1. Even though there has been plenty of angst this year in Baltimore, when you look at the big picture, making the playoffs three years in a row is truly impressive feat. The entire organization should be proud.
If you follow the Ravens as closely as most of us do -- whether you're a fan, or a member of the media -- you tend to focus on the micro stuff, and I'm certainly going to include myself in that group. Each week, we obsess over stuff like play calls, blitz packages, the footwork of the quarterback, and the number of touches the running back is getting. And that's OK. That's why the NFL is such a popular game, because the details matter.
But when you step back and look at the macro stuff, the Ravens have been pretty darn good this year. A record of 11-4 with one game remaining is a very good season, even with some emotional losses mixed in. It might not feel like it, at times, because expectations were so high going into 2010, but what this entire organization has done over the last three years is build one of the most stable franchises in the NFL. Stable franchises don't panic. They don't fire their coordinators after a difficult loss, or waver in their support of a young franchise quarterback. They make subtle adjustments during the season, and large evaluations in the off-season. The result? Even when it's not perfect, it's still pretty good.
The 20-10 victory against the Browns Sunday wasn't particularly inspiring, but that's ultimately irrelevant. No one will remember it two days from now, outside of the injuries to Tavaras Gooden and Morgan Cox. John Harbaugh, his staff, the Ravens players, and even the front office, have all absorbed their share of criticism this year, and yet in a chaotic NFL season, they still have a very good chance of winning the Super Bowl.
Before we go back to obsessing over the micro stuff, let's pause for a second and acknowledge that the Ravens organization, from top to bottom, has accomplished a lot in the last three years. They have a good quarterback, a good coach and a good front office. Those three things are the most important factors in shaping a successful franchise. Do they swing and miss sometimes? Of course. Flacco still has plenty plenty of room to improve, Harbaugh still makes mistakes in big games, and Sergio Kindle's DUI arrest Sunday morning are proof that the character concerns teams had about him were real. No element is perfect.
When CBS sent its cameras into the Baltimore locker room to capture Harbaugh's post-game speech and his presentation of game balls, you could see a lot of proud faces.
Those looks were well earned. 2. It's OK to make boastful statements as long as you can back them up.
When Ray Lewis summed up Peyton Hillis' 144-yard performance against the Ravens by saying "even a blind cat finds a meal every once in awhile," I thought it was hilarious. But then again, I'm a media member with no rooting interest. All I ask is that players be interesting, and instead of resorting to the usual "blind squirrel finding a nut" saying, I appreciated Ray's different spin on a tired cliche.
But if I were a Ravens fan, I supposed I would have viewed it as a little disrespectful, and maybe even a little foolish. Why give extra motivation to a bad team with little to play for other than pride? It's not like Hillis hasn't proven himself this year. He's run over just about everyone, and has been good enough that he probably factored into the Broncos decision to fire Josh McDaniels when they did instead of waiting until the end of the year. (Only a fool would trade away a power runner such as Hillis, who is perfect for AFC North football, for a noodle-armed third string quarterback like Brady Quinn.)
You could tell Lewis' comments fired up the Browns when, just a few minutes into pre-game warm-ups, Cleveland fullback Lawrence Vickers started screaming at Lewis and had to be dragged away by his teammates.
But Lewis has always been pretty good at backing up his words, which is one of the reasons why he's been such a polarizing figure outside of the city of Baltimore. He's outwardly confident, but he's earned that right, and that drives some people a little crazy.
The Ravens defense hasn't been great this season, and Lewis has looked weary in some of their losses. But the Ravens may have a few tricks up their sleeves just yet for this playoff run. Hillis was a non-factor Sunday. If he was a blind cat, then he went home hungry.
3. Brian Robiskie's touchdown catch is a good example of how not all instant replay is created equal.
Was it a touchdown catch, or did the ball hit the ground? To be honest, I don't really know. I thought the ball might have skipped off the turf, but it was difficult to tell either way. But the reason it was so difficult is because there wasn't a very good camera angle available, which brings me to my real point.
It this had been a marque game for CBS with a national audience, there would have been several more cameras shooting the game, thus giving the officials access to more information. All they can do when determining what should be the proper call is look at the footage from the television network. So if you're a team that the networks (and the NFL) constantly wish to promote (Cowboys, Steelers, Patriots, Colts), there is a chance your games will be more accurately officiated.
Ultimately, it's not something to get too worked up about if you're the Ravens, because you won the game anyway. But millions of dollars are at stake with playoff berths on the line, and it seems like the NFL ought to figure out a way to have an level playing field for every game. Regional games like the one today have about 10 cameras shooting the action. Sunday night or Monday night games usually have close to 20. Maybe we should split the difference and say every non-playoff game should have 15 cameras -- no more, no less.
4. I'm not surprised Ed Reed attempted another crazy lateral on his second interception. I'm more surprised he didn't try a crazy lateral on his first interception.
I love watching Reed play football, but even I have to admit, he remains a huge enigma at this stage of his career. It's almost like he has an addiction to lateraling. He knows he probably shouldn't do it as much as he does, but he does it anyway. I'm not sure how he resisted doing it the first time he had his hands on the ball, but as soon as he picked off his second pass, I thought: no chance he gets tackled without pitching this.
It has to drive Harbaugh a little bit mad at this point, because what can he say? The laterals almost always come after Reed has created a turnover. And really, he's the only Raven who consistently creates turnovers.
But the man sure is in love with risk. I bet when he plays blackjack, he hits on 17 every time.
5. It turns out Joe Flacco does call audibles.
It might seem like a very forgettable play, but with 12:10 left in the game, Flacco put to bed (as least for me) the debate about whether he can call audibles, or he's willing to call audibles.
The situation was one the Ravens have faced plenty of times this year: Third-and-two, and leading by 10 points in the fourth quarter. The Ravens called a play, the offense got to the line of scrimmage, and midway through his cadence, Flacco didn't like what he saw.
Maybe Cam Cameron called a pass play. Or maybe the running play was designed to go directly into the teeth of the Browns defense, and Flacco simply wanted to flip it and run it to the other side. We'll likely never know. But Flacco clearly changed the play, and gave the ball to Rice, who picked up the first down with a 3-yard run.
The drive still stalled three plays later, and the Ravens punted, but I thought the play was interesting because the offense ran another two minutes off the clock before giving up the ball. That's two minutes Cleveland didn't have to mount a comeback, and two minutes more the defense had to rest. Those kind of conversions are going to be crucial during the playoffs.
Flacco had another solid day. He threw a perfect ball to T.J. Houshmanzadeh in the first half for a touchdown, and he managed the game well in cold weather. But it was that otherwise forgettable audible that I'll remember. Maybe he does that every game and we just don't realize it, but I've seen a lot of wacky pass plays called on 3rd-and-2 this year that didn't work. I'd like to believe Flacco saw something he liked, trusted his gut, and it worked in the Ravens favor.