"Dude, what were you thinking?"
I loved Joe Flacco's common-sense response to Matt Elam after the rookie safety made an oops and dissed Calvin Johnson, interrupting an otherwise praiseful assessment of the Lions' All-Pro receiver to call him "old."
Aside from being flat-out funny, Flacco's comment best reflected what most people inside and outside of the Ravens' organization felt about Elam's gaffe. The quarterback's tone was unmistakable. Come on, we're smarter than that.
In case you didn't know, that's the sound of a team leader policing the locker room.
Remember when Flacco's potential for handing such a job was a hot conversation topic? His low-key personality might hinder him, some thought. Well, forget that. Flacco might not have the DNA to be a fist-pumping rah-rah guy, but in the wake of his Super Bowl triumph, with his big contract in hand and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed gone, he has emerged as a ruling elder in the locker room, his voice and opinions more important and influential than anyone else's.
The Wildcat? He didn't like it (and we haven't seen it again).
The up-and-down season? He never panicked, kept an even keel, shouldered every ounce of the blame he had coming, never threw anyone under the bus, and said he believed good things would come in due time (like a three-game winning streak).
A rookie handing an opposing All-Pro playmaker more reason to get fired up to play the Ravens? Flacco had the right response. It's OK to call the young guy out. Elam didn't intend to get into this. He's a respectful, happy-go-lucky guy who erred. It just happened. But it shouldn't. So let him see the magnitude of his error and move on.
I'm guessing it won't happen again.
In recent years, the Ravens have utilized the same blueprint to churn out a succession of winning seasons. They've successfully defended their home turf, winning most of their games at M&T Bank Stadium while either breaking even or coming close to .500 on the road.
It worked like a charm, as the Ravens' five straight playoff appearances attest.
This season, they've followed their usual pattern in one sense, winning every game except one in Baltimore. But they're struggling on the road with just one win in six games. That shortfall is why they're fighting for a playoff spot in mid-December rather than angling for a higher seed.
Now they're backed into a corner. With little room for error and two of their last three games on the road, they have no choice but to cure their away-game ills if they want to be a playoff team in 2013.
It's only fitting. Almost all teams that make the playoffs have decent road records. It's a sign of quality. Of the dozen teams that would make the playoffs if the 2013 season ended today, 11 either have winning road records or are within one game of .500 away from home. Each of those 11 teams has won at least three road games this season. Combined, they're 15 games over .500 away from home.
The Ravens are the outlier, the lone exception to the rule. They currently hold the No. 6 seed in the AFC field, but they're 1-5 on the road.
The Ravens hope their unfortunate away record is the byproduct of having lost a batch of close games earlier in the season, before they found a somewhat better groove on offense; before Dennis Pitta and Jacoby Jones were healthy and contributing the kinds of plays that win such games.
Their theory is about to be tested. Playoff teams typically win more road games – a lot more road games – than the Ravens have won in 2013. If they end up making the playoffs, or if they don't, we'll know why.
The San Diego Chargers' surprising win in Denver Thursday night offered a palpable lesson to the Ravens. They better take care of their business themselves. They can't sit around hoping for help from the teams they're competing with for the No. 6 seed.
Wait, let me re-state that. It's OK to hope for that help, and hey, they might get it. If New England beats Miami Sunday, that certainly would give the Ravens more breathing room. The Dolphins currently have the same record as the Ravens in the race for that No. 6 seed, with the Ravens owning the tiebreaker because of their win in Miami in October – their lone road win of 2013.
But the Dolphins are playing good football now, as are the Chargers, who are 7-7 with two home games left. The Ravens are in a precarious situation with little room for error – probably one loss at the most, if that.
The shortcomings of others helped them get back into the race, but they can't expect any more charity.