Archive for January, 2009

Santa Hates the Squealers Right Back

January 14, 2009

Remember a few weeks back, when we told you about how those evil scrooges up in Pittsburgh hate Santa Claus?  Well, judging by the loot he left under my tree this Christmas, the jolly ol’ fat man hates those a$$holes right back.




Alright, so maybe the elf that made my hat dipped into the Xmas egg nog before he got off work and thus messed up his head:beak ratio while stitching.  It’s the thought that counts, little elf, and the thought is right on.


Extra! Extra! Steelers Fans are Idiots!

January 12, 2009

Hey, towel-wavers, don’t be mad at me.  I don’t make the news, I just report it.

Fortunately for yinzers, science has proven that it only takes a meager 45 IQ points (per rag) to wave a rag around.

A Steelers fan stretching his intellectual capacity to the limit

And no, I didn’t doctor those at all.  But, for the record, I think I did see one that said something like “Kerry Collins IQ = 145.”  Riiiiiiight.

Ravens 13 Titans 10 (The WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND Game)

January 12, 2009

My buddy Goob, one of the many Ravens fans that made the trip, giving LP Field a proper B’More salute. 

October 5

  • Total Yards: Ravens 285 Titans 210
  • Rushing Yards: Ravens 132 Titans 47
  • Matt Stover misses a 45-yard field goal
  • A controversial call by the officals extends Tennessee’s game-winning drive
  • Despite being dominated, Titans win, 13-10

January 10

  • Total Yards:  Titans 391 Ravens 211
  • Rushing Yards: Titans 116 Ravens 50
  • Rob Bironas misses a 51-yard field goal
  • A controversial non-call by the officals extends Baltimore’s game-winning drive
  • Despite being dominated, Ravens win, 13-10

How’s that for a bit of cosmic justice?  The universe righted itself in Nashville on Saturday evening, as the Titans and Ravens played what was nearly an exact mirror image of their previous 2008 meeting, right down to the final score.  As a result, the Baltimore Ravens’ most improbable of seasons continues next week in the AFC Championship Game.

The Ravens came out looking like a team that had never had a bye week.  They appeared tired and lethargic, missing tackles on defense and sputtering on offense, as the Titans jumped out to a 7-0 lead on their 2nd drive.  That possession was a 65-yarder that featured a 37-yard swing pass to Chris Johnson, who juked Bart Scott like he was standing still, on the very first play.  Johnson capped it off by scoring what would be the Titans’ lone TD of the day on an 8-yard run.

You read that right.  Despite putting up 391 (!) yards of total offense, the Titans would only find the end zone once; thanks to a Ravens defense that decided that damn ball belongs to them, thank you very much.  After embarrassing the NFL’s #1 team in terms of turnover differential last week, the Ravens fleeced the #2 Titans to the tune of 3 turnovers, 2 fumbles and an interception, every one of which came in the Ravens’ red zone.

Kerry Collins had a pretty good day, all things considered, but his ill-advised, off-balance, back-foot toss that Samari Rolle hauled in at the 9-yard line was pretty awful.  That pick was particularly demoralizing for Tennessee, due to the fact that that particular drive had started on their own 1 yard line, and they had narrowly avoided the safety twice.

On the “damn that turnover hurt” meter though, that one was probably registered the lowest of the three.

LenDale “Stupid Fat” White’s fumble with 36 seconds remaining in the first half denied the Titans the chance to go into the locker room at halftime with a slim lead.  Perhaps the most crucial turnover, though, was Alge Crumpler’s.  Crumpler, who caught the game winning TD pass in Week 5, got blown up by Jim Leonhard and Bart Scott simultaneously just 6 yards from paydirt.  The ball went a-flyin, and Fabian Washington covered it up on the 1, protecting the Ravens slim 10-7 lead with just 9 minutes to go.

Bironas was eventually able to tie the game at 10, but the 4:23 showing on the clock was just enough for Joe Cool to get to work and lead the Ravens to the win.

