Ravens Super Bowl Hopes Alive With Flacco
The Ravens' Super Bowl chances aren't shot.
Yes, the defense made franchise history giving up back-to-back, 200-yard rushing games. Yes, it made history by allowing 227 rushing yards in one game. And yes, the unit is ranked 26th overall in the NFL.
Those were the numbers before Baltimore lost its emotional leader in Ray Lewis and top cornerback Lardarius Webb. That was *before *arguably the best defensive player, Haloti Ngata, reportedly sprained his MCL (more on that below). Plus, the team is still without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs.
So can they still make a run at the Super Bowl without key guys?
Brian Billick, the man that coached the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2000, weighed in.
"Oh yeah," he said without blinking. "Here's the good thing about Baltimore, they've been preparing for this. Not for Ray Lewis to get hurt, but the transition going to the offensive side.
"This is Joe Flacco's team."
NFL Network's Heath Evans isn't ready to "stick the fork" in Baltimore either, using the 2010 Packers as an example. They put 15 players on injured reserve that year and it forced quarterback Aaron Rodgers to put his team on his back.
With the defense getting gashed in Sunday's win over the Cowboys, who seemingly could march down the field at will, Billick pointed to the reason why the Ravens were still able to overcome.
"[T]he difference being, is when they needed it, that offense kicked in."
Flacco and company scored touchdowns on three long drives, going 80 yards on 10 plays twice in the first half, and driving another 73 yards on 10 plays in the fourth quarter, which ended up becoming the game-sealing score. All three touchdown drives where executed in four minutes or less.
Another positive the Ravens have going for them is that there aren't any dominant teams that have separated themselves out in the AFC. The Houston Texans (5-1) are tied atop the AFC with the Ravens. After Houston and Baltimore, there are no other winning teams. Seven squads are tied for third, all with 3-3 records.
If the Ravens are going to stay on top, the arm of Flacco will be the key, says The Baltimore Sun's Matt Vensel.
"Given the vulnerability of the Ravens defense and the injuries to their emotional leader, Ray Lewis, and their shutdown cornerback, Lardarius Webb, it's clear more than ever that this team is only going to go as far as the rocket right arm of Joe Flacco can propel them," Vensel wrote.
"[D]own the stretch, Flacco is going to have to go throw for throw with high-caliber quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning if the Ravens are going to make it back to the postseason and then advance to the Super Bowl."
After announcing the defensive season-ending injuries Monday afternoon, Head Coach John Harbaugh talked about the transition from defense to offense, saying it's time for another unit to carry the load.
"There have been many, many times our defense carried a heavy, heavy burden over the years," Harbaugh said. "For our offense . . . and our special teams to carry some of that burden is a great thing."
"That transition [to offense] has been made," Billick concluded. "So yeah, they can make a run."
Ngata Has Minor MCL Damage, Expected To Play
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has minor medial collateral ligament (MCL) damage in his right sprained knee, according to The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. A source told The Sun scribe the injury was a "tweak" and Harbaugh confirmed Monday that the injury was minor.
"I am very grateful for that," Harbaugh said, when asked if it is a relief that the injury is minor.
The best news of all is that Ngata is expected to play Sunday against the Houston Texans, according to Wilson.
Ngata temporarily left Sunday's game, but returned after getting examined in the locker room. The 330-pounder was already dealing with a minor shoulder injury heading into the matchup.
"The shoulder was stressing me out and I hurt my knee a little bit," Ngata told reporters Sunday afternoon. "I had to fight through that throughout the game. They got me pretty good. I felt like I would finish all along. I just didn't want to not finish. We had a good rotation going."
Ravens Won't Rush Suggs Back, November Return Likely
There's no question the Ravens could use Suggs right now, who is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list and start practicing.
But the recent gloomy news won't force the team into panic mode and rush Suggs back sooner than he's ready.
Even though Harbaugh didn't reveal yesterday whether Suggs will begin practice Wednesday, Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported that Baltimore will take a "cautious approach."
"It's going to take time," a source told Wilson. "There's no reason to do anything risky with a guy this important. You have to think about the big picture with him."
The Ravens have to think about Suggs' long-term health and not doing anything to risk potential setbacks in re-aggravating his Achilles tendon tear. While the Ravens take a one-game approach to the season, team officials are surely aware of the effects Suggs could have on a trip to the playoffs.
