Archive for November, 2011

Ravens Bidding Permanent Farewell to Westminster?

November 30, 2011

An article in The Baltimore Sun by Ravens columnist Mike Preston has people in Ravenstown all worked up this morning.

Nothing new there.

For once, though, our anger isn’t directed at Preston himself for some perceived shot at our favorite team. Rather, it is our team themselves who have us foaming at the mouths – and it has nothing to do with their play on the field.

Instead it has to do with the location of the field where they will be not playing, but practicing, come Summer 2012.

In the piece, Ravens training camp might stay in Owings Mills, Preston says that the Ravens might elect to hold their annual training camp activities at the facility in Owings Mills (as they did in 2011 due to the NFL lockout) permanently moving forward, ending the longstanding tradition of holding summer practices at McDaniel College in Westminster.

The Ravens are involved in negotiations with McDaniel College officials about returning training camp to the Westminster campus, but the early indication is that the team will continue to hold summer practices at the team’s facility in Owings Mills.

The Ravens have financial concerns. They have to move their offices, equipment, weight and training rooms to McDaniel, and that costs money. I don’t know the exact costs, but we can assume that some of it is offset by the corporate sponsorship displayed around the practice fields in Westminster.

The Ravens will also cite convenience. Why do they want to deal with temporary conditions when everything they need is right there in Owings Mills?

I understand their points. I also know that head coaches are control freaks, and John Harbaugh is no different. He can keep his eye on everything in Owings Mills instead of having to use makeshift conditions and go back and forth from the practice fields to the hotels. At Owings Mills, everything can be done inside The Castle.

Once the Ravens announced there would be no training camp in Westminster earlier this year, you sensed this might be the end.

Actually, it never even occurred to me that it would be the beginning of the end for Westminster. If it indeed is, though, it would be nothing short of a crime against the purple community.

Personally, training camp is no big deal – I’ve been twice in my life. Sure, it was cool, but I much prefer game day in the fall. However, I understand that my situation is not the norm among Ravens fans.

I live 20 minutes from M&T Bank Stadium.

I have no children.

For a family with two or three Raven-loving kids, that happens to live in Hagerstown or Frederick or somewhere else not convenient to M&T, training camp offers a very appealing family-outing alternative to paying the sky-high ticket and concession prices and dragging the whole clan down to Baltimore for an afternoon. In addition to that, the overall experience for a child can be at least as, if not more, exciting at training camp, where they can get autographs and see their favorite players up close, as opposed to from a seat in the upper deck.

Training camp in Westminster is a tradition that goes back to the old Baltimore Colts days, and the Ravens used that nostalgia to their advantage when they came to town.


Times change, and so do finances, but I remember the first couple of training camps in Westminster.

Back then, the Ravens were trying to recapture some of the glory from the old Colts who trained at what was then known as Western Maryland College. The Ravens wanted to salvage that pipeline.

Baltimore fans were initially lukewarm to the Ravens, some still feeling ashamed by the similar methods with which Indianapolis took the Colts from Baltimore and Baltimore took the Browns from Cleveland.

The Ravens did everything they could to get the community involved and practically begged fans to come to camp. But it’s a different game now because the Ravens are the top draw in Baltimore. If they want to alienate a few thousand, maybe even as many as 10,000 fans, so be it.

But I’m not sure top Ravens officials really understand the bond between a city, especially this one, and training camp.

It doesn’t happen often, but Preston and Ravens fans will be on the same page with this one.

Could this be another case of Mike unnecessarily rousing the fan base though?

For what it’s worth, this morning on 105.7 The Fan, Steve Davis said that his sources with the Ravens disputed Preston’s claim that Westminster costs the team money, saying instead that they actually MAKE money due to companies buying advertising space at the college facilities. In addition, Davis indicated that, at the moment, it’s not a matter of the Ravens leaning toward leaving as it is a matter of them not addressing the situation just yet.

Owner Steve Bisciotti has said in the past that some of his favorite childhood memories are of watching the Colts at training camp in Westminster, and the decision ultimately rests with him. I can’t see Bisciotti depriving a new generation of Baltimore football fans those same kind of memories.

We’ll see what happens, but permanently moving training camp from McDaniel, regardless of how many free practices the team may decide to hold at M&T, would be a public relations nightmare, and would alienate a lot of fans.