Aside from his 2 deep connections, a 48-yard threading of the needle to Derrick Mason for the Ravens’ only TD of the day, and a 37-yard floater that Mark Clayton bailed him out on, Flacco had another so-so performance.  He was just 11/22 for 161 yards and the TD, but he again protected the ball wonderfully, and has now gone 3 straight games without giving up the rock.  And he was good when it was most crucial, going 2-for-3 for 31 yards on the final drive.  That included a 23-yard hook up with Todd Heap (who had dropped one earlier) on 3rd-and-2, a play that will surely have Tennessee and their fans steaming for years.

The play clock appeared to expire about a half-second before Flacco snapped the ball, yet no flag came.  The fact of the matter is, that happens ALL THE TIME.  Hell, it happened to the Titans in the first half.  We’ll chalk this one up to more of that cosmic justice, retribution for the ticky-tack flag on Terrell Suggs for roughing the passer in the first meeting.

Matt Stover was true from 43, and the Ravens once again ended the Titans’ season in the Divisional Round, on the shores of the Cumberland River.

Along with the turnovers and the non-call, there was one other huge break that went the Ravens’ way.  Chris “Stupid Fast” Johnson, who had already racked up 100 total yards of offense, didn’t play another snap after about the 5-minute mark in the 2nd quarter. CBS never showed us the play where it occurred, but Johnson evidently tweaked his ankle.  And Thank God(‘s linebacker?) for that.  If Johnson had played the whole game, I’ve a feeling this recap would have quite a different tone.

We’re not complaining. We’re certainly not apologizing.  Those kinds of things go your way when you’re in the midst of something special.

It’s a beautiful week in Baltimore, as our Cinderella Ravens now have a date in Pittsburgh for the right to go to the Super Bowl.

Drink it up, Ravens faithful.  Festivus Maxiumus is one W away.

Divisional Playoff Preview: Ravens @ Titans

January 9, 2009

In a rematch of the 2000 AFC Divisional Playoff Game, the Ravens travel to Tennessee to take on the #1 seed Titans.  There are enough similarities, even 8 years later, to give many Ravens and Titans fans a strong case of deja vu.  Jeff Fisher is still the man in charge for the “Flaming Thumbtacks” (credit: TMQ), and 8 players from that game will again be on the field Saturday, although some of them have changed sides.  For the Titans, LB Keith Bullock, DE Jevon Kearse, and P Craig Hentrich all played for the losing side on January 7, 2000, while the Ravens return Ray Lewis and Matt Stover from their championship team.  The three Titans-turned-Ravens from that day are Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, and Lorenzo Neal.  Other changes of note include John Harbaugh replacing Brian Billick, and “LP Field” taking the place of “Adelphia Coliseum.”

It’s also a rematch of the Week 5 contest, won 13-10 by the Titans.

The Titans have not played a meaningful game since Week 16, when they locked up the #1 seed with a victory over Pittsburgh.  Add in the Playoff bye, and it’s been 3 weeks now since the Titans played a snap that mattered.  The Ravens, meanwhile, have been fighting for their lives every game this season, and with the premature Week 2 bye, that’s now 16 consecutive weeks of full-tilt football.  A Titans fan would paint that with the “fresher team has the advantage” brush, but for Ravens fans, we’ll take the team riding the wave of intensity over the one who has to basically re-start their engines (especially after witnessing, first-hand, a Wild Card team come to our house and beat our “rested” #2 seeded team 2 years ago).

We dedicated the entire previous post to the running games of these two teams, which are their bread-n-butter on offense.  With these defenses though, this one will likely come down to which quarterback is able to put his team in good positions, while avoiding costly turnovers.  Holding onto the football has been a staple this year of both Joe Flacco’s and Kerry Collins’ game.  Joe Cool is averaging just 1 turnover every 2 games over his past 12 (5 INT, 1 fum), while Collins has turned it over only 5 times since throwing 2 picks in Baltimore on October 5.  Collins, despite his 36-years, still has a strong arm, and the Ravens won’t be able to pack everything inside the numbers like they did against Chadwick and his rag arm.  Tennessee relies heavily on their tight ends, Bo Scaife (58-561-2) and Alge Crumpler (24-257-1), but WR Justin Gage, who missed the Week 5 matchup, averages 19 yards per catch, and had 6 scores.

