RAVENS PROFILE INCLUDES COMPETITIVE TOUGHNESS
Two are Ravens draft choices: Yanda was taken in the third round of the 2007 draft; McClain in the fourth round the same year. Wilson came to the Ravens in a trade with Seattle in early September of this year.
Here are three starters not named Lewis, Reed, Suggs, Flacco or Ngata. But all have some things in common. They play like a Raven. That means they play and practice hard – all the time. They have high football intelligence, needed for the complex offenses and defenses run by us. They have special physical skills that include speed, quickness and strength beyond normal humans.
And, our elite players, along with Yanda, Wilson and McClain, have something else common to Ravens. They are tough – tough in body and tough in mind.
You want Yanda to play right tackle, instead of his more-natural guard spot, where he had been a starter since his rookie year? OK. He does it, and he does it well. You want him to mash Pro Bowl pass rushers? He's got that. You want him to play and practice in the cold? He's the one in shorts and bare arms running around our Owings Mills fields when it's in the 20s.
Put Wilson on the Patriots' small, quick Wes Welker, and Josh defends him well. You want him on a giant like Houston's Andre Johnson, Wilson doesn't bat an eye. "Let me play, Coach. I can do anything you want me to do," is Wilson's mantra.
Go on the road to Pittsburgh or New England, and who is the Raven inviting the crowd to make more noise? McClain. "Let's hear it. Is that all you got? Bring it on? We'll beat you and your sorry team," McClain will scream at anyone within earshot. Hey, you want him to slam up to the line and belt Steelers Pro Bowl tackle Casey Hampton? He wants that challenge. Take on a blitzing Cameron Wake? "Let's do it," is the former Alabama captain's battle cry.
Ozzie Newsome and his staff bring in tough-minded, physically-strong people to play for our team. We hired a head coach who fits the same description. We are a team that savors the most difficult games and circumstances. We have sometimes selected players with fewer of the "tangibles" of the greatest athletes, because we value the steely-eyed in the chaos of high-level competition.
We pick players and coaches who love the battle, who delight in overcoming odds and yearn to compete and win at the highest level. We bring in players who prepare like champions.
"We bring in players who like football," Newsome said. "We don't teach courage and toughness. We select players who have it. We think it's essential to the game." (Newsome, by the way, never missed a game or practice in 13 years of his Hall of Fame playing career.)
That's why I'm OK with us having to go on the road to get a championship. We never walk into a stadium with a meek strut. We walk in proud, ready to play like Ravens.
NATIONAL REPORTERS ON THE RAVENS' BANDWAGON
I'm not the only one who believes we can go on the road in the playoffs and win.
Here's what FOXSports.com's NFL writer Peter Schrager wrote yesterday (Thursday):
"The Ravens are never short on swagger, but toss in a national media that's all but dismissing them from the Super Bowl conversation, and I like their chances even more. To get to Dallas, the Ravens are more likely going to have to travel to Indy and get a win against the Colts – a team they haven't beaten since 2001 – and then travel to Pittsburgh, a place where they've never won in the postseason.
"Call me crazy, but I like their chances.
"I may be the only one, but I'm on board the Ravens' Super Bowl bandwagon. Who's with me?
"Good, just the way I like it."
SI.com's Don Banks wrote this on Wednesday night:
"This might be the best Wild Card field ever. If it's the Saints and Packers in the NFC and the Jets and Ravens in the AFC, would it register as a shock if any of those four ended up in Dallas? Not to me and plenty of others."
CAN THE BROWNS BEAT THE STEELERS; CAN THE RAVENS STOP THE SUDDENLY-HOT BENGALS?
I don't bet. In fact, my job with the team does not allow me to do so. But, I am aware of point spreads. You can't avoid them. Newspapers mention them prominently. TV and radio hosts throw them out to the public every week. Guys I play basketball with talk about them.
I know we're nine to 10 points favored over the Bengals, and that the Steelers are six-point favorites over the Browns. That means that people who make a living taking bets believe that we have a better chance of beating Cincy than Pittsburgh has of winning at Cleveland this Sunday. Right?
I also know that the Bengals have beaten us three times in a row; that Carson Palmer, who had his best day in years last Sunday, has beaten the Ravens in nine of 12 starts; and that Cincinnati thrashed (34-20) a team, the Chargers, fighting to make the playoffs last Sunday.
That all worries me. I don't feel like it's going to be easy on Sunday. But, based on the point-spread experts, the Steelers will have a harder time winning in Cleveland. We all know what happens if we win, and Cleveland stops the Steelers – a first-round bye and a home game for the good guys in two weeks.
With that in mind, I went to the smartest football person I know – Mr. Newsome, the Wizard of Oz. "Great and powerful Oz, can the Browns beat the Steelers?"
Oz slapped me down. "I'm not going there. Let's beat the Bengals first. I don't even want to think about the Steelers and Browns. No way. I would love to be surprised on Sunday. Eric [DeCosta] asked me the same thing. Nope, not going to think about that one," Newsome said.
After we won in Cleveland to earn the playoffs last Sunday, there was not any significant celebration in our locker room. The players gave a game ball to Head Coach John Harbaugh, and that was about it.
I kept going around to coaches, players, Oz and Steve Bisciotti reminding all: "It's hard to make the playoffs. It's really hard." All recognized that. But, the attitude was: "We have lots more to do." Another good sign, I think.
And to brag a little about the Ravens, Baltimore and Philadelphia are the only NFL teams to make the playoffs the last three years. Indy can join this elite group on Sunday. In fact, the Colts would be going a ninth consecutive season.
The Ravens and the Cardinals are the only teams to win playoff games the last two postseasons. We, obviously, can be the only current team to win a playoff game three years in a row. (Our three playoff wins over the last two years tie the Saints and Steelers for most in the league in that span.)
We're pretty good. Let's show it Sunday by whipping the Bengals. (And, I'll be checking Ozzie to see if he's watching the scoreboard. I know I will be.)
Happy New Year! Talk with you next week.