This’ll be my first post directly after a win. Well, a game in general, but specifically after a win. I regret that I didn’t do it last week following the Miracle at Mile High and I didn’t want that to happen again. Here are my thoughts, quickly, following this … “stunner.” I put the word stunner in scare-quotes because, for some reason, I was very calm in the days leading up to this game. I’ve felt more nervous before games against the Cleveland Browns in the regular season than I felt in the week leading up to this AFC Championship Game. Why? A couple reasons:
- One, it’s the Patriots. They’re in Steelers territory for me now. Against the Ravens, they have ceased to scare me in recent years because I know that, for whatever reason, we match up against them well—better than other teams that supposedly (and maybe actually do) have more talent than the Ravens. Some match-ups are just like that. And we’ve seen them so much that I imagined the team to be in the zone it’s in when the Ravens play the Steelers: amped, but totally unafraid of whatever mystical “aura” is supposed to be there.
- Two, because after what the Ravens did in Denver, I literally, literally knew the team was capable of anything. ANYTHING. I knew the Ravens COULD beat New England, and actually, if we put the pedal to the metal (which is easier said than done, admittedly), even beat them big, though I kept this to myself because it sounds illogical on the surface. The only question was if, unlike last year, the Ravens would come through in the clutch. That was something I had no control over, so I resolved to keep calm and carry on. Certain Patriots friends tried to goad me into getting riled up or admitting some sort of nervousness, but the only anxiety I had all week was in the hours leading up to the game, just waiting for it to start already. Deep down I knew the Ravens were fully capable of another stun-the-world moment.
Execution In All Phases
What a job the Ravens did in all three phases of the game. Special teams looked a bit shaky at first, but Wes Welker did not end up badly affecting things through his runbacks—a huge improvement over the terrible, porous coverage displayed last week against Denver when special teams gave up two touchdowns. The Ravens also played the field position game well.
Defense played incredibly. You could tell that Ed Reed and Ray Lewis had coached the young secondary into how to handle Tom Brady, the second elite pocket passer it faced in two weeks. The Ravens played man coverage underneath and had two safeties deep, protecting against the long ball that Brady barely attempted all game either due to the windy conditions, the coverage he saw, or both. This forced the Patriots into uncomfortable down-and-distance situations, which moved them away from their infamously fast (and potentially illegal at times) no-huddle offense. When THIS happened, the defense showed patience, patience, patience. It was OK with giving up the short stuff if it meant stopping the long ball. It refused to commit to coverages, blitzes, etc., too early in the play clock, robbing Brady of more effective audibles. In short, it doubled down on its season-long mantra of “bend but don’t break.” Aside from one miscommunication error that led to Brady’s lone touchdown, the defense was lights-out. It blanked the Patriots in the second half. One of fastest and most prolific offenses of all-time had ZERO points in 30 minutes of play. That’s astonishing. That’s because the defense got tough when it needed to (only one Patriots TD off six trips to the red zone) and was opportunistic, forcing the Pats into three turnovers, two of them from the hand of the great Tom Brady himself.
We may have witnessed the coming of Joseph Vincent Flacco. This is a game that our QB, long maligned by analysts, other teams and his own fan base, absolutely took over and went beast mode on. There was a conscious shift in offensive philosophy in the second half by the Ravens. While the first half saw more conservative play calling, with the Ravens feeling out mismatches, seeing how the running game would hold up, etc., in the second half Flacco was let off the leash. Jim Caldwell, the interim OC since Cam Cameron’s firing (what now seems like eons ago), finally let Flacco do what he has always done best, even since his Delaware days: go back in shotgun and effing sling it. When Flacco is in a rhythm, when he is feeling confident in himself and trusting his receivers, he is right up there with the best quarterbacks in the league. It showed. He made big, big throws to Boldin and Pitta—with both of Boldin’s in tight coverage. The second TD to Boldin was one of the biggest throws of Flacco’s career, because then and only then did all thoughts of a typical Patriots miraculous comeback seem more unlikely than not. Last week Flacco outplayed Peyton Manning and this week he outplayed Tom Brady. He has now thrown 8 TDs to 0 INTs in these playoffs. He also is now sole possessor of the record for most road playoff wins in history. Looks like Cam Cameron really was the problem. Baltimore has a franchise quarterback, and even if he isn’t elite he is pretty damn good, and if you are a team in the NFL he has beaten you.
