Well, here we are again. Another season of NFL, and specifically to our fandom: Ravens, football. Glad to be back, especially after the annoyingly prolonged labor dispute threatened the season.
For the opening game of the season, I thought I’d try something out: a live chronicling of the game, followed by some overall thoughts. I don’t know whether I’ll continue doing The Hangover in this fashion all season, but at least for the opening Steeler slobberknocker I figured this would be fun.
It is currently 12:05 pm in Baltimore (well, Glen Burnie, a few miles south, but you get the idea), and I’m watching a rerun of NCIS instead of suffering through another pregame. Am I the only one who can stomach only about 15 minutes of any given pregame show? The fact that ESPN is starting NFL Countdown at like 9pm on Saturday nights now is mind boggling to me. I know they cover every game (for the most part), but they still end up having to fill the gaps with drivel that makes me wonder how they roped these former players and coaches on the air. Nah, not for me. I’ll take the opening of the game with the brief analysis from the color man (with those goofy punny names), and save the super analysis for post games.
Speaking of post game, I’ll say this now, win or lose, this town is going to be near intolerable. Sports talk radio is going to be insane. Win: people are going to start wanting their Super Bowl tickets already. Lose: people will be ready to storm the Castle, wanting the heads of everyone from owner Steve Bischotti all the way to the ball boys. I love my hometown, but Baltimore can lose its mind fairly quickly.
Touchdown! Gee, that was quick! Quarterback Joe Flacco connects with WR Anquan Boldin on his very first pass of the season, and the Ravens take a very early lead. The first sequences of the game were full of promise, starting with a gutsy kickoff return by Lardarius Webb (though I can’t blame him with the new kickoff rules hamstringing return games early on), and also saw RB Ray Rice take the first play from the line of scrimmage halfway down the field himself.
I have to say it really bugs me to see a timeout burned early because of the play clock about to be expired. This seems to be such a common occurrence for the Ravens. Gotta’ shore up that clock management.
First turnover goes the Ravens way as DE Terrell Suggs blasts Steelers QB Ben Roethlisburger, forcing a fumble which DT Haloti Ngata pounces on (Can a guy like Ngata “pounce”? Food for thought). The offense immediately capitalizes with a quick strike pass to get them in the red zone, and now a TD run from Rice (well, run, fall, scramble, flop for a TD) under review.
After the TD was ruled down at the 1 by contact, Ray Rice punches it in for a TD that will stand, and the Ravens are staked to a 14-0 lead with a 1:49 to go in the first. I like what I see so far, but now my brain moves to “sustainability.” There’s a lot of football to be played. It’s also a lot of time to listen to Jim Nantz really emphasize the stop in “Ngata.” (Nah..TA)
End of the 1st quarter, and the Steelers are driving down the field. Looks like they’ve made some adjustments, and it’s time for the Ravens defense to answer back. Despite the score, this surge promises that this will be a typical hard fought game between the two rivals.
The Steelers inexorable drive yields a TD. Just when the Ravens defense looked like it would bend, but not break, and only give up a possible field goal, first year Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano only rushes 3 on a 3rd-and-goal, giving Roetlishburger about three years to let a man get open (in this case Emmanual Sanders) for an easy TD throw.
Halftime: Ravens 21, Steelers 7. Flacco connects with Rice for a TD, then the Ravens defense hands the Steeler 2-minute offense a 3-and-out to basically bring us in to halftime. Apparently this is the score of the playoff game at halftime, as Jim Nantz has reminded the viewers about five times now. So far the question marks have solidified in to exclamation points. The offensive line has really held up, protecting Joe Flacco and opening up holes for Ray Rice and the rest of the running game.
Holy cr*p! Haloti Ngata just blew Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall UP and then recovered the ball he blasted loose, and now the Ravens immediately cash in with Flacco hitting TE Ed Dickson in stride (beating Head & Shoulders shill and Steelers S Troy Polamalu) for a TD. And now, a surprise fake point after attempt with P Sam Koch running the ball in for 2! So much for my notion that “well, the Ravens play a game that’d make it easy for me to keep up with these live thoughts!
