Replacement Ravens Rock Browns

IMG_2829Ravens 33, Browns 27

In the midst of their 20th and most frustrating NFL season, the Ravens entered last night’s game against the hapless Browns in full rebuilding mode, an expansion team like the Baltimore Stallions thrown together in eight days after losing Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett to season-ending injuries. Practice squad players streaked across the turf. It resembled preseason or that XFL year when players wore name plates like “He Hate Me” across their backs.

Whoever they are, these masked purple marauders played like Ravens. They battled with the fire and angst that’s inside John Harbaugh.

Someone named Kaelin Clay returned a punt for a Ravens touchdown—and when was the last time something like that happened? Towson Tiger and former Brown Terrence West ploughed for meaningful yards. Shareece Wright made some great plays in the secondary. And in his first NFL game, UVA grad Brent Urban lifted his gloved paw to block the game-winning field goal with 3 seconds left.

The new Ravens played their purple hearts out tonight and in the waning seconds it looked like it was going to be another gut-wrenching loss. Late in the fourth, Matt Schaub threw his second interception after recovering from a pick-six in the first half and the Browns moved into position to win the game on a field goal. Prior to that moment the Ravens had played inspired football—not without catastrophic miscues—but full of hustle and determination.

Make no mistake, if you combined the Ravens and the Browns into one team there would still not be enough talent to make the playoffs. Yet John Harbaugh believed in his Ravens offense enough to try a 4th and 1 from his own 29-yard line. It worked and they moved the ball from their own ½ yard line to the Browns 17 before kicking a field goal to extend their lead to 27-20.

They knocked Raven-killer QB Josh McCown out of the game and had his successor Austin Davis on the ropes in a 4th and long situation. Davis converted and led the Browns into the end zone to tie the game at 27. Another painful ending loomed. Most of the team’s seven losses had ended this way—freak penalties, missed calls, costly interceptions, squandered red zone opportunities, and dropped interceptions had led to sudden defeats.

Schaub’s second interception marred what was a rust-filled but competent performance. In the first quarter, it was great seeing Matt Schaub jacked up about his first touchdown pass in more than a year, looking like he was trying to prove something. Then he threw a pick-six to let the Browns back in. His throws lack the zip and distance of Flacco’s balls and that could be a problem moving forward. He did look comfortable for most of the game in Marc Trestman’s offense.

With 1:42 left, Traman Williams jumped Kamar Aiken’s route and made the pick, helping to set up the game-winning kick. It appeared as if Schaub had once again given the game to the opposition.

Another Ravens loss seemed immanent as the ball was snapped. Brent Urban twisted his frame to block it. It squibbed in the direction of Will Hill III who collected it and raced down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown.


Somehow, the Ravens won the game. In a season of bizarre injuries and losses, the Ravens may have turned their season around. Even if they go on to lose more games, you know they will never stop fighting. Whoever they are, these replacements played like Ravens tonight.



Ravens loss to 49ers three years in the making

Ed Reed tackles Vernon Davis in 1st quater of Super Bowl.

Ed Reed tackles Vernon Davis in 1st quarter of Super Bowl.

Yesterday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers began a few weeks after the Ravens Super Bowl victory in February of 2013. Fresh off their thrilling defeat of the Niners, the Ravens traded wide receiver Anquan Boldin to San Francisco.

Boldin had carried the Ravens offense for four weeks leading up to the Lombardi Trophy. Joe Flacco has never had a receiver in his entire NFL career that produced like Boldin did during those four games. When a big catch needed to be made, he was there.

Flacco and Boldin were just getting started.

The Ravens have been struggling to find a consistent “go-to” receiver since then. In the 20-year history of the franchise, you can count the number of game-changing receivers on one hand and you might not get to five.

Trading Boldin marked the beginning of the end. Yes, there were some elite draft picks like Terence Cody and Sergio Kindle that didn’t pan out before Boldin left. There were also selections that tanked in his wake. The loss of key players to injuries, bad behavior, retirement and the salary cap have exacted a large toll, but the vision of an organization contending for the Super Bowl every year dissolved when Anquan Boldin left town.

“He was sitting in the 49ers locker room in disbelief,” said San Francisco sports personality Vernon Glenn when Boldin first arrived in the Bay area. “He couldn’t believe it.”

What happened yesterday was believable.

With 12:21 left in the 4th quarter, Colin Kaepernick found the guy that the Ravens organization thought took too long to get open for a 51-yard completion that led to a game-sealing touchdown. Earlier in the game, ex-Raven Torrey Smith also caught a touchdown pass.

Next week, it’s the Cardinals and Bruce Arians whose offensive game plans have vexed us in the past.

John Harbaugh is the perfect coach for this level of adversity and Flacco is resilient but it’s time to restore the Ravens to factory settings and start over.

