Once again, the Ravens found themselves with a chance to win at the end of the game. Once again, they failed to execute properly and, in the process, pushed themselves further back in the playoff race. The defense played well enough to win the game, limiting Peyton Manning and the high-powered Colts offense to just 17 points while forcing three turnovers. The kicking game did relatively well, with the newly acquired Billy Cundiff making five of six field goal attempts. But no matter how you look at it, the weakness of the Ravens this week was the offense. If you have the ball with first-and-goal at the 1-yard line and can’t punch it in, something is wrong. You mean to tell me that Flacco couldn’t have snuck the ball in on three straight tries? A quarterback sneak is hard enough to stop once, let alone three times. You have to score touchdowns against the Colts. You can’t exchange field goals with touchdowns against Manning or you’re going to lose. It’s that simple. But just like in the playoff game against the Colts a couple years ago, the Ravens were held out of the end zone and the result was the same, a heartbreaking loss.
I’m going to split this award between two players this week because I think they both deserve some recognition. The first half of the award goes to Mr. Reliable, Derrick Mason. Mason finished Sunday’s game with nine catches for 142 yards and provided the Ravens with some big plays on offense. He didn’t get in the end zone, but who has against the Colts secondary over the past couple seasons? Believe it or not, the Colts are one of the best in the league at keeping opposing receivers out of the end zone, and Mason was just another victim. The other player is somewhat of a stretch, but I think Cundiff did an excellent job this week. Granted, he did miss a 30-yard field goal, but after all the commotion about the Ravens kicking woes, he came in here and connected on five of six attempts including two from 46 and 44 yards. Just look at it this way; he provided the Ravens with their only points of the day and if Flacco wouldn’t have thrown an interception in Colts territory late in the game, he may have provided his new team with the game-winner as well.
The “Come On, Man” Award
I hate to criticize Flacco since he has been very good over the past season-and-a-half, but I feel like I can’t help myself. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in the last three games, which includes 86 pass attempts. He has looked like a shadow of his former self and just doesn’t look as comfortable back there as he did last season and even early this season. I’m not sure if his back is bothering him and is throwing his mechanics off, but whatever it is he needs to fix it. The Ravens need him to be effective if they are going to make a push toward the playoffs. The defense is starting to play much better, and if Flacco can get himself together they are going to be tough to beat down the road.
The “Oh, S***” Moment(s)
There were a handful of these moments throughout the game, but I narrowed it down to just two. The first moment was when the Ravens were deep in Colts territory and Gary Brackett picked off a Flacco pass intended for Ray Rice. That one was a backbreaker because even if the Ravens wouldn’t have scored a touchdown, they would’ve been in position for a short, go-ahead field goal and could’ve left Manning with almost no time with which to work. Like I was saying before, you don’t see Flacco make many of these types of mistakes, so it’s kind of hard to swallow when he does. Another thing we don’t see very often is Ed Reed make a crucial mistake, which brings me to my second “Oh, S***” moment. Despite the interception by Brackett, the Ravens managed to get the ball back with enough time to possibly position themselves into makeable field goal range. Reed caught the punt on the run and had himself a decent return up until he tried to lateral the ball, fumbling instead. If the Flacco interception wasn’t the icing on the cake, Reed’s fumble surely was.
Is it me or does the Ravens/Steelers game ALWAYS mean something? Obviously, division rival games always mean something in a sense. But it seems like whenever these two teams play, the stakes are always higher. This game will go a long way in determining who will make the playoffs, most likely as a wild card. The Ravens sit at 5-5 with a 5-4 conference record, and the Steelers are 6-4 with a 4-3 conference mark. The wild card race is very tight right now so every game from here on out is crucial for all the teams in the hunt. We all know the hitting is hard when these two teams meet, but I think there will be a little extra spice to this one. Primetime usually spells disaster for the Ravens as they can’t seem to ever play up to par when the lights are shining. The Steelers, however, are undefeated in primetime since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach. Troy Polamalu is out for Sunday’s game and Big Ben is a little banged up, so if the Ravens ever had a chance to steal one from the Steelers, this is their opportunity.