This Day We Fight!: Reviewing Ravens-Steelers Round 2
I've had a few days to digest Sunday's Ravens game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so now I can be somewhat coherent in my thoughts.
First thought: Hearing Al Michaels call Joe Flacco's winning touchdown pass to Torrey Smith still hasn't gotten old.
Second thought: cats will freak out and run away if you excitedly try to high-five them.
Third thought: This is the kind of game that the Ravens have ALWAYS lost to the Steelers.
Coming into last Sunday night's game, every Raven fan in the world had a good inkling of what the Steelers would do.
After all, the Steelers had this game circled on their calendars for 8 weeks, ever since the Ravens embarrassed Pittsburgh, 35-7, on opening day in Baltimore.
You knew the ugly mustard-yellow uniforms were coming out.
You knew Franco, Mean Joe, Rocky Bleier and Lynn Swann (although oddly, NBC didn't show them, so maybe the Steelers didn't do this) would be out there waving those yellow dish rags to get the Pittsburgh crowd wound up.
You knew they would treat this game as the ultimate revenge: the chance to embarrass the Ravens right back, with their legends and NBC's cameras on hand.
The game played out like other soul-crushing Baltimore losses in the Chamber of Horrors known as Heinz Field. A lot of the familiar elements were there. Allow me count the ways:
- A touchdown called back by penalty? Check. In fact, Smith's holding call on Ray Rice's opening play touchdown was eerily similar to the holding call on Marcus Smith that negated Lardarius Webb's punt return touchdown in the playoff game this past January.
- Ben Roethlisberger escaping the Ravens rush and hitting an improbable late-game touchdown? Check.
- Inability to block James Harrison? Check. Harrison seems to save his "Lawrence Taylor 2.0" routine specifically for night games against the Ravens.
- Butterfingered receivers late in the game? Check.
But here's the difference: even after Smith dropped three passes during the course of the game, including a sure touchdown with 42 seconds left, and Anquan Boldin dropped a sure first down late in the game after catching everything up to that point, Flacco never wavered. He kept going to his guys, confident that they would catch the ball.
I don't know if this win is some kind of turning point in the season. With Flacco, sometimes you never know. But I do know this: he has followed up the worst six quarters of his career (all four against Jacksonville and the first two against Arizona) with the best six quarters he's ever played (the last two against Arizona and all four against Pittsburgh).
Lord knows among the Raven Nation Army, Flacco has as many critics as passing yards, yours truly included. But whatever may be said of Flacco, it must be said that the guy has some grapefruits.
To drive 92 yards, against one of the best defenses in the league, in their stadium, in a place where 11 months ago he and his team experienced a meltdown of epic proportions, takes a pair of big ones. The Ravens have never had a quarterback that can do what Flacco did Sunday night and create a sound that is sweet music to any Ravens fan's ears: a quiet Heinz Field.
Having been on the other side of it so many times, there are few things sweeter as a Raven fan than hearing Steeler fans complaining about flukes, getting screwed by officials and crying the blues into their Terrible Towels.
---If you wanted Torrey Smith's up-and-down Ravens career so far summed up in one game, here it was.
After being drafted in the second round out of Maryland, Smith was bad in preseason, dropping passes like the ball had anthrax on it. The team had to trade for Lee Evans because they didn't think Smith was ready to be the No.2 receiver.
Then Evans gets hurt, and in his debut start Smith turns his first three catches into touchdowns. Then he goes inconsistent again and has a nightmare game in Pittsburgh up until that last catch.
I'll say this much for Smith, a great kid with an incredible backstory, he caught the one that counted. That shouldn't be much to ask from a professional receiver, but after spending a decade watching the likes of Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton and T.J. Houshmandzadeh drop passes in big moments, it's a welcome change.
---Another way this game was atypical: in past years, if Smith had dropped that touchdown pass, inevitably, the next play, the Ravens offensive line would have crumbled, Harrison or somebody else would have sacked Flacco, caused him to fumble and the Steelers would have recovered and won the game. Didn't happen this time.