GOOBVISION: Cleveland Doesn't Rock, It Sucks

November 29, 2011

When Drew Carey took over “The Price is Right” hosting duties from the legendary Bob Barker, that was all Goob needed to forever hate that place. Did you see the Cleveland fan that posted a video yelling at Browns Stadium for being a “factory of sadness?” Well, we think the stadium deserves a chance to respond!

Ravens 16 49ers 6 (The MERCILESS BEATING OF ALEX SMITH Game)

November 26, 2011

The Baltimore Ravens slogan, or team motto, if you will, for 2011 is “Relentless.”

Which is exactly how San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith would likely describe the Baltimore defense were you to ask him about it this morning. The Ravens tied a franchise record with nine sacks, harassing Smith as well as bottling up running back Frank Gore all night long while allowing the NFC West leaders only 170 total yards of offense. That they did all this without Ray Lewis in the lineup for the second consecutive game only makes the performance that much more impressive.

Terrell Suggs came alive after a couple quiet games to lead the Ravens with three sacks. Cory Redding and Haloti Ngata were also in the 49ers backfield all night, registering 2.5 and 2.0 sacks, respectively. While rookie Pernell McPhee didn’t manage any sacks of his own, his presence alone helped create opportunities for others, as he again played a superb game.

It was an old fashioned slobberknocker, as the Ravens offense managed only 253 total yards of their own. The difference, though, was that our quarterback is Joe Flacco, while theirs is Alex Smith. Flacco was a calm and efficient 15/23 for 161 yards and one touchdown, but most importantly, he (nor any other Raven) turned the ball over against the NFL’s leading takeaway unit.

Joe, sporting an awesome/hideous Fu manchu mustache, shone brightest on the Ravens’ first drive of the second half. After San Francisco had managed to tie the game at 6 on a 52-yard David Akers field goal, Flacco led the Ravens on a 16 play, 7:34 touchdown drive. On the series, Joe hit seven different receivers, and was 4/4 on third down passing, each time converting to move the chains, or, in the case of the fourth completion, to get his team into the end zone. His eight-yard strike to tight end Dennis Pitta to cap off the drive was one of his best throws of the season. Flacco has now put up consecutive games with a 100+ passer rating for the first time in 2011, and it’s no coincidence that these last two games have featured Ray Rice as the focal point of the offense.

Rice only managed 59 yards on 21 carries, but that was enough to keep the San Francisco defense, who entered the game allowing only 78 yards per game on the ground, honest. Ricky Williams added 29 yards on seven strong carries to give the Ravens 92 total rushing yards. Rice was disappointed that he was unable to break the 49ers streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown this season, but that was as much Cam Cameron’s fault as it was Ray’s.

While Cam is to be commended for his overall game plan, two plays again stick out in all Ravens fans’ minds as asinine examples of Cam trying to outsmart everybody, to the detriment of his team.

With the game tied at 3 in the second quarter, the offense had moved the ball from their own 35 (50 yards of it coming on the strength of a pass interference penalty, which is becoming one of the team’s best weapons; a welcome change from the Frank Walker years when it seemed like we were the victims, rather than the beneficiaries, of all those calls) all the way down to the 49ers’ 1-yard line. Facing second down and 1, we were all hoping to see #27 go straight ahead at least two, if not three, more times. Especially with the way the right side of the line was able to blow the Cincinnati Bengals (an extremely stout defense in their own right) off the ball down there last week, it was the obvious course of action.

Cam, though, got cute. He called for Rice to instead run outside to the right, and the speedy San Francisco defense made the Ravens pay, stopping Rice for a loss of four. On the next play, 3rd-and-goal from the 5, Cam went into his shell and called a ridiculous quarterback draw. Fu manFlacco was stopped for no gain, and the Ravens had to settle for a field goal.

Later on, with the team clinging to a 13-6 lead in the fourth quarter, they had moved the ball from their own 28 into San Fran territory. Facing 3rd-and-1 from the 46, they used up a timeout.

Ok, no big deal. As long as you convert the try, that’s not a bad use of the clock stoppage.

Bang it right ahead, right?

Of course not. Not Cam. Cam ran Ricky Williams outside to the right, the 49ers stopped for no gain, and the Ravens were forced to punt.

