Impact On Ravens? Kind Of Like A Joe Flacco Shrug
As our highly-educated daughter describes games like this Monday's at the New England Patriots (and other dramatic moments around the world and in her life):
Or, as the sophisticated Terrell Suggs, whose quick wit is almost legendary in our building, would say:
Upon further review, maybe not. I really can't use "Sizzle's" exact words in this setting.
This is a great week to be a Ravens fan. With last Sunday's 38-6 thumping of the Miami Dolphins, who had won six in a row, we've won four of our last five. We're relatively healthy, including the returns of Elvis Dumervil and Jimmy Smith over the last two weeks, after not having some of our best players during a four-game losing streak earlier this year. We're in first place in the AFC North in December … and we're going to New England for a showdown game.
Doesn't get a lot better than this during the regular season.
(By the way, a national reporter visiting* this week, who witnessed our whipping of the Dolphins, asked me Wednesday: "How did you guys lose to the Jets?" First, I said that I thought the Jets were playing better when we played them (Oct. 23) than they played last Monday, when they lost 41-10 to the Colts. Then I added: "We did play without five Pro Bowlers – Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Steve Smith Sr., Dumervil and Marshal Yanda – and our No. 1 draft choice (Ronnie Stanley), who happens to be our starting left tackle. And, we still had a chance to win on the last series of the game.")*
There's quite a buzz around Baltimore and the rest of the country about Monday's Ravens/Patriots showdown. You, the fans, hear it more than our players and coaches. We try to keep that electricity away from the team as best we can. And, they're kind of hunkered down in the "Them vs. Us" mentality that they get before significant games and December playoff runs. While I enjoy all the noise surrounding an event like this, I like the "matter-of-fact" way our team approaches a week and game like this.
I've loved John Harbaugh's message to the team: "Doesn't matter the winding road we took to get here. We're here, playing important games in December. We've earned this. You've all worked hard since we first came together in April to reach this point, and now, let's do this. We want to be at our best when it counts the most, and it counts the most now. This week. This game. We will be at our best Monday night. It's not about the Patriots. It's about us."
It's not going to be easy. We all know that. They're very good. They have the best record in the AFC at 10-2. They are well coached. They have the quarterback, whose name Suggs won't say, who has won more games than any other quarterback in NFL history. (Tom Brady grabbed that mantle last Sunday, passing Peyton Manning, who won 200.)
A lot of the national media this week gives the Ravens credit for "not being intimidated going up to Foxboro." There are teams and players who probably get a little wide-eyed traveling to the Patriots. New England is that good – and has been that good for some time.
Under Coach Harbs, who arrived in Baltimore in 2008, we've played six games at New England, winning two and losing four, each memorable in a different way:
- On 10/4/09, we lost, 27-21, when an impressive late game-winning drive ended with Joe Flacco's pass to Mark Clayton banging off Mark's chest and falling incomplete.
- On 1/10/10, three months later, Ray Rice thrilled us with a game-opening, 83-yard touchdown run that started the 33-14 Ravens avalanche in the wild-card playoff battle. Baltimore became the first team to beat the Pats in a home postseason game since 1978. (They had won 11 straight.)
- On 10/17/10, we lost in overtime, 23-20, after holding a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead.
- On 1/22/12 – do we really have to talk about this one? Super Bowl on the line. 23-20 loss in the AFC championship game. Game famous for Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff. Oh boy.
- On 1/20/13, one year later. We shut out the league's best offense in the second half, when we scored 21, on our way to the 28-13 victory in the AFC title game.
- On 1/10/15, we lost 35-31, in the divisional round. Patriots used some funky alignments on a late touchdown drive – rules were changed that offseason – and Brady said: "Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out." I still recall Flacco's last pass sailing just past the outstretched hands of Torrey Smith at the end of the game. So close!
The Ravens and Patriots have traded big plays and shocking turns of events over the years. Here's a look back at some of the most memorable over the past decade.
Tom Curran, a respected reporter who has covered the Patriots for a long time, believes the Patriots view the Ravens as the main rival: "There's no franchise the Pats hate more thoroughly than the Jets. The Steelers, just because of franchise tradition, are in the mix, but the Patriots have had their way in most of the big games with Pittsburgh. The Colts? It's kind of a big brother-little brother thing. The Broncos? Definitely. But no opponent has provided the gripping games and the mix of animosity and respect that the Ravens have over the past decade."
I like what ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor added this week: "But in the post-Gronk AFC, everybody is vulnerable, and nobody with a defense, a coach, a kicker (Justin Tucker has made 35-consecutive field goal attempts) and a quarterback can be counted out. … Dean Pees also gives the Ravens a competitive edge that can't be dismissed. Pees spent two years coaching New England linebackers and four years running its defense. In other words, he has a pretty good idea of how to defend Brady."
There's a lot to get excited about for Monday's game and this December run.
Here's what ProFootballTalk.com posted earlier this week: "If the Ravens win the division, they'll be the most dangerous team in the AFC playoffs."
Even more, Boomer Esiason on Showtime's "Inside The NFL" added: "I'm just telling you, watch out (for Baltimore). The Ravens are a team that brings experience, brings size, brings a quarterback who throws it downfield. They've got speed. They've got Steve Smith running around angry at everybody else."
And another, this one from TheMMQB.com's Andy Benoit: "Tremendous AFC defenses (Broncos and Chiefs) this year. Indeed. But come January, the best could reside in Baltimore. And, it would primarily be for an old school reason: no one can run on these guys."
Clearly, we're receiving a lot of attention because of the way we beat the Dolphins on Sunday. And, as many reporters have noted this week, we've played well at New England, even when we've lost up there. But, we're also getting credit for the way we handle big games and big moments, respect that comes to the franchise for four main reasons: 1) the type of players we invite to be Ravens; 2) the way our players are taught and prepared by Coach Harbaugh and the assistant coaches; 3) the diligent work done by Ozzie Newsome and his staff assembling the Ravens; and 4) our winning tradition.
We are a hard-nosed, intelligent group that expects to win. We prepare, practice and condition thoroughly. We play a tough, physical style of football that is aggressive and sound. We don't back down. We keep the focus on the task at hand. In this case, it is going to New England and finding a way to win. Let's beat the Patriots.
Talk with you next week,
P.S. When a team comes together and starts believing in each other, they have more fun with each other. It's all guys. It's raucous. There's ribbing, and there is always competition – even for post-game interviews. While the locker room is open to reporters after games, we take Coach Harbaugh and three or four players to an interview room, located adjacent to the locker room. Harbs usually goes first. Our plan after the Dolphins' victory was to also take Flacco, Dennis Pitta and Eric Weddle to that room. When I was grabbing the head coach to take him over there, a flash went by – Weddle. The feisty safety, who has become a favorite inside and outside the team, raced to get the podium first. After whooping into the microphone, he announced: "I just had to get in here before Harbs." When John walked in shortly after, Eric blurted, "Yes, yes, I got you. You can just hold your horses." A smiling Harbs responded: "You are unbelievable."
Think stuff like that says volumes about this Ravens' team.