots in the AFC Championship game. You can listen to the entire podcast below (I’m on from about the 45-70 minute marks).
As if the fan base (or at least a very vocal minority of it) wasn’t already uneasy enough entering Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts, we have a key member of the defense now basically calling out the offense.
In comments to Adam Schein and Rich Gannon of SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday, Reed had the following to say (disclaimer: these comments are from the Pro Football Talk “distilled” version. PFT loves to make issues where there are none, so there could definitely be more context here that they are conveniently omitting):
“I think Joe was kind of rattled a little bit by that defense,” Reed said. “They had a lot of guys in the box on him. And, I mean, they were getting to him. I think a couple times he needed to get rid of the ball. I don’t know how much of the play calling, he could have made audibles or anything like that, checks or whatnot, man, but it just didn’t look like he had a hold on the offense, you know, of times past. You know, it was just kind of like they was telling him to do, throw the ball or get it here, you know, get it to certain guys. And he can’t play like that.
“You know, one particular play that sticks out to me is when Ray Rice came out of the backfield, he got pushed down and [Flacco] still threw him the ball and you got one-on-one with Torrey Smith on the outside. But it’s hearsay for me. I can say that sitting on the sidelines, you know, or sitting in the stands. You just never know what somebody else is seeing.”
Reed also called out the line, a little.
“[T]he offensive line gotta block better,” Reed said. “You know, they gotta communicate better, gotta pick up blocks, Joe’s gotta get the ball out of his hand. We gotta do a good job of using our weapons. I think Ricky Williams should have had the ball a little bit more yesterday. You know, I mean, Ray Rice was running it, too, but you gotta be able to mix those guys in back and forth. It’s a lot of things that we all need to correct going into New England because they do such a great job of making adjustments, you know, in-game adjustments. It’s not just coming up with a scheme and playing the game. You gotta be able to make adjustments while the game is in the flow.”
There are a couple ways to take this. Ed could be simply showing his offense some “tough love,” challenging them to raise their game this weekend.
At the same time, though, it seems like a very weird time for even tough love, especially publicly. Ed Reed is my favorite Raven of all-time, but I can’t deny that good things rarely come out of his mouth when he opens it up and spouts off over the last few years. He’s always been a goofy guy, and the timing of these comments is nothing if not goofy.
On top of that, what exactly did he want Joe to do? Aren’t quarterbacks who “just get rid of the ball” willy-nilly exactly the kind of player that have boosted Ed’s interception stats throughout his career?
And even if his intent was – as some may suggest – to have called out the coaches or offensive line more than calling out Joe, still, what’s the point? Do it in the building, not on some radio show.
The Ravens won the game. And while they’ll undoubtedly need a much-improved offensive effort on Sunday, they’ll also need to protect the ball as they did against Houston (0 turnovers).
Goob was unable to be in Baltimore last weekend for Ravens/Texans because he had to go to a wedding in Georgia. However, the next best thing to being at M&T Bank Stadium might just be watching with the Ravens Roost of the South in Atlanta. After watching this video, we think you’ll find it tough to disagree.
After stagnating all afternoon following the first quarter, when they capitalized on a couple short fields following turnovers, the Ravens offense looked to have finally come alive with about seven minutes remaining in their 20-13 Divisional Playoff win over the Houston Texans. In seven plays, they had moved the ball from their own 29 yard line to the Houston 31 on the strength of a few nice Ray Rice runs and completions from Joe Flacco to Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Dennis Pitta. Leading 17-13 at the time, the Ravens had also managed to bleed precious time off the clock during the series.
On first and 10 from the Houston 31 with just 3:09 remaining, Rice ran for five yards to set up 2nd-down and five.
At this point, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak decided that he couldn’t let any more time run off the clock, and used his first time out. While the Ravens were already in field goal range, and a successful attempt from Billy Cundiff would give them a much more comfortable seven point cushion, another first down or two would really put the pressure on Houston.
With the Texans already declaring that they were going to use their time outs to stop the clock, it would have been in the Ravens’ best interest to take them up on that offer, by forcing them to continue to burn them. Runs on second and third down would either A) result in Houston being completely out of time outs, B) take the clock down to at least the two-minute warning, or C) some combination of A and B.
Instead, the Ravens passed on both downs, and both plays resulted in incompletions and Baltimore giving Houston the gift of a stopped clock. With the way the end of the game ultimately played out (with a last second heave to the end zone by Texans’ QB T.J. Yates, on which Ed Reed was at least a little banged up), those ~80 seconds (or two timeouts), could have been absolutely critical.
