With an 8-4 record, one game behind the Steelers in the AFC North and 4 games to play in the regular season, the players certainly know how big Sunday's game against the Redskins is.
Is this game against Washington bigger than our game last Sunday against the Bengals? Can it be as big as the one next Sunday when Pittsburgh comes to town?
What John Harbaugh and his coaches preach is that whatever game you play that week is the most important you'll ever play. That task of making sure our players are at the right frame of mind to play their best – always – is one of the reasons coaches in the NFL get so much attention from media and fans.
When it appears that players are not responding to playing to their max each game, coaches get fired. That's what happens in the NFL's high-risk, high-reward life.
So in this world where we preach that September games mean as much as December games, do the players reach another level when they play on national TV on a Sunday night against a team that many of our fans really dislike because it represents the "big city" closest to us? Yes, definitely. (But, don't tell the coaches…shhhh!)
Players read papers, listen to radio and watch TV. Even when they try to avoid the media, they saw that there were more reporters around the complex this week. There were reporters asking about the "Battle of the Beltways." Some players heard questions about how important this game is to fans in Baltimore who resent Washington D.C. Other players actually heard that message from fans they ran into this week.
Beyond all of that, players have seen how big the Redskins' game is for 2 other reasons:
1 – NBC-TV's presence at our facility yesterday and today
2 – The energy our crowd will emit when our players come out of the tunnel for introductions tomorrow night
Almost half of our team had to do something for NBC yesterday. Some had to do video headshots. You know, "Jason Brown
met privately with NBC-TV's Andrea Kremer. Jerome Bettis is here today to tape an interview with Ray Lewis
that will air in the pre-game show tomorrow.
THE MADDEN PRESENCE
Then there's the presence of John Madden, who is almost bigger than life. Literally. He's a big man, offensive-linemen sized. He spent all of Friday at our Owings Mills facility. He watched game tape, met with players and coaches and watched practice.
It's funny, a few players know John because he is the TV guy who is mimicked by many comedians. All the players know him as the guy who has the video game named after him. A couple of guys know that John is a Hall of Fame coach who guided the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl. But, they all know that if he is here, it's an important game.
Despite his size, Madden tries to not call a lot of attention to himself when he comes to your facility to prepare. He doesn't wear the on-air bombastic personality that has made games he broadcasts even more entertaining. He works hard to get ready for the telecast. He asks players and coaches football questions. Many of his inquiries are based on his video study. John asks very detailed questions of coordinators. He'll start a question: "I noticed when you're in 3rd-and-short, you motion (Todd) Heap away from the side you run. What are you trying to do with that?" John then writes detailed notes on a yellow pad when the answer is given. Everyone in the room waits until he finishes writing, and then he'll ask his next question.
It's fascinating to watch Madden work hard. It shows one of the reasons he has clicked so long with the American public. We respect hard work, accomplishment and humor, which John brings to the broadcasts.
In almost half (7) of the Ravens' games this season, we have faced an elite defense, ranked among the NFL's top 10. It will happen again this Sunday against the Redskins, whose defense is currently 6th in the league (based on yards allowed per game.)
(By the way, so many people are talking about the "slumping" Redskins. It's not like they're losing to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Yes, they have lost 3 of 4, but the 3 losses were to the Steelers, Cowboys and Giants. Those are really good teams. And, by the way, only one team – the Giants – has had limited success passing against Washington. The Redskins have shut down most teams' passing games.)
A week from Sunday, we face the NFL's best defense, the Steelers, for the 2nd time. On 12/20, we'll play Dallas, which is now 9th. We played the Giants and Titans, ranked 3rd and 5th, respectively. (The Ravens' defense is currently No. 2.)
I mention this to indicate the toughness of the schedule, but also to note that we're not hearing as much about Joe Flacco being a rookie anymore. That's interesting. You don't have media shouting: "Oh boy, it's the rookie quarterback, and how is he going to handle that vaunted defense from the Redskins." It means that observers believe that we're not "overcoming" playing with a rookie quarterback. In fact, Joe is making the plays to help us win 6 of our last 7. Heck, he's become seasoned after only 12 NFL games. We could be talking about Joe's rookie season for a long time.
Now, Joe will admit that he has a long way to go, and we know he is going to get better and better. But, the fact that Joe is not making what might be common rookie mistakes at the game's hardest position is very encouraging for the Ravens' future.
HOW TOUGH IS IT TO BE A QUARTERBACK?
Many observers have said that the toughest position to play in all professional sports is NFL quarterback.
The esteemed Jarrett Bell, USA Today's top NFL reporter, wrote last month this job description for the QB job:
Wanted: Big, athletic, durable quarterback who has a strong arm that is accurate enough to throw a football through a moving tire 40 yards downfield. Must be a quick thinker, able to adapt on a moment's notice and make crucial decisions in two seconds or less. Must absorb new game plans each week. Must have the memory of an elephant, able to recall play-call titles instantly. Must be bilingual, adept in English and football-speak. Must call audibles at the line of scrimmage, read coverages, decipher defensive disguises and make sight adjustments against blitzes to find hot receivers. Must have ESP with receivers, while able to recognize, understand and anticipate what all 22 players on the field will do on each play.
Having eyes in the back of the head helps, to feel the rush coming from the blind side. Must be courageous under pressure from angry defensive ends and linebackers. Must absorb punishment and play hurt, then play the next week with sore thumb, bum knee, twisted ankle and maybe even flu-like symptoms. Must manage the game, protect the football and know when not to waste a timeout.
Must answer all questions from teammates when 10 seconds remain on the play clock, in addition to questions from coach on the sideline after throwing an interception, plus questions from news media after the game. Must be willing to take the heat, getting blamed when the receiver runs the wrong route or the tackle misses a block. Must be a leader, willing to call a team meeting or even pizza night outing, if necessary. Must be a film buff, eager to work late with extensive homework. Must give to charity, be respectable PR face of the franchise.
Pro experience not required initially, but it's a huge plus.
I think Jarrett did an excellent job of describing the qualifications a quarterback needs. Personnel experts like our Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta might describe it a little differently, but the message would be the same: Playing quarterback is hard, very hard. There's a lot involved with it. Even the best of them – Hall of Famers – have difficult times (see Peyton Manning and Brett Favre last Sunday, for example.)
As ESPN's Chris Berman said recently: "There's something going on down there in Baltimore with that rookie quarterback. It's not too big for him." No, Chris, it's not.
I'll admit that our M&T Bank Stadium crowd makes less noise and shows less enthusiasm when we introduce our offense before a game instead of the defense. That's understandable for a couple of reasons, but the main one is that there is no introduction of a group in the entire NFL that can top our defense with Ray Lewis
coming out last. It is special, teams have tried to copy it, and we hear regularly from fans who ask us to intro the defense.
But, we're starting to see a bigger response for the Ravens' offense, which will be introduced before the Redskins' game. That's cool. It says a lot about the progress we're making on that side of the ball.
. Should be electric. Can't wait.
Let's beat those Washingtonians tomorrow. Let's show the country what Ravens fans are all about.
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.