It's hard to believe that at eight games deep, we're officially "halfway" through the 2008 campaign. With that, I thought it might be fun to poll our team and hear what guys had to say about the first half of our season. Below are several categories/questions I asked. Though we have a lot of football left to play – with our focus on a tough Texans team this week – here are some things that have stood out to the Ravens thus far:
Haloti Ngata:"The way we responded after the loss to the Colts. Going into Miami the next week to get that win said a lot about our team."
Adam Terry:"The win at Cleveland last week. Bouncing back from the adversity of being down late in the game was amazing."
Mark Clayton:"Has to be how we responded to after getting our butts whipped at Indy."
Jason Brown: "Standing up to the adversity we faced in Cleveland was a defining moment. We proved a lot to ourselves that day."
Yamon Figurs:"It was amazing to see the offense click and come back from being down by 14 points at Cleveland. I hadn't see them take over a game like that before. It was really impressive."
Mark Clayton:"Ray's hit on Kellen Winslow in the first Cleveland game. Talk about setting a tempo."
Matt Katula:"Troy Smith running the triple option and having it actually work in the NFL. That play where he pitched it to Ray Rice for the big gain against Oakland was amazing. I never thought I'd see the option work in the NFL."
Most Memorable Coach Harbaugh Moment
Willie Anderson:"It was after the Steelers game. After a tough loss like that, I've seen a lot of coaches be too sad or get too mad. Coach Harbaugh treated it like we didn't win or lose. The way he handled it, as in we could learn from it and how it would make us stronger, told me a lot about him."
Haloti Ngata: "His first win. That was exciting to be a part of after we beat Cincinnati."
Marcus Smith: "It's not really one moment, but what always stands out to me is how he'll jump right in on a special teams drill and show you how to do it. I've never had a coach get involved like that and teach by example."
Mark Clayton: "Has to be the way he acted after his first win. It wasn't about him… It was all about the team. He was very humble and dedicated it to us."
Ray Rice:"Ray Lewis smashing Kellen Winslow. Nobody will forget that."
Yamon Figurs: "The hit Haruki laid on the Pittsburgh player on the opening kickoff of Monday Night Football."
Sam Koch: "Hands-down, Ray on Kellen Winslow."
Willie Anderson: "When Ray knocked Kellen across the middle. That was game-changing. It's funny, because having been with Cincinnati for so many years, I used to sit back and watch him do that all the time."
Haloti Ngata: "Sizzle's first TD when he intercepted the pass at Miami. I've got to keep it on the defense's side. Plus, it was fun to see Frank Walker jump on his shoulders to celebrate. It was like a little kid jumping on his dad."
Ray Rice: "I wouldn't say it was the best for us, but I'll remember that kickoff return TD by Joshua Cribbs. Man, he's good."
Yamon Figurs: "Definitely Flacco's long run against Cincinnati."
Sam Koch: "Mark Clayton's bomb from Flacco. That was pretty. That, or one of Suggs' pick-sixes."
Marcus Smith:"As a rookie, I didn't know what to expect coming in here. I'd have to say the way everybody interacts with each other has been a surprise. There isn't the ego I thought there'd be. We're so much more of a family and much tighter than I thought. The wins and losses go with everybody."
Adam Terry: "Marshal Yanda's injury. That was a tough one to see happen."
Willie Anderson: "Me. I'm new to this team and wasn't around before. People didn't know what to expect from me. I'm having to show I can play. I'm in 'show and prove' mode."
Matt Katula: "Just how consistently good Sam Koch has punted. He worked really hard in the offseason, and it's paying off."
Trevor Pryce: "The weather. Seriously. It's been so nice for all our games so far."
CAN YOU BELIEVE?
I was shooting the breeze with Tom Zbikowski, our rookie safety, in the locker room the other day, and learned something interesting – and somewhat entertaining – about the Notre Dame alum. As most people know, "Zibby" was an All-American defensive back and punt returner for the Irish. He was also a standout boxer who made his professional debut in 2006 at Madison Square Garden, knocking out fellow heavyweight Robert Bell in 49 seconds. (Watch the video of the fight here.)