At the time, Ravens fans – myself included – were falling back upon our old reliable scapegoat, Cam Cameron.
What the hell was Cam thinking? Had he not learned his lesson about feeding Ray Rice the ball after all that’s happened this season?
Checking to a pass? That’s what Harbs says. What do you think?
However, following the game, Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh said that it was Flacco, not Cameron, who was to “blame” in that particular situation.
Coach John Harbaugh said QB Joe Flacco checked into pass plays on the second- and third-down plays with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Harbaugh said Houston lined up and showed all-out run blitzes, which forced Flacco to check to a pass, even if an incompletion would stop the clock.
I went back and re-watched the sequence on my DVR, and I have to say – I see absolutely no indication that Flacco is making any kind of check or audible call at the line on second down. While it’s entirely possible that I am missing some subtle gesture or call that Joe is making, I just find it hard to believe that he could have changed the play without showing any of the outward signs we’re used to seeing from quarterbacks checking into or out of plays (with Joe, we’re used to him tapping his rear and yelling “Alaska, Alaska” for instance). On third down, it looks like he says something to both Ed Dickson and Ray Rice as they are lined up with him in the shotgun, but again…a shotgun formation would typically indicate that a pass had already been called.
Our feelings on both Flacco and Cameron are well documented here at the Nest. While our obvious gut reaction is to blame Cam for these gaffes, we have to at least consider Harbaugh’s words.
Harbaugh, though, has been known to be pretty defensive of his offensive coordinator. Could he just be covering for Cam?
If he is, it would come at the expense of throwing his quarterback under the bus. If he doesn’t, then we have to direct our criticism to Flacco. If Joe really did change to passing plays under his own volition in that situation, I am extremely disappointed in his decision-making – more so than I am of anything he physically did on Sunday. While I admire the fact that he decided he wanted the ball in his hands there, with the game on the line, he needs to put his ego aside, turn around, and hand the damn ball to Ray Rice.
Where you come down on this issue will probably align fully with who you typically blame for the Ravens’ offensive woes – those Ravens fans who – like me – blame Cam, will say that Harbs is probably covering for him. Those that are anti-Joe will use this as more ammunition in their argument that the Ravens should not sign #5 to a new contract.
Either way, somebody royally screwed up late in the game Sunday, and we’re all lucky that it didn’t cost the Ravens the game. We have to hope that it didn’t cost them their starting Hall of Fame free safety as they prepare to face one of the best passing attacks in the NFL.
It’s kind of funny, sitting here a day later. If the Ravens had been able to score from about 0.25 yards out on two tries yesterday, my score prediction of 27-13 would have likely been right on. For the record, I’ve been picking scores on this site for five full seasons now (plus eight playoff games), and that would have been the first time I ever hit the nail on the head.
Watching it unfold yesterday though, was pretty damn agonizing. Even if they’d managed to put the Texans away earlier, and win by two touchdowns, it wasn’t nearly the kind of dominating performance that many of us had hoped for or expected. Give Houston a ton of credit – that is a team that will be a force in the AFC for years to come, especially if Matt Schaub can stay healthy and even if they don’t end up re-signing Mario Williams. (Giant Cowboy) hats off to them.
Back to the goalline stand that very well could have decided the game the other way in the end…
It looked like Houston was about to pull to within 17-16 with six minutes to go in the third quarter. Instead, kicker Neil Rackers hit the crossbar from 50 yards out (thank you breezy day!), and the Ravens took over from their own 40 yard line. The heretofore invisible man, Lee Evans, made the first postseason catch of his career, and it looked to be a huge one, setting the Ravens up at the Houston 9-yard line with a chance to go up by at least a full single touchdown and hopefully more. Ray Rice ran to the five, and then fumbled to the two (aside – what’s up with Rice, a dude who fumbles about as regularly as Joe Flacco shaves his upper lip lately, being unable to get through a divisional playoff game without putting the ball on the turf? He did it in Indy in 09, in Pittsburgh last year, and now in B’More yesterday. He got lucky in that the ball rolled right to Ben Grubbs, but it’s a bit unsettling that he gets slippery fingers in the biggest games) and the Ravens were set up with 3rd-and-goal from there.
A great stand by the Texans’ defense prevented the Ravens from getting in, and as they had eschewed the field goal try, the score would remain 17-13.