Ravens lose late again as defense falters

Browns 33, Ravens 30IMG_2661

Until now, the Baltimore Ravens have deftly avoided a full-scale collapse since their 2012 Super Bowl victory and staved off the inevitable. At some point, we were bound to start coming up short more often than not. You could feel it in the chill blowing in from the rail yards to the west of M&T Bank Stadium. We needed two herculean catches by Torrey Smith and a loss by the Chiefs to scrape by the Browns into the playoffs last year.

Yesterday’s clash against Cleveland came down to the Ravens making a defensive stop with a lead in the 4th quarter and they faltered—twice. That was the difference in a 33-30 loss to the Browns and it’s been a recurring theme the entire season.

This game and burgeoning ghoul fest of a season took years to materialize. There were wins that could have easily been losses over the past five years to the Bills, Jaguars, Cardinals, Chiefs, Panthers, Chargers and the Browns, multiple times. In those games, players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Corey Graham, Jared Johnson, Cary Williams, Paul Kruger and Bernard Pollard prevented the team from losing. They outfoxed offensive coordinators and jumped routes for interceptions, tipped passes and jarred balls loose to win games in the final moments.

There is no one left to make those plays.

You will remember for a long time the first trip that Josh McCown and quickly evolving folk hero tight end Gary Barnidge made to M&T Bank Stadium to end a seven-year losing streak. McCown threw for 457 yards and Barnidge caught passes for 138 of them and a TD. Browns receivers ran wild and free in the Ravens secondary.

We had no answer for Josh “Ravens-killer” McCown. Truth be told, the Chicago Bears made a huge mistake choosing Jay Cutler over McCown. He’s the perfect fit for a place like Chicago or Cleveland. He ‘s a Trent Dilfer throwback with more mobility and a stronger arm.

What Cleveland did was come to Baltimore and play with a life-or-death urgency that the Ravens have lacked all season. For the first half, the Ravens did play with an edge and jumped out to a 14-3 lead. Yet the Ravens let the Browns back in it before the end of the half, leading 14-9. Penalties did us in.

The Browns have more offensive weapons than we do at this juncture.

Driving for the game-winning touchdown, Justin Forsett turned an ankle after a catch and run that set the Ravens up for a first and goal from the 8-yard line. We’ve struggled in these situations this year and for as long as I can remember. 1st and Goal for the Ravens has long felt like first and 90 yards to go. Again, we looked content with a banged up team and a defense that hadn’t stopped the Browns in the 4th quarter to send the game into overtime.

Two running plays and the Flacco roll out that no longer fools anyone are not going to win games in the NFL. You need to be creative in the red zone and you also need players who can execute.

What have we learned? We need to get better. Also, there are no easy games and the 49ers have two of our most productive receivers of the past in Smith and Boldin. After a soul-crushing loss to the Giants–they will be playing angry.

5 Keys to Victory Against the Browns

  1. Don’t let Josh McCown have a big day

photo(64)Yes, that’s right. Josh McCown. I was in a tornado-swept Soldier Field when McCown beat the Ravens in 2013 with 216 efficient passing yards. Last week, he gouged San Diego for 356. We can’t let this guy beat us. He has weapons to throw to as well. Travis Benjamin, Duke Johnson and Gary Barnidge created havoc in San Diego last week. Will the real Jimmy Smith please stand up?

  1. Start Fast

The Ravens can’t afford to play to the level of the competition this week. We had opportunities to take over the game in Denver and in Pittsburgh and committed mistakes. Punching the Browns in the mouth and taking the fight out of them from the start is the goal. We can’t expect to keep coming back from ten point deficits and win the majority of our remaining games. The Browns are fighting for their season just as we are and we need to extend our seven-game winning streak in Baltimore. In a battle for the cellar, this year is not the time for a letdown against Cleveland.

  1. Commit to the Running Game

The Browns have a terrible run defense. We should be able to dominate the line of scrimmage and Justin Forsett should have another big day on the ground. My sense is that it’s going to be a smash-mouth, low scoring affair if we are going to prevail.

  1. Wide Receivers and Tight Ends Need to Step Up

Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown must have great games on Sunday. Without Steve Smith, Sr. on the field, it’s time for Aiken and Brown to earn their roster spots. If these guys are going to part of the Ravens future, they need to prove it now. Newly acquired Chris Givens needs to take Joe Haden out of the picture—even if he just runs him down the field. Darren Waller, it’s time to build the resume. Crockett Gillmore is out again and Maxx Williams will start. He and Nick Boyle need to beat the Browns linebackers and get open. In the land of opportunity, it’s ploughing time again.

  1. “Let Tucker Win the Game”

No fake field goals or fourth and ones in the red zone. Don’t leave points on the field. Let Justin Tucker do what he is here for. If points are scarce, Tucker’s foot will decide the game. Five field goals will be enough tomorrow. It’s ugly, but it’s the Ravens way.

