Five Things We Learned from the Ravens' 23-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec (subbing for newlywed Matt Vensel) analyzes the Ravens' loss to Cincinnati and looks ahead to Sunday's playoff date with Indianapolis.
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1( USA TODAY Sports / December 30, 2012 )
Regardless of whether it was the right decision or the wrong one, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has opened himself up to some criticism if his players don't respond next week.
Let me start off by saying that I absolutely agreed with the way Ravens coach John Harbaugh handled yesterday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, sitting a handful of his starters and using many of his other top players for less than a quarter in a 23-17 loss.
The Ravens have been crushed by injuries this season and the last thing that they needed was a couple more heading into the playoffs. Guys like Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Marshal Yanda and Bernard Pollard have been banged up all year and it made no sense to send them out there against a physical team with nothing on the line. I repeat: nothing on the line. I don't want to hear about how the Ravens still could have gotten the third seed. In order for that to have happened, the Ravens would have needed to win and the Miami Dolphins to beat the New England Patriots. With all due respect to the "Any Given Sunday" cliches and a Dolphins team that played hard all season under first-year coach Joe Philbin, Miami wasn't going to go into Gillette Stadium on a frigid day and beat Tom Brady and the Patriots with something on the line. Forget it. It wasn't happening.
As for the argument that the Ravens' offense needed to build off the rhythm that it developed during the previous week's thrashing of the New York Giants and go into the playoffs on a high, I can see that point of view. However, we are talking about an offense that has been wildly inconsistent and unpredictable one drive to the next, never mind one game to the next. If quarterback Joe Flacco had played nearly the full game yesterday and threw for 250 yards and a couple of touchdowns, would you really feel that much better about the offense heading into Sunday's showdown versus the Indianapolis Colts? At this stage of the season, you still have no idea what Flacco you're going to get. You can try to make a conclusion on how he'll play based on his previous game, but more often than not, you'd probably be wrong. Flacco, himself, has disputed the suggestion that games carry over.
That's not to say that Harbaugh hasn't opened himself to second guessing, because he has, though I'm quite certain that he doesn't care. You just know if the Ravens come out flat Sunday afternoon, don't match the Colts' emotion and intensity and the offense slogs through a half in which it can't consistently sustain drives, everybody will point back to Harbaugh's decisions the previous week. That's the way it works in the NFL. Regardless of whether I or anybody else thinks that he did the right thing, the only people that can prove it are Harbaugh's players. They need to have his back Sunday, play well and make this whole subject an afterthought.