While Ravens fans try to shake the hangover from two 3-point losses in 6 days, John Harbaugh and his team focused on the task at hand: going to Indianapolis to beat a Colts' team led by one of the best quarterbacks ever – Peyton Manning.
(I believe coaches and players actually rebound from losses quicker than fans, mostly because the team has to do that. They quickly have to turn to the task of preparing for the next opponent. Fans dwell on losses as reporters focus on the mistakes made that caused the loss. Plus, the nature of sports talk on radio and TV is to nitpick defeat while glossing over what good a team might have done in a loss. This is not a complaint. It's just stating the reality of what happens.)
I like the message that John Harbaugh and his assistants are delivering to the team right now. The head coach told the players last Monday, the day after the 13-10 loss to the visiting Titans, that, "We know where we are going, don't we? We're not there yet. We all know that. But, we can all see how this team is coming along."
It's a simple, but true message, and the players seemingly are enthusiastically grabbing the significance. "We know where we're going." They "know" and it's "We." As coach Harbaugh has said since the beginning of his Ravens' tenure: It's about team. It's about hard work. It's about intelligent preparation for the next game. It's about respecting and helping your teammate. It's about standing up for each other and owning up to mistakes. It's about belief: belief in the play you're running, belief in the coach who made the call and developed the plan, belief in the player next to you.
Listen to what the players said after the Tennessee game:
Ray Lewis on Joe Flacco's interceptions: "We had a chance to stop them on the last drive, and we didn't. Joe is fine. He's making progress. They're doing a lot to try and confuse him."
Joe Flacco on his interceptions: "I can't make those mistakes. I should have thrown the ball away. That's my bad."
Terrell Suggs on his roughing the quarterback penalty: "It hurt the team. I feel like I let my teammates down, but I didn't hit the quarterback's helmet. I think everyone saw that except one guy. But, we didn't make the plays after the penalty. We had our chances, and we didn't get it done."
John Harbaugh after the loss: "We didn't coach well enough."
Willis McGahee: "I had 1- and 2-yard runs. I have to do better than that. I have to do my part to make Joe's life easier."
I could list more quotes like this from the post game, and many more from Wednesday through Friday of this week. There clearly is an "I-have-your-back" mentality around here. That's good. That will help us get where we are going. And, as coach Harbaugh said, "We all know where we're going, don't we?"
Every news reporter or TV network associate who comes in contact with Joe Flacco tells us one of two things, or both. "He's very calm." And/or, "Seems like a good guy."
I think Joe is a good guy, and you can tell his teammates like him. (Way to go, Mom and Dad – Karen and Steve Flacco.) Joe has earned respect with the way he has practiced and played, and he'll earn more when we win more.
Now, that "calm" quality is something I've noticed from the first day I met Joe Flacco, which was the Sunday of the NFL draft weekend. We brought Joe here to meet the media and members of our organization. Things were really buzzing that day, and Joe seemed to cut through the miasma easily as we bombarded him with an assortment of activity. He was impressive.
Many believe that playing quarterback in the NFL is the hardest job in professional sports. It is the chaos of the position, the need to read and react so quickly and the importance of moving on to the next play. Everything is played out in brief seconds in front of throngs in person and to millions watching on television. And, of course, from the snap of the ball, there are large, fast humans trying to physically assault you.
"Joe will get after us in the huddle or at practice. He has fire, no doubt," Derrick Mason said earlier this week. "He is calm, though. It's like he's saying 'Everything will be okay. We got another play to run right now.' He's cool out there, really cool for a rookie."
Rookie quarterbacks aren't supposed to succeed in the NFL. Teams who start them are usually looked at as ones looking to the future, laying foundation for triumphs in coming seasons. Hall of Famer Troy Aikman's Cowboys were 1-15 with Troy starting as a rookie. Peyton Manning's Colts were 1-13 with him at the helm. That's the way it often works with rookies. I don't get the sense that will happen here. Joe Flacco is Joe Cool, and as Cam Cameron has said many times since the start of training camp: "There's something about this guy. He gets better every practice, every game. He doesn't repeat mistakes. He doesn't get rattled. He's very calm out there."
HERE'S WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Not everyone who has a forum in the media has an educated opinion. When you're in the business, you know those who work hard to learn more about the subjects on which they comment. Two of those media members highly respected by NFL teams are CBS-TV's Phil Simms and Sports Illustrated/NBC-TV's Peter King.
Here's what Simms, the Super Bowl winning quarterback for the New York Giants, who is broadcasting Sunday's game between the Ravens and Colts, had to say about the game:
"Can the Indianapolis defense stand in there and stop Baltimore's running game? If it does not, it is going to be fast, and Peyton Manning is going to get fewer chances with the football. It will be rough for the Indianapolis offense because the Baltimore defense is so good and has had success against them the past couple of years. The two big story lines by far are if Indy's defense strengthens up and stops the run. And what will they do against Ray Lewis and everyone else on the defensive side? It is early in the season with two teams with 2-2 records, so it's not make-or-break for either…One thing that really comes to mind about this game – we just expect the Colts to come out every year and win their 12 or more games and be the favorite in the AFC. This year, there is doubt around the league. And it is real doubt. People are wondering if this is where the team starts to fall apart. It is a legitimate question. It always helps to see a team with my own eyes and to study them a little deeper to get a better understanding about them. So there are a lot of questions about the Colts, especially with them playing a team like the Ravens. If they really play well, then Indianapolis will have answered all these questions. And they will be in the hunt for the rest of the year."
