THE GRAPEVINE: THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON CAN BE FULL OF SURPRISES

Lombardi's Way THE GRAPEVINE: THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON CAN BE FULL OF SURPRISES

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We’ve all thought about it — some rationally some emotionally yet as Baltimoreans we can’t help but clamor how the Ravens are slighted on a national level. And with each win and with each subsequent slight, the apparent cold shoulder cuts deeper. The fix is in, right?
 
If only the teams that the Ravens will play would pay as little attention to them as the national media does, the Ravens could lay low in the weeds and ambush each opponent.
 
If it were only that simple.
 
Brian Billick has his finger on the pulse of the Ravens’ emotions and just as he has in the past he’ll use that cold shoulder to get his team a bit chippy and channel that emotion in a way that presents a danger to the rest of the NFL.
 
The only stat that really matters is the one under the “W” column. But as we all know the Ravens defense is a prideful group. They finished the 2006 regular season as the top defense overall, first in yards per play (4.5), first in first downs allowed per game (14.8), first in third down conversions (60) and third down conversion percentage (28.8%), first in turnover differential (+17) and second in forced turnovers (40), first in points allowed per game (12.6) and first in fewest touchdowns allowed overall (21) and against the run (5).
 
Our deepest condolences to the family, friends, teammates and former teammates of Darrent Williams, cornerback of the Denver Broncos who was killed in a drive by shooting early Monday morning in Denver.
 
According to our friend Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk.com, "We’re told that local police have strong leads as to the suspects, and that arrests are expected to come sooner rather than later. Apparently, the bullets were fired by a group of men with whom the Broncos players had squabbled at a New Year’s Eve party hosted by one or more members of the Denver Nuggets."
 
Word is that a few other Broncos’ players were with Williams including WR Javon Walker.  Again our deepest condolences and we’re sure much more on this topic is certainly forthcoming but at the end of the day, it doesn’t help bring back an athlete, a young man who had so much life ahead of him.
 
In far less important matters surrounding the Broncos, the city of Denver may have seen the last of Jake Plummer dressed in the hometown blue and orange. Word out of Denver was mum from Plummer on the topic of his return but observers noticed Plummer shaking hands with several teammates in a manner “dripping with finality” according to the Denver Post. Plummer is scheduled to earn $5.3 million next year under the terms of his current contract, a contract that given Plummer’s status is less valuable than the paper it was printed on.
 
While many thought that the AFC North would be one of the league’s toughest heading into the 2006 season, the final results don’t measure up. The Ravens are the only team in the division to finish with a record above .500. In the NFC East every team except the Redskins made it to the post season dance. It marks the first time any division has sent three to the playoffs since the league realigned into 8 four team divisions (2002).
 
The Bengals were certainly a streaky team in 2006 and they closed the season with a three game losing streak to finish at 8-8, the third such record for Marvin Lewis in his four years as the Cincinnati skipper. Fans of the team were polled by the Cincinnati Enquirer to determine what they blame most on the Bengals’ disappointing season. Nearly 40% of the respondents blamed Marvin’s woes on injuries while another 38% blamed players attitudes.
 
By the way, this just in from Carson Palmer: "I feel like the quarterback of a team should have some input." Uh-oh, here we go!
 
Speaking of going, the Cardinals and the Falcons have said their goodbyes to their head coaches. Denny Green’s departure was expected and Jim Mora’s was certainly not a shock. One has to wonder if Atlanta might engage in some major retooling and Mike Vick might also need a change of scenery. Could the Falcons be tempted with a package including the Raiders No. 1 overall pick in 2007? It isn’t hard to see Vick in Silver and Black and it could be the jolt the Raiders need, not an expensive quarterback that they need to develop. Who’s going develop a talent like Brady Quinn, Art Shell? It would not shock this writer if that video tape of Vick walking into the Falcons’ tunnel and towards the locker room after suffering that third quarter ankle injury might be the last we see of the former No. 1 pick in a dirty bird uniform.
 
Is anyone surprised that the Detroit Lions beat the Cowboys on Sunday? The Lions found a way to lose even when they win — as in a shot at the No. 1 overall pick. Jon Kitna was thankful we’re sure.
 
We hear that by the time you read this Nick Saban will make up his mind whether to accept the very lucrative offer from the Alabama Crimson Tide. So let me get this straight…Saban isn’t keen on the pressures of head coaching in the NFL, his team fell way short of expectations this season, the Tide is offering Saban $4 mil per over 10 years and he misses the teaching aspect of collegiate football. Wouldn’t staying at Miami be more of a surprise than his leaving?
 
And while we’re on the topic of leaving, it is beginning to sound more and more like Steelers’ head coach Bill Cowher will do just that. Cowher plans to meet with his players at the team’s UPMC complex today and then hit the dusty trail towards Raleigh, NC where Cowher has a 7,500 square foot, $2.5 million home. Word is that Cowher isn’t happy with the salary numbers being tossed around by the Rooneys given his considerable resume. It shouldn’t be too long before we hear that the head coach Ravens’ fans love to hate might not be spitting all over a sideline near you any time again soon.
 
A coach who does look pretty nifty on a sideline is former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Props to Nolan this season for having his team play hard and for exceeding expectations. With nearly $40 million in cap space projected for the Niners, they could be back in the playoff picture very soon.
 
How about the Jets? A No. 5 seed that came out of nowhere. The Jets have already beaten the Patriots in Foxboro and the Chiefs can run the football on Indy. The last time we checked the Colts are about as effective against the runs as Exlax. Would it shock anyone if the Jets end up in Baltimore Jan. 13 or 14? Hey Baltimore, if you want to host the AFC Championship, hope that the Colts and the Patriots win. I’m sure you can figure out the rest.
 
Yesterday in his Monday Morning QB segment on cnnsi.com, Peter King ended with kudos to the Monday Night Football crew. Here’s how it went:
 
“No game tonight, obviously. But a personal note here: Tony, you’ve done a far better job than the critics give you credit for. Far better. You’ve been irreverent, a great foil for Joe Theismann, and critical when need be — all while showing affection for the game. If this is your only year doing the games, I’ll miss you next fall. And I would also ask this question to the TV establishment: Who exactly do we want, or perhaps what do we want, in our Monday night booth? A TV guy? A jock? An erudite guy with a quick, self-deprecating wit? The only guy who is all of the above is Cris Collinsworth, and unless he wants to work nine days a week, he’s not available.”
 
Monday was January 1 not April 1, right?
 
Does anyone fear the Chicago Bears? Tommie Harris is out for the year, Tank Johnson might not be able to leave town unless he’s in shackles and Rex Grossman plays quarterback like he’s already wearing them. If teams can manage to kick away from Devin Hester and not let him beat you, Chicago is done. I’ll even go so far to say that they are one and done and Lovie Smith will be answering the same question the entire off season. You already know the question…
 
And finally, former Ravens’ receiver and first round pick Travis Taylor was arrested on Monday morning at 2:30 a.m. According to reports, Taylor, 27, had refused an officer’s request that he get into a waiting limousine-bus as police tried to disperse a large, unruly crowd so an ambulance could get through. Allegedly Taylor was not allowing the bus to leave and began pushing the officer as the officer tried to separate him from the bus. The officer eventually used a Taser to subdue Taylor. Taylor is hoping that law enforcement officials show the sure-handedness that he’s shown during his career and drop the charges. Taylor led Minnesota with 57 catches for 651 yards and he will be a free agent this spring.
 
Any tasers…I mean takers?

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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