Will We Recover? Are We Over It?
Judging by my conversation with relatives and friends, Ravens fans haven't fully recovered from last Sunday's last-minute loss to the Steelers. Many of us are still talking about the game, the instant replay call, the sack, the fumble, the missed blocks, the field goals and on and on.
(Can I give a message to players and coaches? You guys might have it a little easier coping with a loss than the rest of us. We live with it all week. By the next day, you're already neck deep into the next opponent, because you can't take the time to discuss the "what-ifs?" and "shoulda-couldas." Those of us not involved with the game planning for the upcoming game, we're like most fans. We have to rehash and wonder – and even whine a little.)
And, we won't get over it until we kick off at Dallas tomorrow night.
Yes, Ravens players and coaches have put the loss to the Steelers far behind them. They're focused on DeMarcus Ware and Terence Newman, Tony Romo and Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Marion Barber. It's all about finding ways to beat the Cowboys.
If we end up not making the playoffs when the season ends on Dec. 28, then I'll probably hear from more than a few players and coaches about the Steelers' touchdown. I can hear that conversation because it is what I've heard from our sales staff, from the guys who let me play basketball with them, and other friends and relatives all week – "Are you kidding me? 'Indisputable visual evidence.' That was indisputable visual evidence? Come on now…let the players decide the game. There was too much at stake to take it away from them with less than a minute to play."
For many of us, the ball was not clearly *touching the goal line. It was not *obviously touching the goal line. And, it certainly wasn't indisputable – as Rule 15, Section 9 states in the NFL Official Rule Book.
Okay, I got that out of my system. Coach Harbaugh, I am sorry for letting this take some of my focus away this week. You were right when you told me last Monday afternoon "to move on – we have a big game this week."
Destiny In Our Hands
Yes, we do have the ability to control our destiny. We beat the Cowboys at Texas Stadium and then come home to M&T Bank Stadium and beat those Jaguars, we are in the playoffs. How compelling is that? How powerful is that? It is on our shoulders. It is simple. And, we deal with the games one at a time.
Head coaches make good money in the NFL. But, it is high risk, high reward. By the 2nd week in January, 75% of NFL teams will have changed coaches in the last 4 years. And, when do the coaches earn the biggest portions of their paydays? When they bring a team back from a tough circumstance.
I believe John Harbaugh is doing an outstanding job this week of bringing back the Ravens from the most difficult of losses – one that gave us a chance to blame someone else rather than us.
It started in the locker room after the 13-9 loss to the Steelers. Coach Harbaugh was clearly angry when he came into that locker room. He steamed through the players' area and went to his office. There he vented a little – privately. He rearranged some furniture, and not so gently, cleared some things off his desk. There was muttering and even a raised voice once or twice. He then collected himself and marched to the middle of the locker room.
"Everybody up! Let's go! Everybody up!" the head coach shouted.
"What do we say after every game, win or lose? What do we say?"
One of the players answered: "We get better."
"That's right," coach Harbaugh said. "We get better. We learn from what we did, and we find ways to get better for the next game we play. That's what we have to do right now. I'm going to give credit to the Steelers for getting it done. It's not about the officials or anything else. They beat us. They deserve the praise.
"And, you know what we're going to do right now? We're going to start getting ready to go to Dallas and beat the Cowboys. That's what we can do something about. We control if we make the playoffs, and it starts now. We have to get better, and we will. We know where we're going, don't we?"
With that, he brought the team closer to him in a team huddle. Ray Lewis shouted: "Family, on three." And, when the team repeated the word "Family," it echoed off the walls of the locker room.
With just a few words to his team, "Harbs" turned the focus off the referee and the Steelers and put it on himself and the team. "We learn," and we move on to the task at hand. Well done, rookie head coach. Well done.
Sucking Up to the Head Coach
And, since I'm being nice to the head coach, I'll pat him on the back for something else we saw him do this week.
The day the NFL names the Pro Bowl team is one of the worst days of the season for a team. Those who make the team are elated, and their focus to the task at hand can be easily shifted to sandy beaches and ocean sprays. Those who don't make it are irritated, and their focus wanes. Some of the lousiest practices I have ever seen came on days these all-star teams were announced.
Here's how coach Harbaugh told our five players who earned the Pro Bowl about making the team. He did it in a team meeting. He told those five that they deserved to be selected. He thanked these players' teammates, because "you helped them get there." He then said this:
"We all know we have players in this room that should have made the Pro Bowl. We apologize to you (as he seemed to look in the general direction of players like Haloti Ngata and Derrick Mason) for not doing enough to get you there. As teammates, we didn't do enough, and we'll work on that."
Pretty powerful. And coach Harbaugh's honesty and sincerity oozes in these situations.
And, according to a couple of the assistant coaches, the meetings and the practice that afternoon (Tuesday) were sharp.
Is it just me, or do we face a top 10 defense every week? Well, in fact, we do – almost. Including tomorrow night's game against the Cowboys, whose defense is currently ranked as the NFL's 7th best – based on yards allowed per game – we are facing elite defenses regularly. Take a look at our last 6 games (including Dallas) and the overall defensive standings:
|New York Giants|
We also played the Titans, who boast the league's 4th-best defense. Of course, we battled the Steeler defenders twice. The only teams in the top 10 we haven't encountered are the NFC's Minnesota (8th), Tampa Bay (9th) and Carolina (10th). The Ravens, of course, are rated No. 2.
Sometimes You Have to Give Credit
When cornerback Fabian Washington left last Sunday's game early in the 4th quarter with a hamstring injury, it left us with 3 available corners. Pittsburgh immediately switched their offensive set to 4 wide receivers, causing us some pretty severe matchup problems for the rest of the game. As Rex Ryan told me: "That was very alert on their part. They got into some situations that created some headaches for us. Give them some credit. They're pretty good, too."
Huge Numbers Watching
Along with the largest crowd ever to watch a Baltimore sporting event live (over 71,000 at M&T Bank Stadium), the Ravens/Steelers' telecast had huge numbers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Over half of the area TVs turned on during our game were tuned into this important contest. The same thing – over 50% of the TVs – happened the week before when we hosted the Redskins. Amazing numbers when you consider all the channels available for people to watch.
As has been the case every year since the team started in 1996, a Ravens' game will be the most-watched program in Baltimore for the year. We're very proud of that.
We're sure there will be another monstrous local audience watching again tomorrow. We'll try to make it a great event for all of you by whipping the Cowboys in their home. How good would that be? They need to win to make the playoffs. We have to do the same. The last regular season game at Texas Stadium – Let's spoil their party. Let's go Ravens!
Talk with you next week,
Kevin Byrne is the Ravens' Senior Vice President – Public and Community Relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.