Anyway, Jeff Samardzija, who is Tom's good friend, a former Notre Dame wide receiver and a current Chicago Cubs pitcher, came up in the conversation. So we began talking about baseball and why Chicago is such a sports-crazed town. Here's the ensuing discussion:
Zibby: "You know, I've thrown out the first pitch at Wrigley Field twice and led the crowd singing for the Seventh Inning Stretch."
Me: "Are you serious? How'd you wrangle yourself into that?"
Zibby: "Because I'm from Chicago, they asked me to do it once after the football season and also after my fight at MSG."
Me: "That's amazing. Some really big names have had that honor. What was it like?"
Zibby: "Terrifying… One of the most intimidating things I've ever done. I can throw a baseball, but when you walk out to that mound, it's a lot farther than you expect. My first pitch, I zipped it in there, but it still one-hopped at the plate before the catcher snagged it. My second time, I kind of lofted it because I wanted to make sure the ball got across the plate without being wild."
Me: "And what about singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame?'"
Zibby: "That was the worst part. I mean, it was fun and cool to do, but you get up to the announcer's booth and they hand you a microphone. You're standing there, and all of a sudden, every person in the crowd turns and looks up to you. You hear the organ start playing and then have to begin singing. It was awful, especially since I can't sing."
Me: "You couldn't have been any worse than Mike Ditka or Ozzy Osbourne."
Zibby: "I hope not. Basically, all you've got to do is start singing and then hold the mic out of the window and let the crowd get into it and finish things off. But I'm serious when I say it was scary."
Facing – and easily conquering – fists of fury at one of boxing's most hallowed grounds? No big deal.
Barreling up to the line of scrimmage to bash opponent running backs or dropping deep to cover the NFL's fastest players? No problem.
Keeping cool on punt returns while 11 possessed defenders scream down the field ready to decapitate you? No worries.
Singing in the seventh inning? No thank you.
Wow. Who knew that could be worse?
CAN'T MISS THIS
In case you overlooked it, punch here for a terrific feature story on Haloti Ngata by Baltimore Sun beat writer Jamison Hensley. Jamison zeroes in on the mountain that is Ngata, explaining why No. 92 has elevated himself to the top tier of NFL defensive tackles.
NOTE THE QUOTE
Yahoo!Sports.com national NFL writer Charles Robinson on WR Derrick Mason:**"I'm not sure another wide receiver has ever had a more underrated career than the 34-year old Mason, who caught nine passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Cleveland Browns. The day puts Mason at 557 receiving yards this season and 9,581 for his career. He could surpass the 10,000-yard mark at the end of this season – a heck of an accomplishment for a 5-foot-10, 190-pound wideout."
Insight: Without question, "D-Mase" is one of the NFL's most underrated players. Is he flashy? No. Does he draw attention to himself, produce controversy and showboat? Definitely not. But, what Derrick has been able to achieve during his career is amazing. Don't believe me? Just check out my Stat of the Week below and see where he ranks among the perennial All-Pro receivers.
STAT OF THE WEEK
During his 12-year, two-time Pro Bowl career, Derrick Mason has made himself into one of the NFL's most valuable targets. Dating back to 2000, Mason has posted the third-most catches (706) and fifth-most receiving yards (8,973) of all active players. One of the league's most durable and consistent wideouts, he has played in 98 consecutive games (third most among active WRs) and has produced at least 60 catches in eight straight seasons (tied for longest streak with Torry Holt).
STAT OF THE WEEK II
As stated by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in my last blog entry three weeks ago, Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco continues to improve with each snap he takes. In Flacco's opening five games this year, he posted a 1-7 TD-INT ratio, earning a 60.6 QB rating. But in the past three games – all wins for the Ravens – Flacco has registered a 104.1 QB rating while tossing four TDs and zero INTs. Here are his numbers during each span:
JOE FLACCO STATS BREAKDOWN
NUMBERS TO RAVE ABOUT
367Consecutive PATs made by Matt Stover, just five shy of breaking the NFL record (371) held by Jason Elam and Jeff Wilkins.
676More rushing yards Baltimore has gained than its opponents this season (1,190 to 514), the NFL's No. 1 run differential.
That's it for this edition of Insight to the Limelight. As always, thank you for reading.
Until next time…