Third Try A Charm? Ravens Clinch Division By …
… beating the Denver Broncos (10-3) Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
That's it. No help needed.
After letting the opportunity to clinch the division or a playoff spot slip through their hands two weeks in a row, will the third time be the Ravens' charm?
Baltimore doesn't even need an assist from the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Cincinnati Bengals. Both rivals can win and Baltimore still clinches if they take care of business against the visiting Broncos. (If Pit. and Cincy both win, neither can clinch a playoff berth this week)
The crazy thing is the Ravens' early, dominant 9-2 record has afforded them the luxury of potentially clinching a playoff berth and/or the AFC North this week even if they lose to Denver Sunday. In that case, one of various combinations of the Bengals and Steelers losing would need to happen.
Here are Baltimore's playoff scenarios, per ESPN.
Clinch AFC North
1) Ravens beat Denver
2) Ravens tie Bengals loss (at Philadelphia) or tie
3) Ravens tie Steelers loss (at Dallas) or tie
4) Bengals and Steelers both lose
Clinch Playoff Berth
1)Ravens tie Denver
2) Bengals lose or tie
3) Steelers lose or tie
No Pride In Backing Into Playoffs
As noted above, the Ravens can clinch a playoff spot this week even if they lose. But is backing into their fifth straight postseason berth anything to be proud of?
Running back Ray Rice wants nothing to do with that, as was showcased by what I believe was the Ravens quote of the day Sunday:
"I'm not going to sit back and watch our playoff fate based on other teams," he said. "I can't give two craps about what another team does. I'm focused on the Baltimore Ravens, and obviously a little help here and there helps, but that's not something I pride [myself] on. … We pride ourselves on beating people and going into the playoffs strong."
Not only would the Ravens take pride in a strong final push, but it would send a compelling message to potential playoff opponents. As it stands right now, wild-card contenders would like to draw Baltimore in the first round.
When asked by a Twitter follower if the Indianapolis Colts (current AFC fifth seed) could actually beat someone in the playoffs, guess who the venerable Peter King pointed to?
"[They] would have to win in a place like Baltimore," he responded. "Tough, but possible."
While it seems unlikely the Ravens would miss the playoffs altogether, there is a feeling that they are headed in the wrong direction, and CSNBaltimore.com's Ray Frager says they aren't playing like contenders.
"A couple of weeks ago, even considering they would have to back in would have seemed ridiculous," Frager wrote. "Not anymore."
Williams: We Can't Be Vanilla vs. Peyton
The Ravens have been beaten by a 37-year-old backup quarterback (Charlie Batch) and a rookie backup (Kirk Cousins) in back-to-back games.
"[O]ne [is] ready to apply for AARP membership and another is a rookie who hasn't played enough to earn his letter," wrote Frager.
If Baltimore can't take care of business against Batch and Cousins, can they be expected to beat Peyton Manning Sunday?
Ravens starting cornerback Cary Williams is well aware of the difference in the level of competition and says the defense is going to have to come up with something special to limit the MVP candidate.
"It's frustrating, man, because it's two backup guys – guys that aren't even starters – coming in and making plays," Williams told CSNBaltimore.com.
"We got a tough guy coming in here in Peyton Manning and we understand we can't be vanilla against those guys (the Broncos). We have to show different looks for him. If we don't, he'll pick us apart because he's such a savvy vet."
Tale Of Two Flaccos Continues
That was the word ESPN Stats and Information used to describe quarterback Joe Flacco's performance in the first half of Sunday's loss to the Redskins.
He completed 10-of-13 passes for 127 yards and a whopping three touchdowns in two quarters of play. One week after struggling with the deep ball, all three of Flacco's scores came on throws deeper than 10 yards down field.
But then Flacco stalled when the offense came out from the halftime break.
Flacco completed 1-of-2 pass attempts for just three yards in the third quarter. Three yards in 15 minutes.
"I'm no math major, but I don't think that's good," wrote CBSSports.com's Clark Judge.
A big reason for that can be attributed to the Ravens finding major success in the run game. That's when Rice and Bernard Pierce took over. But when Flacco did have the ball, he notched an interception and a fumble. Those were critical turnovers that proved to be a difference in the game.
Part of the issue was the protection after the Redskins switched their pressure after halftime.
"Flacco faced four or fewer pass rushers on 10 of his 13 first-half dropbacks and was not sacked," per ESPN Stats and Info. "In the second half, the Redskins sent extra pressure on 5-of-11 dropbacks, holding Flacco to 55 passing yards with an interception and two sacks."
Too Passive In Final Minute?
The Ravens got the ball back with 29 seconds remaining in regulation on their own 19-yard line with game tied at 28.
After some controversy over whether the kickoff was kicked out of bounds (which would have given the Ravens a starting point at the 40-yard line), Flacco knelt and took the game into overtime.
"Were the Ravens too passive at the end of regulation against the Redskins?" asked CSNBaltimore.com's Bo Smolka.
"Should the Ravens have taken a shot or two downfield? The Redskins have the league's 31st-ranked pass defense and have given up 10 plays this season of 40-plus yards."
Smolka argues the Ravens essentially needed 40 yards in 28 seconds for a field goal. They had one timeout remaining.
But as noted above, the passing offense was struggling to a certain extent in the second half and Flacco had committed two turnovers.
Flacco had no issue with the decision to take the game into overtime.
"It's kind of tough in that situation," he said. "I don't really question what we did. It was kind of a point that it was in overtime and that's what we were playing for, and that's what happened, and we just didn't get it done."
- After Paul Kruger was fined $5,000 last week for wearing his jersey too high and exposing the back of his shoulder pads, ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio noticed the outside linebacker's jersey riding up again.
- Jameel McClain's X-rays on his injured neck were negative, but Aaron Wilson tweeted that he was in "serious pain" and dealing with swelling. McClain reached out to his Twitter followers after the game, indicating things will be OK going forward. … @jameelmcclain: Thanks for the prayers everybody I will be good #fightingthegoodfight [Twitter]
- "I don't care what sort of condition Ray Lewis is in. Baltimore needs something, anything, to perk up a leaking defense," wrote Judge. [CBSSports.com]
- @vleach44: #Ravensnation we let another one get away, we have to find a way to close out games. [Twitter]
- @bpierce_30: At a loss for words... Left my heart and soul on that field tonight [Twitter]
- @torreysmithwr: Another blown opportunity yet we sit in the same position we were entering the game...We need to start finishing teams off smh [Twitter]
- @brendon310: Damn raven nation we let you down. All I can say is I'd rather feel like this in December instead of jan & feb. fight on [Twitter]
- @jasonbuttcbs: Ed Reed said defense was expecting QB draw on 2-pt play. Just didn't make the play. [Twitter]
- @si_peterking: One thing wrong with the hit on BobGriff: Ngata didn't lead with the crown of his helmet. [Twitter]
- @mikepereira: It's crown of the helmet to the neck area. Close but they want that called on the Ngata hit. He likely will be fined. [Twitter]
- In case you were wondering about how RGIII is feeling after the Ravens knocked him out of the game Sunday … he was diagnosed with a knee sprain, but did not suffer ligament damage. His status for next week is unclear, but a season-ending ACL tear was ruled out by the team. [ESPN]