---Ray Lewis was fined $20,000 for his helmet shot that concussed Hines Ward. It's money well spent.
Look, we all know the damage concussions can do and I don't want to see anyone get one. But in Ward's case, I will make an exception.
Make no mistake, Ward has been a helluva receiver, a borderline Hall-of-Fame player. But he's also spent the better part of a decade cultivating a well-earned rep as a cheap shot artist, perfector of the crackback, blind side hit. The one where a defender starts chasing a ball carrier and Ward sneaks in from the blind side and blasts the guy into next week.
He'd gotten away with it for a long time. He used up any sympathy points with me with a hit on Ed Reed in 2008 where he hits Reed 10 yards away from the play, right at the whistle, then starts skipping around and smiling like he's some kind of tough guy. The famous Ward smile has always looked like that of a mischevious kid who knows he got away with something.
The league caught up with Ward when he went too far, blindsiding and breaking the jaw of Cincinnati's Keith Rivers, also in 2008. Since then, the league has cracked down on this dangerous type of hit and rightfully so.
The Ravens have been trying to knock Ward's block off for a long, long time. They've even put bounties out on him, but he's always managed to escape. This year, they've gotten him twice. Jarret Johnson decleated Ward in the first game, and Ray Lew put him on Dream Street in the second.
And me and my fellow Ravens fans, and probably even the Ravens veteran players are thrilled to see Ward finally get his.
---Despite Flacco and Smith's heroics, the five words that will be remembered from this game are: "Sizzle. Ball So Hard University."
---John Harbaugh's post-game rant was, in a word, epic. In Ravens history, it's right there with Brian Billick's "When you go into the lion's den..." speech after the playoff win against Tennessee in 2000.
Harbs not only did his press conference with a bloody chin, courtesy of celebrating a little too hard with GM Ozzie Newsome, but he started dropping Teddy Roosevelt quotes.
Since I don't know many Teddy Roosevelt quotes, allow me to "write what I know" and drop a Megadeth lyric that is relevant to this game:
"When with your blood
I sharpen my sword
No turning the other cheek like a coward
Come tomorrow I may lay down and die
But not this day
This day we fight!"
---You can't really call this a galvanizing win without the benefit of hindsight, but there are a lot of similarities between this win and the improbable win against Tennessee in 2000 that propelled that team to a championship.
In 2000, the Ravens had not scored a touchdown in the entire month of October (five games) before ending that streak in Cincinnati. They went into Nashville against a Titans team that Sports Illustrated had just put on its cover proclaiming them as the best in the NFL. After throwing a horrible pick-6 to Tennessee's Perry Phenix, Trent Dilfer led the Ravens on a late touchdown drive that propelled the Ravens to a win. They didn't lose again that season.
This year, the Ravens played horribly for six quarters, then pull off the biggest comeback in team history before going into their biggest rival's backyard and pulling off a late-game win in circumstances in which they had always lost before. There's still a lot of season left, but it makes you wonder if this can be a win that propels this team to another level.
---I think we'll find out as much about this Ravens team this Sunday against Seattle than we did last Sunday night against Pittsburgh.
Coming off an emotional win against the Steelers and just before a big division game at home with Cincinnati, the Ravens have to fly cross-country to face a bad team they aren't familiar with, in one of the toughest stadiums in the league to play.
It has "trap game" written all over it, and the Ravens have twice this season fallen into traps in Tennessee and in Jacksonville.
In theory, the Ravens defense should turn Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson into shark bait, feeding on a steady diet of sacks and turnovers. The Seattle offense ranks near the bottom of the league in yards and points per game.
The Seahawk defense is a bit better, their secondary has played well, but overall, Seattle is statistically mediocre. The biggest advantage for Seattle is their stadium, one of the loudest and most intimidating venues in the game.
Regardless, this is a team the Ravens should beat handily. The question is, can the team go out and do it. Can they keep their focus off the Bengals next week and on the task at hand: beating the Seahawks. There's really no wiggle room in the AFC North, with Cincinnati right there and Pittsburgh lingering. If the Ravens have truly turned a corner on this season, they'll go out and handle the Seahawks easily.