We can debate the decision to go for it on 4th-and-goal ad nauseum – personally, I would have been more comfortable going up 20-13 at the time, putting a full touchdown’s distance between the teams on the scoreboard. While I can fully understand John Harbaugh’s challenging his team to go get half a yard and win the damn playoff game NOW, my thinking also takes into account the Ravens’ shoddy resume when it comes to short-yardage blocking, not only yesterday, but all season long.
At this point, Ravens fans are more comfortable when the team faces a 3rd-and-4 or 5 than a third and very short. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but anybody who has watched all 17 games so far this year can tell you that the Ravens can’t be counted on to push the pile for a yard or two when they need to most. Not only did this bugaboo pop up in the goalline stand yesterday, but it came about again at the end of the game. After a booth review had moved Ray Rice’s 2nd-and-1 run back half a yard with 1:44 remaining, and it became impossible for the team to just kneel and run out the clock, they again failed to pick up less than a yard when it could have won them the game, as Vonta Leach got stuffed in the backfield for a loss. That inability gave the Texans a sliver of hope that they shouldn’t have had, and while the Ravens were able to hold on in the end, it may have cost them as Ed Reed appeared to be injured on the game’s final play. If the offense can pick up a damn yard, Reed is sitting comfortably on the bench celebrating at that point, instead of flying through the air to bail his team out once again.
Of course, the seeds were planted for that entire sequence on the Ravens’ previous possession.
After a wonderful drive (really their first -and only – of the day) that moved the ball from their own 29 to inside the Texans’ 30, and took over four minutes off the clock, the Ravens were in position to not only potentially kick that field goal that they had decided against earlier to go up 20-13, but to continue to bleed the clock and at least force Houston to burn precious time outs. Gary Kubiak tipped his hand that he was going to do exactly that, stopping the clock after a 5-yard Rice run put the ball at the Texans’ 26 with 3:04 to go.
Enter Cam Cameron.
Two incomplete passes – and two free stoppages of the clock later – Billy Cundiff connected from 44 yards to cap off the scoring for the day. However, there were still nearly three minutes remaining, and the Texans still had two timeouts, instead of the none they likely would have had the Ravens simply ran the ball on second and third down.
All of this added up to make the game’s final minutes much more stressful than they really needed to be. Thanks for that, Cam.
Speaking of Rice, he was genuinely overshadowed by his counterpart, Arian Foster. While Rice managed a paltry 60 yards on 21 carries and 20 yards on 4 receptions, Foster became the first opponent to ever rush for over 100 yards against the Ravens in a playoff game, and he nearly did it in the first half. The Texans’ running back finished the day with 132 yards on 27 carries, and added 22 yards on five receptions. The Ravens’ defensive line and linebackers, despite being rested, were pushed around by Houston’s offensive line all day. Not only in the running game, but in the passing game as well, as rookie quarterback T.J. Yates was not sacked a single time all afternoon.
Terrell Suggs did not Ball So Hard yesterday. In fact, aside from a stop of Foster on third down following the goal line stand that forced the Texans to punt from their end zone, he was relatively silent.
Yates, for his part, took what the Ravens gave him, but was also the beneficiary of some uncharacteristic slippery fingers from Ed Reed. Reed – though he got the key interception when the team needed him most, late in the fourth quarter – dropped two in the first half that likely would have helped put the game away much, much earlier. Ray Lewis also had a potential pick bounce off his shoulder. So while the Ravens were able to pick Yates off three times (two by Lardarius Webb), they very easily could have had five or six picks.
Joe Flacco, on the other hand, didn’t have nearly the luxurious pocket that Yates enjoyed. He was sacked five times, and was under constant duress. When he did have time to throw in the first half, he was betrayed by his receivers, as Anquan Boldin, Ed Dickson, and Torrey Smith all dropped catchable balls that, again, probably would have helped put the game away much earlier. Webb seemed to be the only guy in purple who could catch in the first half.
The Ravens were gifted some great field position by turnovers early, and took advantage. Their two touchdown “drives” of the day were 2 and 34 yards, respectively. After putting up 17 points in the first quarter, they took a nap until the fourth, and allowed Houston to hang around.
Going that long without scoring won’t fly next week in New England. After a 14/27, 176 yard day, the Flacco bashers are sure to be out in full force again this week, blatantly disregarding the aforementioned offensive line and receiving woes.
Whatever. Just like last week, my advice for Ravens fans is to stress out on Sunday – Saturday if you really can’t wait. Spend the time until then enjoying this, and soaking in the Festivus atmosphere. There are only three other teams still alive at this point. The Ravens are in their second AFC Championship game in four seasons.
Festivus Maximus is one win away.