INDIANAPOLIS 20, BALTIMORE RAVENS 3
January 16, 2010
It just wasn’t meant to be. Whatever could go wrong did, and even some things that went right went wrong for the Ravens, as their season came to a grinding halt with a 20-3 loss in Indianapolis.
A week ago in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, the Ravens confounded the critics by traveling to Foxboro and destroying the Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ mystic. The contest was not even close.
On a short week’s rest, they traveled to Indianapolis to test a team many critics had their doubts about. The Ravens came in as the “hot” team after dismantling the overrated Patriots, and the Colts were thought to be a rusty club that would not be ready for the Ravens intensity.
But ready they were, matching Baltimore’s defensive intensity and keeping the Ravens offense off balance throughout a first half that looked like it might end at 3-3.
Rather than packing the line of scrimmage and allowing the Ravens to use their effective “jumbo” blocking packages, the Colts spread-out their front-eight near the line of scrimmage and funneled Ray Rice runs into the waiting arms of their quick linebackers. And they harassed Joe Flacco enough to cause many unsteady throws.
Meanwhile Colts quarterback Peyton Manning steadily picked away at the Ravens secondary with well-targeted short passes to well-covered receivers throughout the early segments of the game.
The Ravens’ bend, don’t break, approach seemed to be working until their own mistakes threw the balance over to the Colts. The defense finally cracked by allowing Manning to take eight minutes off the clock, dinking and dunking his team seventy-five yards up the field for a touchdown right at the two-minute warning.
The Ravens then misplayed their hand by trying to match Manning’s productivity. With the ball at their own 18, Joe Flacco misfired on a long throw to Mark Clayton and then Ray Rice dropped a pass in the flat, forcing a three-and-out punting situation. They had only used 0:12 of game time to move the ball four yards.
It was the situation that Bill Belichick feared the most. Recall back in November when the Patriots held the ball on their own 28 on fourth and two, and Belichick elected to try for a first down rather than risk putting the ball back in Manning’s hands? The Ravens faced a similar gambit.
But fourth and six is no fourth and two, Joe Flacco is no Tom Brady, and John Harbaugh is no Bill Belichick.
The Ravens punted the ball back to Manning and the Colts. Eighty-seconds and two controversial Ravens penalties later, Manning connected on a short throw to Reggie Wayne who stretched the ball over the goal line for an insurmountable 17-3 halftime lead.
Trailing badly, untimely Ravens’ penalties and mistakes continued into the second half. Baltimore flailed their way through a topsy-turvy second half of football where every positive play they could muster was erased by a major miscue. The Colts simply sat on their lead, managing just one more Matt Stover field goal in the half, and allowed the Ravens to press their way into more mistakes that produced no points, only heartache.
Joe Flacco seemed to overcome his penchant for slow starts. He was on target early, completing passes of 12, 16, and 27 yards in the opening drive to get the ball down inside the Colts six. But a dropped Le’Ron McClain pass near the goal would be the first of six drops by Ravens receivers and the first of many stalled drives. The Ravens flirted with being entirely shut out on offense when a poor Flacco throw into the end zone was dropped by Antoine Bethea as he read Flacco’s eyes and crossed in front of Mark Clayton. Bethea would later grab an interception off of Flacco on an underthrown ball to Derrick Mason. Flacco gave up one more pick on the day while going 20 of 35 for 189 yards. Add the six drops back to his totals and Flacco’s statistics may not look a lot different than Manning’s 30 of 44 for 246 yards; Manning also threw two interceptions, one of which was called back. But the big contrast between the two came from Manning’s ability to hit receivers in stride at any spot on the field. Flacco still leans on out patterns and dump-offs to his backs. His deep balls were nearly all underthrown, despite his powerful arm. He came into his second season looking to expand his repertoire, but it now must wait for another season, a healthier hip, and perhaps an improved receiving corps.
Running Backs: D
Ray Rice was stymied for most of the day when the Colts filled his cut-back lanes. Credit the second year back with playing hard and fighting for extra yards all day long. He was still the most valuable offensive threat, averaging over five yards a carry on 13 attempts and with sixty yards receiving on nine catches. But at critical times he dropped passes, including one ball that was snared for an interception, and also fumbled in the red zone to crush any hope for a Ravens comeback. Le’Ron McClain also had a critical red zone drop, and showed some confusion with blocking assignments.