Ravens 22, Browns 13

Ravens win will salvage season

Ravens 23, Steelers 20, OT

Yes, the Ravens beat the Steelers.IMG_2641

A win is a win is a win. It was blood and guts and butt ugly—and we wouldn’t have it any other way. One of the greatest wins in team history and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

After watching the Ravens refuse to die after putting themselves in a grave for the fourth straight week, I believe there’s a good chance ten weeks from now we’ll have 8-9 wins and we’ll be reminiscing about the 0-3 start like it happened twenty years ago.

With the Browns and 49ers up next, the Ravens have an excellent chance to square themselves up at 3-3. This is the NFL. There can be no letdown. The Ravens bristled at the idea they they are throwing in the towel. Just read the latest from Kevin Byrne.

As Thursday night approached Friday morning, it looked like another winnable game and another collapse. When Joe Flacco was sacked in Pittsburgh territory with his team trailing 20-17 and a little over two minutes remaining, the game was over.

Jim Nantz gave the Ravens nation a purple bead of hope, pointing out that there were still 4 seconds before the two-minute warning—they could get the ball back with enough time.

The Steelers Josh Scobee took care of the rest—missing a field goal that could have extended the lead. With Steve Smith Sr. injured, Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett returned to drive the team into field goal range for the tie at the end of regulation.

It still looked bleak as the Steelers marched into field goal range twice. Each time Pittsburgh went for it on 4th down and were stuffed by the Ravens. Will Hill and Jimmy Smith made great plays to give the Ravens offense another chance.

One thing that will never end up in the box score was the overtime play of Kapron Lewis-Moore on the defensive line. The 3rd year defensive end from Notre Dame, sidelined with injuries his first two seasons, blasted the Steelers line back into the backfield. On the first 4th down play, his surge widened Vick’s angle to the edge, giving defenders time to turn the quarterback into the defense. His second rush helped force Vick to rush his throw and put too much on it.

In the first half, the Ravens were driving with a 7-3 lead. Joe Flacco threw an ill-timed “no-look” interception that changed the complexion of the game and the Ravens didn’t recover until the 4th quarter. Joe fumbled a snap and gave the ball to Pittsburgh at the start of the third quarter when it bounced off his knee into Ross Cockrell’s hands. It looked as though Joe had James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons in his head. He was sacked five times and had little time to throw.

But Joe is resilient and he dusted himself off and did enough to win the game.

“It was a gritty performance,” said Justin Forsett whose 152 yards on 27 carries led the Ravens to victory. “We kept chopping. We kept working. We have to run the football.”

I wish we could blow somebody out once in a while.

What I loved the most about this game? The team never quit on themselves—they scuffled, scratched and gouged their way to a win.

“We looked at ourselves in the mirror,” said Forsett. “See what you can do to get better.”

Ravens can’t close again, 0-3 for first time in history

IMG_2633-2The Pope and the Ravens performed side-by-side on big screens in front of the Cathedral of Mary Queen on Charles Street this afternoon—but not even Papa Francesco could pull this one out for the purple and black.

“We’re just not good enough to win games in crunch-time situations,” said Joe Flacco after the Ravens let another game slip away against the Bengals, 28-24. For whatever reason, they can’t stop A.J. Green or beat the Bengals – losing 5 out of the last 6 to Cincy.

Green racked up 227 yards and Dalton threw for 382. Unstoppable.

From the opening gun, the Ravens secondary was overmatched and outplayed. Their technique, positioning and execution were awful. Andy Dalton had time and targets all over the field. Jimmy Smith’s end zone interception was the only highlight.

The Ravens started sluggishly, committed numerous poorly-timed penalties, missed a field goal, turned the ball over and yet they found themselves with the lead late and the game within their grasp–twice. The offense played well enough to win and Steve Smith Sr. single-handedly kept the Ravens alive.

But the defense couldn’t hold the lead twice in the second half. C.J. Mosley returned a fumble recovery to give the Ravens a 17-14 lead. That should have been the game. In years past, Suggs, Lewis, Reed or Ngata would have stepped up and made a play.

Cincinnati struck on the next play with an 80-yard bomb to A.J. Green to regain the lead.

After the Ravens grabbed a 24-21 lead with 3:56 left on Smith Sr.’s second touchdown catch, Andy Dalton led the Bengals straight down the field for an easy and uncontested pass to Green from seven yards out. It looked as though the Ravens had no idea the Bengals would be throwing to someone who had already amassed 200 yards receiving.

Still there was time to mount a game-winning drive but execution failed when Kelechi Osemele was called for a facemask penalty to bury the offense deep in its own territory. Flacco threw a bomb to rookie tight end Maxx Williams and he got a glove on it and “almost” made a great catch.

Almost hasn’t gotten it done this year.

