Ravens Have No Chance – Really? Do we really have to get on the Ravens' charter this afternoon and fly all the way to Denver – over four hours on the jet – just to get our butts whipped?
I mean, I've read a lot, heard the talk, watched some experts on TV: The Ravens have no chance. We're just a scrimmage for Peyton Manning and the Broncos as they prepare to host Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship.
ESPN.com's Monday morning headline was "Thanks for the Memories" with the subhead saying: "Because Sunday was your final win, Ray Lewis. Your career will end in Denver."
Denver Post columnist Mike Kiszla wrote this on Tuesday: "If this rust belt town needed a bib to catch all the sentimental tears shed at the last home game of iconic linebacker Ray Lewis, how is Baltimore going to handle the emotional breakdown when the Broncos force him into retirement as a loser."
That's not even a columnist having a good time. That's harsh. Ray Lewis a loser? Whoa! (And, Mike, by the way, Baltimore is on the East Coast – on the Chesapeake Bay. The rust belt? That's near Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, maybe even as far west as Gary, Ind. and Chicago.)
Broncos Really Good Yes, the Broncos are really good, and they have a Hall of Fame quarterback. They had the NFL's best record at 13-3, tied with the Falcons. Denver has won 11 in a row, and the team has had two weeks to prepare for us. We're the only team left that has to play a "short" week, having played last Sunday. (And, we've earned our way to the "Elite 8" while 24 other NFL teams watch us play from their couches tomorrow.)
Denver's defense is good, too. They finished second in the NFL in total yards allowed. LB Von Miller set a Broncos' franchise record with 18.5 sacks. His partner on the other side is DE Elvis Dumervil, who produced 11 QB takedowns in 2012. Behind them is 12-time Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey, a certain Hall of Famer. And, they're playing at home, a mile above sea level.
Baltimore, we have a problem.
Let's Look Closer Start with Manning. This future Hall of Famer is 9-10 in his 19 playoff games. He has beaten us nine games in a row, including two in the playoffs.
When Manning plays a team in the playoffs that he faced in the regular season, he is 5-6. When Peyton plays outside in the postseason, he is 3-6. When Manning has played in January with the temperature 30 degrees or less, his QB rating is a meager 66.
It is expected to be 18 degrees at kickoff tomorrow.
Joe Flacco is 6-4 in the playoffs. He is the only QB in NFL history to go to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. Joe's QB rating against the Colts last Sunday was 125.6.
Joe grew up playing in the cold. He'll be the QB tomorrow not wearing the glove. And, why is Manning wearing the glove? Cold hand? Is he having trouble gripping the ball because of the neck surgeries? I don't know, but he never wore a glove earlier in his career.
What About The Broncos' 34-17 Victory Last Month – The 31-3 Lead? Yeah, I was there for that game. I fretted before kickoff. We didn't have Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe and Bernard Pollard. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata were struggling physically. Marshal Yanda and Ed Dickson didn't play.
No excuses, we got our butts kicked. But, here are some things I remember from that day. On three of the Broncos' first four possessions, we held them to three downs and a punt. They scored a field goal on the fourth possession after we gave them the ball at midfield with a Flacco fumble.
It was 10-0 when we drove to the Broncos' four with 30 seconds and three timeouts left in the first half. We were going to make it 10-7 at the intermission. Instead, CB Chris Harris stole a Flacco pass and raced 98 yards for a TD and a 17-0 halftime lead. We got the ball at the start of the third quarter and made a FG – IT COULD HAVE BEEN 10-10 midway in the third quarter. IT WASN'T, I KNOW THAT. But, maybe the separation between these two teams isn't as great as many experts believe.
Our defense, which is as healthy as it has been in a long time, finished 17th in the NFL this season. Over the final six games of the year, we were the league's fourth best, allowing just 299 yards per game during that span. Oh, and by the way, we didn't give up a touchdown against the 11-5 Colts last Sunday. Ed Reed is second all time with eight playoff interceptions – three of those were stolen from Manning. (Reed had a fourth INT vs. Peyton, but that was called back by a penalty.)
Manning was tied for second in the NFL with 40 completions of 25 or more yards in 2012 to Drew Brees' 47. Peyton was tied with – ta-dah – Flacco, who has won more games than any other NFL starter since 2008 – his rookie season. Joe has been part of 60 victories. Aaron Rodgers is second with 57.
I'm just sayin' – maybe we should show up.
ESPN's Chris Berman Stands Alone Watching ESPN's pre-game "Countdown" show last Saturday, I cheered for Chris Berman. When they ended the show, the five hosts stood and predicted their Super Bowl champions. Tom Jackson, Cris Carter, Keyshawn Johnson and Mike Ditka all proclaimed. None mentioned Baltimore. Berman was last and stated: "I'm not changing my pick. I said Baltimore before the season started, and I'm sticking with them."
Berman spent Wednesday at our facility. His feature on John Harbaugh will run tomorrow morning (10 a.m. to 12 p.m.) on "Countdown." After watching our "walk through" in Owings Mills, Chris met with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
After an exchange of pleasantries, Berman said: "You're in the playoffs, so you're on the train. But, barely. You're in the caboose, maybe just hanging on the back rail. You're even behind Houston, because they beat you, and nobody respects the Texans right now."
"We're right where we want to be," Reed said.
"We've been here before. That's our way. We'll be ready. We're happy no one thinks we can win," Lewis added.
Berman then reminded the pair: "Hey, ask Kevin, I said you're going to win the Super Bowl."
So, we will get on the charter this afternoon. I'll sit down next to Ozzie Newsome, and Ray Lewis will be to his left. Flacco will be right behind us. Close by are tough, talented men named Boldin, Yanda, Rice, Leach, Birk, Torrey, Pitta, Ngata, Ellerbe, Kruger, Graham, Pollard, Suggs and Williams. … and more. Coach Harbaugh, a great leader of men, will be in the front seat on the right. You know the names. You know the talent. You know the pride we carry as Baltimore Ravens.
We're ready for takeoff. Destination: Denver. We'll be there, ready, willing and determined. I like our chances. Let's beat the Broncos!
Talk with you next week,