For the night, the Ravens were a very efficient 7/15 (46%) on third downs. That’s no small feat against such a strong defense. However, after going just 2/6 on 3rd-and-2 or less against the Bengals, they were 0-for-2 this week, and failed to score with a 2nd-and-goal from the one. These might seem like nit-picky gripes, but while it’s great that Flacco is so efficient throwing on 3rd-and-long, this team needs to find ways to start converting on 3rd-and-shorts down the stretch.

Alright, enough Cam. Back to the D. You really can’t say enough about the Ravens defense in this game. From Lardarius Webb’s gorgeous interception of Smith on a deep ball down the right sideline that prevented the 49ers from scoring before the half, to the relentless pass rush, to Albert McClellan filling in more than adequately for Ray Lewis at a position he had never played before, to Ed Reed making a good break on a pass intended for Michael Crabtree (though Ed should have caught the ball) to set up Suggs’ third sack on the very next play, Chuck Pagano’s unit was incredible. While they likely benefited from San Francisco’s cross country trip and short week, the fact remains that they still had to step up and take advantage of the team in front of them. They did exactly that.

A quick note on the officiating: Horrible as always in the NFL. Yes, the chop block on Gore that erased Ted Ginn Jr.’s long touchdown was technically the right call, as noted by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, but was ticky-tack nonetheless. The Ravens certainly benefited from the call, but some erroneous flags flew in San Fran’s favor as well (such as the block in the back on Webb’s long punt return – if you block a guy in the back, won’t he land on his stomach, and not, you know, his back? Come on, man). They also missed a facemask on Flacco that would have given the Ravens a first down in SF territory. Again, as always, the refs suck at their jobs.

The Ravens, by virtue of winning the first ever “HarBowl” become the AFC’s first 8-win team. Pittsburgh is obviously more than likely to join them on Sunday night, facing a terrible Kansas City team with no quarterback while the Steelers are well rested coming off their bye. New England will have their hands full with Philadelphia, but the Eagles are going to be without Dog Murderer Vick and Nnamdi, so Brady and Co. will also probably be at 8 wins come next week.

Regardless, the Ravens now have 10 days to rest and prepare to travel to Cleveland, where they desperately need to reverse their 2011 road woes.

HarBowl: John Gets the Best of Lil' Bro

November 25, 2011

Just like when they were kids…

49ers (9-1) @ Ravens (7-3)

November 24, 2011

The HarBowl is finally upon us, Baltimore. A game that looked to be a cake win when the schedule first came out is now anything but, as John’s brother and ex-Ravens quarterback Jim has his San Francisco team riding high on an 8-game winning streak. The 49ers can actually clinch a playoff spot with a win on Thanksgiving, quite an amazing feat. The Ravens have a tall task ahead of them, but if they can emerge victorious, they will become the AFC’s first 8-win team.

San Francisco wins with a ball-control offense and opportunistic defense, not dissimilar to the way we’ve seen our Ravens win a whole lot of football games over the past decade-plus. Their offense revolves around their running game and workhorse back Frank Gore. Gore is 7th in the NFL with 840 rushing yards and is averaging a robust 4.7 yards per carry. The Ravens, after getting run over roughshod by Marshawn Lynch in Seattle two weeks ago, seemed to have gotten their run defense back on track last week against the Bengals, holding Cedric Benson to 2.7 yards on 15 carries. Haloti Ngata had a poor game, and appears to be playing at less than 100%. Terrence Cody needs to pick up his game like it looked like he was going to at the start of the season. There are conflicting reports about whether or not Ray Lewis will suit up or will miss his second consecutive game; having #52 on the field, even at less than 100%, will go a long way to slowing down Gore, especially with Dannell Ellerbe once again banged up.

Quarterback Alex Smith has resurrected his career under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. The former #1 overall pick, after six very up-and-down seasons, is playing his best football, throwing 13 touchdowns and only four picks while completing 62% of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt. He isn’t as mobile as the Bengals’ Andy Dalton, so hopefully the Ravens will have a little more luck in getting their hands on him in the pocket and bringing him down. The pass rush finally showed up when needed most desperately against Cincinnati, but it would be good to see some of Chuck Pagano’s blitzes get home. Tight end Vernon Davis leads the team in receiving, followed closely by fellow first rounder Michael Crabtree. Davis presents the kind of match up problems the Ravens experienced with Jermaine Gresham last week, so hopefully they’ve learned a thing or two from their past mistakes. Problem is, none of the Ravens linebackers can run with Davis, and safety Bernard Pollard is at his best when moving downhill. I’m an advocate of putting the most physical corner the Ravens have, rookie Jimmy Smith, on Davis. Smith showed some good and bad last week, recording his first professional interception and also being torched for a long touchdown. Still, I think he gives the Ravens their best shot against Davis, while Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb try to deal with Crabtree.

