When Joe Flacco drove the Ravens 80 yards in 41 seconds and found rookie Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, it marked the quarterback’s 18th game-winning drive in either the fourth quarter or overtime in his career.
Three of those have come this season, as Flacco continues to be a different quarterback in the fourth quarter than he is in the previous three. In fourth quarters this season, Flacco has thrown for more yards (913), has more touchdown passes (eight), has a higher completion percentage (66.1) and a better quarterback rating (91.7) than he does in any other quarter.
Consistency remains an issue and Flacco is still making too many ill-advised throws, but if you are the Ravens, you still have to feel pretty good if he has the ball in his hands late with a chance to win the game.
** Ray Rice didn’t have his best statistical game of the season against the Vikings. That, of course, was his 131 yards rushing against the Chicago Bears and their dreadful run defense.
But I’m not sure that Rice has run any harder this year than he did versus Minnesota. His contributions may have been lost in the wild finish, but I thought Rice shifted the momentum back to the Ravens in the fourth quarter. He had seven carries for 43 yards in the fourth quarter and he should have had more as a penalty took away another good gain.
Beyond the numbers, he was hitting the holes hard, making some people miss and he made something out of nothing on several carries. His task will be much tougher Monday against the Detroit Lions but the Ravens don’t beat Minnesota without Rice’s 109 all-purpose yards.
** The Ravens players and coaches have praised strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw at every opportunity this season, specifically talking about his willingness to do all the little things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
I get that Upshaw’s role is to hold the edge against the run, forcing running backs inside. I understand that he drops back into coverage at times and does a variety of other thankless tasks. But I’m still surprised that we haven’t seen more from Upshaw in his second full season, especially after he came on so strong last year.
The acquisition of Elvis Dumervil has obviously affected Upshaw’s snaps. However, with Dumervil inactive Sunday because of a bruised ankle, Upshaw played a season-high 60 snaps on 66 defensive plays and he finished with one assisted tackle, one quarterback hit, one pass defended and one costly roughing the passer penalty that contributed to the Vikings’ first touchdown. In 13 games this season, Upshaw has just 26 tackles and one sack. I expected more production from him after he had 55 tackles, 1 ½ sacks and two fumble recoveries last year.
** In this space last week, I said that I felt that the Steelers remained the Ravens’ biggest obstacle to that sixth and final playoff spot. I made that claim under the assumption that the Steelers would be able to take care of business and beat the Miami Dolphins at home.
I was wrong.
The Dolphins prevailed, leaving no doubt who represents the Ravens’ biggest competition for the postseason.
Miami faces the Rob Gronkowski-less New England Patriots (10-3) on Sunday and then is at Buffalo (4-9) before finishing up at home with the New York Jets (6-7). If the Dolphins are able to upend the Patriots this week – and they had a 17-3 halftime lead in Foxboro earlier this season before falling 27-17 – the Ravens may have to win out to make sure that they get in.
With wins over the Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers and close losses to the Ravens and Carolina Panthers on their resume, the Dolphins should clearly be taken seriously at this point.
** Ravens coach John Harbaugh told an amusing story at his Monday news conference related to Jacoby Jones’ 77-yard kickoff return touchdown that gave the Ravens a 22-19 lead with 1:16 to go.
Knowing that the kicking games might be affected by the wintry weather and poor field conditions and the Vikings would probably try to avoid kicking to Jones anyway, the Ravens worked on fielding the short kickoff over-and-over again during practice last week. When they practiced it one more time in Saturday’s final walk-through, Flacco griped to assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.
Harbaugh didn’t remind Flacco of that in the immediate aftermath of Jones’ touchdown, which came after the speedster fielded a short kick and then sprinted down the sideline. But he didn’t miss an opportunity to bring it up when he ran into Flacco in the cafeteria yesterday.
“I had a chance to chide Joe about that – which was great for me to have a chance to do that,” Harbaugh joked.
After Flacco’s wildcat rant a couple of weeks back, I’m sure it felt pretty good to playfully go back at the franchise quarterback a little bit.
** The Ravens remain pretty healthy at this stage of the season, but you still have to feel for veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley who sustained a concussion against the Vikings. Stokley has dealt with a number of injuries this season and Harbaugh called his latest issue “problematic,” citing the wide receiver’s history with concussions.
It would be unfair to speculate, but Harbaugh certainly didn’t sound optimistic. I had questioned whether Stokley had a role on the team a couple of times earlier this season when it appeared that Deonte Thompson was ready to emerge and Jones was getting healthier. But Stokley made a couple of plays against the Steelers and appeared to be gaining some chemistry on third down with Flacco.
Stokley is a class act who has had a nice career. Let's hope it doesn't end on these terms.
** We’ll undoubtedly spend much of the week talking about how the Ravens are going to match up with the Detroit Lions' indefensible wide receiver Calvin Johnson. However, my guess is the Ravens are just as concerned about dealing with Detroit’s two powerhouse interior defensive linemen - Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
The Ravens have struggled to stop penetration up the middle all season and they may not play against a more dominant pair than Suh and Fairley. Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley are going to need some help.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun