Ravens' Early Chance To Lead Entire Division
First it was the Philadelphia Eagles who took down the Cleveland Browns, 17-16, Sunday afternoon.
Then quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos took care of business by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19, on prime-time television Sunday night.
Two AFC North games, two AFC North losses.
With the Ravens playing the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football, Baltimore has the chance to start the season off fast and take a game lead over all its division foes.
That said, the Bengals have the same opportunity.
The Broncos-Steelers game was the league's first look in more than a year at quarterback Peyton Manning, who the Ravens face in Baltimore Week 15. Despite the Steelers' loss, it's still a little early to get a good read on how strong they will be this season. Perhaps the Broncos' win said more about Manning's status after returning from neck surgery than anything about Pittsburgh. In the end, both teams looked solid.
"This was a masterful performance from Manning with his ability to consistently have his team in the right call for the given defense and situation," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "As the game went on, the future Hall of Famer grew stronger. Manning won this game with his mind."
While both Pittsburgh and Denver were impressive, the opposite can be said for Philadelphia and Cleveland. The game featured nine turnovers and the Eagles had 12 penalties.
"This was a pretty terrible game," wrote Hensley. "Greg Little didn't catch a pass and Trent Richardson never really got going. Philadelphia did not fear Cleveland's passing attack one bit – for good reason. His receivers were not exactly running free, but Weeden's accuracy, decision-making and pace were all huge problems."
Added CBSSports.com's Clark Judge: "Admit it, Philadelphia got lucky. The Eagles couldn't have beaten anyone but Cleveland playing as they did Sunday, and they better clean up their act presto."
Ravens The Unanimous Predicted Winner
So who will be the lone team on top of the division by Tuesday morning? The Bengals or Ravens?
According to *all *the pundits I checked out, the decision is unanimous: Baltimore wins.
Kevin Cowherd (Baltimore Sun): Ravens 27, Bengals 17
Joe Flacco loves the no-huddle offense — let's see if it scores points. Ray Lewis looks like the "after" shot in a Medifast ad, but the defense is still plenty good enough to intimidate opponents.
Edward Lee (Baltimore Sun): Ravens 21, Bengals 17
The Bengals are rising, but they won't take off on the primetime stage in Baltimore. With the Bengals lacking a dangerous No. 2 receiver, the defense will contain A.J. Green, and Ray Rice will continue his success against the AFC North rivals.
Mike Preston (Baltimore Sun): Ravens 17, Bengals 14
The Ravens have too much emotion on their side for the Bengals to overcome.
Peter Schmuck (Baltimore Sun): Ravens 27, Bengals 20
It could be a scary night for the Ravens' secondary, but it will be a little scarier for the Bengals on the road. Flacco looks hungry.
Matt Vensel (Baltimore Sun): Ravens 27, Bengals 19
Sans Suggs, the Ravens struggle to get pressure and allow the Bengals to move the ball, but the defense clamps down inside the red zone. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice both start the season strong.
Aaron Wilson (Baltimore Sun): Ravens 24, Bengals 17
No-huddle offense headlined by Joe Flacco, $40 million man Ray Rice provide just enough points. New defensive boss Dean Pees' blitz packages befuddle Andy Dalton, prevent him from striking deep to A.J. Green.
Jeff Zrebiec (Baltimore Sun): Ravens 24, Bengals 20
The Ravens have never lost an opener in the John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco era and I can't see them doing it at home and in front of a Monday Night audience. Flacco will build off of a solid preseason and the defense will do enough to hold off Andy Dalton and company.
Albert Breer(NFL Network): Ravens 23, Bengals 17
Joe Flacco has been seen as a quarterback whose numbers are depressed by the system he plays in and what he's being asked to do. This year, with Terrell Suggs down and the Ravens going more fast-break on offense, that will change.
Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk.com): Ravens 31, Bengals 24
Cincinnati gets its first chance in 2012 to win a game that it shouldn't. Though in time those wins will come, the Ravens have too much talent on both sides of the ball."
