I think Ted Cottrell, who ruled on Ed Reed’s appeal yesterday, got it right when he overturned the original one-game suspension and instead handed out a $50,000 fine to the Ravens’ safety. I watched all three hits that the NFL cited in punishing Reed and the only one that I thought was really blatant was the one on the New England Patriots’ Deion Branch earlier this season. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have been penalized on the other two – the hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders Sunday night and the one on New Orleans Saints quarter Drew Brees in 2010 – but I just didn’t think they were egregious enough to warrant contributing to a suspension. Cottrell apparently felt the same way. However, that doesn’t mean that Reed’s out of the woods by any means. He acknowledged as much to my colleague Aaron Wilson yesterday when, after distributing turkeys to a local middle school, he said, “This is not over between myself or the league.” He’s right. Reed will be under the microscope more than ever for the rest of the season and the days of him getting the benefit of the doubt are over. Reed obviously can’t tackle the way he would like because of neck and shoulder injuries, but he’s going to have to figure out a way to wrap up more consistently and avoid any contact near the head and neck area of an opponent. One more hit like that and it’s a near certainly that he’ll be sitting at least a game.
I’m still relatively new at this and have covered only three Ravens-Steelers games, but I was surprised how little rhetoric there was between the two teams last week. And I certainly wasn’t the only one who noted how both teams were on their best behavior. It was probably because much of the attention on the game centered on the status of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. I also think the fact that the two teams play each other twice in three weeks probably toned things down somewhat. With that being said, I’d be very surprised if that silence and cordial behavior persists into next week’s matchup. The Steelers were apparently none too pleased at the way several Ravens, including star running back Ray Rice, displayed “Terrible Towels” as they walked off the field after the game. Rice had one draped over his head, prompting Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley to say on his Twitter feed, “Bad idea Ray.” The Ravens claim that they were responding to the towels being thrown at them. Then, cameras caught a couple of Ravens, including linebacker Terrell Suggs, saying that Heinz Field was “like home” to the Ravens. I’m sure the Steelers will be made aware of those comments when their preparation for the rematch at M&T; Bank Stadium begins next week. That ought to liven things up a little bit.
A couple of things that stood out to me during Ravens-Steelers game:
1. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger may have played his best game as a Raven. He was abusing rookie tackle Mike Adams on pretty much every snap. Other than maybe cornerback Corey Graham, I’m not sure there was a better Raven on the defense end.
2. He’s gotten some criticism this year and I’m a little surprised with how quiet he’s been at times, but inside linebacker Jameel McClain may have also played his most active game this season. He was credited with nine tackles – three fewer than fellow linebacker Dannell Ellerbe – but he was very much a physical presence Sunday night.
3. I’m not sure what the NBC cameras showed in terms of live action and the replays, but I wonder if people realize how wide open David Gilreath was on the second-to-last play of the game with the Steelers frantically trying to get in field-goal range. He was standing by himself inside the 20-yard line and seemingly about 10 to 15 yards beyond any Ravens defender. Quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was presumably playing with a couple of broken ribs at the time and exhausted from taking a beating all night, saw him but couldn’t summon enough strength to get him the ball. The Ravens were lucky because that would have been a demoralizing way to lose the game.
4. Rookie Kelechi Osemele continued his fine rookie season by more than holding his own against the likes of Woodley and James Harrison, who have given the Ravens fits in the past. The run blocking by the entire line needs to get better, but Osemele and fellow tackle Michael Oher did their jobs Sunday.
Quarterback Joe Flacco would never admit if it did, but I have to wonder if he was affected by the hit that Brett Keisel put on him the first time he dropped back to pass Sunday. It was a thunderous hit and Flacco stayed on the ground a little longer than usual before getting up. It was so early that you can’t conclude anything from looking at Flacco before and after the hit, but he seemed to be a bit unsure of himself at times the rest of the way and his accuracy was really off. The Steelers’ top-ranked defense obviously had something to do with that.
San Diego Chargers linebacker Jarret Johnson is scheduled to talk to the Ravens’ media via conference call later today about Sunday’s matchup with his old team. It will be interesting to get Johnson’s take on the Ravens and the state of his current team, which could be headed for an offseason overhaul, starting with the coaching staff. Playing mostly in running situations, Johnson has 26 total tackles and one sack this season. It is impossible to blame the unheralded Johnson for accepting a four-year, $19 million deal this offseason with the Chargers despite interest from the Ravens and several other teams. After all, he was a self-made player who worked his butt off to become a starter in the NFL. However, it’s hard not to think that he was a guy that just belonged on the Ravens. His toughness, selflessness, durability and leadership all were extremely valued and I’m not sure there was a more popular Raven in the locker room over the past couple of years.
The Chargers, by the way, are just loaded with ex-Ravens. They have Johnson, linebacker Antwan Barnes, cornerback Chris Carr, offensive tackle Jared Gaither, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin and fullback Le’Ron McClain.