BALTIMORE RAVENS VS INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
January 6, 2013
It felt like a surreal, nostalgic game of musical chairs. In the end, when the music stopped, the Baltimore Ravens were still seated, having beaten the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 to advance to the Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs next Saturday at 4:30 Eastern against the Denver Broncos.
The game was full of strange story lines. Most everything that had been, changed, but then in the end it all really seemed to stay the same.
The changes kept coming right up until game time when the Ravens announced that left guard Jah Reid’s toe would prevent him from playing against the Colts. That created a shuffle on the offensive line that saw a return to 2011’s alignment of Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and Michael Oher on the right, with rookie Kelechi Osemele moved to the left guard spot where Reid, and before him Ben Grubbs, had played.
Kind of odd to recall that it was a bum toe that ended the career of Hall of Fame left tackle Jon Ogden five seasons ago and created this mess of an offensive line that the Ravens continue to work on.
The Colts had some last minute turmoil of their own after offensive coordinator Bruce Arians woke up with dizzy spells and was sent to the hospital, where doctors suspected an inner ear infection. That catapulted QB coach Clyde Christensen to play-calling duties for the Colts, returning Christensen to the role he had held for the Colts over the last two seasons.
Of course that was under former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, who was reconnecting with his old team for the first time, now as offensive coordinator for the Ravens after he took over for the fired Cam Cameron three weeks ago.
Still following? Caldwell’s old job as head man in Indy went to Chuck Pagano, but Pagano was forced to leave the Colts in week five, to battle a rare form of leukemia and only returned to the sideline in week 17 against the Texans — having left the team in the hands of Arians to help guide them through to the playoffs.
So that meant that the recovering Colts head coach Pagano was back in Baltimore where Ravens head coach John Harbaugh had helped propel him to national prominence as Ravens defensive coordinator.
Which brings us to the Ravens defense and of course to Ray Lewis, the seventeen-year veteran who was put on the special injured reserve list in week six after tearing his triceps.
The recovered Lewis was back – after announcing this would be his final home game before retiring this upcoming offseason. So once more, Lewis was back, in the corner of M&T stadium dancing again, wearing a large brace on his right arm, leading his teammates to the win, and on the last snap of the game, dancing one more time in the middle of the field after he was inserted into the offensive lineup as the “safety” in the victory formation, for the final snap of his final game in Baltimore.
In the end, despite the shifting sands of the media storylines, it was simply a well-fought win for the Ravens – one that should have been easier if not for turnovers.
Joe Flacco was back to doing what he does after enduring doubts about his abilities throughout the season. He was winning another playoff game, something he’s done in each of his first five years in the league, a feat matched by no other quarterback ever in the NFL. Ditto for John Harbaugh as the only head coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons in the league.
And the Ravens won it in a somewhat satisfying, if not ironic manner, holding the Colts to only field goals. After all, it was the 2006 Ravens who held the Peyton Manning-led Colts team to only field goals in a Divisional playoff game in Baltimore. But that Ravens team still lost to a Colts team who would then go on to win the Super Bowl over the Bears.
So in an ironic twist of fate, the Ravens now go on to face, who else? Why Peyton Manning of course, this time as quarterback of the Denver Broncos. The same Denver Broncos that the 2000 Ravens beat to start their own playoff run to the Lombardi Trophy.
What was, no longer is, but hopefully can be again once more.
Joe Flacco looked rattled early on, misplacing throws and nearly getting picked three times, including a gift pass interference call on a slant to Torrey Smith. As the game wore on he started leading receivers and putting balls to where only they could make plays beyond outstretched defenders.
He was doing a nice job of sensing pressure and stepping up in the pocket and avoiding turnovers with a lot of outside pressure from Robert Mathis, but was largely ineffective without room to step up and throw. He was better on the roll, right or left, including a nice waggle pass to Boldin for a first. Credit him for completing long passes of 46 and 50 yards, trusting receivers, right after getting sacked. After a slow start he finished 12 of 23 for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
Running Backs: C+
After fumbling just once in the regular season Ray Rice coughed up two fumbles at inopportune times with his team driving. He did get 70 yards on 15 carries, but that total was surpassed by Bernard Pierce who went over 100 yards on 13 rushes. At times, Pierce appeared to be impossible to bring down.
Rice had just one catch, but it went for 47 yards and the run after catch was nearly as impressive as his fourth and 29 catch and conversion against the Chargers. Vonta Leach chipped in with a powerful run for a touchdown from the two. The Ravens have not had as impressive a stable of backs since the Jamal Lewis, Priest Holmes, Sam Gash 2000 team.
Wide Receivers: B
Anquan Boldin was the clear player of the game. After failing to come down with either ball thrown to him in the first half, Boldin hauled in all five balls thrown to him in the second half for 145 yards and a spectacular leaping grab for a touchdown as he was being interfered with in the end zone. He didn’t get the call but did get the catch and was the difference-maker who allowed the Ravens to pull away. His over the shoulder basket catch for 50 yards was textbook. And he fought back to make another long catch on third and 19, getting a pass interference call to go his way to boot. He was flagged for a ticky-tack shove for an offensive pass interference call.
Torrey Smith had just two catches for 31 yards, including a difficult leaping grab on a ball that was headed over his head, which helped settle Flacco down. But more impressive was his downfield blocking to help spring long gains. Tandon Doss had two chances in the end zone that he dropped on difficult chances and also dropped a curl – his timing with Flacco is not there yet.
