Mystique is a powerful thing. The New England Patriots have had that in full measure over the last decade. The Patriots were undefeated at home this year. Tom Brady had never lost at home in 11 playoff games. In fact, the Pats have not lost a home playoff game in over 30 years. This was Brady, at home, in the playoffs. Take the Pats and the points, right?
As a firm partaker of the Purple Kool-Aid, I was hoping the Ravens would keep it close and maybe win by a field goal. Maybe. I gave them what’s known as a “puncher’s chance.”
But the Ravens not only punched, but pounded Tom Brady and the New England Patriots into submission in a result few Ravens fans would have predicted. They forced turnovers early, pounded the ball on offense, played with passion, and shut down New England’s depleted receiving corps. Brady had few options and the Ravens defense neatly controlled what he could or couldn’t do.
The dominance of Baltimore’s run game was incredible. The Ravens ran 52 running plays to 10 passes – and won. Are you kidding me? In a playoff game? This directly contradicts the received wisdom that the NFL is strictly a passing league. Maybe jumping out to a 24 point lead had a lot to do with it because it allowed the Ravens to dictate both the tempo and the play calling. Can they do this next Saturday in what surely will be a much closer game? We’ll see. But for now, let’s rejoice in this week’s Wild Card Sunday Studs. (Sorry – no Duds this week!)
Domonique Foxworth for his nine (9) solo tackles and his blanket job on Randy Moss. Frank Walker for his tight coverage and hard tackling. The pass rush and the tight coverage forced Tom Brady to throw mainly short passes underneath to Moss and Welker-Wannabe Julian Edelman. No bombs, no blown coverages, no dumb penalties.
The Ravens Offensive Line had one of their finest games of the year and they imposed their will on the Patriots defense the entire game. When pre-game reports surfaced about Joe Flacco’s hip and quad injuries, you knew the Ravens weren’t going to put this game on Joe’s arm. The fans knew it, the Ravens game-planned for it, Bill Belichick schemed against it, but the Patriots couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
Ray-Ray. Ray Lewis had a huge game. He made an impression (in more ways than one) on Tom Brady early in the game with a sack and a couple of hard tackles. Finishing with 13 tackles, he played 10 years younger than his age. What can you say about Ray Rice that hasn’t already been said? Two touchdowns and 159 yards gained against a defense that allowed an average of 110 yards per game.
Gene Steratore and his crew had a well-officiated game. This crew let the Ravens and Patriots play the game and the ticky-tacky fouls we’ve seen from some crews this year were non-existent. The Ravens helped themselves immensely by playing with controlled passion. My only complaint was the call on the failed two point conversion where I thought Willis McGahee and the ball clearly crossed the plane of the goal. On second thought, maybe I’m the one being ticky-tacky.
Penalties: 3 penalties for 15 yards. Wow. Encore, please!
THIS WEEK’S DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF PICKS
Arizona at New Orleans, Saturday 4:40 PM
It was bombs away as Arizona beat Green Bay 51-45 in an overtime wild card game that can deservedly be called an instant classic. The Cards and Saints both feature outstanding passing games, and the firepower on both sides says that the over/under should be 80. This chuck-fest will continue as I give a grudging nod to a Saints team playing on a home field that has suddenly become not so friendly.
Saints 42, Cardinals 38
Dallas at Minnesota, Sunday 1:00 PM
Isn’t it amazing what can happen when your starting quarterback isn’t burdened by relationships with over-hyped, under-talented, self-absorbed skanks? The Cowboys are very solid and very scary on both sides of the ball and the Vikings have been slowly unraveling for weeks. The biggest line for this game should be the over/under for the number of times we’ll see shots of Jerry Jones in his Metrodome suite. Wade Phillips will keep his job for another week and Lord Favre will announce his retirement after getting the crap beat out of him by the Cowboys defense.
Cowboys 34, Vikings 20.
New York Jets at San Diego, Sunday 4:40 PM
Rex Ryan is the best thing that has happened to the New York sports media since George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees. The Rexinator is very full of himself after his Jets were “gifted” into the playoffs and then beat a depleted and dispirited Cincinnati Bengals team in the wild card round. Key Stat: Mark Sanchez is still a rookie and Philip Rivers is headed to the Pro Bowl. There will be no gifts in Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday except those donated by Sanchez to the Chargers’ secondary.
Chargers 27, Jets 10
Baltimore at Indianapolis, Saturday 8:15 PM.
For the first time in weeks (14 to be exact) the Ravens beat a quality opponent with a quality quarterback to get to this divisional round. Joe Flacco is hurting with a bad hip and quadriceps muscle that clearly affects his running and passing. John Harbaugh should game plan by keeping Joe the Quarterback in a whirlpool all week. Flacco will need to orchestrate some big plays because the Ravens won’t get away with completing 4 passes against the Colts and winning. This matchup will be a contrast between the Ravens’ physical nature and the Colt’s finesse and may work in the Ravens’ favor. If the Ravens bring the passion and leave the stupidity at home, they can pull this one out.
Ravens 27, Colts 24.