Speaking of the offense, the final drive the Ravens had was an absolute killer. If the team put it in Flacco’s hands to win the game, they told Rice, Pierce and Leach to ice it off—and the Patriots looked powerless to stop it. About five big minutes came off the clock as the Ravens ran and ran and ran some more, forcing Pats fans to the exits and extinguishing any hope of comeback. The offensive line manned up like crazy.
Stray Observations, Glorious And Bitter
- There were a lot of Baltimoreans in that crowd. During the national anthem there was a very loud and clear “OOOOOO!!!”
- The Ravens had zero turnovers this game. Perfect for January football.
- A word on Brady’s knee to Reed’s thigh/groin area: Brady is a complete and total punk. Of the highest order. It is well known that he is a ref manipulator and a whiner, petitioning for flags for minor/nonexistent offenses. But for him, the diva-est of divas, to then turn around and Suh-esquely launch his cleated footed into another player? I hope he cries tonight in the arms of his wife that’s worth a billion more dollars than he is.
- Strange no-call on the Patriot that launched his helmet into Ed Reed after Reed had called for a fair catch, too. Not only no fair catch interference, but no helmet-to-helmet, either? What if Reed had fumbled on that play? Psycho refs this game.
- Cool Stat #1: Ravens are now 13-7 all-time in the postseason, good for a 65% winning percentage in the playoffs—best in league history.
- Cool Stat #2: Pats had been 67-0 when leading at halftime, at home, with Brady. Now they’re 67-1.
- Schadenfreude alert!!! I’m happy that Bill Simmons, who is from New England, will be sad. I’m happy that Seth MacFarlane, who is from New England, will be sad. I’m happy that my boss, who is from New England, will be sad.
- I’m also happy that just about every analyst in the world has been proven wrong. I’m also happy that I watched the game with a Patriots fan whom I got to troll and make so angry and disappointed that he could not make eye contact with me when he left.
You Want More Stray Observations? YOU GOT IT.
- I admit that one thing had me nervous about this game: the stupid comments that Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo made right after the Ravens beat the Broncos: that the Patriots’ offense is “gimmicky” and full of “bitchassedness.” Even if he’s right (and he kind of is on the “gimmick” part), he should have kept that to himself, if only because the Patriots DO have a history of obliterating teams that talk smack. But, moving on, here’s to …
- More schadenfreude!!! Bradying makes a reappearance!
- Somewhere in the world, Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff and Cam Cameron are feeling awkward.
- A special shout-out to my housemate, a Patriots fan who stayed true to our agreement and has changed his surname on Facebook to Flacco, which goes nicely with his also-publicized, true middle name of Joseph. Roomie, you kept your word and are a gentleman.
- Presented without comment: Champion and prodigal son of Baltimore Michael Phelps, or this mustachioed hipster that was impersonating him, was on the Ravens sideline during the game.
- Shannon Sharpe commented on the post-game show that Bill Belichick “makes it real easy for people to root against the Patriots” because Belichick is a douche who doesn’t know how to lose with class. Truth. He refused a post-game interview with Steve Tasker after losing to Baltimore on Sunday. Eat it, Belichick. Cheat harder next time. (And on this note, Terrell Suggs called Belichick an “arrogant prick” live and on camera! ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.)
- Ray Lewis stays unretired.
- Art Modell looks on with pride from the Great Beyond.
- Baltimore in rapturous ecstasy.
- John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh might be brothers, or something, I think? I wouldn’t count on the media shedding any light on this in the coming weeks, though.
- THE BALTIMORE RAVENS ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!!!!