What Do We Expect from the Jaguars?
We'll get the best of what the Jaguars have to offer. That much we're sure of.
They will not come to Baltimore and go through the motions. They have been out of the playoff picture for weeks, and they are still battling at a high level.
Two weeks ago (12/14), Jacksonville beat the Packers, 20-16. A week ago on Thursday (12/18), Jack Del Rio's team took a 14-0 lead over the Colts, but lost, 31-24, when they could not score from the Indy 7 in the final minute of play.
They have nothing to lose. They've had 10 days to prepare. Del Rio, a former Ravens assistant coach who tutored Ray Lewis, is one of the fiercest competitors Southern Cal and the NFL have ever produced. The Jags are looking at this game as the start of the 2009 offseason.
We will have to meet their intensity…AND WE WILL! We are ready to take them on and give the same type of effort that has produced this surprising and enjoyable 10-5 season. The game is at our home, M&T Bank Stadium, with our enthusiastic, foot-stomping, noise-making fans. Let's get after it.
And as coach John Harbaugh has told his team all season: "It is not about what they bring to the game. It's about us. Can we be better than we were the week before? Let's move to a higher level. Prepare to be better. Prepare to dominate. Prepare to win. What's Important Now? Only one thing – beat the Jaguars. There is nothing else."
It's simple. We win. We're in!
How About Those Cowboys?
Meaning no disrespect to anyone, there is nothing like a winning pro sports team to bring more people together for a common interest or cause.
Billy Graham brings lots, but not the same numbers.
Barack Obama is big, but our TV numbers are bigger.
We love the Terps, but it's not the same thing because so many of us attended different colleges.
There is nothing – nothing – that can draw people together like a winning pro team representing the community. And, we feel privileged to be part of something so special like the Ravens.
That's kind of what I thought of when Le'Ron McClain sprinted 82 yards for a touchdown with a little over a minute left in our victory at Texas Stadium last Saturday. I mean, Willis McGahee had just split that vaunted Dallas defense for a 77-yard touchdown sprint. Honestly, I thought of all of those Ravens fans in the Baltimore area leaping out of their chairs and couches, getting closer to the TV and shouting things like: "Can you believe this? Oh my! Another one, McClain! This is incredible!"
How cool was that?
It was a special moment in Ravens history.
And, the game was so dramatic. We had to win. We knew that. You knew that. And, how many of the experts thought we would? Few, very few.
It was nerve-wracking. It was tense. It was exhilarating.
It was fantastic to be on the Ravens' sideline with about 4 minutes left in the game. The sense clearly was, "Let's get some 1st downs and keep that clock moving and live happily ever after."
We had a 19-17 lead. "Let's give the ball to Le'Ron and pound away." That's what I was thinking. We had done it this season with the game on the line. This is why we worked so hard in the spring and at training camp. "C'mon, pound that ball. Let's win this thing and spoil the last-game Texas Stadium celebration."
As I peered through the players crowding the sideline, I questioned what I was seeing. "Is that Willis sprinting to the end zone? Yeah!" One of our coaches who had supported Willis all season – urging other coaches to stick with him, "he'll make big plays for us" – had his hands on his knees, bent at the waist. When I looked closer, I saw the tears in that coach's eyes.
This was the best.
Before we caught our breath, and with coaches and players both exhorting, "This is not over," Tony Romo hit Jason Witten for a 21-yard touchdown.
Oh man, we only led 26-24, there was almost 2 minutes left on the clock, and Dallas had timeouts remaining.
Okay, I'm thinking – again, just pound the ball, get some 1st downs and enjoy the flight home.
No, we can't be doing it again. The bench erupted. Le'Ron was on his way. "C'mon, big man, thunder down the field." How good is this? Brotherhood, sense of family – we were happy human beings. Damn, it's good to be a Raven and a Ravens' fan.
The Locker Room
There are times in everyone's life when you can look around and think, "This is pretty good." That's how I was feeling in the post-game locker room. The hug between coach Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti was long and clearly emotional. Steve is really the one who stuck his neck out when he made the coaching change and hired a guy who had never been a head coach before – at any level.
There was O.J. Brigance, our director of player development, who is battling Lou Gehrig's Disease. He spoke to the team the night before about overcoming circumstances and fulfilling God's destiny. Players surrounded O.J., tapping his thin shoulders and arms. "We did it, O.J. You were right. All things are possible. We took advantage of our opportunity."
Ray Lewis and Derrick Mason, 2 warriors who were clearly spent by the efforts they just gave, hugged strong and smiled at each other.
We all have difficulties in our life. We all have to overcome and cope. Can anyone represent that better than Mason? I mean he was running down field, into the end zone to catch a touchdown pass, and he couldn't even swing his one arm. Effort, you want effort? Yeah, D-Mase, do it for all of us in difficult circumstances. What an inspiration!
McClain fumbled in the game. Mason, one healthy shoulder and all, picked it up. Yamon Figurs let one go, and Daren Stone fought under the pile to keep it for the Ravens.
This was team effort. This was family. This was Ravens football.
The "Over 30 Club"
Coach Harbaugh looks to a group of players who are over 30 for counsel about the team. The group includes "old" guys like Trevor Pryce, Ray Lewis, Derrick Mason and Willie Anderson. "Harbs" went to them weeks ago to ask them about the Christmas week schedule.
The original conversation was about what time of day the team would practice on Christmas Day (last Thursday). To be honest, the elder statesmen representing the players couldn't decide whether they would come in early or late on Christmas. "It was a pretty good disagreement," according to Harbaugh.
Since we played last Saturday in Dallas instead of a regular Sunday game, "Harbs" suggested to the players to give up their normal Tuesday off and take Christmas Day instead. That's what happened. Last Tuesday was like a normal Wednesday for the players; Wednesday was a Thursday; Christmas Day, players were off, and Friday was – well, Friday.
At the Risk...
At the risk of sounding preachy at this holiday time of the year, I'll submit some things football offers for all of us.
We've all seen Derrick Mason overcoming circumstances. We can all relate to this, can't we?
We can look at coach Harbaugh and be inspired about the understudy who gets his chance and makes the most of it.
We can look at Ray Lewis and be lifted by his age-defying efforts.
Hey, we know we're a business trying to make some money with all of us keeping our jobs. We're just a team fighting to win games and enjoy the rewards that come from it. But, you – the fans, allow us to be more.
In the spirit of this season of sharing, I'd like to offer something I saw Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young say. He said he loved football, because the game represented so much of what happens to all of us in real life.
Young said: "People talk about dropping the ball. In football, we literally drop the ball." He made other parallels, but the one that really stuck with me was his suggestion that we all need huddles.
In football, we huddle before every play. Young suggested that society needs more huddles. He suggested that we all should huddle in real life…bring the people closest to us together and talk – talk about what just happened and what we're about to do.
Communicate. Huddle. Get closer. Pretty good advice, isn't it?
So, on behalf of the Ravens family, we wish you many huddles…and more victories.
Let's beat those Jaguars and get to the playoffs.
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.