Flacco just missed on several deep throws last Week in Miami, so expect the Ravens to continue to try to take some shots.  The Titans have a talented secondary, and the Cortland Finnegan – Derrick Mason battle, which got a bit chippy the last go round, will be critical.  Mason is Flacco’s favorite target, but Finnegan, 24, had 17 passes defended and 5 picks this season.  Safeties Chris Hope and Michael Griffin round out a group that picked off quarterbacks 18 times.

The Titans can bring plenty of pressure on Joe Cool, especially with the return of both DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Albert Haynesworth.  Jevon Kearse, who by name alone may strike a bit of fear into the hearts of Ravens fans, is not what he once was – Kearse has registered exactly 3.5 sacks in each of the past 3 seasons.  The Titans have great depth on the DL too, though, as evidenced by the rotation of no-names that played a huge part in beating Pittsburgh.  They protected superbly last week against the Dolphins, but this week the Ravens OL won’t be able to focus too much on any one rusher, and Flacco will need to continue to show his improved pocket presence, stepping up and releasing the ball quickly.

Titans’ return man Chris Carr is solid, averaging 28.1 on kickoffs and 10.1 on punts, and the Ravens will need to contain him to win what will likely be a game-long field position battle.  Yamon Figurs is a forgotten man for the Ravens, as Tom Zbikowski has taken over on kickoffs and Jim Leonhard on punts.  Neither has breakaway speed, but both do a great job running north-and-south, and protect the football well, both things that Figurs seemingly forgot how to do in his sophomore slump.  Unfortunately, Al Del Greco (remember his day in 2000?) has been replaced by Rob Bironas, who was 29/33 this year.

Before we give our prediction, here’s a fun story about Kerry Collins and his country-singing aspirations:

Life hasn’t always been a string of wins and cheering fans for Collins, who completed rehab for alcoholism after public embarrassments in the late 1990s such as a driving-under-the-influence arrest and a bar scuffle with a teammate.

Although his personal life is now as solid as this season’s won-loss record, he mines those dark days to find creative inspiration.For instance, the song I Don’t Need the Whiskey Anymore, about a man who trades his alcohol addiction for an addiction to a woman, contains his favorite line that he’s written: “I still get intoxicated but my head ain’t quite as sore.” Disclaimer:  Alcoholism isn’t funny.  But Kerry Collins is. 

We’ll see how sore his head is Saturday night, when his new addiction is apparently throwing passes to Ed Reed.

For the most part, this will be a slow, plodding-defensive affair.  However, it being a bit higher scoring than most are predicting, due to a couple big plays by each side.  Flacco-to-Clayton will moonshine outshine Collins-to-Gage though, as the Ravens once again give Nashville plenty of inspiration for more depressing country music.

Ravens 20 Titans 13

Ravens vs. Titans : Running Backs

January 7, 2009

The Ravens face the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round Saturday, a team that features a multi-headed rushing attack of their own to counter the Ravens’ 3-man backfield.  Let’s take a look at how the backs compare.


Chris Johnson – My Man Dewey gave Chris Johnson the nickname “Stupid Fast” back in June.  Johnson clocked a 4.24 40-yard dash at this year’s rookie combine.  He racked up 1228 yards this season and found the end zone 10 times (1 receiving).  His worst performance of the year was a 14-carry, 8-yard showing against Chicago in Week 10, and his best was the 168 yards he gained on 18 rushes against Kansas City in Week 7.  The last time he saw the field was in Week 16 against Pittsburgh’s #2 rush defense, and he played well, averaging 4.3 ypc on 16 carries.  The Ravens held Johnson in check in Week 5, as he ran for only 44 yards on 18 attempts, and caught 2 passes for a measly 4 yards.

Chris Johnson had a strong rookie season, and will be a force in this league for a good while, but this is his first taste of the postseason.  One thing he has going for him this week is that he has already seen the Ravens defense, so he knows what he is in for.  Knowing about it and doing something about it are two totally different things though.  Could Ray Lewis have Johnson hearing footsteps and alligator-arming passes by the end of this one like he did to Eddie George 8 years ago?  Ya damn right.

