Here is what's on my mind after the Ravens closed out the regular season Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium with a rare win over the Bengals:
1. Like many of the Ravens' 12 victories this season, Sunday's 13-7 win of the Bengals was a lot closer than it needed to be. The defense played lights-out, forcing five Bengals turnovers and keeping them off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter. But the Ravens needed to make a goal-line stand in the closing seconds to secure a win because of another second-half no-show from the offense. So what if the Ravens side-stepped their way into the playoffs? Yeah, they have issues, but outside of that team up in New England, who doesn't? The Ravens have a stacked roster with the talent to go all the way, and I can't wait to see how this postseason shakes out.
2. It seems redundant to rave about the play of Ray Lewis, but what the iconic linebacker is doing at age 35 is out of this world. Lewis made 10 tackles and recovered two fumbles against the Bengals, punctuating yet another Pro Bowl season. He finished the regular season with 138 tackles, his highest total since 2004. He was 29 back then, an age when mere mortals are considered to be in their prime. It will be a long while until we see a Ravens player extend his glory days into middle age like Lewis has -- if we even see it again.
3. I'm sure Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted his starters to earn a seat on the bench with a strong performance against the Bengals. But when it was clear the Steelers had locked up the AFC North title by pounding the Browns, Harbaugh should have given them the hook. This isn't "Madden;" there's no reset button if one of your star players gets hurt. He dodged a bullet while playing his starters for four quarters.
4. Once again, Joe Flacco was confused by what the Bengals threw at him. But instead of chucking the ball into coverage like he did in Week 2, he danced around in the pocket as it collapsed upon him. I guess that's progress, right? I'm not going to nitpick Flacco too much, though. The Bengals owned him in 2010 (he threw five of his 10 interceptions against them). But other than that, this has been a fine season for Flacco, and his development -- or lack thereof -- will be on display in the playoffs, not a meaningless Week 17 win.
5. Ed Reed had two more interceptions. Ho-hum. Just another day at the office for the bearded ballhawk. The only newsworthy nugget is that Reed didn't try to lateral on either return.
6. One bright spot was the return of veteran tight end Todd Heap. Playing at a Pro Bowl level before injuring his hamstring in Week 13, Heap returned from what was essentially a four-game absence to catch three passes for 53 yards. He ran well on that nifty flea-flicker tight-end screen, but even more encouraging was Heap's heavy workload. He's good to go for the playoffs.
7. Like Katy Perry without makeup, this win wasn't pretty. But hey, at least the Ravens got off the schneid against Marvin Lewis and the Bengals. And considering their epic struggles against Cincinnati over the past two seasons, the Ravens have to be thankful the Bengals are lottery-bound instead of playoff-bound.