The atmosphere was electric.
Emotions ran high.
There was a splash of surrealism that lingered at M&T Bank Stadium.
In some ways it felt like we were saying goodbye to our best high school friend who told us he was moving away for good. And when that happens there’s part of you that already begins to miss him before he even leaves.
Such was the case with Ray Lewis on Sunday who evoked tears and then shed them himself.
I’m dating myself here, but I couldn’t help to think of the old song by Seals & Croft, We May Never Pass This Way Again.
In all likelihood as a fan base we won’t experience another Ray Lewis again. We can’t really.
The man who has been our guy since the return of the NFL to Baltimore back in 1996, has played his last game at home.
It’s a day none of us will soon forget yet I wonder if the Ravens could have given Ray a better send off. Yes I get that this isn’t the last game of the season and hopefully there will be three more to play. And I understand how more hoopla surrounding Ray may momentarily move the team’s collective eye off the prize.
But this is Ray Lewis and if anyone could have kept the team’s focus intact, look no further than No. 52.
I wanted more of a celebration. I wanted someone besides Mishael Miller to sing the National Anthem. I wanted some kind of coordinated effort in the stands to celebrate Ray. I wanted Nelly to do his thing live so Ray could do his thing. I wanted some of the guys from XXXV to be honorary team captains. I wanted a Thanks Ray like that from that from the Maryland State Lottery. I wanted scenes from The Gladiator mixed in with Ray highlights.
I wanted an epic day.
It was a great day, just not epic.
Maybe what lies ahead over the course of the next 3 games will be.
THE GOOD: The Ravens running game has been productive over the last few games with the dynamic one-two punch of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and the timing couldn’t be better. Heading into Denver it will be paramount to the Ravens success to control the football, manage the clock and more importantly keep Peyton Manning off the field for obvious reasons. It’s equally as important to keep the Ravens defense on the sidelines particularly after being on the field for 38 minutes against the Colts and now traveling across the country on a short week into the thin air of the Mile High City…
Joe Flacco’s footwork is improving and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his newfound knack of sliding in the pocket to create space and time just so happens to take shape when Jim Caldwell is at the controls of the offense. He’ll need that against the formidable tandem of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller…Anquan Boldin has been very productive during his last 2 starts collecting 12 passes for 238 yards and a TD. He’ll be challenged to keep that momentum going in Denver however. Back on December 16, Boldin was shutout by the Broncos.
Defensively Corey Graham has been very solid in the nickel and when called upon on the perimeter. Art Jones is playing far more like a second round pick than Terrence Cody. More on that later… Ray Lewis’ return provides a spark, leadership and recognition skills. Dannell Ellerbe is a disruptive force that must stay healthy.
Special teams have been very good for the Ravens and they’ll need Justin Tucker and Sam Koch to be just that this weekend. The Ravens must win the battle for field position at Sports Authority Field. Field goals cannot morph into touchdowns. Jacoby Jones has played at a Pro Bowl level in the return game throughout the campaign and he could be a big factor in the team’s effort to tilt the field on Saturday.
THE BAD: Michael Oher in pass protection looks like Stevie Wonder as a bullfighter. The outcome of Saturday’s game could hinge on the play of the offensive line. They weren’t bad against the Broncos last month but in Baltimore they had the advantage of playing at home where the crowd is quiet when the Ravens are on offense. In Denver Dumervil and Miller could be monsters.
Terrence Cody has been awful but the Ravens will need him to at least have a decent game in the D-Line rotation – a rotation that may have to go deeper if Peyton Manning runs no huddle in the oxygen deprived air…Chykie Brown is struggling in run support on the corner and there are concerns that he may not be ready to handle the bubble screen activity that will surely be directed his way.
THE UGLY: Referee Bill Vinovich has skippered an officiating crew for all of two playoff games in his career, the most recent of which was in 2006. Due to a heart condition he was forced to the sidelines in 2007 and did not return as a referee until October of this season. He could be a little star struck early in the game and who knows how that might play out. Perhaps Vinovich is a blessing in disguise?
Vinovich’s track record in 2012 is to let teams play. On average he calls 9.7 penalties for 73.7 yards. Home teams win 50% of the time when Vinovich has the whistle. Comparatively speaking this past Sunday’s referee Mike Carey, calls 12.7 penalties per game for 100 yards. Home teams win 60% of the time. The league average is 56.4%.
THE MEGAN FOX (OR SHOULD THIS BE THE KATHERINE WEBB?): Paul Kruger has been on a tear and is really rounding into a pass rushing beast. He’s shown the ability to be a speed rusher; to overpower tackles coming straight at them; or by being an excellent hand combatant with the ability to turn offensive tackles. He’s also developing a keen sense of when to reach in to strip the football. If he continues his menacing ways the Ravens’ Nightmare on Russell Street could be a difference maker on Saturday if he consistently disrupts Manning’s timing. The Broncos’ signal caller just doesn’t have the zip in his arm anymore and timing is key to his success.