I spent the last three weeks outside of the United States on business.
There are many nations on this planet friendly to the stranded American searching for a Wi-Fi signal to stream an NFL game, but my locale was not one of them. Despite my best efforts, I completely missed the Cleveland game and spent the Cincinnati game crouched in a restaurant where I found a 3’ x 3’ square with enough bandwidth to stream a single frame every 10 seconds.
I’ll withhold comment on the Cleveland game. During the Cincinnati game, however, I aged 4-years. As I watched the clock tick below 10 seconds, I fired up my email client and typed a congratulatory email to my friends attending the game. Much to my chagrin, but thankfully before I clicked “send”, my tablet screen updated. It was a screen-sized banner that simply said “TOUCHDOWN CINCINNATI.” I couldn’t believe it. The next 18 minutes were some of the most painful in my life, but even at one frame every 10 seconds, I could tell that Tucker’s game winning kick in overtime was good. I sent the original email. I was happy again.
I spent most of the following weekend on planes, trains, and automobiles trying to make it home before the Bears game. I was unsuccessful, but thanks to the magic of digital video recording, I was able to start the game about three hours after it began. Since I was in a self-imposed media blackout to avoid receiving any spoiler updates (come on, you’ve done it before), I had no idea that tornados would allow me view the contest in near real time.
My initial impressions were positive. Ray Rice was moving the rock, Joe seemed poised, and the defense appeared to have McCown, Bennett, and Forte hemmed up. Then, Roger Goodell and the NFL glitterati conspired once again to slow the Ravens’ momentum – this time with severe weather. From that point forward, the Ravens looked flat. After Flacco’s 2nd quarter pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown the wheels fell off. The final nail in the coffin came with the Bears’ 7-minute drive into the 4th quarter culminating in a touchdown putting the Ravens in a 3-point deficit.
The Ravens did an admirable job tying the game in the final seconds, but a botched snap on 3rd and goal likely prevented a touchdown and Ravens’ win.
In overtime, the Ravens had their chances and blew them. After stopping the Bears on their first OT possession, the offense sputtered and the defense subsequently allowed Bennett to reel in a 47-yard reception essentially sealing the deal for a game winner by Robbie Gould. No congratulatory emails this time. Just depression.
So, do the Ravens have any chance to make the post-season? Thanks to draft-system-enforced parity it is still mathematically possible for Harbaugh and Flacco to keep their post season participation rate at 100%. To do so, however, they absolutely must beat the Jets this weekend.
This will be no small feat. Rex and company have built a contender in New York, now supplemented by the aging but still capable Ed Reed. Also, at 5-5, the squad currently sits in the AFC’s second wildcard spot and is motivated to stay there.
This weekend’s contest will pit the Jets’ number one rushing defense against a struggling Baltimore running game. That said, a ray of sunshine finally broke though for the Ravens’ running duo in Chicago. Ray Rice posted his best game of the year (131-yards), and the team netted 174-yards on the ground. If the squad can produce similar numbers this weekend, their chance of winning increases dramatically.
To produce another “W” in the scorebook, the Ravens will also have to reduce their penalties, eliminate turnovers, and get to the Jets’ rookie quarterback. While the Ravens only had 5 penalties for 46 yards last weekend, at least two of them came at critical times and extended the Bears’ drives and demoralized the defense.
It goes without saying that turnovers are bad, but for the struggling Ravens’ offense they are poison.
Conversely, the Ravens have an opportunity to create a positive turnover ratio if they can get pressure on Geno Smith. To be sure, he is a talented athlete, but he also has a tendency to make mental mistakes. The Ravens must seize this opportunity if they want to stay alive in the playoff hunt for another week.
Adding up all the variables, this matchup appears to be a close one. Adding in the intangibles of motivation and home field advantage, this contest favors the Ravens. It’s do or die time in Baltimore and I expect the Ravens to respond.
I’m just happy that I won’t have to watch it over a low bandwidth internet connection. I’ll be one of the 70-thousand or so maniacs wearing purple attempting to assert home field dominance at M&T Bank Stadium. See you there.