On defense, everyone immediately thinks of All-Pro middle linebacker and Ray Lewis heir apparent Patrick Willis. Willis is obviously at the top of his game at the moment, but there are plenty of other playmakers on the San Francisco defense. Fellow linebacker NaVorro Bowman roams the inside with Willis wreaking havoc on opposing runners. Former Bengal Justin Smith, who terrorized the Ravens for years with his old club, has 4.5 sacks and has caused two fumbles. Former first round draft pick cornerbacks Carlos Rodgers (5 INT) and Donte Whitner (2 INT) seem to have found their homes in San Fran after somewhat disappointing starts to their careers in Washington and Buffalo, respectively.

Cam Cameron called perhaps his best game of the season against the Bengals, mixing the run, pass, and play action very effectively. The result, as we saw, was wide open seams in the running game and lots of room for rookie Torrey “The Torch” Smith down the field. Smith was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance, and hopes to follow it up with another strong day. After only having the one catch (at least it was a TD) last week, look for Anquan Boldin to see more targets against the Niners. Ray Rice will have his work cut out for him against the NFL’s top run defense, but Cam needs to stick with the running game regardless of its effectiveness. When Rice gets his touches, it gives the Ravens the best chance to win – there is simply no arguing that at this point. The 49ers have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season; I’m betting #27 breaks that streak.

Last week, the Ravens were just 2/6 on third down attempts of two yards or less. That is a pathetic stat that needs to improve immediately, especially against the 49ers and their own eat-the-clock offense. Cam will have to show some creativity – you won’t just pound it straight ahead for 2 or 3 yards against this defense – but the Ravens need a performance more like they had in Pittsburgh, converting third down try after third down try.

Special teams could play a big part in this game as well. 49ers kicker David Akers has connected on 26 of his 31 field goal attempts, with four of his five misses coming between 40-49 yards (he is 5/5 from 50+). Billy Cundiff is 22/28 for the year, but is 13/13 at M&T Bank Stadium. San Francisco punter Andy Lee is averaging 50.1 yards per punt, second in the NFL (Oakland’s Shane Lechler is #1, so maybe it’s something about that Bay Area air?) It will be interesting to see if David Reed is back returning kicks again for the Ravens. They ran only one kick out of the end zone last week, opting to settle for touchbacks on the others. While that’s the safe play, especially after the debacle returning kicks in Seattle, it would be nice to see someone make a special teams play here soon. Even Lardarius Webb looks indecisive and tentative on punt returns.

The 49ers are a formidable club, but the disadvantage they are at with traveling across three time zones on a short week is more than just media hype. While they have bucked the trend so far this year in going 4-0 in the eastern time zone, it will be another feat altogether for San Francisco to push their record to 5-0 in that department against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens have won 10 straight at home against NFC clubs, and are 16-1 against them in Baltimore since 2003 (only loss coming to Carolina in 2006). They are 7-0 at The Vault against the NFC under Harbaugh. It’ll be a good one, but there’s just too much for the upstart Niners to overcome. Big brother beats little brother in the first HarBowl.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone.

Ravens 23 49ers 16

What's Important Now: Not Getting Beat at Our Own Game

November 23, 2011

As Goob pointed out, the San Francisco 49ers roll into town this week looking like a mirror image of the Ravens in a lot of ways. More accurately, though, they look a lot like the Ravens USED to look. The slow, plodding, yet efficient ball-control offense headed up by a game managing quarterback and solidified by one of the game’s best defenses is just the blueprint that the Ravens rode to a Super Bowl victory back in 2000, and is not dissimilar to Joe Flacco’s rookie season of 2008.

For the Ravens to emerge victorious from the HarBowl, they have to manage to not get beat at their own game.

Don’t let San Francisco Control the Clock

San Fran comes into B’More at #6 in the NFL in time of possession, holding onto the ball an average of 32:09 per game. The Ravens, on the other hand, are 20th at 29:42, and have won TOP in just one of their last five games after starting the season 4-1 in that important stat. As long as you’re making big, explosive plays that result in, or at least lead to, touchdowns, as the Ravens were able to against Cincinnati, winning TOP isn’t as crucial. However, as we saw last week, losing the battle can still tire out your defense down the stretch and lead to some hairy moments, regardless of how large a lead you are able to build in the early goings.