Michael David Smith (Pro Football Talk): Ravens 16, Bengals 13
The Bengals took a big step forward last year with the emergence of a young offense led by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. This is an opportunity for them to make a very big statement about reordering the AFC North, but I see the Ravens' defense making a big statement that they're not going to let their young rivals get the best of them just yet.
Peter King (Sports Illustrated): Baltimore 30, Cincinnati 23
Black crepe paper over the stadium in Baltimore Monday evening. The man who brought the Ravens to Baltimore, Art Modell, who died Thursday morning, gave that community a team for generations to treasure.
Pete Prisco (CBSSports.com): Baltimore 28, Cincinnati 24
The Bengals have a chance here to show right off the bat that 2011 wasn't a fluke. This is not an easy place to play, especially on a Monday night. The Ravens unveiled their no-huddle offense this summer and Joe Flacco looked good running it. I think that carries over here. The Bengals will have some matchup problems. Andy Dalton can't keep up.
J. Michael* *(CSNBaltimore.com): Ravens 31, Bengals 17.
Will Rice's Role Change?
Of all the burning questions about the Ravens heading into the season opener, one in particular sticks out to ESPN's John Clayton.
With the Ravens' transition to the up-tempo, no-huddle offense, will running back Ray Rice's role change?
"Rice has carried the Ravens offense for years, but the subtle changes in this year's offense could adjust his role," wrote Clayton."First, will the no-huddle limit some of the runs Rice could make? Second, if the Ravens have problems in the middle of the line, will he have to bounce more plays to the outside? Rice is a threat running and receiving, but the new emphasis on throwing the ball could make him more of a threat through the air."
Both Rice and Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron have both said that the Pro Bowler won't see fewer touches this season, but have added that he could receive more through the air.
With Rice having so much success on the ground against the Bengals last season – 44 carries for 295 yards and four touchdowns in two games – CSNBaltimore.com's Brent Harris says the Ravens need to be "smart" with the running game.
At Family's Request, Browns Cancel Modell Tribute
The Browns were scheduled to have "appropriate recognition" of their former Owner Art Modell, who passed away last week at the age of 87.
But son David Modell asked team President Mike Holmgren not to recognize his father, according to the Associated Press. The move was made to preempt any potential disrespect fans may have shown since many still have bitter feelings for Art after he moved his team to Baltimore after the 1995 season.
The Browns respected the Modell family's request.
"David Modell appreciated Holmgren's offer of (a) brief P.A. read, but David knew it would not be well-received," Ravens Senior Vice President of Public Relations Kevin Byrne told Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer.
Knowing any tribute for Modell could have triggered a backlash from fans, CBSSports.com's Clark Judge called it the "best move of the weekend."
"[It spared] the Cleveland Browns a difficult decision by asking them not to honor Art Modell," Judge wrote. "The Browns did what they should, which was agree to have a moment of silence for the former owner, but fans weren't going to be so compliant ... and the Modells knew it. So they cut the Browns a break and asked them not to hold the ceremony, which took everyone off the hook."
Costas Uses Prime-Time Stage To Advocate Modell's HOF Case
Bob Costas, one of sport's most recognized and respected voices, used NBC's prime-time stage to advocate Modell's Hall Of Fame case.
At halftime of the Steelers-Broncos game, in a Sunday night program that rates among the highest in prime-time TV, Costas delivered an essay on Modell.
After reviewing Modell's storied career, Costas concluded:
"In truth, there's a case to be made for Art Modell in the Hall of Fame and if that ever happens, maybe one day, in an ultimate proof of the adage that time heals all wounds, at least some Browns fans will decide that, all things considered, Art Modell belongs, if not in Cleveland, then in Canton."
Politician Lays Off Ayanbadejo
Under fire for his letter to Steve Bisciotti, requesting the Ravens owner "take the necessary action" and direct linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo to "cease and desist" his advocacy of gay rights, Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. is walking back his position, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Now, the Baltimore County Democrat and pastor of the Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn says Ayanbadejo should be allowed to speak in favor of same sex-marriage.
"Upon reflection, he has his First Amendment rights," Burns said per The Sun. "And I have my First Amendment rights. … Each of us has the right to speak our opinions. The football player and I have a right to speak our minds."
