As the pulse rate and text messages started to settle, there was hope that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti had watched the playoff games. On Sunday evening, it was great to be an NFL fan again.
Those divisional games had drama. They had playmakers. There was suspense and there were wonderfully designed plays. Afterward, your heart pounded and either your cellphone was blowing up with messages or you called a friend to ask, “Wow, did you just see that play?”
And that’s the question for Bisciotti: Did you just see that?
That’s the kind of excitement and brand of football that has been missing in Baltimore for the past four or five years. Those games are the major reason so many fans and members of the media are looking forward to the annual state-of-the-Ravens news conference.
Coach John Harbaugh has already said that despite the team’s failing to qualify for the playoffs three straight years and four of the past five, his staff will keep the status quo and insisted that the front office staff would too.
But Sunday’s games got the blood pumping and the juice flowing again. Watching Antonio Brown with those acrobatic catches in Pittsburgh and Stefon Diggs with that game-winning touchdown at the last second in Minnesota got you screaming and thinking about what it was like to be a serious playoff contender again.
Bisciotti needs to fix this mess. It’s time.
To be honest, Drew Brees-vs.-Tom Brady and Sean Payton-vs.-Bill Belichick matchups in the Super Bowl would have been appealing. There weren’t two quarterbacks in the NFL this year who controlled the pace of the game or directed their offenses better than Brees or Brady, and watching the game-planning of Belichick and Payton is always intriguing. Seldom do they beat themselves.
Those scenarios have disappeared, but it’s still an intriguing final four with the New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. What separates them from the Ravens?
The two biggest things are these teams having playmakers or a major strength that allows them to dominate games.
New England has tight end Rob Gronkowski, but Brady is the great equalizer. A lot of Patriots fans are among the most obnoxious and arrogant of any in the world, but Brady is so dominant in personality and performance that New England is nearly impossible to beat.
Minnesota has Diggs (a fifth-round pick) and Adam Thielen (an undrafted free agent) at wide receiver. Besides Brees, New Orleans has receiver Michael Thomas and running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
And the Ravens have ah, ah, ah, well, receivers Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. Oh, don’t forget kickers Justin Tucker and Sam Koch.
Yet there are no planned changes in the front office. If that is the case, then the owner and general manager Ozzie Newsome need to explain the game plan for the future. Who will be the Ravens’ Thielen or Brown (sixth-round pick) instead of a Travis Taylor or Mark Clayton?
The Eagles had a Most Valuable Player candidate in quarterback Carson Wentz until he tore his left ACL in early December, and Philadelphia also plays tough defense.
The best defensive teams in 2017 were the Jaguars and Minnesota. The Vikings have a better and stronger front four than Jacksonville, but the Jaguars run to the ball as well as any team in the NFL. Cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are outstanding, even though they gave up some big plays to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Ravens had no major strength. You’ve heard of FAKE news. They had a FAKE defense. They were good, but not great, nothing you could count on consistently in big games.
There were some Ravens moments in the playoff games Sunday. Pittsburgh had three of them. Those two fourth-and-short calls that failed were very Marty Mornhinweg-like, especially when the Steelers could have called a sneak in both situations with a quarterback as big as Ben Roethlisberger and a center the caliber of Maurkice Pouncey.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin’s poor clock management near the end of the game was very Harbaugh-like, too.
But since these playoffs started, there was never a sense the Ravens would have survived past the opening round. They might have been a play or two away from making the initial field, but they didn’t have the playmakers or a major strength to carry them.