Five Things We Learned in the Ravens 16-6 win over the 49ers
3. If you don't think Joe Flacco's played a great game on Thursday, it's probably because fantasy football has warped your perspective of what a great performance is.
If you didn't watch the game Thursday (maybe you ate too much turkey and slept through the entire thing) you might look at Flacco's stats and decide he played OK, but obviously didn't do anything particularly special. When a guy goes 15-of-23 for 161 yards and a touchdown, it doesn't exactly jump off the page. I looked it up in my Yahoo fantasy league. It was good for a grand total of 13 points.
But I thought Flacco was exceptional on Thursday. I think he threw one pass all night that I'd categorize as a bad throw. He was accurate, he was smart with the football, he didn't take a single sack, and he was clutch when he needed to be. Seven of his completions came on third down, and he knew he was going to have to make plays in those situations because the Ravens were determined to keep feeding Ray Rice the ball on first and second downs.
“When you have that kind of game plan, your line being so efficient on third downs, you have to come through," Flacco said. "We had a lot of guys come through for us and just made some big plays in those situations.”
His touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta -- on 3rd-and-goal from the 8 yard line -- was one of my favorite throws he's made all year because not only did he have to fit it through a small window, he had to throw the ball before Pitta came open and trust that he was going to get between the linebacker and the safety. (Remember when he used to avoid throwing over the middle like the plague?) That throw made it 13-6 and capped off a 16 play drive that chewed 7:34 off the clock.
Like the majority of football fans, I love fantasy football. I've been playing for more than a decade. But I do truly believe it's skewed our perspective a bit when we evaluate what passes for a good performance from a quarterback. You can't evaluate football stats the way people evaluate baseball stats. Leadership, patience and knowing when to take risks are really difficult, if not impossible, to quantify with football statistics. Obviously Flacco and Cameron still need to figure out a better red zone approach. I have no idea what either was thinking on that quarterback draw. It was a weird call, and Flacco ran it like he was a flamingo trying to tip-toe through a herd of wildebeests. But overall, I thought he was very good. Not only was he rocking a ridiculous but awesome Fu Manchu that gave the Ravens a fitting theme for the night -- Winning Ugly -- he even inspired Jameel McClain to give one of the most absurd, yet funny quotes of the year.
"Joe Flacco for President, and the offensive line is the vice president," McClain said when asked what he thought of the offense.
Matt Stafford, by the way, threw three interceptions Thursday but was good for 19 fantasy points.
4. There aren't many Ravens playing better right now than Lardarius Webb.
If you want to look for silver linings from last year's playoff meltdown against the Steelers -- I know it's not easy, but bear with me for a second -- maybe it wasn't such a bad thing Webb got burned by Antonio Brown on that 3rd-and-19 that set up the winning touchdown. Because it appears no defensive player came back in 2011 more motivated than Webb to prove he was ready to play well and erase the memories of 2010.
If you watch the replay of Webb's interception at the end of the first half, watch how Braylon Edwards is yanking on Webb's dreadlocks as he hauls in the football. Not even a little hair pulling was going to break his concentration from making a big play.
“I mean, it was simple. He tried to go deep. They tried to big boy me, you know, put a tall guy [against me]," Webb said. "And I played it well, but he had to get the ball out right then [because of the pass rush], so it made it easy on me.”
Webb has always been fun to watch because, thanks to the fact that he actually played safety in college, he's probably one of the most physical tacklers in the league at the cornerback position. But this year, he's combined that physical play with great technique in pass coverage, and he's been one of the team's most consistent players.
It's interesting how, at the beginning of the year, the Ravens corners were their biggest question mark. Webb and Cary Williams haven't been perfect, but they've definitely held their own. They're two of the reasons the pass rush has improved as well.
5. It's impossible to overstate how badly the Ravens wanted to win this game for John Harbaugh.
John Harbaugh did his best to keep the family dynamics out of his discussions with his team this week. Yes, it was a huge story that two brothers were facing one another for the first time in NFL history, and by kickoff, we'd heard pretty much every family anecdote anyone named Harbaugh could ever remember. But John Harbaugh really wanted his players to focus on beating a 49ers team that came into Baltimore with a 9-1 record. The fact that his own flesh and blood happened to be standing on the other sideline wasn't particularly important in the big picture of the Ravens season. According to a couple players, he only mentioned it once during the week, when he gave a speech to the team about how football teams are like big extended families. They're tribes, really. And while his brother might be on the other sideline, his family -- his tribe -- would be wearing purple and black.
Players, though, are human beings. They understand there were some larger themes swirling below the surface. Think about what it would be like to be John Harbaugh for a second. You've grown up in a football family and you're a good athlete, but your younger brother has always been a little bigger, a little faster and a little stronger. You've had to grind your entire career for some of the things that seemed to come easy for him. You love him deeply, but you've always been eager to carve out your own success. Losing to him would probably sting in ways you'd never want to admit.
That's why I thought the Gatorade bath -- the second the Ravens have given Harbaugh this season -- was kind of cool. Steelers fans are already grumbling that the Ravens are going to regret celebrating regular season victories so exuberantly, that it will somehow come back to haunt them. (I'm not sure I follow the logic there. Somehow the Ravens will be all out of emotion by playoff time? As if you're only allowed a certain amount each season and you must distribute it appropriately? This kind of logic is probably why a lot of Steelers fans are still learning how to use a knife and fork for meals.) What was clear is the Ravens wanted John Harbaugh to know they have his back.
"The whole team," Suggs said, when asked whose idea it was to douse Harbaugh. "We were going
to win the game for him and then we were going to drown him.”
Both Harbaughs handled the entire affair with exceptional class. John Harbaugh doesn't let his guard down very much. (There are times when I think he'd made a great Secret Service agent.) But when someone asked him in the post game press conference what he was thinking as he was walking to midfield to meet his brother Jim, there was obvious emotion in his voice. I was sitting in the front row, just a few feet from him, and he kept fiddling with a notch in the wood on the podium as he gave his answer, his hand trembling the tiniest bit.
"I felt really humble," Harbaugh said. "Really humble. Just thankful. It’s Thanksgiving, and we told our guys there is so much to be thankful for. God has given us a lot to be thankful for, but the main thing he gives us is each other. He gives us our relationships. Running across the field to my brother – he’s my best friend, along with Mom and Dad and my wife. If you put yourself in his shoes, you don’t put yourself in many other coaches’ shoes, but you can put yourself in your brother’s shoes – I’m really proud of him.”