Ayanbadejo told The Sun that the delegate's revision is "a little too late from a damage control perspective" but hopes that Burns will "open his heart" on the issue.
Pees Raises Voice In Defense Of Kruger
With outside linebacker Paul Kruger set to take over the position reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs played, one could argue the unit is being forced to rely heavily on Kruger to pick up the slack.
But that sentiment didn't seem to sit well with Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, according to The Sun, "slightly raising his voice" when responding to a question on the topic.
"It has nothing to do with Sizzle," Pees told reporters Friday. "It has to do with playing outside backer for the Baltimore Ravens. You guys keep comparing. You can never compare two people. It has nothing to do with another guy. There's no comparison. I never compare. It's playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens – period.
"Whether it's the Sam [linebacker], the Rush [linebacker], the Mike [linebacker], the Will [weak-side inside linebacker], when Ray [Lewis] was out [for four games in 2011], it has nothing to do with a guy [having] to take another guy's position. It has to do with that guy playing that position. I don't want to come across stirred up about it because I'm not. When you compare players, you take everything so far out of context. It's not about that. It's about how he fits in the defense, how does he do his part. He's one of 11 of this defense, and so is Sizzle when he's in there. He's one of 11. So whether you game-plan certain ways or whatever, that's what they are. They all have one-eleventh stock in this defense."
New Theory On McKinnie Contract
With rookie Kelechi Osemele saying he expects to start tonight, adding that he's mostly been practicing at tackle, many believe that means last year's starting tackle Bryant McKinnie will sit.
Osemele's expectation comes just days after the Ravens restructured McKinnie's contract, reportedly changing his pay from $3.2 million to $2.2 million. But McKinnie has the opportunity make that million back in incentives.
If McKinnie really isn't in the top five best offensive linemen and is slated to be a backup, that could be why the team restructured in the first place, says CSNBaltimore.com's J. Michael.
"This could've been the reason," he wrote. "The Ravens didn't want to pay $3.2 million this season to a backup."
- @untouchablejay4 [Terrell Suggs]: I see Willis is still scared of the steelers.
- @vleach44: Now everyone is finish playing tonight, it was a lot of good games. I can't wait for tomorrow night. #MNF #Ravensnation gn tweeps
- @jtuck9: Bahm-bahm-bah bahhhmmm! Doo doo, doo doo (dahga dum dum dum) #namethattune... (hint: #MNF)
- After going 10-0 when scoring first last season, Cameron says one of the keys for a Ravens**win tonight is starting fast. [CSNBaltimore.com]
- Cameron optimistic that injuries won't hinder tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta [The Baltimore Sun]
- Running back Damien Berry will remain on injured reserve rather than take an injury settlement. [The Baltimore Sun]
- Joe Flacco made his teammates erupt in laughter Friday when the team huddled to start practice and the quarterback took off his helmet. "The guy was wearing a [skull] cap," wide receiver Torrey Smith said."You know, the thing that Ray Lewis wears." [The Baltimore Sun]
- Flacco on contract negotiations as he heads into the season opener: "It is what it is. If they don't want me here anymore, I think it's their loss," Flacco said. "If I'm not good enough to be here, then that's the way it is. If I go out and perform the way I think I should this year, then I think I'm getting more expensive. Things are going to work out with the way we go out and play. It's not my job to worry about it." [The Baltimore Sun]
- The Bengals passing offense will be a fair test for the Ravens front seven and pass coverage. [CSNBaltimore.com]
- King highlighted this quote from Steve Bisciotti to Modell the night before Art passed as one or the most memorable of the week: "Don't go. I don't know if I can do this without you.'' [SI.com]
- Emotion will make the Ravens tough to beat tonight. "I couldn't see the Ravens losing this game before the death of Art Modell, and I certainly can't see it now. It'll be an emotional stadium Monday night – the same ground where Modell stood 17 years ago this November with city and state officials declaring they were going to build a state-of-the-art stadium for the relocated NFL franchise. And here the Ravens will be, four days after Modell's death, in their first game, a game that will marry the pomp of football, the national televising of football and football in Baltimore -- three things vital to Modell." [SI.com]
- Ray Rice is selling his spartan Baltimore home for $339,000. [USA Today]