Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun
During their recent three-game losing streak, it felt as if the Ravens might not win another game. Their luck, that 4th-and-29-caliber magic, had run out. They seemed to have reached their breaking point with injuries. The offense, both before and after the firing of coordinator Cam Cameron, was taking one step forward and four or five steps back. The defense, which had a lengthy injury report filled with excuses, had gotten picked apart by an all-time great (Peyton Manning), an up-and-coming star (Robert Griffin III) and an over-the-hill feel-good story (Charlie Batch). The special teams unit was solid, but no longer superlative. No one was outwardly expressing panic or doubt, but there were plenty of frazzled nerves inside the Castle these past couple of weeks. A samurai sword couldn't cut the tension in the locker room. But during Sunday's 33-14 win over the equally desperate New York Giants, a performance that was cathartic in its dominance, an entire city of distraught but still hopeful Ravens fans let out a collective exhale. The Ravens, who clinched their second straight AFC North title, are still kicking. They started fast against the Giants, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter, and took a 24-7 lead into halftime. They sustained drives on offense and short-circuited them on defense, turning up the heat on Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Three field goals by Justin Tucker put the game out of reach in the second half, and the Ravens coasted to their 10th win of the season. I'm a big numbers guy, as you have probably figured out by now, but I will concede that they don't always tell the story. This was not one of those days, though. The Ravens outgained the Giants, 533-186, in total yards. They ran 81 plays and hogged the ball for more than 39 minutes. They were 11-for-18 on third down and held the Giants to just two first downs on 10 third-down plays. Joe Flacco had more than twice as many passing yards as Manning. The Ravens, for the first time since the second half of their comeback win over the San Diego Chargers, looked like a team that deserved to be in the playoffs -- and also like one that should be feared once they begin. This win should be celebrated -- as should the hard-earned, well-deserved division title -- but let's not kid ourselves by saying that the Ravens should definitely be viewed as Super Bowl contenders again. The Giants deserve some of the credit for an absolutely inept performance Sunday, and the Ravens have been maddeningly inconsistent from quarter to quarter and are capable of following this win up with a performance equally as inept in the season finale in Cincinnati. The Ravens are who we thought they were two months ago: a talented but flawed team that will be tough to beat in the playoffs, as long as they don't beat themselves. But as we see every year, anything can happen once you are in the playoffs. The Ravens are in, and they will play at least one home game at M&T Bank Stadium. They aren't done yet.
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