There are many ways to lose a football but one of the worst may be a botched Field Goal, especially a chip shot from Thirty yards.
The playoffs for the Ravens will be defined yet again by missed opportunities and underwhelming performances. This one hurts but then again they all do. It hurts because the Ravens did much of what they needed to do to beat the Patriots on the road. They slowed down the New England attack as Tom Brady didn’t throw a touchdown pass. They also got the Patriots to turn the ball over three times. In the end it comes down to making a relatively easy kick to go to Overtime.
Let’s get this over with. My thoughts on today’s game.
- So here we are again Ravens fans. Just short. This team has had consistent success in the Harbaugh era – four playoff trips in as many seasons, with two AFC championship appearances. However, the Super Bowl trip remains elusive. Still there were a few firsts under John Harbaugh’s watch, his First AFC North division title and his First Home playoff game to add to his resume. All that remains is a chance to play in the big game. That will be a sticking point among the fan base this week as they vent over missing another chance at greatness. Still this team went through personnel changes heading into the season and came out better than the 2010 edition which is saying something since expectations may not have been as high Week One. All that changed of course after a home shellacking of the rival Steelers. The team went from maybe making the post-season to a Super Bowl contender in one game. That’s quite a turnaround. Still the inability to the close it out will stick in the minds of the Ravens nation all off-season. What needs to happen in order for them to get over the hump? It’s the price of success. It was another great season even though right now it doesn’t feel that way.
- Billy Cundiff. It’s quite astounding to think that Cundiff has gone from Pro Bowl kicker to Playoff goat in just one season. His missed kick will now live in Baltimore sports infamy and I wonder how he’ll recover and be able to continue to play in this city. I’ll admit that I wasn’t that surprised though when he shanked it. He had leg problems most of the season and his big leg deserted him on 50 yard field goals as he was 1 for 6 from 50 plus this season and a fairly unimpressive 5-19 for his career. Those facts should put to rest Coach Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on 4th and 6, instead of attempting a 51-yarder to tie the game. The Ravens did so many things right tonight and seems like such a shame for it all to come down to a botched kick. Simply stunning. (ed. note – After watching the play several times now, Cundiff appears to rush on to the field with 13 seconds on the play clock. I felt like the kick was rushed but wasn’t really sure. With One timeout remaining why wouldn’t Harbaugh have used it?)
- Joe Flacco. Aside from one bad interception Flacco played extremely well and deserved a better fate. At times he put the offense on his shoulders and lead several scoring drives after starting very slowly. He also ran a few times when he saw an opening. Phil Simms made a great point about getting Flacco an easy throw to get him going (more on that when I talk Cam later) and for him it was a roll-out on First Down that if he throws two seconds earlier goes for a touchdown to Torrey Smith. Still it was a huge gain and seemed to get him rolling. He made several key First Down pickups through the air (13) but of course his almost third touchdown will be the one that fans debate over the off-season. What if Lee Evans would have held on to that perfectly thrown spiral for just a second longer? Then Joe could rightly pump his fist in the air and hold up one finger to his doubters. NFL Quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame and Flacco has been snakebitten when it comes to getting help from his teammates – from Anquan Boldin and T.J. last season, to Mark Clayton two years ago in that same Gillette Stadium. Enough debate he can get the job done – the bigger question is, how will they go about retaining him long-term? He has a year left on his contract and there are others ahead of him so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. But in my opinion he needs to stay. Admit it he outplayed Brady in his own stadium yet was failed by those around him.
- After hearing the post-game comments from Lee Evans I will agree that he has to catch that ball. I still think that the defender made a great play but Evans has to hold on to the ball strong. One second longer and it’s a score.
- Jimmy Smith’s interception off of Bernard Pollard’s tip may be one of the most athletic defensive plays I’ve seen in a long time. It could not have happened at a better time and it gave Baltimore almost identical field position from where Flacco threw his only pick.
- Have we seen the end of several All-Pro careers this season in Matt Birk, Ed Reed, and Ray Lewis? Birk struggled in the last quarter with Vince Wilfork and the big Nose Tackle’s play was big. Birk refuted Charlie Casserly’s report that he would retire at season’s end but his contract is up. Will it even be his decision? Ed Reed made one last stellar play as he kept the Ravens hopes alive in the Fourth Quarter but you wonder if his body has had enough. He faded over the last few regular season games but of course saved some of his best for the playoffs. Does he finish his career without a ring or even a chance at one? Lewis had said at the start of the season that if the Ravens won a championship that he would retire. That isn’t an issue anymore so it’s a matter of what he wants to do. (he should be back) Tremendous effort in pass coverage against Welker and stopping the Pats at the goal line on third down. Over the next few days we should find out more.
- The Ravens have a large group of Free Agents to deal with for next season. Ray Rice is at the top of course but Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, and Cory Redding are also up for new deals. Who stays and who goes? Rice isn’t even a second though, even if they franchise him but I wonder how the team can justify paying two Offensive Guards big money after Marshal Yanda scored a huge deal this season?
- Cam Cameron. The much maligned play caller did a pretty good job tonight but I don’t think it’s enough to re-sign him to a new contract. There were still a few questionable moves tonight too, as has been the case for years. The Ravens need a fresh perspective with their offensive philosophy and that can only happen if Cam moves on. Frankly for me the deal was sealed with that dreadful loss to the Jaguars back in Week Seven. The system just doesn’t get enough out of the talent that is on the field and that means it’s time for a change. Hue Jackson would seem to be a likely candidate due to his familiarity with the organization but who knows. I do think that whomever it is needs to build an offense that maximize’s Flacco’s strengths and that of draft-mate Ray Rice. It didn’t feel that way this season.
- Anquan Boldin once again proved his worth to the offense with a big game (6 catches, 101 yds.). He’s been a good addition to this team over the years and brings a toughness to the offense that I really like. Don’t be upset that his numbers aren’t more Cardinal-like that’s a product of the system and not his diminished skills. Lee Evans gave a glimpse of what next season could look like with three receiver sets and had some solid grabs even if not the big one at the end.
- Dennis Pitta should be the starting Tight End next season – no doubt about it. He has developed a strong connection with Joe Flacco and doesn’t drop a pass. Ed Dickson however seems to average a drop a game and also was penalized for a False Start.