I won’t be one of these insufferable goofs who says that the Ravens are “the worst” 12-4 team ever or somesuch nonsense. No “bad” team wins 12 games in the NFL, and every team that wins 12 or more games in a season has at least some amount of luck sprinkled in throughout the campaign.
What I will say is this – the Ravens are perhaps one of the LEAST INSPIRING 12-4 teams in recent memory. Let’s look around the league at some of the other games featuring teams headed to the postseason against teams that will be playing golf next week:
Steelers 41 Browns 9
Jets 38 Bills 7
Patriots 38 Dolphins 7
Falcons 31 Panthers 10
Four games won by an average of nearly 29 points.
And then we have our game – Ravens 13 Bengals 7. A game that went down to the wire. A game that the Ravens only won because Cincy turned the ball over five times. A game that still required a last second head-scratching throw by Carson Palmer from the Ravens 2-yard line on 4th-and-goal resulting in an incompletion.
When those other teams were all making statements, rolling into the Playoffs with a good head of steam, the Ravens were struggling with the basement-dwelling Bungles, getting outgained 395-199 on their own field, and looking woefully inept on offense and average at best on defense.
Of course, there was another Playoff team in the AFC that had a much worse day than the Ravens, and it just so happens to be the one that they will see in next week’s Wild Card game. The Kansas City Chiefs were completely dominated by the Oakland Raiders, who handed Kansas City their first loss in Arrowhead all season, 31-10. With the Steelers’ decimation of Cleveland, it was that Chiefs’ loss, combined with a late Adam Vinatieri field goal that lifted the Colts over the Titans, which dictated that the Ravens will now travel to Kansas City in round 1, as opposed to again going to Indianapolis.
It’s easier to look forward after yesterday, because looking back is, for the most part, just cringe-inducing. The Ravens were ugly on both sides of the ball.
- 2/11 on 3rd down
- Time of possession – 25:18
- 3.6 yards per rushing play
- Four sacks allowed
- Two turnovers
- Four three-and-outs
- Four false start penalties (at HOME)
- Seven punts
- Stuffed on 2nd-and-1 and 3rd-and-1 with under 2:00 to play and a chance to run out the clock
- Zero sacks on 45 passing plays
- Allowed 7/17 on 3rd-down conversions
- Allowed 395 total yards
- Cincy time of possession – 34:42
To be fair, the defense did some OK things as well. First and foremost, Ed Reed. The man is just incredible. His two interceptions (for the second straight game) give him 8 for the season, which leads the entire NFL. Ed Reed leading the NFL in picks is nothing new, but the difference is that this year he did it while playing in only 10 games. Tied for second are Devin McCourtey of New England, Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh, and Asante Samuel of Philadelphia, who each had seven interceptions, and played in 16, 14, and 11 games, respectively.
In addition, the defense is to be commended for allowing only 7 points despite being on the field for nearly 35 minutes, as well as for causing five turnovers.
Flacco was an accurate 14/19, but for only 125 yards. He threw another interception and no touchdowns, bringing his total for the season to 1 score and 5 picks against Cincy, who continues to confound him. The offensive line was awful, and gave Joe very little time whenever he dropped back, but Flacco again looked slow and confused against the Bengals’ defense. His interceptions to Todd Heap was a result of the ball coming out about two seconds later than it needed to, and we saw none of the pocket mobility that he had started to show in previous weeks.
Speaking of the o-line, they weren’t much better run-blocking. Ray Rice found himself running into walls of orange all afternoon on his way to just 77 yards on 20 carries. Absent from the game plan again were the screen passes to Rice (although there was a very nice one to Todd Heap), or any attempts to get him the ball in space. For much of the afternoon, Rice was forced to help block, due to the aforementioned ineptitude of the o-line.
Derrick Mason came out after the game and basically admitted that many of the players are frustrated with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s play-calling (Ray Rice was visibly annoyed a few times Sunday), but stated that his teammates need to just suck it up and run the play that is called.
“I guess that has to be the theme of the playoffs — whatever is being called, we have to make it work,” Mason said. “We can no longer point the finger. We’ve got to make it work as an offensive unit. There’s no more excuses because excuses are going to get you beat. The teams that make excuses are going to have to sit at home next week, so we can’t make anymore excuses. Whatever play is called, we’ve got to make it work, so you can’t blame Cam [Cameron]. Whatever it is, we have to make it work.”
Unfortunately, the Ravens are dealing with some injury concerns coming out of this closely contested divisional game. Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed, Josh Wilson, Dannell Ellerbe, and Michael Oher all left the game at various points yesterday, not to return. The hope here is that all (or at least most) of those guys could have returned to game, but were held out for precautionary purposes once it became clear that the Ravens’ hopes of winning the AFC North were being summarily dismissed in Cleveland. In fact, after the game, Harbaugh stated that Oher and Ngata could have returned. Reed’s injury is to the rib area, and he said that he would need to talk to team doctors before knowing the severity.
The Ravens’ offensive struggles also denied Billy Cundiff another opportunity to set the NFL touchbacks record. Cundiff tied the record when he booted his 40th of the season after Ray Rice’s 7-yard touchdown. That score was the team’s final one of the day, despite coming with over 20 minutes of game clock remaining.
Let’s not let Sunday’s game get us too down about the team’s chances for postseason success, though. If you remember last year, the Ravens struggled to beat the Oakland Raiders in Week 17, and then subsequently went to New England and destroyed the Patriots a week later. Scan your memory bank even further and think back to Week 17 of the 2000 season – the Ravens had an ugly win against the New York Jets, and Vinny Testaverde threw for 481 yards against the best defense of all time. The Ravens would barely allow that many yards passing combined over the next four games on their way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXV.
As much as it may not feel like it, the Ravens have still managed to put together a nice little four game winning streak following the gut-punch against Pittsburgh, and are a very respectable 7-2 since the bye week. Let’s also remind ourselves that even if they had beaten the Bengals 35-0, they would still be going to the same place – Arrowhead – Sunday at 1 pm. The postseason is here, every team is 0-0, and anybody can get hot and on a roll at this point. Also on the bright side, there is very little chance that the Ravens will have to face #18 in blue on their way to Dallas. Brady or Roethlisberger certainly, but no Manning.
Standing in the way first are Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, and the Kansas City Chiefs. Let’s hope our walking wounded get healthy over the next six days and go into Kansas City and make us forget all about the Bengals debacle.