There’s a cliche that runs through all of sports. Quite frankly, I’m actually kind of tired of this cliche, but if there was ever a recent poster child for it, the Ravens 37-34 OT win over the Buffalo Bills yesterday proved it to be true: that’s why they don’t play the game on paper. What should have been a relatively easy win for Baltimore (5-2) turned in to a nail biting, head scratching thriller at M&T Bank Stadium as the Bills (0-6) proved they have alligator blood pumping in their veins, and refused to go down quietly. Not only did they refuse to go down quietly, but at one point in the 2nd quarter, they held a 14 point (24-10) lead, a score that had I been watching the scores on the crawler I would have thought was a typo, meant to be the other way around.
A lot of things went well, and a lot of things went bad yesterday. It appears that the overwhelming sentiment throughout Charm City is “good thing we have a bye this week.” I’m inclined to agree. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Welcome Back, Kott…er…Reed.
Ravens FS Ed Reed wasted no time, and anybody who didn’t know he was off the PUP and active yesterday learned very quickly as one of the most prolific playmakers in the NFL forced a fumble on an early kickoff return. By the end of the day, he added 2 picks off Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to his resume, padding his franchise record numbers in interceptions. He gave us a bit of a scare by limping off the field at one point, and heading back in the locker room, but within minutes he was back out on the field, back to return a kick. It wasn’t all good news though. While Reed certainly has great natural instincts, he simply looked a step slower out there in general. Still, one step slower of Ed Reed is still way better than most, but it’s something to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.
The Refs Forgot Their Laundry and Lost Their Whistles.
The officiating crew was one of the most lax I’ve seen in a while. I’m not criticizing them, however, because there were non-calls on both sides of the ball. They seemingly had a “let them play” type of mentality going on yesterday. This went beyond the usual missed holding calls. One instance that comes immediately to mind was the dagger to the Bills. Buffalo rookie TE Shawn Nelson was completely stood up— and while forward progress wasn’t completely stopped, I’ve seen it called for less with— and no whistle. The play continued, and another prolific playmaker, LB Ray Lewis, muscled the ball out of Nelson’s grip. The national CBS broadcast team of Don Criqui and Steve Beuerlein marveled at this for quite some time after the play, even going back to review it themselves to see if they could hear an obscured whistle, but alas, the officials had swallowed them. Speaking of the broadcast team:
What Game Are You Watching?
You can’t always get the A-team for your Sunday afternoon games— there’s plenty more going on after all. But man did Criqui and Beuerlein make me long for Ian Eagle, and not only because I chuckle every time I hear his name. I don’t have a lot of room to talk when it comes to names, but his name sounds like “Iron Eagle.” Anyway, these two were annoying me all afternoon with trite comments and analysis— and I understand that when a road underdog is making that much of a game out of it, that’s the story— but the absolute clincher for me was when Ravens QB Joe Flacco threw to WR Anquan Boldin in the end zone, a pass heavily defended by Bills CB Reggie Corner. Beuerlein was insufferable as he harped on two points: 1) Boldin should have gotten offensive pass interference, and 2) Corner was not out of bounds. Now Steve, and correct me if I’m wrong (which, you know…I’m not), but didn’t you actually play in the NFL? Were you a career backup because you never read the rules or something? Corner only had one foot in bounds. His other foot (and his backside), landed on Boldin. Another player isn’t the ground. Secondly, while Boldin was all over Corner, if any flags went down, it should have been offsetting PI calls. Corner shoved Boldin with his right arm as the ball came in, boxing him out. Boldin may have been interfering with Corner, but he was only put in that position by Corner interfering with him in the first place. Try and watch the same game as the rest of us, okay?
The Larger They Come…
In one of the more bizarre sights, and the most frightening considering the shots he took last week, Ravens TE and corporate sponsor Todd Heap crumbled to the ground without being touched. It was almost as if a huge phantom M&T Bank Card came flying out of the sky to smack Heap in the head— after all, Heap has it…okay, I’ll stop now. The reports from the bench said he had a shoulder stinger, and the medical staff were clearly working on his neck and shoulder area on the sideline. Meanwhile, in the booth, Beuerlein was trying his hardest to sound like a doctor after Heap went back on the field. Tip for you, Steve: you don’t have an M.D., you shouldn’t make proclamations about players health based upon “you could see it on his face, something was wrong.” Maybe he farted. Maybe YOU farted. Maybe he was getting a headache listening to you. Whatever it was, leave the medical diagnosis to people more qualified. Either way, the phantom collapse, while scary, didn’t stop Heap from scoring his second touchdown of the game.
The Ravens defense was, for the most part, completely shredded by the Bills passing game, giving up the most passing yards in a decade. I saw two things I believed to be going on that might explain this uncharacteristic showing by the defense. The first was a generally timid approach to pretty much everything. I believe this was fallout from the crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits. Nobody seemed eager to fly into a situation untethered for fear of incidental contact lightening their wallets or costing them game time. I saw a lot of arm tackle attempts being made by players, and routes to ball carriers/receivers that seemed to indicate a desire for “less than full speed” contact. They eventually got more physical as a unit, but not completely so. And the secondary was made to look silly. Speaking of, that leads me to the second thing I saw…
You’re Killing Me, Smalls!
CBs Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb (but mostly Washington), now hear this, you’ve got one job to do: cover your man. You guys were absolutely schooled in front of your hometown fans. However, part of me thinks you all may have seen why on several plays. Were you guys expecting to have safety help from over the top? I know Ed Reed is back, but trust me on this, guys… play like he isn’t back. I’m fairly certain that on each of the first three TDs, I saw Reed floating over too late. Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon. Reed is not infallible, and he does sometimes get caught on the wrong side of the field. We’ve seen it lots of times. Don’t expect safety help. Cover your man. I simply can’t discount as coincidence the fact that when Reed returns, the secondary we all feared we had at the start of the season arrives.
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
I’ll give Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron this: he never gave up on his game plan yesterday. He was committed to the pass, was going to live and/or die by the pass, and he stayed with that game plan even when the ground game was gashing the Bills defense. And while head scratching and infuriating as it was, they did put up 37 (34 if you don’t count OT) on the board. I have to wonder if Cameron decides to base his game plan on “King of the Mountain.” He’s not going to go after your weakness, he’s going to go after your strength, and beat you that way. That’s a gutsy way to game plan, and I’m pretty sure if I were John Harbaugh I’d tell him to stop doing that, but I’m not Harbaugh. Perhaps Cameron’s more prescient than I would have given him credit for being. Maybe he saw this game turning in to shootout, and didn’t want to bring his knives to the gunfight. But when your knives are shot out of guns like the Ravens running game seemed to be yesterday, maybe you should consider a little game plan adjusting.
The Bills Are Better Than Their Record
No, this isn’t being a Ravens apologist. Why would I feel they need to apologize for the Ravens? No, this comes from simply watching them. They’ve got a lot of talent out there. Obviously the passing offense is prolific (even with our secondary issues, the Bills passing game has borne this out game after game). Their defense has the talent— they simply need to work on execution (a point they acknowledged as a team). If they execute better, get a couple of breaks going their way, they could be 3-3— maybe even 4-2. However, they don’t play the games on paper…aw, C@&$ I used it, too…but hey, it makes a great bookend!
Enjoy the Monday Night game!