LenDale White – If Chris Johnson is “Stupid Fast,” then White is “Stupid Fat” (although he is forever cool in my book).  White is the Titans’ short yardage bruiser, used most often near the goal line.  White was very effective in that role, scoring 15 TDs this season.  He  also had some big yardage games though – he had 99 yards or more 3 times, and even broke an 80-yarder against KC.  Against the Ravens, White was even less of a factor than Johnson, carrying 3 times for 4 yards (on one of those runs, Lewis hit him almost as hard as White hits the post-game buffet table.  HEYYYOOO!!!)

There isn’t much chance LenDale White has a big day Saturday.  With “Stupid Fat” though, if the Titans get down near the goal line, the Ravens may be hard-pressed to repeat the kind of stand they managed against Miami in the first quarter last week.

White had this to say regarding the matchup with the Ravens’ #3 rushing defense:

“I’m 240 pounds for a reason”  – um…the reason being you can’t stop eating?

“I welcome anything at any given time” – “as long as it’s covered in barbecue sauce”


Le’Ron McClain – McClain was still playing second fiddle to Willis McGahee back in Week 5, but still had a big hand in helping the Ravens control the ball for nearly 10 minutes more than Tennessee.  He carried 11 times for 51 yards, scored the Ravens’ lone TD, and also added 12 yards on 2 receptions.  Now, he is the feature back in Cam Cameron’s offense, having carried 18 or more times in 7 straight games, and has racked up 977 yards and 11 TDs.  Although the Titans have a good bit of film on him by now, they won’t know what hit them when the “Pain Train” pulls into Nashville at 4:30 Saturday afternoon.

Willis McGahee – McGahee carried 22 times for 64 yards in the first meeting with the Titans, but hasn’t had more than 11 carries since Week 10.  He has benefitted from McClain wearing down defenses lately though, and had critical late-game long runs against Dallas and Miami.  Willis is averaging over 10 ypc over his last 3 games (19 carries).  With Ray Rice out since early December, McGahee has served mainly as the Ravens 3rd-down back.

Ray Rice – Rice is expected to return to action this week, after being out since the Washington game with a shin bruise.  He was dressed and available last week, but with the Ravens holding a comfortable lead for most of the game, the coaching staff decided to give Rice another week of rest.  A comfortable lead would be a welcome surprise this week though, and Rice will likely be needed.  He is the best receiver of the Ravens’ 3 backs, with 273 yards on 33 receptions.  He had turned himself into a first-down machine before getting hurt, displaying an uncanny ability to move the chains on even the longest of 3rd downs.  Not playing since Week 14 could be a blessing or a curse for Rice – he will definitely have the freshest legs, but he may also be a bit rusty.  A Divisional Playoff game is no time to try to shake off rust, especially for a rookie, so it will be interesting to see how much action Rice gets.

The other variable in all this is, of course, the defenses.  The Ravens allowed 81.4 rushing yards per game in the regular season and just 52 to Miami in the Wild Card game.  Tennessee was 6th in the league, giving up 93.9 ypg, and are getting DT Albert “Curb Stomp” Haynesworth back this week.

It seems that neither team has much of an advantage on the ground in this one.  It’s easy enough to predict that whichever team is better able to run the ball will likely win;  however, in Week 5, the Ravens outgained TEN 132-47 on the ground, and had a TOP advantage of 34:28-25:32 – and we all know how that ended.

Still, to dominate like that and lose is pretty damn fluky.  The “run the ball, stop the run” formula is pretty reliable, especially in January.   Based on the Ravens’ demonstrated ability to contain the Titans’ backs, as well as to move the ball with their own, we give the purple and black the ground nod heading into Saturday.

Anonymity Lost. "NestMinder" Outed.

January 6, 2009

When we started this site, the scary world of blogging was just too intimidating to jump into headfirst, so I wanted to keep a bit of anonymity to my posts.  Well, with Andy Ratner’s feature on in today’s Baltimore Sun, all anonymity has been tossed to the wayside.  When Andy first approached me for an interview (with photos!?), I was a bit hesitant for that reason alone, but decided it was too cool to pass up.

