Who Are The Ravens Right Now?
We, the Ravens, aren't where we thought we'd be right now.
We expected to be racing to the playoffs, fighting for the top seed in the AFC.
We thought that way when we thumped the Bengals, 44-13, in the opener. Still felt that way when we lost in Game 2 at Philly when what would have been a 10-point lead with four minutes to go was erased by a replacement official's offensive pass interference call on wide receiver Jacoby Jones' touchdown catch.
Felt even better after beating the Patriots, 31-30, in Game 3.
We won four in a row after the loss to the Eagles. Won another four straight after getting ripped in Houston. (You don't think they're a little nervous in Texans' land right now? They have the AFC's best record at 11-2, but they got battered Monday night in the 42-14 loss at New England. And, just a few weeks ago, the Texans had to go into overtime two weeks in a row to beat the Jaguars and the Lions, two teams that have combined for six victories this season.)
The Ravens have lost two straight on the final plays of games to teams fighting to make the playoffs. Both losses came after we had second-half leads. But, we still have the advantage in the AFC North with our 9-4 mark over the 8-6 Bengals and the 7-6 Steelers.
(I've mentioned before in other columns to go see what teams do the week after they play either the Ravens or Steelers. They don't do very well. Make Baltimore and Pittsburgh play each other twice in three weeks, and you saw what happened. Both teams lost, including the Steelers at home.)
The remaining schedule for the Ravens is the toughest of any team fighting to get into the playoffs. And, let's face it, we're hurting right now. I've stood in our bench area in the final minutes of these last two gut-wrenching losses and looked around at who was standing with me – Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and, in Washington, Jameel McClain. That's a good load of our defensive power.
(And, in an effort to lighten the pressure on the defenders now lining up for us, coordinator Dean Pees stepped in on the last play of practice on Wednesday – and made the tackle.)
Are you kidding me? And Peyton Manning is coming to town. Oh boy! He has beaten us eight games in a row. HE IS HISTORICALLY GOOD. HALL OF FAME, RECORD-SETTING GOOD!
A Little More History
A year ago around this time, the Giants were 7-7. They had just lost at home to the Redskins, 23-10. Yes, the Washington team that won a total of five games in 2011. The pre-RG III Redskins.
New York then rallied to win at the Jets and beat the Cowboys at home. You know the rest. They got a little healthier and won four playoff games, including the Super Bowl.
How about two years ago (2010)? The Packers stood at 8-6 after consecutive losses at Detroit (7-3) and at New England (31-27). Green Bay turned it around, winning their last two games, both at Lambeau Field – first the Giants (45-17) and then the Bears (10-3) in the regular-season finale. On the road, the Pack journeyed, winning three before topping the Steelers, 31-25, in the Super Bowl.
We're Not Done Yet
Our season didn't end in Washington. We will get some of our defensive players back over the next three weeks.
John Harbaugh did not make the dramatic coaching change to have improvement happen next season. He – we – want results now. (And, yes, the Denver defense is good. They are ranked fourth in the NFL in yards and points allowed. Their head coach John Fox earned his first head-coaching job because he was a great defensive coordinator. And Fox's D-coordinator is Jack Del Rio, who grabbed his head-coaching position in Jacksonville because of his defensive expertise. It ain't going to be easy for us on Sunday.)
Here's what Ray Rice said Wednesday: "If you let the offensive coordinator go when we're in the hunt and have games to play, it's a wake-up call for everyone around the building that the expectation is to win. We want to win. There's a reason they put the Lombardi Trophy (banner) in the indoor facility. (See a picture of the banner at right.) It's the only thing you can see when you walk into the indoor field. It's a great reminder. The expectation is to win around here. We've been to the playoffs. We've been to the dance. Getting to the dance is sometimes not enough around here anymore. We'd like to keep dancing – dance all the way to the Super Bowl. We have to catch fire."
My man, Ray Rice – you are today's hero. Put it out there. That's what Harbs talked to the team about on Wednesday. Find a way. Find a way by doing the details of your job, and we'll win.
Of course, easier said than done. We know that.
Let's hear from an expert from outside the building. Here's what Sports Illustrated and NBC-TV's Peter King said: "At the end of the day, I'm sure what the Ravens felt was this: Right now, they're an average playoff team. They might win one playoff game, but there's no way they'd be a major playoff factor the way they were playing on offense. We'll see if this works. I agree with the coaching change. … The offense wasn't humming in Baltimore, and I support the change, even at this late date of the Ravens' season."
To get to the dance, we need one more win. To earn a bye, we might have to win out. We will fight and do everything we can to be playing in January. John Harbaugh certainly put an exclamation on that this week.
Tough Times And Art Modell
Harbs told me that the "longest short walk" he ever took was the journey from his office to Cam Cameron's on Monday morning. He was letting go of a man who had been a mentor when John was an assistant to Cam at Indiana University and a coordinator who had helped us to the playoffs each of the last four years. He was dismissing a friend and a man he respects. A bold, tough move by the guy in charge of getting the most out of THIS team.
While I felt for both John and Cam, it did remind me of a good Art Modell story. In 1993, then-Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick cut starting QB Bernie Kosar the day after the Browns lost at home to the Broncos (29-14). At the time, Kosar had Cal Ripken-type stature in the Cleveland community, and the Browns were 5-3. Belichick convinced Art, who had just offered a lucrative contract extension to Kosar, that Bernie was a cancer on the team and couldn't throw the deep ball anymore.
Reluctantly, Art agreed to let Bill make the move. Knowing Art was not behind the move 100 percent, I suggested to Mr. Modell that he let Coach Belichick make the announcement by himself. "No, kid, can't do that. He'll get killed. I'll go out there with him."
Word had leaked out from Kosar's family that he had been cut that Monday morning. As we entered the crowded press conference room later that day, Art turned to me with a little smile and said: "You know, a lot of owners would be in the South of France today."
(By the way, the Browns went on to a 7-9 finish that season. The day after the press conference, Kosar signed with the Cowboys and started the following Sunday for an injured Troy Aikman … and won. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl that season. Art later sent Bernie a check for the new signing bonus he was going to give him had Kosar stayed a Brown.)
It's Peyton Manning. It's one of the top defenses in the NFL. They've had 10 days to prepare for us because they played the Thursday night game last week. Denver is the hottest team in the NFL, winning its last eight. We're really beat up, especially on defense. Let's beat the Broncos anyway. See you on Sunday. Talk with you next week.