At 6-5 the Ravens were staring at the very real possibility of missing the play-offs. At the time it seemed like the Ravens would need to get to 10 wins in order to have a shot at a wild card berth in the AFC. With a schedule that included trips to Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Oakland along with home games with Detroit and Chicago it seemed 3 wins was well within the Ravens reach. But winning at a surging Green Bay, or at Pittsburgh with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger was a stretch for an inconsistent Ravens team. The Ravens did have a couple things working in their favor. While the Ravens were struggling, so were other teams vying for a play-off berth. It seemed like no one from the Ravens, Steelers, Jets, Broncos, Titans, Texans, Dolphins, or Jaguars was in any better position than the Ravens considering current level of play and remaining schedule. It was becoming evident that the AFC did not have as many good teams as in years passed, and their was the possibility that a team with 9 wins could qualify for the play-offs. Could the Ravens win their way in, or would they need help to make the play-offs?
The Ravens travelled to Green Bay for a Monday night match-up, which at the time seemed more winnable than winning in Pittsburgh. Shortly before the game was set to begin it was announced that the Ravens would be without the services of S Ed Reed. It seemed the chances of a win went from bad to worse. It seemed the pass happy Packers would torch a secondary minus Reed. Oddly enough the defense kept the Ravens close until late in the first half, but the offense could not rise to the occasion. Down 17-0 at the half the Ravens rallied late in the 3rd quarter to get within 17-14. The game, which had already been penalty marred, turned in the Packers favor when Derrick Mason was called for offensive pass interference on a pass that DB Charles Woodson had overrun and was not in position to make a play on. The penalty negated a 30+ yard play that would have given the Ravens the ball in Green Bay territory with the momentum on their side. The Ravens ended up punting from deep in their own territory, setting up the Packers with good field position. The call was too much for the Ravens, who had played poorly up to that point, to overcome. The Packers put them away in the 4th. The Ravens were now 6-6 with little margin for error.
Weeks 14 and 15 brought crazy weather to Baltimore along with 2 opponents who had little interest in putting up much of a fight. Wet conditions only prolonged the inevitable as the Ravens ran and passed over the woeful Lions in a 48-3 romp. A week later a blizzard arrived in Baltimore, but it was unclear if the Bears ever would. The snow shut down BWI and made the Bears trip to Baltimore rather last minute despite the game being moved to a 4:15 start. The Ravens jumped out to a quick lead and despite being up only 14-7 at the half put the Bears within the first 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter leading many Ravens fans to yel “GAME OVER, GAME OVER< GAME OVER” from the top of their lungs. Now 8-6 and in control of their destiny, the Ravens hit the road for the rest of the season.
Week 16 was round 2 with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Big Ben was back after missing the game in Baltimore, but the Steelers were not playing well despite a heroic win over the Packers the week before. It was thought that both of the match-ups with the Steelers were going to be games that would decide the play-off fate of both teams. That turned out to not be the case, but the Ravens were approaching this game as a must win. For the most part they outplayed the Steelers, but some of the same costly mistakes hurt the Ravens….penalties and players coming up small in crunch time. The Ravens had 2 touchdowns negated by penalty and one dropped in the end zone. The drop by Derrick Mason would loom large as it would have given the Ravens the lead, a lead they were never able to take. The Ravens had other chances but were not able to capitalize and a late illegal contact penalty negated an interception by Tom Zbikowski and effectively ended the game.
A frustrating loss and an 8-7 record seemed like it could deflate the Ravens, but as it turned out the Ravens emerged from the loss in Pittsburgh still in control of their play-off destiny needing a win in Oakland to salvage the season. And win they did. No it was not a pretty or impressive win against an Oakland team that had little interest in defending the run and one that had to throw JaMarcus Russell back onto the field. The Ravens took advantage of a big game from Willis McGahee and some big plays on defense by Dannell Ellerbe to finish off the Raiders.
The Ravens were heading to the play-offs as the 6th seed in the AFC. Not the regular season we expected, but the Ravens were resilient and won the ames they had to to advance to the 2nd season. While the pass offense sputtered down the stretch the Ravens were employing a formula Baltimore had becom all to familiar with. Ray Rice was leading a strong rushing attack and defense that struggled early in the year was showing signs of coming together at the right time. For all their inconsistencies and repeated mistakes and penalties the Ravens were alive for at least another week.