And so, you now can all see who I (NestMinder) be.

This is the NestMinder.   I was born in B’More, then grew up in, and currently live in, this fine town.  I attended this institution.  I’ve been told many a time that I look like this guy.  Along with my fierce love for the Ravens and my constantly strained relationship with the Orioles, I am also a huge fan of this, this place, and these guys, and I am a Dad to one of these.

I don’t do all this shiz alone though.  Nick-a-What!?, as he has been known, takes care of the technical aspects of the Nest, including that ever-changing banner you see up there, the Photoshop wizardry, and makin sure the search engines can find us.  I’ll let him tell you a bit more about himself.

As I, Nick-A-What!?, take the reins here, I feel that I should tell you that I am every bit the sports nut as Nestminder… juuuussst without the dramatic punching the hole in the wall thing.  I have been known to throw a cat or two though.  I grew up here and moved to Columbia, MD after graduating from the very same fine University as Nestminder.  I used to be in a band with the lead singer of this band (before they started touring the world..whoops) when we lived in Fells Point.  I’m also a huge fan of thisthis and this.

So, that’s us.  Thanks for reading!

Welcome, New Readers!

January 6, 2009

To any of you who may be here for the first time (thanks to Andy Ratner’s piece on Ravens bloggers – us, mostly – in today’s Baltimore Sun), welcome!

Here are some links to past articles to give you a feel for what this site is all about:

If you like what you see, please subscribe!  The links to do so are to the upper left, with the option to use an RSS reader (a warning though:  our feed is glitchy with some readers) or to subscribe via e-mail, whereby any new posts at the Nest will be delivered straight to your inbox (works like a charm).

Ravens 27 Dolphins 9 (The DOLPHINS DON'T TURN THE WHAT WHERE, NOW? Game)

January 5, 2009


All we heard all week was how the Miami Dolphins were the stingiest team regarding not turning the ball over in the NFL.  Not just this year, but any year.  Well, Ed Reed and the Ravens defense had a little something to say about that, as the Ravens won their first playoff game since an eerily similar 20-3 win in Miami in 2001.

In the match-up of strengths, the Ravens forced 5 turnovers, nearly 40% of the total amount the Dolphins had in all 16 regular season games (13).  Chad Pennington, rattled by Rex Ryan’s blitz, threw up ducks, forgetting that throwing is illegal when #20 in purple is on the field, and ended up with FOUR interceptions in 60 minutes of football, after throwing just 7 in his previous 960 minutes.

Leading the INT-fest was Fast Eddie Reed, who had two picks for the 3rd consecutive game, and the 5th time in his past 7 contests.  The first of the two in Miami was a thing of beauty, as Reed did his best Willie Mays impression to haul in the pass downfield, then turned into the scoring machine that he is, cruising 64 yards with a convoy of blockers into the end zone for his 4th touchdown of 2008.  On the play, Haloti Ngata absolutely destroyed Miami WR Ted Ginn, for whom the pass was originally intended, as he tried to chase down Reed.  Ngata could be seen flexing over the roadkill that had become of Ginn as Reed hopped to paydirt.

Reed’s second pick, while not as exciting, was every bit as timely and important, as Miami was driving with eyes on closing the Baltimore lead to 10 going into the final period.  Reed covered 30 or so yards of field in the blink of an eye, reading Pennington like a book and stepping in front of Patrick Cobbs to put an end to that nonsense.

What more is there to say about Ed Reed?  In the span of about 4 months, he has gone from “will he ever play again?” to having arguably his best season and forcing his name into any future conversations regarding the best safeties to ever play the game.  If this man does not win his 2nd DPOY award this year, they should just stop giving the award. (Edit:  James Harrison won it.  What a bunch of BS.  “AP” stands for “A$$ Pounders.”)

Since there isn’t enough space on the Web to give Ed the amount of praise he deserves, we’ll move on.

