At different times throughout the regular season, it looked as though the Baltimore Ravens would not get anywhere near the playoffs. Their inconsistent play and habit of committing costly penalties and making crucial mistakes threatened several times to send them to an exit much earlier than either the team or its fans expected. Yet, by virtue of a victory over Oakland’s Raiders in the final regular season game, the Ravens earned themselves a berth in the playoffs, where they would meet a familiar foe in the wildcard round: the New England Patriots.
When these two teams met in week 4 of the regular season, the Ravens were one play away from possibly beating the Patriots late in the game. The Ravens came to play in that game, but made a few too many mistakes and made too few stops to get the win. The most noticeable statistic to take from the earlier game was that the offense featured 47 pass plays to only 17 rushes. For the playoff game, the play calling flipped as the Ravens came out to establish the run with 52 rushes, while Joe Flacco only threw 10 passes. Part of the game plan may have been to ease some of the burden on Flacco, who apparently was hurting much more than anyone knew. Nevertheless, the plan worked almost flawlessly. Ray Rice ran 83 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first offensive play, part of 159 yards total for Rice and 234 yards rushing on the day. The defense matched the offense’s fast start as Terrell Suggs sacked Tom Brady on the Patriots’ first offensive series, causing a fumble that he recovered. A few plays later, the Ravens led 14-0 before Patriots fans could get settled into their seats. It was all part of a dominant first half that may have been the best half of football the Ravens played all season, as they held a 24-7 lead on the way to a 33-14 victory. The game had Ravens fans believing that another Super Bowl run was about to begin. Confidence was high as the Ravens moved on to another regular season rematch, this time against Indianapolis.
Whereas the Patriots game saw the good Ravens team, the Colts game saw the exact opposite. While the defense didn’t give up the big play, it couldn’t stop the Colt offense and Peyton Manning nearly enough as the Colts won 20-3 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score. Where the Ravens ran at will against the Patriots, it found the going much tougher against the Colts. Just one week after gaining over 200 yards rushing, the Ravens were held under 100 for the game. Also, Cam Cameron had Joe Flacco throw 35 times, and while he completed 20 passes, very few were deep pass plays. Flacco was also intercepted twice, and the Ravens turned the ball over four times during the game. A key sequence in the third quarter summed up the Ravens’ night. Ed Reed managed to intercept Peyton Manning twice in one drive, but neither counted-Reed lost a fumble returning the first and the second was waived off by a pass interference penalty by Corey Ivy. In two games against the Colts, the Ravens were unable to score a touchdown, and while the defense held the Colts to twenty points, those points proved to be more than enough to win.
A season that started with so much promise and hopes for a Super Bowl appearance and victory, fell two games short with a worse won-loss record than the season before. The season had to be considered a success as the Ravens made the playoffs for the second season in a row and third out of the last four, but there remained several issues that loomed as the offseason began.