Where Do The Ravens Stand Right Now?
ESPN's Chris Berman is in Baltimore to do the play-by-play for national radio on the Orioles/Tigers' playoff games. On his way to his hotel Wednesday afternoon, he stopped by and spent some time with us – not as a reporter. With a smile we'd all recognize, he said: "Just checking on the team I picked to go to the Super Bowl."
Berman stood pretty much alone among preseason prognosticators when he selected the Ravens in early September. The last time he did this was in 2012, when we did battle our way to the Super Bowl XLVII championship. We like the Swami's predictions.
However, when it comes to the Ravens, I am a worrier. Yes, we're 3-1, and most current NFL polls have us among the top seven teams in the NFL. But, I fret all week about going to Indianapolis and facing players like Andrew Luck, who just became the first quarterback in league history to throw for at least 370 yards, complete at least 70 percent of his passes, throw for four or more touchdowns and have one or no interceptions in back-to-back games.
The Indy crowd will be raucous, making it more difficult for us to run our offense. And, our offense doesn't have the starting left tackle (Eugene Monroe), the receiver (Dennis Pitta) many thought would be our top weapon this season, nor the running back (Ray Rice) we expected to be our starter. Monroe will be back, and let's give a hand to rookie free agent James Hurst, who is ably holding down the fort for Eugene right now.
How good are we? It's a long journey. The Colts will be the third defending division champion we've faced in our first five games. We thumped NFC South titlist Carolina (38-10) last Sunday and lost to the AFC North-winning Bengals (23-16) in the opener.
(When you examine the season-opening loss at M&T Bank Stadium to Cincy, it looks a little better than you might think. Unveiling our new offense against the team that has allowed the fewest points this season – Cincinnati is giving up 11 points per contest – did not go well early. In fact, the Bengals held us to just 100 yards in that first half when they took a 15-0 lead. We did bounce back in the third and fourth quarters, gaining 323 yards and taking a 16-15 lead with under six minutes left in the game on quarterback Joe Flacco's 80-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. [Then there was the Bengals' 77-yard touchdown bomb from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green a minute later. Ouch, that play still stings.])
We've handled some tough adversities and injuries so far. We haven't backed up. John Harbaugh leads our daily grind to improve.
We'll all learn more in Indianapolis. Berman thinks we'll be OK going forward. So do I … he said nervously.* *
Facing Luck this Sunday serves as a reminder of the impressive Super Bowl run by the Ravens 20 months ago when we beat teams in a four-game championship journey that were quarterbacked by – potentially– four Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
It started with the 24-9 victory over the Colts at M&T Bank Stadium, followed by the 38-35 double-overtime win in Denver over Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Then it was the satisfying 28-13 triumph over Tom Brady and the Pats in Foxboro, and, finally, the 34-31 Super Bowl win over the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Certainly, Manning and Brady will be first-ballot Hall of Famers. Kaepernick already has two NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance under his belt.
Luck is special. He's led the Colts to back-to-back playoff appearances in his first two seasons. He threw for more yards in those first two years than any quarterback in NFL history. Among his 22 regular-season wins in 2012 and 2013, he has directed an astounding 11 come-from-behind triumphs. The wildest of those came last January in the AFC wild-card game when he rallied the Colts from a 38-10, third-quarter deficit to a 45-44 win over the Chiefs.
Whew! This will be some test for our defense in Indy.
Somebody Worth Your Cheers
After last Sunday's resounding victory over the Panthers, a large group of reporters gathered around the locker of running back Justin Forsett waiting for the smallish veteran to get dressed. When he turned to face the throng, Forsett seemed surprised and quietly asked: "Are you waiting for me?"
Yes, Justin, they were waiting for you.
Forsett had just rushed for a team-best 66 yards on 14 carries, and that included an 11-yard touchdown run that gave us a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. He also caught three passes for 31 more yards.
This from a 29-year-old guy who a few months ago was thinking he may never play again in the NFL.
"After all of the experiences I've had in my career, being hurt last year, being on the bottom of depth charts, I didn't know if I would ever play again.
"Now I play every game like it's my last. I thank God Baltimore called. I had started to look at other careers, but I wanted to play football," Forsett explained.
This humble, hard-working man is a grinder. Respectful, pleasant and determined, Justin does all the little things right, and he's now in his seventh NFL season. Did I mention that in a world of big people trying to grab increments of 10 yards at a time, Forsett stands barely at 5-8 and weighs under 200 pounds?
The Ravens have a lot of players who have survived the hard road and love to compete. Justin is one of those. Drafted in the seventh round out of California by Seattle in 2008, Forsett survived five roster moves in his rookie season. He was waived before the season opener and claimed by the Colts, who released him one month later. He went back to the Seahawks where they signed him to their practice squad in October of 2008. A week later, he was moved to the team's active list.
In 2009, the diminutive back enjoyed his best campaign, rushing for 619 yards and catching 41 passes for 350 yards. After the 2011 season, Seattle didn't re-sign him, and Forsett joined the Texans, under Head Coach Gary Kubiak. He played in all 16 games and gained 374 rushing yards in 2012. Good, but not enough for Houston to keep him. Last year, he played with Jacksonville and was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a foot issue after seven games.
Justin signed with us last April.
Today, Forsett is the Ravens' leading rusher, averaging an NFL-best 5.8 yards per carry. He's our second-leading receiver with 16 catches.
Yes, Justin, the reporters were waiting for you. And, you're a guy worth cheering.
Let's root for Justin as he returns to face one of his former teams in Indianapolis. Let's beat the Colts.
Talk with you next week,