A guest post by Daniel Clark, @DJC_Sports….
Three weeks ago, after the Baltimore Ravens had suffered a heartbreaking 23-20 loss in overtime to the Chicago Bears, only the most faithful of Ravens fans believed their side could defend their Superbowl title. Having slipped to a record of 4-and-6, simply reaching the playoffs seemed unlikely and required a likely streak of five or six wins in the remaining six games – An unlikely feat given their form at the time.
However, three weeks have since passed and the Ravens have not lost. In doing so, they have improved their record to 7 & 6 and are now right in the thick of a wildcard race.
Opponents beware – If this team can reach the playoffs, then anything is possible. As they proved last season, when everyone was writing them off due to poor form heading into the post-season, the Ravens know how to win games. They have a solid defense and despite a struggling offense, still have the players capable of delivering the goods when it matters the most.
This streak of wins started with a 19-3 thumping of the Jets in late November. Having finished the first quarter locked at 3-3, the Ravens defense kept the Jets scoreless whilst Joe Flacco tallied up 273 yards and Jacoby Jones notched up 103 yards via 4 receptions. It was encouraging signs from an offense which had struggled to gain momentum in a frustrating season.
The second win of the streak was against arch-rival the Pittsburgh Steelers, in a Thanksgiving clash for the ages. Despite controlling the game for the first three quarters, the Steelers mounted a spirited comeback and almost snatched victory. The 22-20 final continued the trend of close games between the two teams, however this win was as crucial as any prior for the Ravens and kept their faint playoff chances alive. The star of the game was unquestionably Justin Tucker, who had a perfect afternoon, with five field goals and an extra-point conversion.
The latest win was not unexpected, as the Ravens were always fancied to beat the Minnesota Vikings, however the eventual style of the win is one which may well prove to be season-defining.
In a game played in truly horrible conditions (thick snow), the Ravens looked set to lose on multiple occasions, only to dig deep and highlight a level of determination and self-belief which only champion teams possess. Leading 7-6 heading into the final quarter, the Ravens conceded a touchdown early and found themselves trailing with just 2:05 remaining on the clock. A touchdown (Flacco-Pitta) followed for the home team and brought the crowd to life, however the jubilation was short-lived as the Vikings responded immediately with a touchdown of their own to regain the lead with just 1:27 to play.
Usually, this quick response is enough to destroy the motivation of a team and the game is often all but over… But not with this Ravens team.
A 77-yard kickoff return touchdown from Jacoby Jones gave the Ravens the lead again just eleven seconds later and now, with just 1:16 remaining, the Ravens defense had a second chance to redeem themselves and finish the game off. However, yet again it wasn’t to be.
With 45 seconds left on the clock, the Vikings stunned the home crowd when Cassel found Patterson for a 79-yard touchdown and now a sense of disbelief reigned over M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens appeared headed for a shocking loss and with it, almost certainly an end to their post-season chances… Of course though, you know what happened next.
In yet another astonishing, unpredictable and truly unique turn of events, the Ravens quickly moved the ball down the field and with just 0:04 remaining in the game, as he so often does, Joe Flacco proved his value and found Marlon Brown in the end zone to give the Ravens a remarkable 29-26 win.
The crowd was alive and more importantly, so is the season.
The final three games of the season are going to be tough, there’s no doubting that.
To beat the Detroit Lions (7-6), New England Patriots (10-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) the Ravens will need to play better than what they have been all season. The Lions have the 4th most points per game in the NFL, the Patriots the 6th most and the Bengals the 12th most – All of which comfortably exceed the Ravens who are ranked 25th. The Ravens defense, who are ranked 7th in points conceded per game, will need to be at the top of their game.
Offensively, Flacco must limit the interceptions, of which he now has 17 next to his name this season. Of course, a number of these can not be blamed on Flacco himself however extra caution needs to be taken when passing because turnovers lose football games – It’s simple as that.
In addition, the Ravens are ranked 30th in the NFL with regards to rushing yards per game – A statistic that would make Ray Rice sleepless at night. This needs to improve if the Ravens are going to continue this winning streak. To highlight the challenge which awaits the Ravens, all of this offensive improvement needs to occur against the NFL’s 18th, 10th and 5th best defensive teams.
It’s going to be an interesting three weeks for Ravens fans all over the world. This team has a strong sense of belief and it rubs off on their fans – All of which are confident the unlikely situation faced three weeks ago can turn into a true miracle in three weeks from now. For the Ravens, they’re halfway there – Three wins down and three wins to go.
I know they can do it and I also know that if they do, then they’ll be hard to beat in the playoffs.