For years the Ravens have been just a piece or two away from making a superbowl. Three years ago the Cam Cameron offense sputtered out and the Ravens only netted 3 points against a mediocre Indianapolis defense. Two years ago that piece was a no.3 CB after the Ravens were ousted from the playoffs by a huge pass over the head of the still gimpy Lardarius Webb by the bitter rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Last year it was a no.3 WR after Lee Evans failed to hold on to the biggest catch of his career and cost the Ravens an AFC championship victory, and Billy Cundiff shanking a chip shot that cost them a chance to extend the game.
Now the Ravens might finally have those pieces in place. On Saturday the ravens found themselves locked in a tight struggle with the Manning led Denver Broncos. The Offense had been brilliant all day and had already put up 28 points. Jim Caldwell had put Flacco in the right position to make plays all day. 28 points was good, but it wasn’t going to be enough for the win.
Caldwell dialed up a deep shot down the field because the team needed a play. He knew the Broncos had been largely ignoring Jacoby Jones all day and he figured it might work again. Jacoby broke deep and got behind his defender and pulled up and turned his head only to see the ball already in the air. Flacco had put in right in the right spot, just like he did with Lee Evans a year beforehand, now it was up to Jones to make the catch that Evans couldn’t. He did. Jones snagged the ball and strolled the last 15 yards to the endzone, the game felt like it was the Ravens to lose at that point, but they still had some more fighting to do.
The Ravens took the ball first, trying to build off their momentum, but the drive stalled out and the teams were forced to trade a few punts. Finally though, after nearly a full quarter of dishing out body blows, the Broncos finally looked like they had some momentum. They had started the drive deep in their own territory and Manning was on the march, but the Ravens defense wasn’t about to fold. The got pressure on Manning, Manning panicked and scrambled out of the pocket when he shouldn’t have in an attempt to make a play. He saw Brandon Stokely, the former Raven, seemingly open and attempted to thread a needle to him. Little did he know, Corey Graham was waiting for it, he stepped in front of the pass and it was all over but the crying, and the Justin Tucker Field Goal.
Justin Tucker took a kick nearly twice as long as the Billy Cunduff miss, and banged it easily through the uprights and the Ravens rushed the field to embrace the man that came through where his predecessor couldn’t.
The three biggest moments in the game were put together thanks to four players who weren’t here to taste the bitterness of the AFC championship loss a year ago. They weren’t here to feel the gut wrenching agony of blowing a 14 point halftime lead to the Pittsburgh Steelers or know what it felt like to be smothered by the Colts. These were three brand new additions who have quickly proven their worth.
The Ravens don’t win Saturday without Jim Caldwell, Corey Graham and Jacoby Jones. They probably don’t even get close. Three guys nobody wanted, Graham was labeled as a career special teamer. The Bears had never given him a chance to get on the field on defense, he barely even received phone calls during free agency. Jacoby Jones was cast aside by the Texans after fumbling twice against the Ravens in the playoffs last year, He wasn’t even the Ravens first choice, they had already tried to get Eddie Royal and Brandon Tate to fill the same role. He wasn’t anybodies first choice. Jim Caldwell had gone from superstar coach to superstar goat in just 16 weeks without Peyton Manning. He drew almost no interest around the league, even as a QBs coach, certainly not as an offensive coordinator. Justin Tucker was undrafted and only got calls from one team.
I could tell you that the Ravens saw this coming when they signed these guys. I could tell you they knew Graham would be a probowl caliber corner or that Jones would be the leagues best return man or that Caldwell would awaken a sleeping giant in the Ravens offensive system, but that would be a lie.
The Ravens knew these were undervalued players, they knew they were talented coaches. They had no idea the payoff their gambles would make though. If they had, they would have fired Cam Cameron months ago. They wouldn’t have flirted with Eddie Royal in free agency and they would have offered Graham a longer contract while he was still cheap and they would have drafted Justin Tucker in the 4th round. The Ravens didn’t know how big these guys would play, but they knew they liked their chances better with them on the roster than they did if they had to play against them.
This Ravens team hasn’t done anything yet. They won the AFC North, but they did that last year. They beat the Broncos, but so what, it didn’t get them to the superbowl. The Ravens are just a short distance from their goal. They are once again just 60 minutes from the superbowl. Their new additions got them through it in a game that was eerily similar to last seasons AFC Championship game. But they need to do it one more time. 60 more minutes of pain, sacrifice and exhaustion. 60 minutes away from glory. I believe in the Ravens. I believe because I saw role players play like superstars last week. I believe because of Jacoby Jones, Corey Graham, Jim Caldwell and Justin Tucker.