Certainly the cancellation of last Sunday's game at the Houston Texans was disruptive to the Ravens, but, obviously, the change in schedule pales in comparison to the real world calamity caused by Hurricane Ike.
The NFL did the right thing when it postponed the game and rescheduled it for Nov. 9. We understand why that had to be done and completely agree with the decision.
That said, we were ready to play. There are times in this business when you just have a sense that your team is ready and you're confident that, unless something unusual happens, you will win. That feeling doesn't happen very often. (And, truth be told, those feelings don't always end up with wins.) I didn't feel that confident before our opener against the Bengals when we played in such a dominating manner. I did feel pretty good late last week. We were ready. There was an energy in the building that was almost bubbling. Practices were sharp, players were focused, we had relatively good health and we wanted to play.
Talking with Coach John Harbaugh about this, he said he had a similar feeling. "We were ready. Yes, I sensed that, too," John said. And, he was quick to add: "We'll get that back when we go to Houston in November. That's what the coaches will have to do, and players, too. The task now is to take all that of energy and great preparation into the Browns game."
We've heard some fans say: "Why couldn't the game be moved to Baltimore?" Yes, that would have been nice, but it was never considered by the NFL. When the league made the Saints play a home game against the Giants in Giants Stadium after Hurricane Katrina, the cries of "unfair" from 31 of the 32 teams were heard loud and clear at the Commissioner's office.
Alternate sites, like New Orleans and San Antonio, were discussed before the Ravens/Texans game was postponed. Honestly, playing in those sites would have hurt the Texans. Neither location would have provided a true "home field" advantage for Houston. In the end, the league decided that it could not ask Texans coaches and players to leave their homes and families in the aftermath of the disaster to go play the game someplace else. Can you imagine: "Hey, Honey… I know we don't have electricity, our property is damaged and our phones don't work, but I have to leave to go play the Ravens. Try eating some of that food that is defrosting in the freezer."
That would be a distraction. Major League Baseball made the Houston Astros, in the throes of the playoff hunt, go to Milwaukee to play the Cubs. Distracted? Worried about home? The Astros were no-hit.
THE NFL IS GOOD
Many of us used our "bye day" – last Sunday – to watch NFL games. You know what? The NFL has a really good product. Some of us have the DirecTV Dish, which carries all NFL games, at our homes. Others came to our office to watch all the games. If you've been in the business for any length of time, you have friends at a number of teams. So, we started last Sunday, a little casually, checking out a few games at 1 p.m. "Let's see how Charlie's Panthers are doing against the Bears. Jack and the Jaguars have a big one against the Bills. We'll get Mike and the 49ers later in the day."
By halftime of the early games, we were hooked. By 4 p.m., we were in a frenzy. Where do we go? The Panthers/Bears game was being decided in the final minute, but that was also the case for the Colts/Vikings, Redskins/Saints and Bills/Jaguars. Man, talk about the edge-of-your-seat excitement… The remote is not fast enough. Did I mention that every time I flipped to the Lions/Packers in the final minutes of their game there seemed to be a touchdown being scored?
There was Charles Woodson returning an interception for a touchdown. Over to the Redskins, a bomb to Santana Moss for "6." Did you see the 3rd-down throw from Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne that set up the last-second, winning FG for the Colts' victory at Minnesota? Did Jake Delhomme just pull it off for the Panthers 2 weeks in a row?
And that was just the first set of games on Sunday.
Between 7-7:30 p.m., when the Seahawks/49ers and Chargers/Broncos were finishing, we started thinking: "Can these endings top the earlier games?" Well, yes, they did. San Francisco's overtime victory at Seattle was not only a huge win for Mike Nolan and Co., it was a fantastically entertaining game. And, could the end of the Denver/San Diego game be more dramatic? Huge blown call by the referee and then to win with a 2-point conversion, eschewing the extra point that would have sent the game to overtime. Wow!
All of that happened before the one game everyone in the Ravens' organization wanted to see: the Browns/Steelers. That was played Sunday night. We got the chance to watch the 2 teams we are playing the next 2 weeks. That game, played in wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour, also went down to the final series when Cleveland didn't move the ball against the staunch Pittsburgh defense.
It was a fun day to be a fan and to be reminded how good and captivating NFL competition is.
We'll introduce the offense before Sunday's game against the Browns, which starts at 4:15 p.m. We'll send Joe Flacco out first and end with some of our Pro Bowl standouts, including Todd Heap and Derrick Mason as the last 2 players to come out of the tunnel.
Here's what the Browns will do, as will every other team we play in the near future: dedicate extra defenders to stop our run. Teams will try to force our rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to throw the ball. Teams will test Flacco in a big way. To be honest, that's what every team tries to do every week – stop the run. This effort becomes even more important when you play young quarterbacks. Defenses, often times, will dare you to throw the ball when you start a young QB.
You know those Browns coaches are pleading with their defenders to, "Stop their run! We won't let a rookie quarterback beat us!"
Our running game will be very interesting to watch this season. When Willis McGahee, our Pro Bowl back, is in the mix – and he's getting closer to being healthy – he can put an offense on his back and carry it. With McGahee's injury, we've seen that rookie Ray Rice can play in the big time. When we want to just thump a defense, as we did in the 4th quarter of the Bengals game, we can send out 4-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal to lead the 260-pound Le'Ron McClain, who showed that he has the quick feet to be a very effective tailback.
STOPPER AND THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
The AFC North is known for teams with the ability to run the ball. Bad weather is a factor when the four teams are from Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore. Wind, cold, snow and rain all make it more difficult to pass. So, you have to be able to run in this division, especially late in the season.
Because of this emphasis, you better have run stoppers on your defense. It's hard to top our inside trio of Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg and Ray Lewis.
To shore up its run defense, Cleveland spent a lot of money this offseason and traded a good cornerback (Leigh Bodden) to Detroit to acquire 2-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. Shaun is 6-4, 350 pounds and plays with mean intentions. Among others, Rogers joins an AFC cast of defensive tackles that includes the Steelers' Pro Bowl nose tackle, Casey Hampton.
When you face dominant defenders like this, you better have a center who matches that strength when you need to run the ball. Our man in the middle of the offensive line is Jason Brown, who was moved from guard to center this season. Want to watch the game within the game this Sunday? Focus on the feisty Brown and the giant Rogers going at it. It will be thrilling hand-to-hand combat.
Can't wait for Sunday.
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.