Flacco looked sharp for most of the game—except for a lazy interception in the first half and missing badly on a third down to Smith Sr. on the last drive. This season his weapons are limited to one receiver. In all three losses, Joe has put his team in a position to win with limited options except for number 89.

The third stop on Steve Smith Sr.’s farewell tour was brilliant.  He snared 13 balls for 186 yards and two TDs. But it wasn’t enough and he wasn’t basking in his accomplishments.

“I hate losing,” he said.

Behind again from the start, the Ravens started out in a 14-0 hole but battled back to take the lead. On a crucial 4th and 2 from the goal line just before half, they held the Bengals on a decent play by Brendan Trawick and it looked like the season might just be taking a turn for the better.

We won the game twice only to lose it. Now we need to win on Thursday in Pittsburgh to avoid and 0-4 start. With Ben Roethlisberger out a victory is doable with one caveat.

The last time we faced Michael Vick as an Eagle he scorched us for 512 total yards of total offense.

And another thing–nothing has been easy or pretty this year.

Ravens start ugly in 2015

IMG_2595Two games, two losses, and touchdowns that could have won both games are still on the field. The Ravens had a chance to beat the Broncos on their last series and at least force the Raiders to score a touchdown to tie the game today if both of Steve Smith Sr.’s golden Under Armor slippers had landed into the end zone. They also stalled at the 7-yard line to end the half. More touchdowns might have changed the outcome of the game today. Another TD, and the defense could have found a way to stop the Raiders for the second time. Well, maybe not.

The offense generated 500 yards and Joe Flacco was impeccable but again we were not good enough to win. Steve Smith Sr. was unstoppable and Kamar Aiken looked great. Thirty-three points should have been enough. We shut out Peyton Manning last week and made Derek Carr look like a Hall of Famer. A porous and Suggs-less defense looked clue-less as the Raiders resembled the Golden State Warriors.

Our defense struggled without its leader. Our offense lacked a killer instinct, a touchdown over field goal mentality.

How many times over the last few years have you asked why do we all too easily settle for field goals instead of trying to get into the end zone? Our team is designed to move the ball between the 20s for Justin Tucker – and that’s not going to be good enough this year. A ball control offense with one aging scoring threat that plods its way down the field will not be successful in the arena ball, fantasy-driven NFL.

How many times over the last three years have you prayed that the Raven, no matter who he is from the offense or defense breaking free down the sideline with the ball, gets into the end zone because you know if he’s tackled, it’s field goal time?

During that span, they’ve lost key offensive players like Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice. That takes a toll. Our best playmaker is about to retire. Steve Smith, Sr. is still one of the best but his playing days are numbered.

The worst loss of all may have been Terrell Suggs against the Broncos. Without two of the Raider’s offensive players trying to neutralize T. Sizzle and his keen sense of reading an offense, the Ravens defense looked pedestrian against the Raiders. Derek Carr shredded them for 351 yards, 3 touchdowns and 37 points. There was no pass rush and little defense at all.

Denver 19, Ravens 13

At first glance, I thought that a six-year veteran like Joe Flacco should never have put his team in a position to lose the game like he did with his late third quarter interception. In his defense, he had zero time to throw and not one receiver open. Yet he rallied and marched his team downfield in the final drive with a chance to win the game. He lofted a the same jump ball that he’d thrown numerous times to Anquan Boldin for touchdowns. Only this time he was throwing to Crockett Gilmore. He’d already put the ball into Steve Smith’s hands for the game winner but Smith couldn’t see the ball until it was too late and it skittered from his fingers. Gilmore had it for a second along with Aqib Talib’s arm but couldn’t haul it in.

After the game Talib was asked if they were surprised by the call to throw over the middle to the tight end.

“No. We watched the preseason film. We knew what they were going to do.”

All day their defense looked like they knew what was coming before the Ravens offense could execute it.

The Ravens defense played an outstanding game—one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Daryl Smith was a monster.

Raiders 37, Ravens 33

On the first drive of the game Amari Cooper burned Jimmy Smith for a touchdown and that play set the tone was set for the afternoon. Smith looked like he had something else on his mind during the play. From that point on, the Raiders scored on every possession except for one and still the Ravens fought back, twice down 10-0.

They had a chance to put the Raiders away late with a touchdown but they couldn’t get it done. The defense couldn’t stop the silver-and-black.

The Ravens are on their flight back to Baltimore wondering what went wrong and they need to right the ship quick because the Bengals do know how to score touchdowns and have several options to call on.

You have to wonder how the Steelers always seem to find more people for Ben Roethlisberger to throw to every year but our front office doesn’t sense that urgency. Darius Heyward-Bey, a former Terp might be looking pretty good right now in purple-and-black. These first two losses are games that we’ve won in years past. With the Bengals and Steelers looming, these losses need to provide the angst needed to win them both.