Thank you, Jim Harbaugh. Because of the beat down your 49ers gave Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers Monday night, I gratefully changed the original title of this column – Road Kill. The Baltimore Sun used it earlier in the week in one of their on-line editions, but I would have easily acknowledged its prior use because it fits the state of the Ravens so precisely.
Home and Away. Jekyll and Hyde. Alpha and Omega. The Chargers game was their worst all-around performance of the year. By the middle of the 3rd quarter I was silently berating myself…..I’m taking a vacation day on Monday so I can stay up and watch this??? I can only wonder what Ravens fans who made the trek to San Diego felt like.
And thanks Jim, for breathing life back into the Ravens home playoff game hopes. Sunday night, fans had given up hope of seeing a home playoff game and were silently – some of us not so silently – cursing our decisions to purchase playoff tickets when it became clear then that the Ravens were destined to be January Road Warriors again. It was the football version of Groundhog Day – finish as a 5th seed, win a road game, lose the second. Been there, done that.
But thanks to the 49ers, the road to a bye and home playoff game remains crystal clear. We’re already in the post season show. Win both remaining games and we’re no worse than a second seed with a first round bye and that long-awaited home playoff game – or maybe two.
STUDS & DUDS
It’s hard to select any player or unit for stud status based on the Chargers game. However, there were plenty of candidates who made my Stink-O-Meter list:
v Billy Cundiff and the Kicking Game: While special teams play has generally improved over the past 6 games or so, Cundiff’s FG inconsistency, particularly on the road, should be cause for genuine worry. We can all agree that anything inside the 40 is usually a chip shot for Cundiff. But not this year and certainly not on the road. He’s aced all his kicks at M&T Bank in 2011, another reason the Ravens want to play at home in January. Is his injured calf bothering him that much? The Ravens evidently think so. On Wednesday they signed the former Pro Bowler, PK Shayne Graham.
v The Defense: The defense flat out did not show up. There was no pass rush, and that allowed Philip Rivers to pick apart the Ravens linebackers – not exactly known for their pass defense to begin with- and defensive backfield at will. I know Rivers didn’t pick on Jimmy Smith on every pass play, it just seemed that way. Smith bit on every fake the Chargers’ wideouts threw at him. Grudging kudos to Norv Turner for his multiple blocking and chipping schemes that kept Terrell Suggs in check. Mental Note: If the Ravens finally decide to can Cam Cameron and if Norv is available (see Dead Men Walking, below), they could do a lot worse for a new Offensive Coordinator. Just sayin’.
v Joe Flacco: Sunday night’s game is reason # 1 why I have resisted putting Flacco in the elite quarterback status. Look, I’m not a hater, but he alternates between Pro Bowl excellence and waiver-wire material. He was all over the field with his passes, and two of his interceptions were the worst I’ve seen him throw since he’s been a Raven. His touch on the short passing game was atrocious. His pocket presence, while improved over last year, remains suspect. When he’s on, he’s unbeatable. When he’s not, you get Sunday Night.
v Ray Lewis: I’ve never put # 52 in a Dud category since I’ve written this column. Until now. A Sun byline stated that “Lewis Fared well in his Return.” Really? In what way? Maybe it means that he didn’t aggravate his turf toe injury. But against the Chargers he looked old, slow, and confused. I’ve never seen anyone run out of a Lewis tackle like I did Sunday night. I’m giving Ray-Ray a Mulligan and chalking up this effort to rustiness after an injury-induced 4 week layoff. He’s already a liability in pass coverage, and now, after 16 years of wear and tear, his total game might bear watching.
I could go on, but what’s the point? It’s best to sweep this baby under the rug and move on, just as the Ravens did when the MNF results came in.
NEWS & NOTES FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE
v Unbeaten and Winless No More
In a game that sent minor shocks all over the NFL, the 5-8 Kansas City Chiefs dashed the hopes of an Green Bay Packer unbeaten season by smacking the Pack 19-14. It won’t save Jim Caldwell’s job, but the Colts put the Mustard on the Titans 27-13 for their first, and four days later did the same to the AFC South Divisional Champ, the Texans. It just goes to show you how hard it is to go unbeaten – or winless – in the NFL. The geezing whiners on the 1972 undefeated Dolphins can raise their martini glasses once more.
v Dead Men Walking
The aforementioned Chiefs, plus the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, have already jettisoned their head coaches. Those teams have temporary head coaches that will, in at least two instances, be replaced before the end of February. In no particular order, other candidates to be NFL head coaching alumni include: 1) Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis: Winning two games will not save him from the Polian front office incompetence. They are, however, the favorites to take home the prize in the Suck for Luck Sweepstakes. 2) Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay: Everything has regressed on this once promising squad – including the coaching. 3) Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis: See Tampa Bay. 4) Norv Turner, San Diego: In spite of Sunday night’s win, time has run out for both him and general manager A.J. Smith.
v AFC Playoff Scenarios
Baltimore, Houston, New England and Pittsburgh are already in, with the Patriots and Texans as division winners. The Ravens and Steelers could be interchangeable with the 2nd and 5th seeds, depending on who wins and loses in the next two games. The other two spots are wide open, with 7 teams still in contention, including all 4 AFC West squads. If 24X7 readers want to stay on top of things, book mark this web site: CBS Sports Playoff Races . It’s loaded with data and has tabs explaining tie breakers, seeds, and playoff scenarios. It’s cool, check it out.
On Christmas Eve the Cleveland Browns make their 2011 visit for what has become their annual M&T Bank ass whipping. The Ravens have won the last 7 times they have played and the Browns are in no better shape than they were when they last won in 2007. The only change will come at quarterback with the shifty Seneca Wallace replacing the concussed Colt McCoy, whom the Browns’ brain trust (pardon the pun) might not put on the field the rest of this year – or, given his general incompetence – next year, either.
I’m a little concerned about Seneca Wallace at QB, because while Colt McCoy is predictably bad, Wallace is just plain unpredictable. His improvisations could give the defense some trouble. But the spread for the Browns game is -14.5 Ravens, which seems appropriate given the disparity in the teams and the fact that the Ravens are playing at home. The Ravens will come out pissed and embarrassed over the way they played in San Diego and will take it out on another hapless home opponent.
On Saturday the Browns will play in another Factory of Sadness. Only this time the production line will be in Baltimore.
Ravens 37 Browns 13
Note: All stats courtesy of NFL.com, additional content from the Baltimore Sun, CBS Sports.com, and ProFootballTalk.com.