SHOULD WE BE MORE EXCITED ABOUT THE RAVENS? IS THE GLASS HALF EMPTY?
My kids make fun of me because I'm kind of a news junkie. I watch local TV news, often listen to news radio while in my car. Read news magazines.
I need to know the weather and traffic.
If I'm dumb enough – again – to say, "I'll be there in a minute, weather's up next," one of my genius children will push a few buttons on the cell phone and announce: "Snow chances Sunday, high of 34, 10 to 15 mile winds."
Smartass. (Can I use that term on the Ravens' website? It really fits what I'm thinking when they ruin my Tom Tasselmyer moment.)
So I'm watching one of the local Baltimore TV sports guys after our difficult loss to the Steelers and he introduces his segment by saying something like: "I've never seen fans this angry after a loss." Okay. I can understand that. We were pretty angry too. We had a few really glum days here at the Ravens after that loss. Had we blocked that long-haired Steeler safety on that play late in the fourth quarter, we would all be a lot happier. No doubt.
Then I'm watching the same sportscaster this week and he opens his Sports' spot with: "It was a win, but Ravens fans are largely disappointed with the team." He was referring to last Monday's overtime victory at Houston.
Who are these Ravens fans this guy is talking about? The answer I got: "Haven't you been listening to sports talk? That's what the fans are saying." Really, does that reflect what most fans think? Is the glass half empty? Do some fans lower expectations to better deal with the agony of a defeat? (Some of us, I think, do that here.)
To be truthful, I don't listen to a lot of sports talk radio, and not because I don't enjoy it. I do listen sometimes and find it entertaining and enlightening. Unfortunately, a lot of this type of radio happens when I'm working – plus, I have satellite radio in my car, one of the greatest inventions ever. In a few moments time, I can find a tune that takes me back to my youth, go from Soul Town to Sinatra, to Kate Perry and the Mamas and Papas singing about California Gurls and Dreamin'.
(I could write a lot about sports talk radio, because I've studied it. It's part of my job to know about it and certainly to sample it, much like I do with ESPN and NFL pre-game shows. I often ask hosts of these radio shows what the fans are saying. Plus, I've asked them to profile the callers for me…in other words, who calls? Hosts have told me that there are patterns with a lot of repeat callers and most want to complain about something. For example, one respected host recently told me that there's a caller who will call different shows at his station every day to talk about how bad Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron is at calling plays.)
But, this column is not about talk radio. And, I hope it doesn't sound like I'm lecturing or scolding. What I want to say – and I've been reminded of this by Ray Lewis and Cory Redding this week – that finding a way to win at Houston is a good thing; that being 9-4 is good, too…that being in charge of our playoff destiny with three games to go is very good.
Hey, we have flaws. We make mistakes. We literally fumble the ball in our business. And, it's okay to talk about them and question strategy. (I imagine Jets fans are a having a field day right now, even though they own a 9-4 record, too.) That's part of having fun when following a team. My sense is that there are a lot of you out there that are happier with the Ravens than the TV sportscaster indicated.
Or, maybe that's just my hope or naiveté.
RAY AND CORY SPEAK UP
I'm on pins and needles worrying about Drew Brees and that tough Saints defense coming to our stadium this Sunday. But, I'm enjoying being in the thick of the hunt. "You can't take these moments for granted," Redding, who is playing very well right now, said on Wednesday. "I've been on the other side of the coin. I've been on losing teams, and it's hard. I've been in games in December that meant nothing. These moments we're in are rare. You don't know how many more chances that you'll have to be on a winning team going to the playoffs."
(Hey, Cory, if we make the playoffs, it will be three years in a row and the fourth time in five years. Head Coach John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco will set an NFL record for the first rookie head coach and quarterback to jointly make the playoffs in their first three seasons together. That's pretty cool and a significant accomplishment. Redding, an eight-year veteran, has never been on a team that earned the playoffs.)
I love what Ray Lewis told reporters this week: "This is what I'm preaching to the guys. We're going to have ups and downs. But, we're going to get the chance to make the plays to win likeJosh (Wilson) did in Houston. We're going to keep fighting to get to the dance and when we get there, we'll have the same chance everyone else does.
"Look at this locker room right now," Lewis continued. "Go look at Houston's, or Cincinnati's…we're right there. You want a tale of two tapes. We played great defense against the Steelers and lost. We didn't play so great in Houston and won. We won. Now we have a chance to play the Saints at our place. Let's go. Let's go!"
SOME THINK RAVENS ARE OKAY
You gotta love Ray. I agree with him. We are in the thick of the playoff hunt and some national reporters – those who travel and get to see all contenders – think the Ravens are okay. Mike Silver, formerly of Sports Illustrated and now one of the top NFL reporters for Yahoo.com, wrote this week that it's a little early to crown the Patriots as this year's Super Bowl winner. He said the one team New England does not want to face in the playoffs is us – the Baltimore Ravens.
Silver wrote: "So even if the Ravens, who host the defending champion Saints on Sunday and trail Pittsburgh by a game in their division, may be staring at a fifth or sixth seed in the AFC, I consider them a threat to win it all. The Ravens are also the team that represents the biggest threat to New England…At the very least, if the Ravens have to go back to Gillette Stadium in January, they will not be intimidated in the least."
Then I checked some of the power polls produced by the various sports reporting giants – ESPN, Yahoo, FOX, Sporting News etc. They think we're pretty good. Most have us as the NFL's fifth-best team currently with the Patriots, Falcons, Steelers and Saints in front of us. Sporting News, in fact, has us at four, ahead of the Saints at five.
Look, I'm not sure what is going to happen when we play the Saints. My guess is that it will be a close game decided in the final minutes. (Oh boy, not another one!) I do think we will make the playoffs, but it won't be easy. I do know that we are a good team with a lot good players and a standout coaching staff. I'll repeat: WE HAVE FLAWS. All teams do. What I am going to do is enjoy this late-season push to the postseason. It's fun and exciting to be in a serious playoff hunt again. I've been there for the alternative, and that stinks.
Sunday will be spectacular. The crowd will be electric. Our players will be ready. The Saints will get the best Baltimore has to give. Welcome to the "Wall of Purple." I can't wait. Let's beat the Saints.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne, a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.