Wide Receivers: D
Early in the game Derrick Mason outplayed corner Kelvin Hayden including some nice first down catches, but as the game wore on Mason largely disappeared. He had four catches for 64 yards, but just one second half catch for nine. The Ravens eschewed their extra tight end packages to get more wideouts on the field, and the results were disappointing. Both Demetrius Williams and Kelley Washington killed drives when they failed to get their heads around coming out of breaks where Flacco was pressured to throw quick-timing passes. Each managed just one catch and Mark Clayton was shut out. If this game typified the Ravens season by the untimely drops and penalties, it also underscored the team’s lack of an Anquan Boldin-type receiving threat who can force defenses to game plan for covering the middle of the field.
Tight Ends: B-
Todd Heap made three timely catches and each time fought for extra yards to get the ball over or near the first down marker. Heap was flagged for being offsides once after a Rice run for a first down. The team desperately needs another tight end threat to pair with, if not replace, the veteran Heap.
Michael Oher played well against Robert Mathis and capped a fantastic rookie campaign. One of his few mistakes was a missed assignment on linebacker Clint Session to stop Rice in the backfield. Jared Gaither looked to be hampered by his injured ankle, Dwight Freeney’s pass rushing abilities or both. Freeney consistently beat Gaither to the inside. He also harassed him into committing a critical offsides penalty on a third and inches play, and a holding call to dig the team into a 1st and 20 hole.
Interior Line: C
There was simply no room for Rice to run early inside. The Ravens called for fewer pulling assignments for Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda, with fewer Colts defenders crowding the line of scrimmage, and the two guards suffered by being asked to get away from what they do best. At the second level the Colts linebackers were simply too quick for the Ravens interior. In the pass protection, the story was not much better. Gary Brackett split Matt Birk and Ben Grubbs for an early sack and set the tone for Flacco’s discomfort in the pocket.
Despite Manning’s crisp passing, Ravens corners managed tight coverage most of the day. Frank Walker played particularly well. Chris Carr continued to play tight, aggressive coverage as a nickel covering routes across the middle of the field; Carr finished the second half of the season so well that the Ravens front office was fully redeemed on the decision to sign Carr in the offseason. Domonique Foxworth covered well early, but as the game wore on Manning and Wayne were able to isolate Foxworth and pick on him some with double moves that led to a critical pass interference call and the Colts’ first touchdown. Foxworth finished with eight tackles, an indication of how the Colts thought he might be vulnerable. Corey Ivy was very good as a dime back in run support but lousy in pass coverage. His pass interference erased an Ed Reed interception and Ivy could not cover Wayne. The Ravens will do well to get Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb back into the mix as primary coverage corners.
Ed Reed and Dawan Landry were near the ball all over the field in pass protection, with mixed results. In the first half both safeties missed chances for interceptions. Reed snagged two balls to seemingly generate a huge lift for his team, but these two plays typified the Ravens frustrating day. The first was immediately lost back to the Colts when wideout Pierre Garcon trailed Reed all the way back down the field to knock it out of his hands for a fumble recovered by the Colts. The second Reed pick was called back due to a Corey Ivy interference call. Reed appeared to be healthier in his approach to tackling, but finished with two combined tackles, while Landry was shut out.
Terrell Suggs played run support very well, turning plays back inside where his fellow linebackers could smack down ball carriers. One such play knocked Joseph Addai out of the game for a good bit of time. Jarret Johnson, on the opposite corner was able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback but struggled more in run support, as the Colts seem to favor sending the ball to his side. Dallas Clark handled him on a couple of runs and Garcon ducked under a high tackle attempt to get the ball to the eight. Ray Lewis asserted himself with aggressive play, controlling the middle of the field. Darnell Ellerbe was picked on by the Colts in pass coverage, but was able to make quick tackles, and hard hits, finishing with the team lead with ten solo takedowns. Ellerbe showed why he was one of the Ravens big finds of the season and promising heir apparent to another one-time undrafted player, Bart Scott.
