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Ravens Rush to the Playoffs; Beat Raiders 21-13

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The goal for the Baltimore Ravens was clear. A win over the Oakland Raiders would clinch a playoff spot for the second year in a row. A loss and the team would start Winter Vacation early.

Baltimore’s season will continue, at least for another week as they used a punishing ground game based on the strength of a career day from Willis McGahee. Even though McGahee hasn’t always been the focal point of the offense this season he has developed a nose for the end zone. McGahee rushed for 167 yards on 16 carries and scored 3 times to carry the offensive load. His most impressive display was on a 77-yard sprint to the goal in which he stiff armed Oakland defender Hiram Eugene.

However, the Raiders were not an easy push over and stayed close in the first half. Charlie Frye led an efficient drive at the end of the half and tossed a touchdown to Oakland’s top target Zach Miller from 12 yards out to cut the score to 14-10. The journeyman Frye showed nice mobility and some toughness as he was battered around and took several tough hits. He would not be able to return in the second half.

The Ravens had a final chance to respond as they got an excellent return by Jalen Parmele on the ensuing kick off. But the offense stalled in the red zone and they had to settle for a 37-yard Field Goal attempt by Billy Cundiff. It sailed wide right.

That momentum seemed to carry over into the third quarter as the Baltimore offense had several three and outs and could only generate 6 yards offense in the quarter. The Raiders took advantage and Sebastian Janikowski hit his second Field Goal of the game from 39 yards out to trim the lead to 14-13.

The game changer Baltimore needed came from it’s defense as Dannell Ellerbee stepped in front of back-up quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s pass and ran it back to the 22 yd line. Five plays later, Willis McGahee hit the end zone for the third time to give the Ravens all they would need at 21-13.

The offense may have been finished but the defense wasn’t as they notched their second turnover of the quarter as Antwan Barnes stripped Russell of the football and it was Ellerbee there to pounce on it. One last McGahee burst for a first down and a few kneel downs later sealed the victory.

The win puts the Ravens back in the playoffs and it’s only the second time in franchise history that they’ve accomplished back-to-back playoff appearances with the last time coming in 2000-2001.

The Ravens will now get a re-match against the New England Patriots with a chance to avenge one of their many close losses this season.

Points to Ponder

Do the Ravens deserve to be in the playoffs?

Yes. They won the games they needed to to be eligible and they got the job done. Anyone who wants to spin a second playoff appearance in as many seasons into something negative just isn’t looking at the right things. That isn’t to say that the Ravens don’t have flaws going into the playoffs but honestly name me one team in either conference that doesn’t. That’s what makes the NFL playoffs so exciting. Fans can name who they think will end up in the Super Bowl but nothing is assured. The Arizona Cardinals were 9-7 and the 6th seed last season and were counted out by every pundit and prognosticator and they ended up a few plays away from winning it all. They are in the tournament as Coach Harbaugh likes to say and to me it’s survive and advance to the next round. Sure the Ravens didn’t meet many fans expectations but after last year most people thought Super Bowl or bust. Now they at least have a chance to get there.

Did anyone else think the Ravens would still need Willis McGahee?

I would have to think that there were plenty of people that weren’t counting out Willis just yet either. But he came up huge today in a must win game and it always helps to have as many offensive weapons as you can going into the playoffs. McGahee has had an up and down season statistically but his attitude has been remarkably improved from a year ago. The guy deserves a ton of credit for accepting role and playing it very well. He’s the Touchdown Machine (14 Total – 12 Rush – 2 Rec.)

What’s up with Billy Hauschka Cudiff?

Heading into the playoffs you shouldn’t feel uneasy about your kicking game but Cundiff was a perfect 0 for 2 today. That’s not the kind of performance that spells confidence. But I will let him off the hook somewhat. Long snapper Matt Katula has been injured for weeks now and both of the snaps weren’t where they should have been. Although Cundiff still could have hit the shorter attempt before half time. It’s puzzling to me that a “Special Teams” guy like Harbaugh wouldn’t have addressed this sooner. I’d hate to see a botched snap be the reason that the Ravens get eliminated. The situation reminds me of the 1970 Baltimore Colts when they signed journeyman Tom Goode to become their snapper, his only skill at the time. How happy they were when they signed him since Jim O’Brien had trouble kicking on turf and they game came down to a field goal.

Who was the Offensive player of the game?

Do I have to write it? But as well as the team ran the ball today it helped overshadow a dismal performance by Joe Flacco and the passing game. I was excited to see some no-huddle in today’s game plan and it seemed to help. He seems to enjoy reading the defenses and being forced to react quicker. Flacco also had difficulty picking up where the blitz was coming from, identifying his hot routes and stepping up into the pocket. He also seems too content to take a sack. I know that it’s necessary sometimes but escaping pressure and throwing it away can be an option too. You also again have to look at the receiving group who had trouble getting open and breaking away from defenders. It’s those times that I think the offense should ditch all those comeback routes and run some drags across the formation or a pick play or two.

It should also be mentioned how well the line looked with Jared Gaither back in the rotation. They are still a much better running team with some of the size and strength they have on the line. Re-watch the game and check out Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda just handle the defender in front of them. It was pretty to watch.

Who was the Defensive player of the game?

Dannell Ellerbee was a part of both important turnovers in the second half. Ray Lewis had 12 tackles but you could see that he’s a step slow trying to cover ground against young speedsters. Ed Reed played more than I thought he would. I’m still trying to figure out the defensive alignment on the Miller TD before the half. Reed was trailing Lewis on the play as they tried to defend the pass. From my TV angles I couldn’t tell if that was be design or Reed’s being out of position. The rest of the defense was pretty much bend but don’t break as they gave him up way to many yards through the air but came up with plays when they needed them.


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