The Ravens had only themselves to blame in the fourth quarter last Sunday, as they were unable to hold onto the ball and put the game away when given the opportunity. From the moment Torrey Smith scored his touchdown and Baltimore staked itself to a 31-14 lead, the Ravens picked up just one first down and were 0/2 on third down tries.

Inexcusably, those two third down failures came on 3rd-and-2 and 3rd-and-1.

For the day, the Ravens were just 2/6 on 3rd-and-2 or less.

That number will have to greatly improve on Thursday in order to keep the ball out of the hands of the 49ers, and keep the defense fresh for the fourth quarter.

Win the Turnover Battle

The 49ers are an NFL-best +17 in the turnover department. Quarterback Alex Smith has thrown just four interceptions to go with his 13 touchdowns, and as a team San Francisco has fumbled just 10 times all season, and they have lost just five of those ten.

On the other side, Joe Flacco matches those fumble numbers (10 total, 5 lost) all by himself. Throw in his eight interceptions and the other 10 times that Ravens players have put the ball on the turf, and they’ve given the ball away a total of 18 times – or twice as many times as the 49ers have.

On defense, the Ravens got back to their turnover-causing ways against the Bengals, picking off Andy Dalton three times. Even after a 3 INT day though, the Ravens still trail San Francisco in the pick department 15-11. These two teams are 1-2 in recovering opponents’ fumbles as well: the 49ers have recovered an incredible 11 of the 14; the Ravens are no slouches in that department either, scooping 10 of their 15 caused fumbles.

Winning the turnover battle will be no easy task against Jim Harbaugh’s stingy, opportunistic bunch. To improve to 8-3 though, the Ravens will have to at least match the Niners in stinginess quotient.

Controlling the ball – both by possessing it and by not giving it away – will go a long way to making sure the Ravens don’t get beat at their own game in the HarBowl.

HarBowl Story is Nice, but Players Will Determine Outcome on Thursday

November 23, 2011

Lost in the John vs. Jim hype of the HarBowl is the game between the actual teams on Thanksgiving, which promises to be one for the ages. Back in the Summer, many fans circled their calendars lured by the first time ever NFL faceoff between two brothers standing on opposite sidelines as head coaches. Now with the way both teams have been playing, it’s about more than just hype.

The 49ers and their 9-1 record have far exceeded anyone’s expectations – even possibly Jim Harbaugh’s. The fact that his team has had so much success through the first ten games makes this brotherly battle even more interesting.

Not only do the coaches look like spitting images of each other, but so do their teams. The 49ers have a dominant inside linebacker wearing #52 of their own, Patrick Willis. The offense is led by a top tier running back and their first-round quarterback [Alex Smith] has been criticized throughout his whole career, just like Joe Flacco.

When looking at their comparative stats, the Ravens and 49ers mirror each other with their on-field play as well.

Through the first 10 games, both teams have scored an identical 256 points. The quarterback play has been comparable where Smith’s touchdowns (13) top Flacco’s (12).  However, a glaring stat is Smith’s four interceptions, which are half that of his counterpart. Frank Gore isn’t as big of a threat receiving the ball as Ray Rice but on the ground, the 49ers have just one fewer touchdown than the Ravens.

Which Ravens defense shows up on Turkey Day heavily depends on Ray Lewis’s injury status. Lewis missed Sunday’s game versus the Bengals, and in a memo sent to the media, he clearly didn’t know when he was going to be able to return. One thing for sure, if there is any chance Lewis can tough out the pain, he’ll be on the field. The Ravens defense surrendered 483 yards against the Bengals with Lewis playing the role of cheerleader instead of linebacker. Ray’s value in pass defense should not be understated. Without his menacing presence in the center of intermediate zones, opposing receivers will attack the middle of the field more freely. The threat of violent collisions isn’t as great when 52 is on the sideline.

Likewise, the 49ers have some holes that can be exploited by the Ravens offense. Surprisingly, the 49ers haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Ray Rice is arguably the best back the 49ers have seen this season so their shutout could be in serious jeopardy. The one area the Ravens must exploit to win this Thanksgiving matchup is the 49ers secondary. The 49ers have allowed double the passing touchdowns (14) the Ravens have this season and Flacco should be able to utilize his offense’s new (and not so secret) downfield weapon, Torrey Smith.

