AFC – THAT’S SO RAVEN
I was at a crowded restaurant in Nashville watching the epic double overtime game between Denver and Baltimore. As the Ravens lined up for the game winning FG, I turned to my wife and said “The Ravens are going to steal this game”. Two women sitting to the right of us were watching the same screen. One of them burst out “ugh, I can’t STAND the Ravens!” Lots of people around them nodded in approval. I think she spoke for most of Nashville.
Before I make my point, first let me congratulate the Ravens for making it to the Super Bowl. It is well deserved, despite what I am about to lay on you. So for the 12 Ravens fans living in the Middle Tennessee area, don’t misunderstand. There is some extra bitterness from Titans fans.
It has always been said that you have to be a little lucky to win a championship. This year is no exception. The Ravens seem to have a knack for good fortune. Let’s look at yesterday’s game (not even discussing the breaks they got in the Broncos game- which is another story):
1. Aqib Talib, the cover corner and difference making acquisition for the Patriots defense, pulls a hamstring in the first half. Patrick Chung, another starter in the secondary, also goes down.
2. Tom Brady, TOM BRADY, botches the final drive of the first half, mismanaging the clock and forcing the Patriots to settle for a FG instead of having two shots at the end zone.
3. Stevan Ridley takes a huge hit and spins to the ground still controlling the ball, but as he gets to the turf his leg is split out in front of him in awkward position and the ball grazes off his knee. I’ve never seen a ball fumbled in quite that manner.
4. Brady fires a pass that gets tipped WAY up in the air, and the Ravens again seem to ALWAYS have the guy in the right spot to pick it off. This time is no exception. (they had a pick 6 last week on a tipped ball in Denver)
Titans fans are extra sensitive about these things. You know why. Remember this (video)?
You may have noticed:
1. Chris Johnson, running wild in the first half, turns his ankle and can’t return.
2. The Ravens hit 2 huge bombs on high arching throws from Joe Flacco. The first on a poorly executed coverage which allows (of all people) Derrick Mason to find a hole between Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope for a TD on 3rd and 13. The second on a total floater which Finnegan and Hope mistimed, then collided on. Mark Clayton makes the catch. 10 of the Ravens 13 points come as a result of these two plays. (Broncos Safety Rahim Moore comes to mind)
3. The Titans fumbled twice in the Red Zone.
4. With the score tied 10-10 with 2:54 left, Joe Flacco was in shotgun formation on 3rd and 2 from the Ravens 33. The Play Clock hits 0. It’s not even close, but the play continues and Flacco hits his receiver for a 1st down. The Ravens go on to kick the FG that ends up being the winner. (Side Note: The Referee in that game Bill Leavy, also refereed yesterday’s NFC Title game, where ironically there were two bang bang delay of game penalties. They called the penalty on both.)
And do I even need to remind you about this? (NOTE: if you are too angry at this point and need to cool down for a few minutes before you watch this I understand)
I’m sure you remember, but let’s review:
1. The Titans blocked 2 punts in the first half, and got a total of 3 points. Neither bounce off of the deflection caromed the Titans way.
2. On the worst day of Al Del Greco’s career, he hit the upright on one very short FG, and had two other’s blocked.
3. The second blocked FG, which would have put the Titans up 13-10 in the 4th qtr, deflects right to Ravens DB Anthony Mitchell ON THE FLY. He has a running start as he grabs it in stride and takes it all the way back for a stunning TD.
4. Eddie George bobbles a pass slightly behind him on the next drive, and as he reaches back with his right hand to try and haul it in he essentially serves it up like a waiter on a tray for Ray Lewis, who grabs it for a second crushing TD.
I could go on (the Ravens won a game by 14 pts in which they picked up a TOTAL of 5 first downs. Five.) but you get the point. But we’re not bitter towards the Ravens or anything right?
OK, so now I’ve vented. The point is this: if you put yourself in position enough times, you will get some good fortune. The Ravens consistently get into the playoffs. They have probably had some bad breaks (which I and lots of Titans fans strangely can’t remember) as well. But give yourself enough chances and you will break through.
NFC-- KAEPERNIKIZE FOLLOW UP
As my colleague George Plaster preached all week, the Falcons were not going to let Colin Kaepernick run wild like he did the week before against the Packers. He was right, as he only attempted to run twice against Atlanta. But as a result there were several openings. Frank Gore had several key runs in which he cruised through a big hole untouched on the back of a lead blocker, including a couple of easy TD runs in the Red Zone. It also created some incredibly big spaces in the secondary (Jeff Schultz from the Atlanta Journal Constitution asked on twitter if Vernon Davis was operating with a “cloaking device”. Gotta love a good Star Wars reference).
Dowell Loggains (offensive coordinator) and Dave Ragone (QB coach) I’m sure were taking notes for the Titans. Loggains has now been given the keys to the Tennessee offense. Can they create this type of effect I was calling for last week? Read here if you didn’t see it.
Loggains and Ragone are both very young coaches who are very popular among the players. Several of them, including Jake Locker have gone on record as saying he wanted Loggains to run things. Liking your coach is a good thing. Mike Munchak seems to lean this way as a “players coach”. But there is still no Bad Cop to balance things. We’ll see if the Titans can get the discipline necessary to get more out of enigma’s Kenny Britt, Jared Cook (if they re-sign him), and others.
I venture to say the Indiana players didn’t always “like” Bobby Knight. Bill Parcells probably wasn’t always beloved. But guys like that could get their players in the right places. That will be the challenge for Loggains and Ragone, who have excellent football minds.
Photo: Joe Murphy/WireImage.com