Five thoughts on the Ravens' 31-30 win over the New England Patriots Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Playing Perhaps Easier Than Answering Questions
You probably thought the hardest thing for Torrey Smith to do was play a football game Sunday night less than 24 hours after his younger brother died in a motorcycle accident. But playing had to be easier than stepping in front of a microphone just minutes after the game and talking to reporters about his emotional day. Smith volunteered to do it and met every questioner with a level gaze and a from-the-gut reply. There were eyes being dabbed around the room as Smith gulped, smiled weakly and recounted what made his brother so special. "If my brother passed away I would never be able to go out and play football like he did tonight. That young man is one strong cat," Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb said of Smith.
Ridiculous Free-Falling Flags
If the regular referees don't return soon, some player or coach is going to have a heart attack on the field. Both sides in this game completely lost it, their emotions and frustrations boiling over because of the ridiculously free-falling flags and seemingly random applications of various rules, particularly those governing pass defense. Asked if he knows what is going to be called in these conditions, Webb smiled, shook his head and said, "Nope." Then teammate Ed Reed told him to stop talking, lest he get fined. The NFL can deny it, but these games are close to ridiculous, turning as much on luck as anything else, i.e, whether the dubious calls go your way. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. There's no coaching it, no anticipating it, no planning for it. You just have to hope the breaks go your way, as they did in the end (barely) for the Ravens Sunday night.
Breakthrough Performance For Flacco
It was a breakthrough performance of sorts for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Not because he passed the other team dizzy – he has done that before. And not because he led a pair of late scoring drives to salvage the win – he has done that before, too. But I can't remember another game in which he was so successful throwing the ball downfield to his wideouts, as opposed to his backs and tight ends, on which he has long depended. Almost one-third of his completions (nine of 28) were for 20 yards or longer. Smith averaged 21.2 yards on his six catches, and Jacoby Jones, who is having a sizable impact as the No. 3 receiver, averaged 28.7 yards on three catches. Flacco still completed more passes to his backs and tight ends (15) than his receivers (13), but the repeated downfield strikes were the difference in the game and Flacco was gunning aggressively for them all night. There's no going back.
Signal To Pees For More Blitzing?
Understandably, the Ravens were more excited to talk about the two defensive stops they made late in the game rather than the numerous drives in which they generated little pressure and Tom Brady picked them apart. Cornerback Cary Williams had a brutal night, and Patriots receivers were open over the middle all night. What changed at the end? Defensive coordinator Dean Pees "really started heating things up, and I thought it made a difference," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. Does that mean Pees was more aggressive with his blitz calls? I believe so, and that could be a signal to Pees that it's OK to do that more during the course of a game rather than just at the end. There were way too many plays on which Brady had all the time he needed. The Ravens simply have to generate more consistent pressure.
At the end of the night, Ray Rice stood by his locker, itching to get to the shower. He had put on quite a show, generating 150 yards of offense and illustrating yet again how wise the Ravens were to invest in him long-term. (Nice run-pass balance, by the way. Perfect this time.) A reporter asked Rice if there was any poetic justice in the Ravens winning on a late field goal after they lost the AFC title game to the Pats on a missed late field goal in January. Rice smiled, his eyes dancing with delight. He wanted to agree. Really wanted to agree. But he didn't go there. "What does it mean?" he finally said. "It means we're 2-1 as opposed to 1-2, which is nice. It just means we won this game." Yeah, right. The Ravens couldn't atone for their title-game loss in this one, but the sight of the Patriots whining to the refs at the end (and grabbing one, in Bill Belichick's case) had to make their smiles a little wider.