And now Ngata deflects a Roethlisburger pass which floats in to the arms of All-World LB Ray Lewis, and the Ravens are in the red zone again…this is insane, give me some time to actually formulate my thoughts before I type them, guys!
With a 4th-and-short, the Ravens decided to go for it. I’m not a fan of this call, though I see both sides of the argument. Yes, you get it, punch the ball in and you really pull away. But I’d take the 3 there, that still makes it a 4 possession game, and has the psychological factor of still having control over the game. Letting the Steelers hold and turning the ball over on downs gives them a bit of the momentum right back. I really hope that doesn’t eat away at the freight train that the Ravens have been driving this second half.
Ravens K Billy Cundiff just put 3 points on the board. The Ravens defense stepped up to the plate after the offense turned the ball over on downs, and though they gave up a few plays in the air letting the Steelers march down the field, when it counted they came up big with their 4th turnover as FS Ed Reed collected yet another interception to his stellar career. With 2:50 left to go in the 3rd quarter, the score sits 32-7, and the Steelers have to be wondering if the steady rain showers that started is simply another sign that this really isn’t a great day for them up to this point. Ray Rice is a yard shy of becoming the first running back to get 100 yards against the Steelers since…Ray Rice, back in 2009.
End of the 3rd quarter. One quarter to go, and now it looks like the Steelers are mentally losing it. CB Ike Taylor takes an incredibly stupid Unsportsmanlike Conduct by taunting and smacking Ravens RT Michael Oher. Did I mention Oher was on the ground? This sparked a bit of a fracas, and luckily the only penalty was on Taylor as Ray Rice and Troy Polamalu really mixed it up. Now with the Steelers seemingly showing incredible frustration at how the game is going, it’s on the Ravens to stay cool.
Ed Reed snags another INT, and Steeler fans are probably turning the game off. Well, I know a few, and judging by Facebook, they’ve turned the game off. Less than 10 minutes remain, and the score still stands 32-7.
After review, another turnover for the Steelers as Ray Lewis forces a fumble. 6 turnovers, wow. This is the kind of game you absolutely hope for as a Ravens fan, but I’m still in shock. On another note, it’s kinda weird for a head coach to be pissed off at officiating when they win a game in decisive fashion, but Ravens HC John Harbaugh very well could be livid at the refs after this one. He may hold his tongue in press conferences and interviews, but I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of tape sent.
Final Ravens 35 Steelers 7. The game ended on a fitting note with Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked on a 4th-and-10. Another turnover put the total at 7. The Ravens scored the most points they ever have against Pittsburgh, and won by the largest margin. Some post game thoughts follow.
What Next For Flacco?
One of the things I continually see people harp about Joe Flacco is that he’s never been able to beat Pittsburgh when Ben Roetlhisburger has started at QB. Well, check that one off the list. So I have to ask: what else does he have to do at this point of his career to get people to believe in him, especially in his own town?
What a Difference One Game Makes
The offensive line had an incredibly impressive game. And that’s without taking into account that the center and left tackle hadn’t taken a single snap in the preseason! You factor that in, and what those men did today was phenomenal. Both Matt Birk and Bryant McKinnie might be good players, but line play is such a team thing, such a business of knowing what the guy next to you is going to do, when he’s going to do it and how he’s going to do it— the fact that they slipped right into today’s game and performed so well is almost inconceivable.
Kickoffs Might Have Gotten More Interesting
With the new rules in place, a lot of talking heads talked about how returns would be down, touchbacks elevated, etc. Well, after watching the game today, I think what we’re going to see is a lot more kick returners taking chances and running the ball out 3+ yards deep in the end zone. And that makes the kick off game much more interesting to me. Unintended payoff for the new rules? I hope so, because I sure wasn’t looking forward to basically handing the ball to other team at the 20 every single kickoff.
Well, this should just about do it for me this week. Let me know what you think, leave a comment, send me a line, etc. I’ll catch back up with you all again next week.