To Ravens go the spoils

The Baltimore Sun

Irving, Texas - Some teams at this point of the NFL season are contenders. Others are spoilers. The Ravens have been both. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys.

And the Washington Redskins, and the Philadelphia Eagles, and, to an extent, the New York Giants, and maybe the Miami Dolphins. Only the Giants enter the final week of the regular season guaranteed a playoff berth. If the others miss out, they could all point to a loss to the Ravens as part of the reason. The Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins can do more - they can trace a serious disruption of their season directly to their encounter with the Ravens.

Just call the Ravens the Grinches of the NFL, stealing Christmas from wide-eyed teams hoping for postseason trips under their trees.

Start with the most recent. The Cowboys are being read their last rites by most of America after the 33-24 face-first flop in the Texas Stadium finale Saturday night. Everybody got exposed - Wade Phillips, Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, the defensive players left grasping at Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, and the heir apparent/golden child, offensive coordinator (and spurner of the Ravens' coaching-job offer), Jason Garrett.

Jerry Jones hardly escaped scorn: One local columnist called for him to fire himself as head personnel decision-maker, calling him "the dumbest general manager in the history of football." Chances are good that more than the stadium with the hole in the roof will be imploded this offseason.

Now, go back two weeks. The Redskins' already-sinking ship got another hole punched in it in Baltimore. Afterward, Jim Zorn and Clinton Portis got into a war of words, and one dissension-filled week later, the 'Skins got embarrassed by the lowly Cincinnati Bengals and saw their playoff hopes flatline.

Again, it was the Ravens who started events in motion to kill the Redskins' season.

Go back two more weeks, when the Eagles and Donovan McNabb came to town. Who will ever forget what happened that day?

McNabb won't, because after a lousy first half, Andy Reid benched him, even though they trailed only 10-7, and Reid made an assistant coach do the dirty deed. The second half was a whitewash. McNabb and the Eagles won three straight after that, but not only might that panic move eventually have come in the game that knocks them out, but the long-term coach-quarterback relationship also might have been gutted for good.

Rattling players, coaches and entire organizations seems to be the Ravens' specialty this season.

In that light, the quality of the Ravens' win improves greatly. Ultimately, their record will list scant few victories over playoff teams, if any, but that won't reflect the teams they personally knocked out or threw off course. Even Miami, should it fall short, would regret letting that October game at home against the Ravens (and scorned former coach Cam Cameron) get away.

And the Giants, who dominated the Ravens in New Jersey last month? The guy who initiated the pounding, running back Brandon Jacobs, hurt his knee, didn't finish the game and missed two of the next three. They lost both, putting home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs in jeopardy. Even in victory, teams can't get away unscathed.

The Ravens gave themselves a chance to still be standing after next week. If they're not, at least they took a whole bunch down with them.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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