Eisenberg: A Team Of Believers, Not Destiny


My apologies to anyone running with this, but I'm not really on board with the whole "team of destiny" thing as an explanation for the Ravens' run to Sunday's AFC title game.

Maybe I should be more of a romantic about it, but I skew toward more tangible rationales for football results, such as who blocked or tackled better, or who made more big plays.

Hey, I like a compelling narrative as much as anyone, but Joe Flacco didn't fling that crucial 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones last weekend in Denver because it was meant to be, or because Ray Lewis is destined for a happy ending to his career, or because the football gods are smiling on the Ravens.

It happened because Flacco has a wickedly powerful arm and tossed the ball 55 yards in the air, and because Jones is really fast, and because Denver's safety was late getting over and botched his leap. That's not destiny, that's football.

The play also happened because the Ravens kept their poise in theA final moments, when it would have been easy to shrug at their long odds.

Their prospects weren't promising when they started a last-ditch drive at their 23 with 69 seconds to go and no timeouts left, needing a touchdown to tie, but as kicker Justin Tucker said later, "No one wavered, not a single man on that sideline." They're a veteran squad and have been in similar situations before and prevailed, such as when Flacco drove the offense 92 yards to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh last year. Such memories tend to breed confidence, even in the face of what many would construe as hopeless circumstances.

The Ravens continued to believe as they watched Flacco try to make something happen, and coming off what is now known as the Mile High Miracle, they're certainly of the same mind heading into New England for a conference title-game rematch with the Patriots. They might not be a "team of destiny," but they're certainly a "team of believers."

"I think we feel like we're a good football team and no one can beat us. We feel that way all the time," Flacco said Friday.

Such confident talk isn't always genuine, but coming from the Ravens now, it seems as real as the helmets on their heads.

Receiver Anquan Boldin uttered what sounded like an inflammatory comment this week when he was asked how Sunday's game would differ from last year's AFC title game. "We'll win," Boldin said. That predictably generated hysteria on the Internet, but Boldin actually has been making similar, bluntly positive comments for more than a month, offering insight into the Ravens' frame of mind.

After they lost to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9, he said, "We'll be alright … we're still a playoff-contending team and we're still going to win the AFC North." He was right.

A week later, after the team's losing streak reached three games with a blowout home loss to Denver, he said, "We're still going to make noise in the playoffs. We just have to cut out the dumb stuff." He was right.

After the Ravens defeated Indianapolis in their playoff opener, Boldin said, "I was hoping we would get (Denver again), so they'll see us next week." Several national columnists mocked his confidence, believing the top-seeded Broncos would win, but again, he was right.

To win Sunday, the Ravens are going to need to give Flacco time to throw, as they did in Denver, and they're going to need to find some way to disrupt the timing of the Patriots' prolific offense, either by pressuring quarterback Tom Brady or jamming his receivers at the line.

But beyond the game's strategies, they will also have to maximize the intangibles that are working for them, starting with their collective and seemingly steadfast sense of belief. Beating the Patriots at Gillette Stadium with a Super Bowl berth on the line is a tall order, which is why the Ravens are underdogs, but they believe it is their turn, their time, and nothing is going to change their minds. That's not an abstract quality, like destiny or fate. That's a tangible mental approach, and boy, what a great starting point.

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