After an emotional win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a renewed Ravens team must now start looking ahead to the next two games, against Minnesota and Detroit, in two contests that could decide the team’s playoff fortunes.
The huge, emotional lift that the 22-20 win over the Steelers gave the Ravens, should also immediately send coaches running to pull tape of recent games-off the Ravens have taken after similar emotional wins to avoid the same fate against the Vikings.
One year ago, Baltimore opened the season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals and blew them out of the sky in a 44-13 laugher that had experts wondering if Bengals quarterback Andy “Red Baron” Dalton’s biplane had in fact crashed against such a well-armed opponent.
It all looked great until the team couldn’t finish against the Philadelphia Eagles on the road the next game (despite having a sizable number of travelling Ravens fans in the stadium) and in a 24-23 loss to a team that later combusted for the season.
In 2011, the Ravens opened their season by ripping apart the Pittsburgh Steelers at home in a rare game against them not decided by three points or less, winning 35-7, as Ben Roethlisberger was harassed by a Ravens defense the whole contest.
But then in game two, the team slept through a 26-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans on the road when Joe Flacco couldn’t seem to get any offense going, and played badly even when he did.
Later that same season, the Ravens knocked off the Houston Texans 29-14 before putting on their most pathetic offensive performance in recent memory in losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road 12-7, netting only 146 total yards. Later in the same season, the team lost to the Seattle Seahawks on the road in a game following another huge win over the Steelers, in another contest that looked like a win going in.
The Vikings (2-8-1) look like a hopeless team coming into Baltimore, but then again, they are the same team that tied, and should have beaten the Green Bay Packers on the road a week ago. They also have Adrian Peterson at running back, the 2012 league MVP who helped carry the team into the playoffs.
It might be easy to overlook these Vikings with the Detroit Lions just a game after that. In the “letdown” games the team has lost the past few years, the contests have largely been on the road, but that shouldn’t change anyone’s thinking because Minnesota is a home game.
The Vikings will come in fired up to play, looking for a win, and the Ravens can’t overlook them.
The Lions (7-5) are leading the NFC North and also playing host to the Ravens where super-receiver Calvin Johnson has been selling tickets to a pass-catching clinic called “playing any Lions opponent”, all season long.
Even with far better secondary play, led by Jimmy Smith’s recent heroics, the Ravens don’t really have a player who can cover him. Not that any other teams do, but Johnson should be a special concern to Baltimore, which might want to consider dropping James Ihedigbo or Matt Elam into permanent double coverage of the Lion and make other players beat them.
The Lions game is the one most experts and commentators (including this one) have or will pick the Ravens to lose, but it’s critical that the team be in a position to be able to compete.
In theory, if the Ravens were to win four games in a row, they will certainly head off to the playoffs – with at least a Wild Card due to the various tie-breaks including AFC record and head-to-head wins – where the team looks pretty good.
But that’s a big “if,” whereas the more likely scenario has them losing to the Lions then winning at home against the Patriots (as the Ravens generally play them very well, look for an upcoming column of mine on just how well) and hope the Bengals rest their starters in the season finale with the division title assured.
But the Lions game doesn’t matter a whole lot if the team is 6-7 heading into the game, coming off a stinker of a game to send them on the same ship that doomed the Steelers and Browns after losing their seventh of the season.
The Ravens can be prepared against that by looking at their own history and not looking too far ahead of the Vikings as they worry about the road game against the Lions.
They’ve now won three of their last four, plus an overtime loss to the Bears in a game they mostly played well enough to win.
The Ravens may just be peaking at the right time despite all previous indications that they would miss the playoffs this year after their (similar) game off against the Browns in Cleveland and (other similar) game off against the Buffalo Bills earlier in the season.
All of that is now in the past. The Ravens can make all the struggles and near-misses this season go far away with just four wins in a row and maybe just three of four.
Before that though, the coaches and players need to be students of history, their own history, and realize that neither the Lions, nor the Vikings, can be taken lightly.