King wrote this about Ray Lewis this week when he named Ray his Defensive Player of the Week:
"I know, I know. The Ravens lost Sunday, a painful defeat at the hands of the Titans in which they let Tennessee drive the length of the field in the 4th quarter to win. But the play of Lewis over the last 8 quarters simply must be recognized. In the narrow losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee, Lewis has 20 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 passes deflected, 1 tackle for loss and 2 quarterback hits. He still hits like Mike Tyson. The other night, he broke Rashard Mendenhall's shoulders, knocking him out for the year, on a simple tackle up the gut. These two great games have come in Ray's 165th and 166th pro contests."
AND SPEAKING OF SIMMS
When we arrive in Indianapolis early Saturday evening there will be what's called the "production meeting" with the CBS-TV personnel broadcasting the Ravens/Colts game. (It is CBS' No. 1 crew with Jim Nantz doing the play-by-play and Simms doing the analysis.) Individually, we'll bring coach Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Ray Lewis, Willis McGahee and Joe Flacco to the meeting. Those are the Ravens that CBS requested.
These sessions are highly informative for the broadcast team, which receives insights the talent can pass along to the TV audience. I enjoy the meetings because I always learn something new about the team, strategy or an individual's history.
You might recall that Simms was the analyst for both our AFC Championship Game against the Raiders and the Super Bowl XXXV victory over the Giants in the 2000 season. In the game at Oakland, our Tony Siragusa made the tackle on Raiders QB Rich Gannon that knocked him out of the contest. Gannon, in fact, suffered a broken bone in his shoulder on the play.
While Goose was not penalized on the play, Simms, on the telecast, went after Tony about the hit. Phil said Siragusa tried to hurt Gannon and succeeded in doing so, adding that a penalty should have been called.
A few days after our win against the Raiders, Siragusa was informed by the NFL that he was being fined $15,000 for the hit on Gannon. Tony was furious, and when he saw a tape of the game, he was even angrier. Goose felt that Simms' comments and Phil's influence with the New York-based NFL office were the reason he got fined.
Fast forward to a week later and our production meeting with Simms and the CBS crew telecasting the Super Bowl…among the people CBS wanted to attend was Siragusa. When I told Tony about it, he said: "You don't want me at that meeting. You might not like what I say or do to Phil Simms – because he got me fined $15,000, and I should make him pay."
After Tony initially refused to attend the meeting, we talked him into it, but he warned, "I told you, you might not like me in the same room with Simms."
So, on the Thursday afternoon prior to our Super Bowl victory, Tony was the first player we brought to the production meeting. Siragusa walked in; they invited him to sit at the front of this large boardroom table, but Goose walked right to Simms, who was seated.
Phil is a big man. Tony is larger, and looked even menacing towering over the former Giants' quarterback. Simms, not warned of Tony's anger, said: "What's up Goose? Have a seat."
Here is what I remember from the conversation that followed:
Goose: "I'm not going to sit. You owe me $15,000."
Simms: "For what?"
Goose: "For convincing the league to fine me $15,000 for the hit on your quarterback friend, Gannon."
Simms: "I thought it was a cheap hit, and I called it that."
Goose: "You're smarter than the officials. There wasn't even a penalty called."
Simms: "I don't care. I called it the way I saw it. Now, can we start the meeting?"
Goose: "No, not until you pay me $15,000."
Simms: "I'm not paying, and I'm not intimidated by you. You bounced on him, tried to hurt him, and you did."
Goose: "I didn't do anything illegal. I made the same kind of tackle I've made since I was first taught in grade school. I'm 360 pounds. When I get moving, it's not like I can stop in midair and prevent my weight from coming down on anyone. It wasn't cheap. It was clean and just part of the game."
Simms: "I didn't see it that way. I'd call it the same way if I saw it again or something similar to it. Now, can we get on with the meeting and the Super Bowl?"
Goose: "How's that new home you're building in __?" (I won't disclose where Phil lives.)
Simms: "How do you know about that?"
Goose: "I know a lot. Here's what I'm going to do. One day you're going to get up in your new home, go out and get the paper and notice some of shrubs are missing. It will be $15,000 worth…Okay, I'm ready for the meeting."
With that, Siragusa went to the head of the table and sat. Simms looked at him and said: "You've got to be kidding me?"
Goose smiled and said: "No." The meeting started, and the conversation was pleasant.
I've never asked Simms if he ever lost any greenery from his home.
Let's beat those Colts. Talk to 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.