wild-card weekend (part 2)

RAVENS 33, PATRIOTS 14 – Really impressive job by the Ravens in this one.  Coach John Harbaugh deserves a lot of credit for taking his team up to New England and putting a beatdown on the Patriots (in their own stadium) the likes of which they haven’t seen in a very long time.  This game was over by the end of the first quarter when the Ravens lead 24-0.  The tone was set on the first play from scrimmage when Ravens RB Ray Rice took a handoff, went right through a hole, cut back to the left and flew up the sideline for an 83 yard TD.   On the FIRST PLAY FROM SCRIMMAGE!!  It was crazy to watch live and sucked the air right out of the Patriots’ stadium.  Whatever energy was still buzzing around was completely destroyed 3 plays later when on 3rd & 11 from his own 26 yard line NE QB Tom Brady was strip-sacked from behind by Ravens DE Terrell Suggs.  The fumble recovery gave the Ravens the ball deep in NE territory and 5 plays later it was 14-0.  So to review:  4:31 of game time had elapsed, the Ravens had run 6 plays, scored 14 pts and already caused a Patiots fumble.  After the teams traded punts, Brady threw an Interception and 6 plays after the INT the Ravens scored another TD.  With 3:55 left in the 1st quarter, the Ravens were winning 21-0.  Sensing the theme here?  Just a bad day to be a Patriot.  Everything that could go wrong did.  The Ravens defense was dominant from start to finish and the Patriots, despite having a lot of time left in the game when they fell behind, never threatened to come back.  Just a truly impressive performance by the Ravens.  Quick thoughts:

  • THE STREAK(S) ENDS – The Patriots were undefeated at home this year.  Brady and Bill Belichick had been undefeated (7-0) at Gillette Stadium  in the playoffs.  The Patriots as a team had won 11 straight playoff games at home (Gillette and Foxborough included) and hadn’t lost a home playoff game in 31 years.  Apparently, the Ravens don’t care.
  • WHO NEEDS A QB – Ravens QB Joe Flacco’s stat line: 4 for 10 for 34 yards, INT, passer rating: 10.0. AND HE WON THE GAME GOING AWAY!!!  You simply can’t make this stuff up.  If someone had said before the game that that would be Flacco’s stat line but that the Ravens would blowout the Patriots anyway, NOBODY would’ve have believed that.  But give the Ravens credit.  Flacco was definitely hindered by a hip injury and rather than make a big deal about it, they just carried on and let their running game and their defense handle the rest.   
  • MINI-WELKER DOES GOOD – Patriots WR (and possible Wes Welker clone) Julian Edelman was the team’s lone bright spot of the day.  He only had 6 catches for 44 yards, but he caught both TD passes from Brady and if Welker is going to miss some significant time next year, their slot receiving position looks to be in good hands with Edelman.
  • THE RUNNING GAME MAKES A COMEBACK – For all the talk last week about how the league is now a passing league, 2 of the weekend’s playoff games featured standout performances by running backs.  Shonn Greene keyed the Jets’ win, Cedric Benson did all he could to help the Bengals, and in this game ALL 3 RAVENS RB’s had at least one TD.  The best stats of the day of course belonged to Ray Rice  with 22 rushes for 159 yards and 2 TD’s.  Maybe the old playoff formula (run the football = win the game) isn’t as anachronistic as some would believe. 
  • MORE REPLAY MADNESS – Early in the 2nd quarter the Patriots recovered what appeared to be a fumbled punt by Ravens Safety Tom Zbikowski.  Replays showed that Patriots Cornerback Kyle Arrington did not maintain possession of the ball as he fell out-of-bounds.  Inexplicably, Ravens coach John Harbaugh DID NOT throw his challenge flag.  Had he done so, the call on the field would most likely have been overturned which would have given the ball back to the Ravens.  The Patriots’ first TD was a direct result of the fumble recovery and though it didn’t really hurt the Ravens in this game, it could’ve been a HUGE gaffe.  After the game Harbaugh said his coaches up in the box didn’t see a clear enough replay to cause him to challenge the call.  Still, in that situation, shouldn’t he have done it anyway?  The challenge at least kills momentum a bit and if he blows a timeout so what? He was up 24-0 at that point.  I suppose someone could argue that because of the score he didn’t really need to challenge but I would counter that because there was so much time left in the game a TD there could’ve sparked a Patriot comeback.  Ultimately, it didn’t.  But I still say he should’ve thrown the flag. 

UP NEXT: THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS.  This promises to be an interesting game for a variety of reasons.  First, you have the Colts.  Yes, they’re rested & refreshed but they’re coming off back-to-back losses where they were ridiculed by everyone (especially their own fans) for tanking a shot at an undefeated season.  I really think Peyton Manning is supremely pissed about that.  He knows the history of the game and though he’d never come out and say it I think he’s very angry at Colts GM Bill Polian for pulling the plug on his shot at 19-0.  Peyton also knows that if the Colts don’t at least make the Super Bowl then everyone will say that the second half of the Jets game was the point at which the team screwed itself by choosing to stop what had been so effective for 14 straight weeks.  Second, you have the style matchup.  The Ravens are all about defense and running the football while the Colts have the league MVP at QB and one of the most lethal passing games in the entire NFL.  I know the Ravens won’t be afraid about playing on the road and they might even have an edge when it comes to their physicality.  Still, I think this one’s an uphill climb for them.  I expect Peyton to be as motivated as he’s ever been and if the Colts get points early, look out.  Could be a long day for the Ravens.


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