Everything was set up perfectly for the Ravens to beat their bitter divisional rivals, the much-hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Two of their best players on both sides of the ball were out, Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger. They had a second-year, third-string quarterback starting because of the injury to Big Ben and their backup, Charlie Batch. The Ravens were at home, on primetime, against a division rival, in a must-win game and they came out on top. Despite what people may say about the Steelers not having Polamalu or Big Ben in there, this was a big win. This is the NFL and players get injured, deal with it. The Ravens were without Terrell Suggs, and Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were all banged up as well. Granted, this game was closer than Ravens fans would’ve liked, but would you expect anything less when you’re playing the defending Super Bowl champions? The bottom line is that the Ravens needed this game to stay in the playoff hunt, and they got it. They needed it even worse to exorcise their recent demons against the Steelers after losing three heartbreakers to them last season. Let’s just hope this win can create some momentum going into Green Bay next Monday night because, once again, both the Ravens and the Packers need a win to stay alive in their respective wild card races.
Ray and Ray, better known now as Double Trouble. These two guys have more in common than just sharing the same first name. Both Ray Lewis and Ray Rice play every down like it’s their last and they leave everything on the field. Rice isn’t as physically loud as Lewis, but his play on the field speaks volumes. He has to be one of the hardest players to tackle in the NFL. It’s not that he plows over people, but he always seems to wiggle his way past defenders doing anything it takes to get in the end zone. Rice is No. 10 in the league in rushing and his 582 receiving yards is almost double that of the next running back, Chris Johnson, who has 294. He is No. 2 in the league among running backs with 1,603 total yards from scrimmage, just 87 yards behind Johnson. Rice has a huge impact on every game he plays, and Sunday night was no different. When the Ravens needed a big play, Rice was their man. On fourth-and-four at their own 46, Rice split out wide and everyone watching knew exactly who Flacco was going to do. James Farrior had no chance trying to defend Rice, and 44 yards later the Ravens were in position to tie the game at 17. On the defensive side of the ball, Lewis’ presence alone was enough to earn him this award. He totaled nine tackles in the game and was a big part of making Dennis Dixon feel uncomfortable when he dropped back to pass. We all know Lewis is not the dominant physical force he used to be, but I don’t know if there is anyone else I would rather have out there in that type of game. He is so vital to the Ravens success and Sunday’s game was just another chapter in his book.
The “Man, That Was Close” Award
The last 25 seconds of regulation are to blame for my inability to sleep after the game. When Flacco was sacked, I thought it was going to overtime for sure. Then, all of a sudden the Ravens field goal unit scrambled onto the field and I thought maybe there’s a chance. The snap was good, the hold was good and the kick was on its way. It was straight enough and looked to have the distance, but it was just short. Just think of how crazy it would’ve been if he would’ve made that kick. It probably would’ve been one of the best finishes of the season considering the situation. Fortunately for the Ravens, it was the potential game-winner and not the game-tier. But anyway you look at it, the finish was surely one that got the blood flowing.
The “Unlikely Hero” Award
It wasn’t Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Haloti Ngata who made the biggest play of the night. It was none other than rookie linebacker Paul “Freddy” Kruger (I just gave him the nickname Freddy for the fun of it). This was easily the biggest play of Kruger’s young career especially since it was only the third game this season in which he saw action. On the Steelers’ second overtime possession, Kruger dropped back into coverage and picked off Dixon’s that was pass intended for Santonio Holmes. The interception set the Ravens up with excellent field position and eventually resulted in Cundiff’s game-winning 29-yard field goal. Kruger has seen increased playing time since Suggs’ knee injury and has shown that he was worth the second-round pick the Ravens spent on him.
Next Monday night’s matchup in Green Bay will yet again be one with potential playoff implications. Both teams are vying for a position in the playoffs and neither can afford to lose many more games. The Packers have had trouble protecting Aaron Rodgers this season, which bodes well for the Ravens. If they can keep Rodgers in check and control the ground game, they should be in very good shape to come away with a victory. The Packers have a strong secondary, which will mean Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Co. need to work to get open because nothing is going to come easy in the passing game. This should be yet another great primetime game that is likely to go to the wire.