"Suggs has trained steadily at the Ravens' training complex, but still needs to work through scar tissue, get accustomed to contact again and return to optimal game shape," Wilson wrote.
Wilson's source reiterated that Suggs is most likely to return in mid- to late-November.
Looking at the schedule, the Ravens could opt to have Suggs rest through the bye week and skip games against the Cleveland Browns (1-5) and the Oakland Raiders (1-4) and make his debut on Nov. 18 against division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3).
Dez Bryant Fires Back At C. Williams
Neither Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant nor Ravens cornerback Cary Williams seems willing to allow the other to have the last word.
After complaining about the referees not calling pass interference on a failed game-tying, two-point conversion that bounced off Bryant's hands in the final seconds of Sunday's game, Williams said that the Cowboys receiver "needs to step up and be a man" and "give credit where credit is due."
Since then, Bryant watched the tape and admitted that his original assessment was wrong.
"Looking back on it, that's a play I should make," Bryant told reporters Monday afternoon.
But Bryant, who finished the game with 13 catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns, still took the opportunity to counter Williams' jab.
"I wouldn't be speaking so highly the way he's speaking," Bryant said, per ESPNDallas.com. "I guess he forgot about the rest of the game.
"But, you know, they won. When you win, you get respect. They've got my respect."
Outpouring of Respect For Lewis
The news of Lewis' season being over didn't just hit Ravens nation hard. There was an outpouring of respect and sympathy from players and analysts on Twitter. (Hat tip to J. Michael of CSNBaltimore.com for compiling many of these tweets):
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley: "Just heard on ESPN that Ray Lewis is out 4 the yr. hate hearing that because hes 1 of the NFL's true legends. wishing him a full recovery"
Hall of Fame defensive back and former Raven Deion Sanders: "The Ray Lewis i know will not end his career off this injury.He's conquered much more than this.He will determine when its over not a injury"
Texans running back Ben Tate: "Sucks to hear abt Ray Lewis he is an NFL Icon that i grew up watching. I was excited abt chance to play him again.wish him a speedy recovery"
Cardinals linebacker Darnell Dockett: "Mann I hope Ray Lewis don't retire. Dudes a warrior. Much respect from. Hope ya have a speedy recovery 5two!"
[Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams:](Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams) "While i dont like getting hit by him, im sorry to hear about Ray Lewis being out for the yr...hes as iconic to the NFL as anyone in the game"
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III: "Ray Lewis has helped progress this game so guys like myself have something to strive to be...a professional. Prayers sent up"
NBC analyst and former Patriot and Charger Rodney Harrison: "Ray Lewis and junior seau the 2 most intense and inspirational players i have ever seen. Ray u are a legend God bless you"
- Don't expect Lewis to walk away from the game [ESPN]
- "Personally, as a lifelong Baltimorean who has had the pleasure to watch Lewis' entire career from fairly close range, I hope Lewis comes back and then goes out fully on his own terms," wrote CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora. "But I'm also not naïve enough to know football rarely provides that opportunity, and if Lewis cannot play football again, I can only wonder about what this winter will be like in my hometown, and if in fact the time when No. 52 is in the rafters and not on the field is near."
- How does Lewis stack up with other NFL legends? USA Today take a look … Mike Singletary (edge even), Jack Lambert (edge Lewis), Dick Butkus (edge Lewis), Ray Nitschke (edge Nitschke) and Junior Seau, San Diego Chargers (edge Lewis).
- Peter King named returner/receiver Jacoby Jones as his Special Team Player of the Week after returning a NFL record-tying, 108-yard kickoff against Dallas. Wrote King: "Jones, who came over from Houston, has been a better addition than many with the Ravens thought he'd be, giving the receiving corps a deep threat to loosen up coverage and, obviously, giving Baltimore the breakaway return man every team needs."
- Vensel says the Ravens should continue with Jones as their primary kickoff returner saying, "I know the Ravens don't want him to be gassed when they start drives in the no-huddle, but more big returns will be worth it." [The Baltimore Sun]
- Adaptability serves the Ravens well. [FoxSports.com]
- Jamison Hensley argues that the loss of Webb will hurt the Ravens more than Lewis. [EPSN]
- My goodness, J.J. Watt! The Texans defensive end, who will certainly be a challenge to prevent from bashing Flacco this Sunday, has an amazing vertical jump. The 285-pounder showed his athleticism and explosion in a 55-inch box jump. [YouTube]