The Ravens Are The Other Guys Against The Cowboys
We're the other guys at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, this Sunday.
It's Cowboys all the time. And, they deserve much of this attention: Eight straight victories, the current preeminent record in the league (8-1), the best running game in football, the top offensive line, a pair of NFL MVP and Rookie of the Year Candidates (Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott), the opportunity to sweep the NFC East, the now-backup quarterback Tony Romo dominating ESPN for days this week.
Knock, Knock …
It's the Ravens – the other team – we'll be there in time for kickoff.
All week, John Harbaugh and our players have been asked about the Cowboys. Heck, one of our best players, Jimmy Smith, missed practice on Wednesday. And, Harbs wasn't asked about him until he was leaving the podium at his Wednesday presser. (To give the media some credit, John, like all NFL head coaches, is most circumspect when asked about players' injuries – but reporters always ask.)
I kept looking for one of our players to shout: "You know, we're pretty good, too." But, I was happy no one did. We'll go to Dallas humbly and somewhat quiet. Privately, well, this group of competitors can't wait. What an opportunity for the Ravens. Games like this are sometimes the most fun – before, during and, hopefully, after. My sense is that we are very ready to play the "best team in football."
So You're Telling Me There's A Chance
Interestingly, the Ravens and Cowboys have played the same teams, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, over the last two games. It's not exact science, because every game is usually decided by matchups and big plays. But, comparative scores do indicate that the Ravens have a chance to hang with the Cowboys. Dallas stopped the Browns in Cleveland (Nov. 6), 35-10. We beat the Browns, 28-7, four days later on Nov. 10.
In a game that was fun for all of us to watch last Sunday (Nov. 13), the Cowboys won over the Steelers at Heinz Field, 35-30. The week before that (Nov. 6), Baltimore beat the visiting Steelers, 21-14, after building a 21-0 fourth-quarter lead.
Those games won't mean anything once we get to kickoff. We'll have to see whether our No. 1-ranked defense can handle the powerful Cowboys offensive line, which features three first-round choices (left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin). That group has paved the way for the NFL's leading rusher (Elliott) and protected a rookie quarterback (Prescott), who has inviting targets like wide receivers Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley and the esteemed tight end Jason Witten roaming the secondary.
Coach Harbaugh loves to say, "We have just the men for the job." And, we might. Our front seven is very good. Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams, along with rookie Michael Pierce and Lawrence Guy, are rough, tough guys who pride themselves at stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks. Terrell Suggs was phenomenal against Cleveland Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas. Albert McClellan is a stalwart on the other side. Protecting that inside are Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley and leading tackler Zach Orr. It's not a bad group.
Hey, we'll let the prognosticators and media experts, most of whom predict a Dallas victory, tell you more with their words in other places.
This week, some reporters have asked, but it has not been discussed with the team, about our 2008 game at Dallas. It was the last game at Texas Stadium, and the Ravens and Cowboys, both 9-5, were fighting to make the playoffs. We won that game, 33-24, in a contest that featured long, fourth-quarter touchdown runs by running backs Willis McGahee (77 yards) and Le'Ron McClain (82 yards).
A little like this week's showdown, the Ravens were kind of an afterthought – the other guys – that Saturday night (Dec. 20). We had produced a 5-11 record the season before (2007) and had a rookie head coach (John Harbaugh), who had tutored the secondary for the Eagles a year earlier. We had discovered that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had asked the NFL to schedule the Ravens for the last regular-season game at Texas Stadium.
We were the Homecoming opponent.
That message was heard by our players all week. We were ready to play that game by Thursday. "We were popping out of our skin," Harbs said at the time.
Then came gameday.
First, even with a police escort, we struggled to get our team busses to the stadium. We could see Texas Stadium and where we were supposed to go, we just couldn't reach the destination. That added to our energy for kickoff. ("They're screwing with us," we thought.)
When we took the field for pre-game warmups, the Cowboys had so many guests on the sideline, there was not room for some of our players to maneuver. "Hey, where are we supposed to practice?" yelled Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan, playing to the hilt the role of disrespected coach and team.
There were celebrities and former elite Cowboys everywhere. Emmitt Smith, Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Bob Lilly and Michael Irvin, all Hall of Famers, were among the more than 100 former Cowboys present.
That was a game that featured the two long touchdown runs by McGahee and McClain in the fourth quarter and a pair of interceptions by Ed Reed. Derrick Mason, who caught six for 66 yards and a touchdown, was playing with a dislocated shoulder and had to leave the game three different times. We were more than tough that day.
"We wanted to be party crashers. I hope they enjoyed their ceremonies," Suggs said after the win. Texas Stadium – the one with the hole in the roof so, as Dallas fans liked to say: "God could watch the Cowboys play" – had one of the most fun post-game locker rooms I've ever seen. It seemed like we had proved to ourselves that we could beat any team at any place and that joy was evident. We ended up in the AFC championship game the following month.
Maybe we can be party crashers again on Sunday in the Cowboys new home. Harbs said this yesterday to Comcast's Brent Harris: "We're not afraid of this in any way. We're excited about this opportunity."
Let's do this. Let's beat the Cowboys.
Talk with you next week,
P.S. Neil deGrasse Tyson, famed astrophysicist, science educator and host of the TV show "Cosmos," contacted Chad Steele, our vice president of public relations, earlier this week. Tyson is starting a podcast, and he wanted our resident genius, John Urschel, he of the math doctorate pursuit at M.I.T., to be his first guest. Urschel enthusiastically agreed to the interview, which took place during the players' lunch break yesterday (Thursday). But, not without complication. These two intellectual giants used Skype as the platform for the question and answer session – eventually.
They couldn't get it to work for about 25 minutes. Some of us chuckled. Made tech idiots like me feel better about our inabilities with newer media.