There are two possible reasons why the Ravens’ last two games turned out the way they did: Either the Mayans were right, or this is typical Baltimore Ravens football. If the former is true, huzzah!: I don’t get to see the Texans or Patriots hoist the Lombardi in January, because the Earth will be too busy crumbling apart in the void of space. If the latter is true, I’ll just say what I said when I saw Shaun Suisham’s field goal bound through the uprights at M&T Bank Stadium last night: “Poop.” I was so numbed, yet strangely unsurprised, by yesterday’s events that my monosyllabic sadness was the only thing I said until I started watching The Goonies for the first time an hour later.
Last week, despite having taken some (hilarious and insightful!) notes on the Chargers game, I never got around to posting a reflection on what I had already decided should be called “The Miracle at Qualcomm.” You know everything that happened by this point: The Ravens’ offense looked like rabies for three and a half quarters on the road—nothing new—until it turned on the afterburners in the last six minutes, sent the game into overtime, and won it on the leg of our rookie kicker, but only after converting an otherworldly fourth down that had Ray Rice picking up almost as many yards as he left defenders sprawled in his wake. There was a bunch of other stuff worth mentioning, too, like how the refs picked a very bad time to start playing Guess The Spot, and how Rice would not have even sniffed the first down had Boldin not sent Eric Weddle flying into the afterlife with a vicious (and legal) block. After that comeback, I felt like Coach Gary Gaines from Friday Night Lights: At some point I probably whispered to no one in particular, “Boys, my heart is full. MY HEART IS FULL.” That play will live forever in Baltimore lore, not just because of the amazing individual effort by Rice, and not just because of the sheer absurdity of converting 4th and 29, but because several laws of time and space had spelled our doom: We, the Baltimore Ravens, were on the road, down big late, and facing a good quarterback. The fact we pulled that win out, I thought, spoke a lot to our character.
Slow-dissolve to last night. Ravens and Steelers, semi-primetime, downtown Baltimore—all sorts of cool things to be had if the Ravens come out on top. Win, and we are in the playoffs. Win, and we sweep the Steelers for the second year in a row, with the added benefit of kicking their playoff seeding for this year in the shins. Win, and we keep alive a 15-game home winning streak, one of the best of all-time. Win, and we conquer a divisional foe for a record 13 straight times. Win, and we keep the Steelers 0-fer against the Ravens when they do not field Ben Roethlisberger. Win, and we get to bathe in the schadenfreude of our haters, among whom Bill Cowher was loudly one. Win, and we avoid the ignominy of losing to a team that had looked utterly, completely rudderless without its star quarterback just a week before against the lowly Browns.
Naturally, then, the Ravens came out and soiled the linens. Not violently, mind you. It was a rather placid bed-sharting, which is perhaps the most disturbing part of it all.
The occasion got to everyone. Flacco had his worst home game of the year, throwing a terrible interception on a broken play that had big play potential and losing a fumble thanks to his continually bad pocket awareness. (And he would’ve lost another if not for the crowd’s throaty panic tipping him off.) Receivers got stone hands. The embattled Cam Cameron, who is known for at least opening up the playbook when the Ravens play at home, called a bunch of long bombs and dumpoffs: I think I could count on one hand the number of screens, rubs, reverses, misdirections and play-actions we used—and, mysteriously, NONE of these bad calls came from the uptempo “sugar huddle” we have been yapping about all season. Meanwhile, on the other sideline, Todd Haley (OF ALL PEOPLE, JESUS) was calling a creative game for an offense running on guts and fumes behind a hobbled line and a third-string quarterback. Before yesterday, the Ravens had scored 34.5 points at home across six games. Last night we eked out 20 points, and those look even worse when you remember that Ike Taylor, the Steelers’ top cornerback, was out most of the game because he injured himself in the first quarter.
That’s not to say our defense didn’t have a hand in yesterday’s clunker: The pass rush we had seemed to find in our last four straight wins was nowhere to be seen, which let Steelers receivers uncover and Batch find his groove. But aside from the last uninspired drive, the D’s not at fault. Most of our struggles can be traced to the offense, which I prematurely declared ready to carry the mantle for Lewis, Reed and Suggs before the season started. Flacco, for all his streaks of brilliance, sleptwalk through the biggest game of the season. Harbaugh, too, forgot to bring his A-game, losing a time-out on a doomed and stupid challenge, as well as apparently failing to remind his team that the Steelers would be looking to pick distracting and emotional catfights.
This is the Harbaugh-Flacco Ravens in a nutshell: Talented but underwhelming—doing just enough to succeed when failure seems inevitable, and doing just enough to fail when success is sitting at the edge of the bed, batting its eyelashes. It’s mostly for this reason that, after starting the season 9-0 in my picks, I’ve got the last three wrong. How can you predict a team that converts 4th and Rhode Island to beat Philip Rivers on the road but then loses at home to its severely crippled archrival? You can’t. Nothing makes sense anymore. I don’t want to live in a world where the Ravens pull off miracles and perpetrate debacles with equal regularity.
I need to watch The Goonies again.