Since their inception, the Ravens have been known for a punishing style of play regardless of whose wearing the purple and black. The mantra, “Play like a Raven” means to hit like one. The 2013 Ravens grind on every play and fight for every inch. If you want to find out what this team is made of, back them up against the goal line with the game on the line.
Thanksgiving night’s brutal goal line stand against the Steelers harkened back to Super Bowl XLVII. Jimmy Smith delivered a crushing hit on running back Le’veon Bell–one that knocked his helmet off and halted his forward progress inches before the goal line. Smith leveled Michael Crabtree in the Super Bowl, dislodging the ball from the receiver’s hands as he turned toward the end zone. Smith has emerged as a physical force this year. As time ran out, Steeler offensive linemen were dropping with each play. Chykie Brown launched himself in front of Emmanuel Sanders to prevent a two-point conversion that would have tied the game.
The mettle of this franchise has never been in question. The Steelers had charged all the way back as we Ravens fans knew they would. We knew the game would be on the line as the final seconds ticked off. That’s life in the land of Never Easy, Never Pretty. Roethlisberger made plays and moved his team down the field for three second half touchdowns.
His counterpart Joe Flacco came out bombing on the first play from scrimmage and played another great game. He made tough throws and scrambled out of the pocket to buy himself time. He made no mistakes. Thursday’s win vaulted the Ravens back into the playoff discussion. Those early three-point losses may have helped season this new assemblage of Ravens players.
Justin Tucker kicked 5 field goals and Jacoby Jones racked up 53 receiving yards and returned a kick 73 yards to spark the offense. Torrey Smith caught 5 balls for 93 yards – a 54-yarder and a touchdown on a slant pattern across the back of the end zone. Flacco finished 24-35 for 251 yards. The wildcat stayed in the cage.
Jacoby Jones might have gone all the way on the kick return if Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hadn’t sheepishly hopped onto the field of play and altered Jacoby’s path to the end zone. It was a bush league move from a coach and a franchise with more class than that. If this is what Pittsburgh needs to do to beat us – we will continue to have the upper hand. The NFL will rule on the play in the next day or so and they are not pleased.
It was a tremendous victory and as complete a game as the Ravens have played all year. Though lingering issues remain, progress is being made. The running game never fully established itself, but Rice and Pierce ran hard. The offensive line jumped off side at crucial times, but we overcame those mistakes. Special teams played very well.
The red zone offense must continue to get better for us to make a serious run. One touchdown will not win many games. In the second half, it felt like we were playing not to lose. Plays could have been made to put the game away. Early in the 4th quarter with the Ravens ahead 16-7, Flacco expertly put the ball in Torrey Smith’s hands inside the five yard line and he couldn’t make the catch. A touchdown there would have sealed the victory.
We resembled a team from the Billick era characterized by defense and field goals. Even Brandon Stokley caught passes. It was an old school, throwback win from a time when defense carried the franchise.
This team continues to get better each week. It’s a whole new season now and everything, as John Harbaugh maintains, is still in front of the Ravens – another division crown, a playoff berth and yes, even a trip to the Super Bowl. Those things are all theoretically in play and we haven’t seen the best this bunch has to offer yet. These purple and black grinders may be saving their best for last.