Tight Ends: B
Ed Dickson got wide open in space to make a nice catch and run. He was uneven as a run blocker, and Billy Bajema got some second-half snaps in that role. Dennis Pitta was too big for the Colts secondary to stop after catches. He caught a pass at the sticks and bounced off four defenders for extra yards. He also caught a pass in the seam and rolled right into the end zone while splitting defenders.
Michael Oher was back on the right side but he was no match for Robert Mathis’ speed rush. Oher was beaten and Mathis was able to force Flacco to throw the ball away on far too many drop backs. He also picked up a characteristic false start penalty. Bryan McKinnie faired much better than he had in his 2012 debut in Week 17 and managed to keep Dwight Freeney away from the quarterback and at times running him into the ground. McKinney also blocked better in running situations, including a shove at the end of a stretch play that allowed Rice to cut back in the vacated space for a run of 13.
Interior Line: B+
After being asked to switch to left guard, a position he played sparingly and never with McKinnie to his left, Kelechi Osemele fared very well. He blew an assignment to kick out and pick up Freeney, who nearly sacked Flacco on his TD toss to Pitta. But all’s well that ends well and Osemele quickly acknowledged to the veteran Matt Birk that he knew he missed Birk’s line call.
Osemele was regularly plowing defenders around the field right up to the whistle. Birk was a steady presence against an outmatched Colts defensive line. Marshal Yanda stood out for a big shot he got on Jerrell Freeman to spring Rice for 15.
Chykie Brown continues to exceed expectations earning the start over the more highly touted Jimmy Smith. He kept the veteran Reggie Wayne in check for most of the game and got big hits on Wayne and T.Y. Hilton.
Both Cory Graham and Cary Williams played the ball in the air well. Graham, playing the slot, tipped a ball on the sideline that Williams grabbed for an interception that he nearly ran back for a score. Graham picked up a nice sack on a move where he cut across the face of left tackle Anthony Castonzo. As a group the forced Luck to stay in the pocket for a long time, leading to sacks or flushing the rookie QB.
Ed Reed asserted himself early with a center blitz that he tipped to force a punt. He dropped a chance set the NFL record for interceptions in the playoffs. Reed was caught out of position for one gain of twenty up the middle.
Bernard Pollard was back from rib injuries and was back to his old self. He nearly picked up a sack on a play erased by a Colts false start, and intimidated the Colts receivers into a number of drops. He was flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver despite trying to turn his shoulder and aim for the chest, but he invited the call with the missile-like tackle. That led to a taunting call on Pollard.
Ray Lewis seemed to pick up where he left off with 13 tackles. He showcased surprising speed getting to the ball carrier. While he sometimes guessed wrong –including the first play of the game on an end around for 15 — he was often able to split blocks to bring down ball carriers with authority. He did drop what should have been one of the easiest interceptions of his career.
Dannell Ellerbe was also a force and showed a lot of speed and good lane integrity to get to the ball carrier. He was not as effective dropping into coverage and uncharacteristically missed a couple of tackles.
Paul Kruger looked unstoppable at times, getting 2.5 sacks, defending a pass in the flat, and forcing a fumble. While he was lined up against a substitute in rookie Brad Sowell later in the game, he also switched to Castonzo’s side where he was equally effective. He wasn’t perfect however, and continues to miss tackles in space and also jumped offsides.
Terrell Suggs was largely a non-factor, other than two quarterback hurries. He and Albert McClellan and Courtney Upshaw were victimized a number of times when Colts running backs were able to bounce runs to the outside.
Defensive Line: B
Pernell McPhee and Art Jones were two of the more consistent defenders along the line. McPhee scooped up a fumble and Jones was extremely disruptive against the run, particularly on the goal line. Haloti Ngata looked to be back at full strength, bringing down ball carriers with ease when he got there.
Ma’ake Kemoeatu and De’Angelo Tyson made plays but were not consistent. Terrence Cody, in reduced role, was awful. He was blown into a different zip code on a 22-yard run to his side. When he was immediately pulled for Tyson, he could not lumber off the field fast enough to avoid a penalty for 12 men on the field when the ball was snapped.
Special Teams: B+
Justin Tucker would not allow the Colts to return kicks and was perfect on his lone short field goal try. Jacoby Jones seemed to be on the verge of breaking every return including a 31 yarder where he made five Colts miss.
Sam Koch was a big weapon punting and would have had a third punt downed inside the twenty had David Reed not been flagged for illegal touching of a punt that would have rolled dead at the two.
John Harbaugh shuffled his coaching staff and then his offensive line and still managed to win another playoff game without letting it become a distraction. The Ravens on defense continue to struggle maintaining consistency near the end of the first half, giving up two of the Colts three field goals with under six minutes to play in the half.
Give credit to Harbaugh for allowing Ray Lewis to shine in his final game, including the classy move of allowing the veteran out onto the field for the final snap.
Mike Carey’s crew was pretty inconsistent particularly with interference calls. The Ravens got a break on a pass interference call against Cassius Vaughn on a Torrey Smith slant that Vaughn was in position to pick off.
On the very next call the crew blew a fumble call when they credited Freeman for coming up with a ball that clearly ended up in Marshal Yanda’s hands.
More than once Colts receivers were blocking linebackers with the ball in the air and that is clear interference foul on the offense. Boldin got flagged for interference on a slight push off but didn’t get the call his way when Darius Butler grabbed his shirttail to hold the receiver and then jam him in the chest as the ball was coming down for a touchdown catch.
In general, there was far too much time wasted sorting out calls, time on the clock and spot of the ball after flags.