Back Away From The Edge, Ravens Fans.
How bad can you be at 9-3?
Last Sunday, I cringed as my Oakland Raiders lost another game, their fifth straight, to the Cleveland Browns. I glared at the ceiling, wondering if the Silver and Black would ever come back. Would we ever have the talent to compete? Do we have the wrong coaches? Will we ever be more than a punch-line? I punched the "last" button on my remote and bounced back to Baltimore vs Pittsburgh. I saw the score, just as close as every expert predicted it would be, with Pittsburgh driving.
Inside the two minute warning, 37 year old quarterback Charlie Batch hit speedster Mike Wallace for a ten yard gain, down to the Baltimore 34, setting up what would have been a 51 yard field goal... before linebacker Paul Kruger smashed into Batch, bringing on a 15 yard roughing the passer penalty, moving the Steelers up to the 19. At that point, without the tools to stop the clock, the Ravens helplessly watched as Pittsburgh inched down to the 8 yard line, and kicked the game winner.
Now, before I defend my case here, I'll recognize the point that "haters" and fair weather fans are making.
The Steelers were coming off a turnover fueled loss to Cleveland, and were down star linebacker, Lamarr Woodley, offensive tackle, Mike Adams, and the top of their QB depth chart, including 2 time Super Bowl Champion, Ben Roethlisberger. At home, where the Ravens hadn't lost since December 5th, 2010, and where the Ravens were having great offensive success, averaging 37 points per game, it's understandable to think that the Ravens and their fans were optimistic during Steelers week. If this Ravens team can't beat the beat up Steelers and their 3rd string QB, how in the world are they supposed to handle the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady? If they can't beat a .500 ball club, how can they contend with the elite AFC or even NFL teams?
Woodley or No Woodley, Polamalu or No Polamalu. Coming into this game, the Pittsburgh Steelers were ranked number one in total defense.
Let's repeat that.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense was ranked number one in the National Football League. They're first in passing defense, even fifth in rushing defense. But the key stat there? The Steelers are first in scoring defense, giving up roughly 19 points a game. In fact, they haven't given up more than 20 points since October 11th, when they gave up 26 to the Tennessee Titans.
Was Joe Flacco great?
No. Honestly, he wasn't. 16 for 34, 188 yards and 1 TD with 1 pick and a costly fumble aren't exactly elite numbers. Did he overthrow Torrey Smith a couple of times? Yes sir. But you know what? He lead the team to 20 points, seven more than they scored in the away win two weeks ago, and if you remember, Jacoby Jones and the special teams unit were responsible for seven of those points.
And yes. The coaching was flawed as well. No Ray Rice in the fourth quarter and some dreadful time management also contributed to the loss. The penalties, especially Kruger's late hit, didn't help either.
Wow, thanks Ryan. I was really hoping I could read an article about why we lost. Now I feel much better.
Calm down sarcastic italics, because I'm about to turn the tables on ya.
No, the Ravens performance was not pretty. It was full of sloppy mistakes and underwhelming play.
But that is just it.
They were mistakes.
Did Pittsburgh come into Baltimore, guns blazing, and hang 52 points on your defense? Did they shut the Ravens out, drag Poe onto midfield and beat him with Terrible Towels?
No. They came in, sporting a better defense and played a better, cleaner game.
Flacco can play better than that. The Ravens can run the ball better than that.
Imagine that Joe Flacco doesn't overthrow Torrey Smith on one of those bombs, and he takes it in for 6. The Steelers didn't have the offensive health to keep up with that, game over, Ravens win.
Imagine that John Harbaugh doesn't challenge that incompletion, and manages his timeouts better. At the end of the game, the Steelers settle for 3 and give the Ravens a shot to get their very talented, young kicker a shot at tying it up.
One more, imagine that Kruger doesn't hit Batch after his completion to Wallace and the Steelers offense stalls. Do you trust Shawn Suisham to kick a 51 yard field goal? There's a reason he's been released so many teams.
SO. While it sucks to lose to a division rival, especially when they are beat up, and you're in a position where you can essentially kick them out of the playoffs, the Ravens are still 9-3, very explosive, and tied with Tom Brady's New England Patriots and Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos for the 2nd best record in the AFC. This team is still very good, and with perhaps the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, they have every opportunity to prove just how good they are.
And hey guys? If you don't like having 9 wins, we can trade. The last time Oakland had 9 wins? 2002. Ten years ago. Count your blessings.