Controlling your own destiny, or simply put, having to win your last regular season game to make the playoffs.
With a victory this week the Ravens are in the playoffs, as we all know anything can happen from there. A loss will bring a probable ending to an up and down season.
That brings us to this week’s match against the seemingly lowly 5-10 Raiders in Oakland this Sunday. Journeyman Charlie Frye will start at quarterback and the Raiders average just twelve points a game and are next to last in offensive yards gained. The Ravens have the third best defense in the NFL, allowing just 299 total yards a game, the Raiders have the 27th ranked defense. On paper, it seems like a mismatch, but as they say that is why they play the games.
Even casual Ravens fans know of Baltimore’s rich football history. We have won 4 World Championships, three by way of the Baltimore Colts and one by way of the Ravens. Before, in between, and after our World Championships there have been conference, league championship, and numerous playoff appearances.
With all that our football history shares a direct tie to the 2009 Ravens. In 7 past seasons Baltimore teams have had to win their last regular season game to make the post season, the Colts had to win 5 games, the Ravens 2, and history appears to be on our side this week. Baltimore has a 5-2 record in these games. Here is a fast view of those 7 games that made or ended a Baltimore team’s playoff run.
December 15, 1957: Baltimore Colts at Los Angeles Rams
The Colts were the young up and coming team in the NFL in 1957 and had a 7-3 record with 2 games left to play in the season. With a win in just one of their last 2 games they would make the playoffs. In week 11 they lost to the 49ers in San Francisco on a John Brodie to Hugh McElhenny pass with less than a minute left for a 17-13 loss. The next week in Los Angeles, the 5-6 Rams easily beat the Colts 37-21 behind 4 touchdown passes from Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin, 2 to fellow Hall of Famer Elroy Hirsch. The game actually was not as close as the score. The Colts finished 7-5 in second place behind the playoff bound 49’ers and Lions.
December 18, 1965: Baltimore Colts at Los Angeles Rams
The 9-3-1 Colts needed a win in their last regular season game of the year against the 4-9 Rams. The Colts would have been favored heavily but the fact that both JohnUnitas and his capable backup Gary Cuozzo were lost for the season with injuries forced head coach Don Shula to use halfback Tom Matte at quarterback. In one of the most unbelievable outcomes in NFL history the Colts would win 20-17 and tie the Packers for the Western Conference title, forcing a playoff game the next week in Green Bay.
Matte wore a wristband with the plays on them and did not complete one pass the entire day. He did run for 99 yards on 16 carries and did not turn the ball over. Journeyman quarterback Ed Brown, whom the Colts brought in from Pittsburgh a few days before, did throw a 68 yard touchdown to John Mackey in the 4th quarter to tie the score at 17. Then Matte led the Colts on a long late drive that included quarterback draws and rollouts that set up Lou Michaels 23 yard winning field goal. The Colt defense was sensational and the ground game gained 214 yards to earn the Colts a post season place. For the record, Brown was not eligible for post season play, so Matte had to start at quarterback in the infamous playoff game loss the following week in Green Bay.
December 17, 1967: Baltimore Colts at Los Angeles Rams
This was the game that inspired the NFL to adopt adding a Wild Card team to their playoffs for 1970. The 11-0-2 Colts came into Los Angeles to face the 10-1-2 Rams in the regular season finale. They had played each other to a 24-24 tie week 5 in Baltimore. The winner would gain the Coastal Division crown and a place in the Western Conference championship game against the Packers the next week. A Rams win would even their records at 11-1-2, but the Rams would hold the head to head tie breaker with a win and a tie. The loser would watch the playoffs from their living rooms.
John Unitas threw an early touchdown to Willie Richardson for a 7-3 Colts lead. After that it was all Rams as their defensive front four known as the Fearsome Foursome sacked Unitas 7 times and Ram quarterback Roman Gabriel had his best day as a pro, completing 18 of 22 passes for three scores in an easy 34-10 Ram win. The Colts went back to Baltimore with an 11-1-2 record and could only watch as the 9-4-1 Packers beat the Rams the next week for the conference championship. The 1967 Colts went home as the best team in NFL history not to make NFL post season play.
December 21, 1975: New England Patriots at Baltimore Colts
The 1974 Colts were 2-12, new head coach Ted Marchibroda, third year quarterback Bert Jones, and running back Lydell Mitchell combined with many others to make the Colts the surprise team of 1975. They had won 8 in a row, including a 10-7 overtime victory over the Dolphins in Baltimore in the fog the week before. That win put them in position to win the AFC East, if they could beat the 3-10 Patriots in Baltimore on the last regular season Sunday of 1975.
