The Ravens improved to 9-2 on the season and they stand alone atop the AFC North with a commanding 3 game lead over both the Steelers and the hard-charging Bengals. This week with a win and a little (more) help from the Chargers who host Cincinnati, the Ravens could clinch the division.
That statement coupled with the way the Ravens have played at times will leave you shaking your head wondering how they are getting it done. We could spend hours breaking down this very flawed offense and some questionable in game decision-making.
And we’ll do some of that momentarily.
But perhaps a better use of our time would be to examine the collective will of the team and their ability to somehow find a way to win. When a team continues to show an ability to rise to the occasion, to overcome adversity and make plays during clutch moments you can’t count them out of games.
The more frequently those game changing plays happen, the more likely they will happen again and again.
This is a quality of a champion.
THE GOOD: Anquan Boldin’s physicality embodies the meaning of Play Like a Raven. His block on Eric Weddle during the game’s most pivotal play, the 29-yard completion to Ray Rice, was critical to its success. In the first quarter Boldin took a short pass from Flacco, bowled over safety Atari Bigby and finished a 19-yard completion. Then during overtime Boldin hauled in a perfectly placed ball from Flacco in traffic for a 23-yard gain…Torrey Smith showed why Cam Cameron needs to design plays to hit the speedy former Terp on the run. Smith turned a 5-yard crossing route into a 54-yard gain. Smith also came up with a great catch off a back shoulder throw from Flacco for a 31-yard gain to put Justin Tucker in position for the game winner…
Speaking of Joe Flacco, his Jekyll and Hyde season continued when comparing his play at home v. on the road. The difference this time is his Jekyll and Hyde act was on display in the same game. Cam Cameron will get criticized (and rightly so) but you have to wonder how much fewer the criticisms would be if Flacco had connected on some substantial gains the he grossly misfired on (Boldin, Smith, Pitta). But to his credit, Flacco didn’t rattle and collected himself when he had to despite being under heavy pressure most of the afternoon. He didn’t turn the ball over and he engineered an outstanding 9-play, 80-yard drive to pull the Ravens within 3 with 4:23 left in regulation. Flacco was 7 for 8 for 76 yards on the drive, the only incompletion being a dropped screen pass to Ray Rice.
Art Jones had the best game of his career with two sacks and an All-Pro kind of play, fighting through a double team to submarine RB Ryan Matthews for a 1-yard loss…Dannell Ellerbe was productive before leaving the game with a leg injury. He had 6 tackles and a sack. He’s really matured as a player this season…Jameel McClain, a very transparent player most of the season, stepped up to make some solid stops in the running game…Paul Kruger’s ascending season continues and now that Terrell Suggs has returned, commanding more attention, Kruger has taken advantage and is a regular visitor in opponents’ backfields…Cary Williams was very effective in press coverage. He’ll get some blame for giving up the TD to Malcolm Floyd but that’s on Bernard Pollard who had one of his weakest performances of the season…Have to credit Justin Tucker for the pressure-packed walk off FG and his consistency. He connected on all 3 of his FGA’s and 3 of his 4 kickoffs were touchbacks…The punt team limited the Chargers to 11 return yards on 8 Sam Koch punts.
THE BAD: Sam Koch missed an opportunity to pin the Chargers deep in their own end during overtime when he sailed a punt down the middle of the field and into the end zone from the Ravens 48…The clock management at the end of regulation was that of a team playing not to lose and is yet another example of the Ravens not allowing Flacco to try and win a game. Trailing 13-10 the Ravens faced a first and 10 at the Chargers 23 with 27 seconds left. They took one shot at the end zone but facing 2nd and 10 they opted to run Ray Rice and burn the remaining 21 seconds down to 3 seconds when they sent Tucker out to hit the tying 38-yard FG…the aforementioned subpar game from Pollard.
THE UGLY: To say the Ravens first half offensive performance was inept would be an understatement. Cam Cameron’s unit managed 90 net yards, 5 first downs, 6 punts and no points…For the second consecutive week Kelechi Osemele was overmatched and played with very poor technique. Might it be time to start Bryant McKinnie?
THE MEGAN FOX: Ray Rice’s performance at Qualcomm Stadium yesterday was essentially a microcosm of the team’s never-say-die spirit that carried them to victory. The Chargers are a fast and effective tackling team yet Rice continued to battle on every play to the whistle and on his way to 97 rushing yards (22 carries) and another 67 yards on 8 catches. And of course there was the most improbable conversion on fourth and 29 from their own 37 with 1:59 to go in the game. A stop there and the game is over, but fortunately for the Ravens Ray Rice would not be stopped short of the sticks.