What was slightly unsettling, for much of the game yesterday, was how the offense was unable to capitalize on all those early Miami turnovers.   They were moving the ball well on their first drive until Le’Run McClain fumbled (as I’ve worried about here lately), and did well to answer Miami’s ensuing FG drive with an 11-play 3-pointer of their own, but sputtered for long periods.  They went 3-and-out after Jim Leonhard’s 2nd quarter INT set them up at the Dolphins’ 45, did the same when Fabian Washington picked off Pennington’s first pass of the 2nd half and returned it to the Miami 39, and did it AGAIN after Reed’s 2nd pick.  To their credit, they were able to turn Patrick Cobbs’ fumble into 6 with a “Pain Train” McClain 8-yard run, but let’s remember that they only had 19 yards to cover to accomplish that.

Joe Flacco was slingin the ball early, and made some very impressive throws.  He stepped up nicely to avoid the rush on a 3rd-and-10 to hit Derrick Mason for 11, and his 40 yard frozen rope to Mason on the sideline at the end of the first half was a throw that not many QBs can make.  However, he did miss (barely) on a couple deep balls; throws he had been hitting perfectly for the last several games, but we’ll cut Joe some slack since he did become the first rookie QB to ever win a road playoff game.  Kudos, Mr. Flacco.

And let’s not forget Willis McGahee, reduced to a role-player, who broke 2 tackles on his way to a 48-yard gain that, for all intents and purposes, sealed the game.

Rex Ryan’s defense was dominant, as usual, sacking Pennington 3 times to go along with those 5 turnovers, and holding Miami to just 52 yards rushing.  They scared the Dolphins out of anything resembling that “Wild Cat” crap, stuffing it cold the first few times the fish tried it (hey, Tuna…your Wild Cat smells a lot like fish…or is that…?)  Possibly the most clutch play they (those not named “Reed,” that is) turned in came when about 4 Ravens burst through the same gap in the 4th quarter, causing Pennington and Ginn to botch the snap for a 19-yard loss, during a time when the Fish were still hell-bent on trying to make things interesting.  If Ray Lewis gets to Pennington an instant later, Ginn had a TON of room and blockers in front of him.

The Ravens look ready to go into Tennessee and pound Kerry Collins, Chris “stupid fast” Johnson, and Lendale “stupid fat” White into the same kind of submission.

Cam Cameron’s offense, though, needs to tighten up a bit before next Saturday.  The Titans’ D is a whole different animal than the one they saw, and struggled a bit against, yesterday.  Some people have been complaining about Cameron’s play-calling in the 4th quarter yesterday, when the Ravens twice threw deep when leading 20-9 at the start of the 4th quarter.  I have a sneaking suspicion that these are the same people who whined for all those years about Brian Billick being “too conservative.”  The Ravens got the looks they liked from the Miami D (no safety deep) and decided to go for the knockout punch.  B’More Birds’ Nest would like to take this time to officially endorse this tactic.  This is the new Ravens, folks.  Our QB is Joe Flacco – not Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Jeff Blake, or the corpse of Steve McNair.  Do you think Peyton Manning’s Colts come out and run up the gut 3 times in that situation?  How about Tom Brady’s Patriots?  Just a little more air under either of those tosses, and these same people would be screaming for joy as Mark Clayton streaked to the end zone.  I know, I know – we’re fans, we complain.  But, come on – you can’t have it both ways.  Keep puttin’ it up there Joe.

The Ravens broke their playoff drought in a familar way, against a familiar foe.  Up next, another familiar foe, in a familiar round, in a familiar stadium:  The Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round, at Adelphia Coliseum LP field.

Deja vu, anyone?

Wild Card Playoff Preview: Ravens @ Dolphins

January 2, 2009

First off, I gotta say that it’s a pleasure to be putting together our first playoff preview here at the Nest, in our 2nd year of existence.  What seemed like a near impossibility at the beginning of the season has unexpectedly came to pass – the Ravens are in the post-season, and look poised to make some noise.  Even more surprising though, is the Ravens’ first-round opponent, the Miami Dolphins.  The Dolphins, just 1-15 (and we all remember the 1, right?) a season ago, have put together a turnaround that makes, what the Ravens engineered, pale in comparison.  Furthermore, that these two teams are now meeting in the first round of the playoffs is a testament to the fact that NFL really does stand for “Not For Long.”  They should both be commended for making it to their 17th games of 2008, but only one of them will earn the right to play an 18th.