The Patriots had handed the 9-4 Colts a 21-10 beating in week 5 in New England. This game started badly for the Colts as Allen Carter raced 99 yard for a touchdown with the opening kickoff for the Patriots. The game went back and forth as Jones would throw and run for a touchdown and had the Colts ahead 27-21 late. Rookie quarterback Steve Grogan tried to bring the Patriots back but his pass for Randy Vataha was intercepted by Nelson Munsey who ran the interception back thirty yards for a score and sealed a 34-21 win which captured the AFC East championship for the Colts. This completed the greatest single season turn around in NFL history, going from 2-12 to 10-4 in just one season.
December 18, 1977: New England Patriots at Baltimore Colts
Both Colts and Patriots entered week 14 of the 1977 season at 9-4. The Dolphins had already won that day, finishing at 10-4. Only the Colts had a chance to win the division that day. The Colts would win a tie breaker with the Dolphins, the Patriots would not, but that did not deter the Patriots from wanting to end the Colts’ season. The Patriots had beaten the Colts easily, 17-3 during week six in Foxboro. This was anyone’s game.
The Patriots raced to a 21-3 lead on Raymond Clayborn’s second half kickoff return for a touchdown and had a comfortable 24-10 late in the third quarter.
This would become one of, if not the best Bert Jones’ comebacks of his career but by far his most controversial. He would bring the Colts back, throwing for 2 touchdowns including a seventy eight yard score to Raymond Chester. A missed extra point made the score 24-23 Patriots late in the game.
Jones began to drive the Colts towards the Patriots goal line.
Although just a field goal was needed Jones wanted the touchdown. As he was pressured at the Patriot 11 with less than 2 minutes remaining trying to pass , Ray Hamilton, New England’s nose tackle knocked the ball loose, Steve Nelson, the Patriots defensive captain recovered, all but ending the Colts season. The only thing though was that referee Fred Silva had blown his whistle, even though Jones was still moving,
Silva claimed that he blew the play dead because Jones was in Hamilton’s grasp. This was a term not yet in the NFL rulebook, but Silva said he was protecting Jones.
The replay showed a clear fumble, and of course to no avail the Patriots argued. Two plays later Don McCauley scored the winning touchdown on a short run for a 30-24 Baltimore win, making the Colts AFC East Champions for the third year in a row and setting up the classic Christmas Eve “Ghost to the Post” playoff game against Ken Stabler, Dave Casper, John Madden, and the Raiders in the AFC divisional playoffs in Baltimore.
On this day, referee Silva’s ruling paved the way to the birth of the In The Grasp rule – one that would later be referred to frequently as The Silva Rule.
Monday January 7, 2002: Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens
The defending champion Ravens came into the final regular season game of 2001 at 9-6, the Vikings who were decimated by injuries were 5-10. The Ravens needed a win to become a Wild Card team, a loss would send the Seattle Seahawks to the AFC playoffs.
The Ravens without the injured Jamal Lewis and new average at best quarterback Elvis Grbac were underachievers in 2001. So the fact that their playoff clinching 19-3 win that night was lack luster to say the least came as no surprise.
The Vikings did grab a 3-0 lead, but played uninspired football. Untested Spergen Wynn replaced the injured Daunte Culpepper at quarterback and threw for just 86 yards, Randy Moss was held to 2 receptions for nine yards. Four Matt Stover field goals and Jamie Sharper’s fumble return for a touchdown sent the Ravens to the playoffs for a second year in a row. What was missed by many that night though was the terrific play of linebacker Peter Boulware who recorded 4 sacks. The Ravens would beat the Dolphins in the Wild Card round before losing to the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the Divisional playoffs.
Sunday December 28, 2008: Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were the surprise team of 2008, rookie head coach John Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco along with the always tough defense brought the Ravens back to elite status. The 10-5 Ravens needed a victory at home over the disappointing 5-10 Jaguars to become the sixth AFC seed in the playoffs. A Ravens loss would send the New England Patriots to the post season.
The Jaguars a playoff team just the year before, turned the ball over 4 times, twice on Ed Reed interceptions of quarterback David Garrard. Baltimore sandwiched three rushing scores in the second period, 2 by Le’Ron McClain and one by Willis McGahee in between 2 Matt Stover field goals for an easy 27-7 win. Flacco played one of his best games of the year, completing 17 of 23 passes for 297 yards and no interceptions.
The Ravens would go on to defeat the Dolphins in Miami and the Titans in Nashville to earn the right to play for the AFC championship. It would mark the first time since 1945 that a rookie head coach and quarterback would team to play and coach in a conference or league championship together. As we all know the Ravens lost 23-14 to the Steelers, but you have to feel the best is yet to come.
We have history on our side.
Let the post season begin.