Regardless of the hype created around HarBowl, this game will be a lot more fun to watch than originally anticipated. While many casual fans will be focusing on how similar the guys on the sidelines with headsets look, most of us will be drawn to how competitive this game really should be.

Make sure you get all that turkey out of your teeth before the game starts – it’ll be tough later on because there’s a good chance you won’t have any fingernails left by the final whistle.

Ray Lewis Skips Media Session, Releases Statement

November 22, 2011

It’s not like Ray Lewis to give up an opportunity to step in front of the microphones.

Especially when his team is 7-3 and sitting atop the AFC.

And not when the Ravens are about to play in a nationally televised game that is being hyped in the media to no end.

These are the situations where Ray is usually more than happy to be front and center.

However, that’s not how it happened today in Owings Mills at the media session. Instead of giving an interview, Ray released the following statement:

I apologize for not being available as I normally am on a day like today, but I am taking every opportunity to get treatment on my foot to prepare to play on Thursday. Anytime you see your team on the field, you always want to be out there with them. As the leader of your team, it doesn’t sit well with me to be on the sidelines. But I was the biggest cheerleader out there on Sunday, and I was truly proud of the way we played as a team. I am doing everything in my power to get back as fast as I can, whether that’s this week, next week or whenever it is, I am doing everything I can to be out there with my team. I want to play Thursday night, and I am making some progress.

Ray was listed as a limited participant in practice on Monday. It will be interesting to see if he steps foot on the practice field this afternoon.

For now though, I’d say that the key part of that statement is the “whether that’s this week, next week or whenever it is” part. I wouldn’t hold my breath for #52 to take the field Thursday night.

We’ll see though. It’s still Ray.

GOOBVISION: Harbowl Preview

November 22, 2011

Goob trades in his beer is double fisted this week, with a turkey leg to go along with his signature beer-in-hand, as he brings you a preview of Thanksgiving night’s Ravens-49ers “Harbowl!”

Feast your eyes on some Goobvision.

Ravens 31 Bengals 24 (The HOLDING ON BY A THR….ER, DREAD GAME)

November 21, 2011

The Ravens used a 31-7 scoring run between the second quarter and the start of the fourth to overcome poor play to start and finish the game, hanging on in the final seconds to beat a very scrappy Cincinnati Bengals team by a final of 31-24. Unlike so many Ravens-Bengals games in the past that were dominated by defense or were just plain boring to watch, this one featured big play after big play, and extreme highs and lows for fans of both clubs. Let’s try to make some sense of it all…

The Ravens really need to start coming out of the tunnel a bit more ready to play. For the third time in the last four games, they found themselves trailing by a touchdown in the opening quarter. The Ravens’ first quarter offensively consisted of exactly one first down, 15 yards of offense, and a horrific fumble by Joe Flacco to close out the stanza. On defense, just like a week ago in Seattle, the Ravens started off strong, forcing a three-and-out on the opponent’s opening possession, only to come back on the very next series and allow a long touchdown drive. Last week it was a 6 play, 60 yard scoring series; this week the Bengals went 82 yards on just 7 plays to take a 7-0 lead midway through the first.

The great news was that this time Cam Cameron and the offense managed to not panic when trailing by a single score, and stuck with the game plan. The game plan that, much to the surprise of nobody after last week, included heavy doses of Ray Rice.

Rice, despite being bottled up at times, continued to test the Bengals’ #2 rush defense, and eventually it paid off. His 59-yard scamper to the Cincy 6 yard line on the opening drive of the second half set up Billy Cundiff’s only field goal of the day, which gave the Ravens a 17-7 lead. Ray had another 26-yard run called back on a Torrey Smith penalty, but still finished the day with 20 carries for 104 yards.

As Terrell Suggs says…FEED YOUR HORSE!

In addition to averaging over 5 yards per carry, Rice added 43 yards receiving on 5 catches, and could have had a lot more, if Flacco would ever get it through his unibrowed skull that Ray isn’t 6’2″.

The Ravens’ commitment to the ground game also resulted in great benefits to Flacco, who is at his best when using play action to supplement an effective running attack. With the Bengals forced to respect Rice, Joe put up his best passer rating since Week 1 against Pittsburgh, while also throwing his fewest passes and for his highest yards per attempt average of the season. His two touchdown throws were also the first time he’s had more than one in a game since Week 3 in St. Louis.