The Ravens and Dolphins are both white-hot entering the postseason.  Baltimore has won 2 in a row, 9 of 11, and 4 of 5 on the road.  Miami, meanwhile, has strung together 5 straight to close the season, and won 9 of their final 10 games after losing to the Ravens in Week 7.  Impressive, no doubt.  However, let’s take a closer look at that 9/10 streak.

  • Week 10: Miami 21 Seattle 19.
  • Week 11: Miami 17 Oakland 15
  • Week 12: New England 48 Miami 28
  • Week 13: Miami 16 St. Louis 12
  • Week 14: Miami 14 San Francisco 9
  • Week 16: Miami  38 Kansas City 31

Now, a win is a win in the NFL.  But did they really beat the Seahawks (4-12), Raiders (5-11), Rams (2-14), and Chiefs (2-14) by a grand total of 15 points?  I’m sorry, but they deserve to get called out on that.  Also, in an important division game against the Patriots, they got their tail fins handed to them.  Bill Belichick, a huge cheater defensive-minded coach, was not surprised by the “Wildcat” the 2nd go round, and stuffed it cold.  We have a pretty sound defensive staff here in B’More, and the Ravens had absolutely no trouble stopping the Wildcat back in October.  As Ray Lewis says, “they still have to line up and play football.”

Chad Pennington, who won his 2nd “NFL Comeback Player of the Year” in 3 years (um…hey dork.  how about you stop “going away?”), manages the game for Miami. He threw 19 TDs to go with only 7 INTs, for a 97.4 rating – good for 2nd in the league.  The Dolphins as a team were very stingy, tying an NFL 16-game record in turning the ball over just 13 times.  The turnover battle will be a match-up of strengths in this one, as the Ravens led the league with 37 takeaways.  AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December, Ed Reed, was tops in the NFL with 9 interceptions.

Ronnie Brown paces the Dolphins on the ground.  Brown ran for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008, but Ricky Williams provides a good 2nd option, as he went for another 659 yards.  Miami’s leading receiver, Ted Ginn Jr., caught 56 balls for 790 yards and 2 TDs.

The Ravens’ Joe Flacco has been very impressive on the road in his rookie season.  If the Ravens want to see this postseason run go anywhere, he will have to continue to do so, and do so with the pressure turned up another level.   Flacco was sacked twice by our old friend Joey Porter in Week 7, but turned in a strong 232-yard, 1 TD performance.  Willis McGahee loves going home to play in South Beach, and he racked up 105 yards and 1 TD against the fish in the 1st meeting, and also nearly scored on a long screen pass before fumbling.  Since that first meeting, though, the Ravens’ other backs have stepped up.  Le’Ron “Pain Train” McClain wound up leading the team with 902 yards and 10 TDs, and rookie Ray Rice’s 4.2 ypc was tops among the three.  Rice, who missed the last 3 games, is expected to return to action Sunday.

The Dolphins are most vulnerable through the air, though, allowing nearly 230 ypg.  Derrick Mason has been Flacco’s favorite target all year, as evidenced by his 80 catches and 1037 yards.  Joe Cool has been getting more and more comfortable with Mark Clayton recently though, and Clayton will need to show up consistently for the Ravens to keep playing.  He had only 1 catch for 13 yards in the first meeting.  The Dolphins had 41 sacks on the season to the Ravens’ 34, so Flacco will need to safely take sacks when the situation calls for it (his tendency to still fumble on every sack really worries us).

All year the Ravens have had no problem beating up on lesser teams.  The Miami Dolphins, despite their equal record, ARE a lesser team.  The Dolphins have shown that they have trouble even with the teams they are supposed to beat.  To their credit, they win those games…but this is the Playoffs, and this “little engine that could” crap comes to a screeching halt, courtesy of the purple-and-black.

Ravens 31 Dolphins 13