Five thoughts on the Ravens' 23-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
Ravens Won't Get Much Love From Experts
Brace yourself: Few experts are going to be showing the Ravens much love in the run-up to the start of the AFC playoffs next weekend. The Ravens could have done something about that by playing more starters and trying harder to win a second straight game and continue to build momentum, but as safety Ed Reed said, "You have to be smart." There was little to play for so the game became a de facto exhibition and the Ravens lost, which means they'll enter the playoffs having lost four of their last five regular season games. That's no way to go into January, but the Ravens are banking on the fact that it's a hollow stat, meaningless because they'll present a vastly different and healthier squad starting with their playoff opener against the Colts.
America Will See Ravens As Bad Guys vs. Colts
Brace yourself, part two: The Ravens will definitely be viewed as the bad guys by the rest of the country when they take on the Colts. It's nothing personal, just that the rest of the country will be pulling hard for the longshot Colts because they were never expected to get this far starting a rookie quarterback, and also obviously because their head coach, Chuck Pagano, is just back from a bout with cancer. The Ravens themselves are excited about Pagano, who was on their sideline from 2008 through 2011. "There's a lot of love in here for him," said Ravens defensive tackle Art Jones, who shaved his head last month to show support for Pagano. So it becomes a week in which mental discipline is crucial for the Ravens. They have to separate their thoughts about Pagano from the fact that he stands in the way of where they want go. Honestly, it shouldn't be hard.
Taylor Not Dull, But Only Nets Modest Stats
Tyrod Taylor certainly wasn't dull in his first chance to play extended minutes in a regular season game. He made some mistakes, the worst of which resulted in a game-clinching pick six, but he also made some plays, mostly with his legs, repeatedly exhibiting the ability to elude tacklers and make something out of nothing. As for his modest passing stats, keep in mind that he didn't have first-team receivers to throw to, he dealt with a lot of bad field position and the Bengals kept their defensive starters in the whole way. Overall, the Ravens offense was different, more option based, with Taylor under center instead of Joe Flacco, and it was an exciting change of pace, producing 23 first downs to the Bengals' nine. And while we're discussing backups, running back Bernard Pierce did a nice impersonation of a starter, running hard and making steady gains. You're not the only one who noticed he almost always broke the first tackle.
Burfict Resembled 'Next Ray Lewis'
Several months before the 2012 draft, the Ravens were thought to be heavily interested in Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict as a first-round pick, with some gurus going so far as to label Burfict "the next Ray Lewis." But some scouts feared Burfict was undisciplined and unhinged, and his draft stock crashed after a disastrous performance at the combine, which included an off-putting interview. Burfict wound up not being drafted at all. The Ravens didn't even want him as an undrafted free agent, but some team was bound to take a chance on him, and the Bengals did. Playing to prove the world wrong, Burfict made the roster, earned a starting spot and wound up as the Bengals' leading tackler in 2012. His unhinged quality was apparent Sunday as he drew a pair of personal fouls, but with 10 unassisted tackles and eight assists, he did in some ways resemble "the next Ray Lewis."
Revisiting Adversity Ravens Have Endured
The Ravens won't mind seeing 2012 come to an end Tuesday. It was not the happiest year of their existence in some respects. Let's review the (too many) things that went wrong. Lee Evans' drop. Billy Cundiff's miss. The departures of Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding via free agency. Terrell Suggs' injury. Ray Lewis' injury. Lardarius Webb's injury. Numerous other injuries. A lot of nailbiting games against opponents that didn't make the playoffs. Charlie Batch. A three-game losing streak in December. That's a lot of adversity, but the Ravens have endured. They still won a division title, their second in a row, and they qualified for the playoffs for a fifth straight year. "We're battle tested; there isn't anything you can throw at us that we haven't experienced," Ray Rice said. They won't be an easy out, and in fact, it doesn't matter that few experts are backing them. The playoffs tend to be crazy, a time when perceptions change drastically from week to week. Brace yourself. It's a new year.