What’s over is over and nothing between/Ravens vs. Texans playoff preview
As a lover of the collective oeuvre of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I know as well as anybody that to have a future, you must erase the past. So it goes with pro football.
“Yesterday is Dead and Gone” may be the title of an Arch Enemy song, but it also applies to my feelings on the Indianapolis Colts and the Irsay family.
To me, the Colts, formerly Baltimore’s team, have been dead and gone for a long time. It’s not that way for older Colts fans, sure, but for me, the final burial of the Colts happened five years ago, if not before that.
I broach the subject for two reasons.
First, Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay sent out a tweet Tuesday saying, “I'd love 2c Steve B get the Trophy and Baltimore n Indy...got tons of friends there n it's only fitting with my good friend R Berry n tow!”
Steve B is Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, the trophy is the Lombardi Trophy for winning the Super Bowl, Baltimore n Indy refers to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis and R Berry is Raymond Berry, the ex-Colt great who will present the trophy to this year’s winner. Berry, unlike many of his ex-teammates, the late John Unitas foremost among them, has remained on good terms with the Irsays and the Indianapolis franchise.
As soon as Irsay’s tweet went out, you knew local media outlets would pounce. Mentioning the word “Irsay” around Baltimore fans is like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. It’s bound to produce a reaction. Baltimore football fans get their blood boiling at the mere mention of the name Bob Irsay, Jim’s father who moved the beloved Colts under the cover of darkness in Mayflower trucks before the state could seize the team from him.
That leads me into my second point. This Sunday will mark the first Ravens playoff game in Baltimore in five years, which was against, you guessed it, the Indianapolis Colts. Just like this year, the Ravens won the AFC North and were the No.2 seed in the playoffs.
The game, which the Colts won 15-6, was one of the most frustrating football games I’ve ever seen that didn’t involve the Steelers. At that point, Peyton Manning was still a guy with a rep for choking in big moments and he threw two interceptions that night. The Ravens managed to hold Manning out of the end zone, no small feat, and somehow still managed to lose.
How? Simple, the Ravens could not get out of their own way. Steve McNair, who had been so magical that year, looked like the old, arm-strength challenged QB he actually was and threw two killer interceptions, none bigger than the one he threw in the chest of Indy’s Antoine Bethea at the Ravens’ 1-yard line. At that point in the game, the Ravens had just intercepted Manning and had Indy on the ropes. I’m still convinced if they scored a touchdown there, they win the game.
The Colts also got some breaks, from two of Adam Vinateiri’s field goals bouncing off the uprights and going in, to Brian Billick’s curious game-plan and Samari Rolle’s decision to constantly give Reggie Wayne a 20-yard cushion off the line.
Leading up to that game, we were bombarded with images of the Mayflower trucks leaving Owings Mills, with endless stories about the Colts and what they used to mean to the city and how Irsay snatched all that away in the middle of the night.
---Quick tangent: the ultra-conservative NFL of 2011 would never in a thousand years let a guy like Bob Irsay own a team today. Irsay was a drunk whose own mother once called him the devil. Nuff said.
Anyway, Jimmy Irsay’s tweet got me thinking back to that game, which for me was where the Baltimore Colts were finally buried forever. With that game, we realized that they were gone and never coming back. The Ravens were our team now, and I think there was a sense that the fanbase had let the Ravens down that day. All the talk was about Colts nostalgia. There was even a sign in the stands that read “19 will always be greater than 18,” with 19 of course being Unitas and 18 being Manning. I know I felt like all the Colts nostalgia and our collective hatred of Irsay had obfuscated our support for the Ravens.
The good news is that now when the Colts play the Ravens its just another game. Every game between the two doesn’t have to feature montages of Irsay and the Mayflower trucks anymore.
So if Jimmy Irsay wants to support the Ravens winning the Super Bowl, fine by me. Jimmy’s not his dad, seems like a classy guy and if Barry Levinson’s film “The Band That Wouldn’t Die” is any indication, knows what kind of flawed character his dad was. Yes, we’d all love it if the Irsays would give Baltimore back the old Colts records, similar to what Art Modell did when he took the Browns to Baltimore, but at the end of the day, they own the team and can do what they want.
So that brings me, in a roundabout way, to this Sunday. For the first time since that 2006 game, the Ravens will host a playoff game, once again against an AFC South opponent, the Houston Texans.
What we should see is a defensive battle heavy on the running game and defense. Both the Ravens and Houston come in with top-5 defenses and top-notch backs, with Arian Foster for Houston and Ray Rice from the Ravens.
On paper and in general practice, the Ravens have been a team built to play teams like the Texans, who are very similar to Pittsburgh and San Francisco in their approach to the game. The Ravens defense managed to contain Foster well in their earlier match-up with Houston in Week 6, a 29-14 Ravens win, and must do so again. Certainly, the Ravens strategy will be to put all the pressure on the Texans’ rookie QB T.J. Yates, who is no Peyton Manning.
Also going in the Ravens’ favor is the home crowd, one of the best homefield advantages in the league. In the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco Era, the Ravens are 27-5 at M&T Bank Stadium. In addition, the weather should be cold – around 38 degrees – which often spells doom for warm-weather dome teams like the Texans.
While many of the advantages seem to be in the Ravens favor, Houston is not to be taken lightly. They will have Andre Johnson this time – he missed the Week 6 game with an injury – one of the most dangerous wide outs in the game. The Ravens D will have to stay disciplined against Foster, who rivals Rice as one of the league’s best cutback runners.
On defense, J.J. Watt will be a handful for Michael Oher on the right side and Houston’s top corner Johnathan Joseph should draw the assignment on the returning Anquan Boldin, meaning Torrey Smith, Lee Evans, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will have to step up in the passing game. Joe Flacco must be “Good Joe” in this game for the Ravens to win.
The real key will be for the Ravens to build a lead and make Yates have to play from behind, taking Foster and the running game out of the picture. The Ravens have built double-digit leads in four of their last five games – all wins – and held on to win.
Should be a good game that will hopefully turn out better than the last time M&T hosted a playoff game. If nothing else, for us Ravens fans, we gotta have this one to continue to have the upper hand on Pittsburgh, who was “Tebowed” last Sunday.
Plus there’s this: if Tebow pulls off another miracle Saturday in New England, the Ravens will go into Sunday afternoon with the knowledge that they could host the first championship game in Baltimore since 1959, when Johnny U and the Colts repeated against the Giants.
Get it done boys!