Ravens 21 Raiders 13 (The WATCHU TALKIN’ ‘BOUT, WILLIS? Game)
It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure, but the end result of Sunday’s game in Oakland is inarguable: The Baltimore Ravens are IN the playoffs for the second consecutive season. That’s now 2/2 for John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco, just the second time in Ravens history that they have advanced to the postseason in consecutive years. Oh, and, as an added bonus, thanks to the Houston Texans’ comeback win over New England earlier in the day, the Ravens were able to make sure that those scallywag luck-meister Shittsburgh Squealers are OUT of the playoffs. That’s right, nary a stupid yellow rag to be seen for the next 9 months. A good day, for sure.
The Ravens won this game on the legs of Willis McGahee, who turned in a career day. His 10 carry, 167 yard, 3 TD performance was arguably the best game yet in his seven seasons. The three touchdowns were his most since scoring four in Seattle in November of 2004, and the 167 yards were his most ever. His 77-yard touchdown in the second quarter was a thing of beauty, a perfect example of power and speed, as he used a devastating stiff-arm in the open field to beat the only defender that had a chance to stop him, then raced away from the pursuit, and his 36-yard scamper on 3rd-and-4 with 2:43 to go in the game allowed the Ravens to kill the clock and seal the win. There is little question about who “Played Like a Raven” in Week 17.
McGahee’s effort overshadowed another solid, if unspectacular, day from Ray Rice, who managed 70 yards on 14 carries, and added 19 yards on four receptions. Rice never seemed to find much of a rhythm, though, and uncharacteristically dropped a pass out of the backfield. Although Phil Simms and Jim Nance never made mention of it, Rice may have also been a bit nicked up at times during the game, as we saw a lot more of Willis McGahee outside of the red zone than usual, even before he demonstrated that he had came to Oakland to play.
And it was a good thing that the Ravens’ ground game was clicking on all cylinders, because the passing game…
Ew, man, was the Ravens passing “attack” ugly in Oakland. Flacco was 11/19 for 102 yards, and was sacked four times.
Ravens tight ends and wideouts totaled 6 catches for 77 yards. Ugh.
Yardage-wise, it was easily Flacco’s worst game of 2009, and he failed to throw a touchdown pass for just the fourth time in his sophomore campaign, and the first time since Week 11 against Indy. His pocket presence was absolutely atrocious – he was regularly flushed, tucked the ball and took a sack after his first read was covered, and at one point was even penalized for an illegal forward pass, after he ran past the line of scrimmage before overthrowing Ray Rice in the end zone. It’s a toss-up between this game and the Green Bay game for Joe’s worst of the season. If there is any solace to take, it is that after the Green Bay game, he bounced back great for the next three straight contests. If he can bounce back strongly for the next three…well, Miami awaits.
Unfortunately, the Raiders may have given defensive genius Bill Belichick, head coach of the Ravens’ next opponent, the New England Patriots, a blueprint for beating Joe Flacco. It was an awful, awful day for #5, and if he plays like that in the postseason, the Ravens will quickly be playing golf as a team.
The defense lucked out in Oakland as well. If Charlie Frye had played the entire game, the Ravens would very likely be packing up their lockers in Owings Mills this week. Frye torched the Ravens in the first half, to the tune of 18/25 180 yards 1 TD. That’s right, CHARLIE FREAKIN’ FRYE had nearly twice the passing yards and completions as Joe Flacco did all day, in one half of play. Greg Mattison, despite all the praise that must be thrown his way for making this rag-tag bunch into a Top-5 defense, still inexplicably opts to rush just three on 3rd-and-long situations, and even a quarterback as terrible as JaMarcus Russel can convert in that situation (as he did on 3rd-and-15 in the 3rd quarter). The Raiders chose to pick on Ray Lewis and Chris Carr all afternoon. Carr, for his part, was at least solid in tackling. Lewis, however, should be nothing but a blitzer on passing situations at this point. When Ray-Ray blitzes, good things seem to happen. When he tries to cover a talented tight end down the slot…not so much (as evidenced by Zach Miller’s 2nd-quarter TD reception).
Somehow, Frank Walker is still on the team. On one play, Walker could have broken up a pass from Russel, had he just, oh, I don’t know, STUCK HIS ARMS OUT. Instead, #41 was running around like his hands are tied behind his back, and the pass was completed. Of course, he was also flagged for illegal contact at one point during the game. STOP PLAYING FRANK WALKER!
Seriously, John (Greg, Ozzie, WHOEVER), Corey Ivy has to be a better option at this point. At least he will TRY.
The Ravens’ special teams were again uneven. Jalen Parmele had a strong day returning kicks, but there was another holding penalty that negated a big punt return by Carr, and Matt Katula’s snaps were again all over the place. The bad snaps are good for pretty much one missed FG per game now, not a good trend to be on going into the Playoffs, where every mistake is magnified. If a playoff game comes down to a late FG, who among us is confident in the Katula-Koch-Cundiff trio, given their recent struggles?
The Ravens are playing far-from-perfect football right now, but we have all week to discuss their shortcomings. Perhaps it hints to just how talented of a team they are that, despite the issues, they are among just 12 teams that will be playing after this week. Let’s take this time to simply celebrate and enjoy another postseason berth.