The 5-2 Ravens start their bye week Tuesday afternoon, unofficially marking the halfway point of the 2010 season. I'll skip the speech and get right to handing out my awards from the Ravens' first half:
Most valuable player: Haloti Ngata. Despite constantly drawing double teams, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle is third on the team in tackles and leads the Ravens with four sacks. Ngata's all-around dominance has rightfully put him in the early-season conversation for league MVP.
Best offensive player: Anquan Boldin. Boldin, acquired in the offseason, is on pace for 80 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season in Baltimore. And the production of the Ravens' other receivers, freed up by Boldin's presence in the lineup, shouldn't be overlooked.
Best performance in a hot dog costume: This Ravens cheerleader. Sorry, but I can't get enough of this.
The Ray Lewis Trophy, awarded to the player who delivered the season's hardest hit: Surprise, surprise, the winner is Ray Lewis, who crumpled Jets tight end Dustin Keller in Week 1. Lewis hit Keller so hard, it knocked him out of bounds two plays later.
Best television commercial: You knew Ray Lewis would take this one, but which of his three Old Spice commercials was the best? I've got to go with this one.
Funniest quote of the first half: Terrell Suggs raving about the defense. "We've got a lot of talented guys. We've got a middle linebacker that can ride a Raven-bird about as big as a 747, so when you do that, [when] you can blow up Saturn, you've got a pretty good chance of winning on Sunday."
Biggest head-scratcher: Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forgetting about the running game in the Week 2 loss to the Bengals.
Best/worst "Jersey Shore" haircut: Flacco deserves his own category/award for rocking this haircut, inspired by The Situation, at Tuesday's press conference.
Season-turning performance: A rare Ravens win in Pittsburgh to stay in the hunt in the AFC North.
Stomach-turning performance: Flacco's four interceptions in Cincinnati.
The Frank Walker Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who committed the most bone-headed penalty: Le'Ron McClain's personal foul in overtime against the Patriots killed a Ravens drive and allowed the Patriots to eventually march down the field and kick the game-winning field goal.
Biggest surprise: Billy Cundiff. When the Ravens signed Shayne Graham in the offseason, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Graham would win the kicking job. But Cundiff beat him out, and he has been a beast on kickoffs and clutch under pressure this season. The play of Tom Zbikowski, Marshal Yanda and sack specialist Haloti Ngata warrant mention as well.
Biggest non-surprise: The sluggish pass rush. If you take away Ngata's four sacks, the Ravens have just eight sacks in seven games. Suggs has 3.5, but based on his salary, he should have more. Yes, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison needs to crank up the heat on opposing quarterbacks, but it's not his fault that he has few pass rushers to work with.
Most discouraging sign: The semi-expected collapse of the pass defense. Thanks, in part, to the sluggish pass rush I just mentioned, the Ravens pass defense has been shredded the past three weeks. Surrendering a slew of passing yards to Kyle Orton and Tom Brady was forgivable, but allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for four touchdowns was very discouraging.
Most encouraging sign: Despite the bad haircut, the bad commercial and the bad performance against the Bengals, the improved play of Joe Flacco has reinforced the belief that he can be a top-10 quarterback. Sure, he has struggled against the Cover 2 defense -- the third-year quarterback is still learning -- but he has thrown nine touchdowns (and just one interception) in his past five games. Ravens fans have to feel pretty good about that heading into the second half.