Defensive Line: A
Dwan Edwards and Haloti Ngata controlled the line of scrimmage, holding the run-poor Colts to a 1.7-yard average on 25 attempts. Both players also got pressure on Manning to allow the Ravens to keep more bodies out in coverage. Edwards blew-up guard Ryan Lija to force Manning to throw the ball away, and Ngata created such a fierce pass rush that Manning was forced to drop to the ground in self defense.
Special Teams: B
The Ravens special teams outplayed the Colts, but also outdid themselves. Jalen Parmale’s long return across midfield was brought back 64 yards by an LJ Smith block in the back. In coverage, Tom Zbikowski, Tavares Gooden, and David Tyree were stand outs. Matt Katula made another terrible snap on a field goal try that Sam Koch made a very good save on. It was another near miss for the Ravens that could have led to them being blanked on the day. The long snapper will need the off seasont to heal his stiff elbow. Koch continued to punt very well.
Cam Cameron’s game plan started off strong, keeping the Colts defense off balance with pump fakes and an end around call. But as the game wore on the calls became more predictable. Joe Flacco could be seen on the sidelines more animated than we have ever seen him as he heatedly debated the play calling with his coordinator. While it was nice to see emotion from the team, it was telling in regards to the team’s approach to taking on a Colts team that has had the Ravens number for several seasons. Whether you liked the aggressive play calling at the end of the first half or not, the result was disastrous when Manning got the ball back with too much time on the clock. The biggest disappointment was the lack of intensity along the offensive line. Greg Mattison put together a very good game plan and his steady hand proved to be a good fit for a defense that was steady throughout the stretch run and third in the league overall.
Playoff games get the best crews, who usually keep the calls to a minimum. While Carl Cheffers crew let a lot of calls go, they also chose curious times to flag close plays. The flag on Ray Lewis for helmet contact on a supposedly defenseless Austin Collie was a lot like the flag Lewis got for jarring the ball loose form Chad Ochocinco earlier this year. The decision to call it a penalty was just as vexing and damaging to the Ravens chances. Considering that the initial contact was shoulder to shoulder, followed by helmet contact, it’s hard to know what a defensive player should do. During the same sequence you could see Coach Harbaugh’s frustration with the officials after they inexplicably put two seconds back on the clock, from :09 to :11, to give the Colts an extra shot at the end zone. Lack of good explanations was the biggest downfall of this crew. They announced an LJ Smith flag as an Edgar Jones penalty. They wrongly incorrectly announced Freeney offsides when it was Mathis. The lack of calls on some obvious penalty situations was also a black mark on this crew. Jarret Johnson was prevented from reaching the quarterback when he was tackled around the throat. Michael Oher got away with a clear leg-whip in the open field that should have erased a first down. And Bracket mauled Ray Rice while never looking back to the quarterback, but did not draw a flag.
What a commercial-filled, uninspired mess. Over 26 million viewers tuned in but were rewarded with very little from CBS. The poor telecast started with the director, who again and again missed opportunities to show replays of the game’s biggest and most controversial plays. CBS was so rushed to squeeze in commercials or graphically pimp its own shows that they cut away from the game the instant they possibly could. Inexcusably, for instance, there was no replay on the penalty on Ravens first kick return with the critical block in the back call. Ivy’s pass interference was shown with one begrudgingly late replay. Similarly, when the Colts had multiple penalties on a punt return that was handled with no follow-on replays. Instead the CBS crew turned the game into a personality parade, feeding viewers with unending close-ups of the coaches, coordinators, and quarterbacks. Even still, the endless close-ups were supported with very little relevant commentary from Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel. There was a shot of Ed Reed with his helmet off on the sidelines while his defense was on the field, for instance, but the announcers never even acknowledged it, much less explained it. Dierdorf provided his usual litany of hyperbole and platitudes. It was a typical Peyton Manning slurp fest from Dierdorf. For instance, when a fierce Ravens rush caused Manning to crumple to the ground before getting hit, Dierdorf used the occasion to call it a brilliant play by Manning. Gumbel was reduced to being a CBS pitchman for most of the evening as he scrambled to get the telecast into and out of endless commercial breaks.
It was an entirely unsatisfying experience for football fans, well, Ravens fans at least.