Against all odds, against the predictions of most of the national media, and all but one of the Baltimore Sun’s sportswriters, the Baltimore Ravens took a huge step, perhaps their biggest step, towards earning a playoff spot by soundly defeating the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night. From a Ravens fan’s perspective, it could not have gone any better. Every Raven stepped up; every Raven answered the bell.
Given the results of the Steelers game last week, the conspiracy theorists that I know were running amok. First, the Ravens lose to the Steelers on a controversial call, which just happens to set up a game on Sunday between Pittsburgh and Tennessee for home field advantage in the AFC. Then the Ravens get to serve as unwilling patsies to buttress Jerry Jones’ outsized sense of importance. Some fans thought this was set up, and guess what – they were right! What better way to ring out the old burg and ring in a new, billion dollar stadium than to trounce the NFL version of the Washington Generals from the AFC North?
It’s unfortunate that the AFC North was scheduled to play the Super-sized NFC East this year. But it happens every 4 years. The last two times the Ravens played the Cowboys it was in Baltimore. We were due to play in Dallas. So what if Jerry Jones lobbied for the Ravens to serve as the appetizer for his self-congratulatory ceremony? In the end, he got what he deserved.
But I wasn’t worried. As soon as I saw the prognosticators line up almost to a man in favor of the Cowboys, I knew the fix was in. Smarting from the Steelers loss, treated with disdain by the Cowboy intelligentsia, and, finally, told that they were designated cannon fodder, I knew, I knew the Ravens would step up, win, and beat the spread while doing it.
Here are my Studs and Duds for this week.
Ubermensch: New category. Derrick Mason earned this promotion. Playing with one arm for most of the game, Mason recovered a crucial fumble, made 6 catches, and caught a TD pass that moved the Ravens to a 9 point lead. Big game; Super Man!
Special Teams played one of their best games of the year. Matt Stover kicked 4 field goals, and Sam Koch was stellar with his right foot and both of his legs. The Ravens had great field position all evening.
Team Discipline: The Ravens committed a total of 3 penalties for 19 yards. Dallas had 10 for 86. It does make a difference!
Offensive Line: After giving up 5 sacks in the 1st half, John Matsko and the line tightened up and didn’t allow another touch on Joe Flacco. The consistent pounding of the Cowboy defensive line allowed the running game to open and led to those 2 huge runs by McGahee and McLain.
Defensive Seven: Rex Ryan’s schemes kept the Cowboys on the back of their heels all night. It’s one thing to see it on film; it’s another to experience it.
There’s only two but one of them has to be Yamon Figurs. I can’t figure this guy out. He’s gone from one of the bright spots in 2007 to a liability on returns. He’s already lost his punt return job and it looks like he’s lost his nerve on kick returns. I watched him closely Saturday night and he ran directly up the center and into the Dallas wedge on most runbacks. What happened to his feints, his sprints up the sideline? I won’t even bring up his fumbles. The Ravens need to get him off special teams, and soon.
Dud Number 2 is the NFL Network. See below.
Theatre of the Absurd
Haven’t done this in a while…the edition includes:
· Towel Stomping. For those of you who watched the Steelers-Titans game, how great was it to see LenDale White and Keith Bullock do the Tennessee two-step on a Steelers Terrible Towel? One of my dreams answered! Absurdly funny! Having said that, I want tickets to Heinz Field the next time the Titans play in Pittsburgh.
· Deion Sanders as a NFL analyst. I was going to make him a Dud, but his over-the-top homer performance on the NFL Network Saturday night earned him a spot here. The Dud nomination belongs to the NFL Network for having this absurdly biased Dallas Suck on the broadcast in a supposedly impartial position.
· Notre Dame plays a lame schedule, nearly gets beat by Navy for the second year in a row, and goes 6-6. And then the Domers get invited to a bowl game – in Hawaii! Just plain absurd.
· Lions owner William Clay Ford announces that he will retain the front office managers that are co-conspirators in the current 0-15 train wreck. Absurd! If any organization deserves a good house-cleaning, this one does. With this dreck of a football team, the Tigers in the tank, and the automotive industry nearing bankruptcy, Detroit sports fans should give thanks for the Red Wings.
The Ravens play their final home game of the season this Sunday against the Jaguars. Heads are already rolling in North Florida with the resignation of James Harris. Jack Del Rio won’t let his team mail it in, but the Ravens have too much firepower on both sides of the ball. The defense will wreak havoc with their makeshift offensive line and will notch a couple of turnovers. It will be close early on, but the Ravens will pull away.
Ravens 24, Jacksonville 10.