Five thoughts on the Ravens' 33-14 win over the New York Giants Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Pinpointing The Difference Caldwell Makes
So I asked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco if there was anything about this week's game plan that he liked; anything that might explain why the Ravens couldn't do anything wrong after not being able to do anything right last week against Denver. "We operated pretty quickly. If I had to pick out one thing, that would be it," Flacco said. When I relayed that comment to tight end Dennis Pitta, Pitta agreed and added an interesting take on what might he changing now that Jim Caldwell is running the unit. "Caldwell got the play-calls in quickly. That was a big part of (why things went well) … in the past that has been some of our issue," Pitta said, referring to the offense's inconsistency under former coordinator Cam Cameron. Tackle Kelechi Osemele also agreed, saying that while the plays that Caldwell called were the same, the tempo was entirely different. "We had them on their heels. There were times when Joe was calling the snap signal and they were still setting up. That felt great," Osemele said. Sure, a lot of other things went right Sunday, starting with the sheer volume of play-making, guys making big catches and runs and blocks. But this admission of a tempo change is as close as I have heard to an explanation of what the Ravens hoped to accomplish by changing coordinators so late in the season.
Giants Can Start Planning For 2013
When this game kicked off, both teams badly needed a win. Coming off a 34-0 loss in Atlanta, the Giants needed to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Ravens weren't quite as desperate, as they had already locked up a playoff berth, but they had lost three games in a row, raising the possibility of a catastrophic end to their season. One team was going to experience more problems, and somewhat surprisingly, it was the Giants, the reigning Super Bowl champs, who brought absolutely no energy to this contest and succumbed easily. "I think we had a little better sense of urgency," Ravens running back Ray Rice said. Honestly, that's being kind. As much as the Ravens deserve credit for playing well, the Giants were awful. They just seemed to shrug and capitulate when they fell behind early. Quarterback Eli Manning played with no confidence and the Ravens had their way on both sides of the ball. Critics of the Ravens have been saying it looked as if this wasn't their year, but the Giants offered a true snapshot of such a team Sunday, a team that might as well start planning for 2013.
It can be maddening when you ask a player or coach what it takes to win, and he says, "We just need to make plays." Yeah, we get that. But the statement makes more sense when you see a playmaking performance such as the one the Ravens put on Sunday. One commodity they indisputably lacked during their recent losing streak was big plays, positive game-changing moments. Sunday, the game plan almost seemed to call for Flacco to put the ball up and hope for good things from his receivers, and boy, did they deliver. Anquan Boldin caught all seven balls thrown to him. Torrey Smith set the tone with a pair of leaping grabs. Defensively, Haloti Ngata tossed Manning for a 15-yard loss that short-circuited a possession just when the Giants seemed to be getting their feet under them in the first half. On and on it went.
On their first series of the game, the Ravens marched smartly into the red zone, where Flacco completed a pass to Jacoby Jones. The receiver picked up a first down but fumbled as he fell, and a hush fell over the crowd when the officials ruled the Giants had recovered. You could almost hear the fans thinking, "Oh, no, here we go again," as turnovers (two per game, to be precise) had done in the Ravens during their losing streak. But the fumble was correctly overturned via replay, and the Ravens went on to score, taking an early lead. They also went on to play their first turnover-free game in a month. Was it a coincidence that they (finally) didn't turn it over and (also finally) won for the first time since Nov. 18? Absolutely not. You can count on the Ravens being tough to beat when they play error-free ball.
Flacco Mentally Tougher Than He Appears
Joe Flacco had a rough week. He was criticized mercilessly in the wake of his losing performance against Denver. But he bounced back with one of his best games of the year Sunday, repeatedly throwing strikes, sometimes into tight coverage. His bounce-back game may have surprised some people, but it was hardly a first. Less than a year ago, he had such a poor game against Houston in the playoffs that even Ed Reed called him out in the run-up to the AFC title game. Flacco responded with one of the finest performances of his career. He was asked Sunday if there is something inside him that makes him want to prove critics wrong, and typically, he shrugged, saying his confidence level is always high and never really changes. Some critics dislike his low-key nature, mistaking it for a lack of passion. But he's a lot tougher than he appears, and I don't mean physically. Sometimes he just doesn't take no for an answer. That's a good thing.