Wow. It can’t get much better than that. I feel like the fact that I collapsed in relief after T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught that touchdown pass means that this win was HUGE. I feel like the fact that I couldn’t sit down for 30 minutes after the game means that something incredibly special happened this afternoon. Mostly, I feel like I saw what makes Ravens football so great today.
27 seconds. That’s all it took for a whole city to have their emotions flipped 180 degrees. In Pittsburgh, it was joy, and 27 seconds later, it was disappointment. In Baltimore, 32 seconds were the difference between extreme frustration and pure jubilation. That’s the great part about Ravens-Steelers. No matter what, one city will be devastated, and they’ll be hungry for the second matchup. Luckily for us, that city is Pittsburgh this week.
It’s extremely hard to put my thoughts into words right now, but I’ll try my best.
You can’t say enough about the performance of Joe Flacco. Forget the interception. Today he showed the most poise he ever had in his career, and when that’s against one of the NFL’s best defenses, that’s pretty impressive. Come to think of it, he probably showed the most poise of any quarterback I’ve ever seen against the Pittsburgh defense. When they got pressure (which wasn’t too often, thanks to a great game from the offensive line), Flacco stood calm. He shrugged off the complicated looks at the line of scrimmage, and besides a couple smart passes out of bounds, he had full confidence in every single one of his passes. He was locked in with his receivers, and was as calm as could be in the team’s final two drives.
Let’s talk about the final offensive drive for Flacco and Co. Getting the ball at the 40-yard line certainly helped get it started, but not having the option to kick a field goal, and being out of timeouts, made gaining those 40 yards in 32 seconds or less seem almost impossible. Right away, Flacco proved otherwise. Hitting Anquan “God” Boldin for an important nine yards, Flacco had to hurry back to the line for another play, and hit Boldin again for three yards and a first down. A sign of great things to come, Houshmandzadeh found enough space for an 18-yard reception, taking the ball to the Pittsburgh 18. Again, 18 was the lucky number, as Flacco hit Housh for the 18-yard touchdown pass. Billy Cundiff hit the extra point, blasted a nice kickoff, and then doing what he does best, Ray Lewis made the difference, with a clutch interception to finish off the Squealers.
Admit it. This game means more than any other game of the regular season. First off, it’s a win over Pittsburgh. Second, it’s a win that puts the Ravens at the top of the division. Third and possibly most importantly, it’s in Pittsburgh’s house. It’s the game that sets the tone for the season, the game that the team NEEDS to win. To win today, the Ravens needed a couple of new additions, and their impact was undeniable. Anquan Boldin came up big, with a game-high seven receptions, including those two infinitely important ones on the final drive. He found space all game, and was a great option on third down, as always. Houshmandzadeh’s role in this game will be remembered forever, coming up with the final 36 yards that won it. Last year, although Derrick Mason is a fine receiver, he, Mark Clayton, and Demetrius Williams wouldn’t have been able to pull that off. In this video, Ray Lewis agrees with me about 50-odd seconds in.
Because I don’t want to launch into extreme wordiness mode, I’ll try to close this out with a paragraph about the defense.
Classic. Ravens. Defense. Sure, they gave up a TD in the first half, but that was mostly due to Antwaan Randle El’s circus catch to get down to the goal line. Throughout the game, they came up big. Lardarius Webb was in top form, especially in the second half, making plays on passes and shutting down weapons Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. The defensive line got great penetration, which led to good pressure on Charlie Batch and a great job containing Rashard Mendenhall. When the Ravens’ offense turned the ball over in Pittsburgh territory, the defense came up big, stonewalling the Pittsburgh offense and making Jeff Reed take (and miss) two difficult field goals. Ray Lewis was all over the place, continuing his great campaign. Terrell Suggs was making plays and being the linebacker we all missed last season. Most of all, though, Haloti Ngata was wreaking havoc. With eight tackles, a big-time sack, several QB hurries, and clogging up the holes well helping Lewis and Suggs to make plays, Ngata was a man among boys against a very able-bodied Steelers offensive line. While I can’t say that today was a better defensive performance than against the Jets or even the Bengals, it was really impressive. You can’t really say enough about this defense and what they’ve done so far this season.
What a game.