All of this was a far cry from his norm against the Bengals, who had given him problems galore over the past two seasons.

This time, though, Flacco had a weapon in his arsenal that he’s never had against Marvin Lewis’s defense before: a receiver with the ability to run straight through that damn Cover 2.

Torrey Smith continued his surprisingly successful rookie season, with six catches for 165 yards (both career highs) and a score. The former Maryland Terrapin probably would have had another 60 yards and an additional touchdown if he had short hair.

On 3rd-and-1 from their own 31 with 1:50 to go in the first half, Joe found Torrey on a quick slant. Torrey immediately had the first down, but what happened next was something we YAC-deprived Ravens fans are not used to seeing. Smith took off through the Bengals’ secondary, and was about to leave everyone in his dust when Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, in desperation, dove and grabbed a handful of Torrey’s dreadlocks. A flag was thrown, but erroneously – after discussion it was picked up, as hair is considered part of a player’s uniform.

After the game, Smith was asked if he had any plans to cut his hair, since it likely cost him (and his team, as Flacco would throw an awful interception two plays later) a touchdown.

“I honestly thought about it,” he said. “But my grandma likes it a little too much.”

Granny, for the good of the team, let little Torrey cut his locks, huh?

Taking a 31-14 lead with 14 minutes to play, it looked like we would finally be able to relax.

No such luck.

The Baltimore defense had just intercepted Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton for the third time of the day, and it looked as if the former TCU Horned Frog was ready to pack up his bags and scoot out of town. The Bengals, though, have had plenty of fourth quarter comebacks already in 2011, and Cincy wasn’t ready to say die.

Not by a long shot.

Dalton exacted a measure of revenge on Ravens’ rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, who had registered INT #2, finding Andre Caldwell matched up 1-on-1 with Smith for a 49-yard touchdown that made it 31-21 with still nearly 11 minutes to play. After a Ravens’ 3-and-out, Dalton went back to work, this time appearing to find tight end Jermaine Gresham for a nine-yard touchdown to pull the Bengals within 3 points with over five minutes on the clock. However, replay review overturned the touchdown (right call, terrible rule), and Cincy was forced to settle for a field goal.

Bengals fans are up in arms today over the reversal, but it was the right call. The “Calvin Johnson Rule,” as it were is obviously a horrible piece of the NFL playbook, and it needs to go. This time it benefited the Ravens, but it could just as easily cost them down the road. Still, Cincy fans will get no sympathy here, as that drive should have ended with a punt seven plays earlier. Instead, a bad pass interference call on Lardarius Webb (who should be going to the Pro Bowl, by the way) extended the drive.

Because of the field goal, the Bengals (after the Ravens’ offense again failed to hold on to the ball and seal the game) were only driving for the tie, and not the win (assuming they weren’t planning on going for a two-point conversion, which they very well could have been), in the final two minutes. A gorgeous 43-yard bomb from Dalton to Jerome Simpson set them up with 1st-and-goal from the Ravens’ 7 yard line with 50 seconds to play, and the implosion seemed imminent.

The “vaunted” Ravens’ defense, playing without leader Ray Lewis, appeared just seconds away from blowing a 17 point fourth quarter lead, despite picking off three passes on the afternoon.

Fortunately, they saved their best for last. Despite failing to sack Dalton for the game’s first 59-plus minutes, they managed to get to him when it counted most, on the Bengals’ final two offensive snaps. On third-and-goal, Terrell Suggs finally showed up, forcing an intentional grounding flag that moved the ball back to the 17. On fourth-and-goal, Pernell McPhee appropriately (rookies were all over this game) ended things with the team’s first sack.

It was about as gut-wrenching as a victory can be, and while it is obviously very disappointing that the defense allowed such a comeback, and that the offense failed to seal the deal when given the chance, the fact remains that the Ravens came out on top in a crucial division game. This victory means the difference between entering the Week 12 Thanksgiving night showdown with San Francisco in first place in the AFC vs. third place in the AFC North.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Ravens are back where they should be – in first place and in control of their own destiny moving forward. The Ravens had never been 7-3 in franchise history prior to last season (though they were 8-2 in 2006), and now they’ve done it two years running.

On to the Harbowl.