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Ravens' Play in Loss to Colts Proves They Still Have a Chance

 By Tyler Springs
November 23, 2009

Colts 17, Ravens 15 is a long way from what I thought the score would be, and in that respect, I'm very pleased, but at the same time, I'm upset because they had a shot to win that game and they blew it.  Economists talk about absolute and relative gains; the former measures a gain compared to a previous level, and the latter measures a gain in comparison to the gains of other competitors.  For the Ravens, this game showed huge improvement from the level at which they played last week, but relative to what it could have been, it was a disappointing defeat.  

Some things genuinely impressed me about the Ravens' play.  The defense held the Colts under 100 yards rushing and 300 yards passing. They were helped in large part by mistakes that Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning made, but he doesn't make mistakes if he's not struggling, so give the defense credit for making him work.  RB Ray Rice is a hoss, and his play elevated the entire offense in the second half.  They didn't have a touchdown to show for it, but they did move the ball, which they've had difficulty doing in the last few weeks. Quarterback Joe Flacco and wideout Derrick Mason were on the same page for the first time in a while, and the offensive line did a phenomenal job against the Colts' dynamic defensive end duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. (Nowhere in the box score does either name appear. As far as personal battles go, Freeney is eating crow right now. Michael Oher was right.) Baltimore had only 2 penalties for 20 yards.

On the flip side, the Ravens went 0 for 4 in red zone scoring opportunities, including one occasion when they couldn't pound it in despite having a 1st-and-goal situation. The offense was turnover-free for the entire game before Flacco forced a pass to Rice over the middle that was intercepted by Gary Brackett.  It looked like a dumb call from this fan's armchair: passing the ball when you're in the red zone is especially dangerous for a team that runs as well as Baltimore, although they did have 15 passing first downs today.  What really bothers me is the fact that the play was called with under five minutes remaining in a close game, one which the Ravens were in position to take the lead even if they didn't move the ball very far (granted, Peyton Manning is a nightmare when pressed for time, but the point still stands).   

The defense remains an enigma.  They intercepted Manning twice (with the help of DBs Dawan Landry and Ed Reed) and forced a fumble in a key scoring situation for the Colts.  They also gave up at least four big plays (20 yards or more) and were unable to register even one sack all day.  I like Reed for his play-making abilities, but seeing him in a return situation is nerve-racking, knowing what one does about Reed & ball security during his interception returns.  CB Fabian Washington continues his inconsistency, getting beat by Colts wideout Pierre Garcon on a long pass early in the game and then later deflecting a pass intended for tight end Dallas Clark that ended up being an interception.  I wouldn't wish an injury on anyone, but Washington's injury might be the best thing for him right now, given his recent lack of solid play.  CB Lardarius Webb should get even more chances with Washington hobbling around on crutches.   

The Ravens' kicking game made huge strides: newly signed kicker Billy Cundiff was called on four times in the first half, and he hit all four attempts to pull Baltimore within 14-12 at the break.  Speaking in relative terms, however, the Ravens were in no different a place today than they were against the Vikings a few weeks ago: a field goal would have won the game, and with everything hanging in the balance, Cundiff missed a lead-changing 30-yard attempt wide right from the left hash mark.  He has never missed a field goal inside 30 yards. A game of inches, or so it is said.

Should Cundiff have had another chance to win the game? Yes, if the Ravens had kept the ball inside the Colts' 20 late in the 4th quarter. However, might the offensive strategy have been different if Baltimore had been leading 18-17 on that fateful drive? (I understand the Colts might have changed their tactics on their drive with 7 minutes to play, but I think there was too much time remaining for Colts coach Jim Caldwell to have said "This is it, we need to go for it.")

This loss was incredibly tough to stomach, but there were a lot of redeeming qualities about this game. Th question remains whether or not there is enough silver in the linings for Ravens fans to keep hope alive. I, for one, believe there is.  The Chiefs, Lions and  Raiders (God bless all of 'em!) put together late rallies to beat all three of the Ravens' AFC North foes within the last minute or in overtime.  Kansas City even managed to rattle Ben Roethlisberger enough to force Charlie Batch into action.  It's likely that Roethlisberger will be ready to go by next week, but it would a big plus for the Ravens to not have to face his uncanny pocket-escape abilities.  With Troy Polamalu out, Sunday Night Football is shaping up to be Baltimore's best shot to take the Steel Curtain for all they're worth.

As playoff implications go, the Ravens will be looking to the San Diego Chargers to widen the gap in the West between themselves and the grossly overrated Denver Broncos.  They're on their way, having thumped Denver 32-3 at Mile High on Sunday.  The Broncos play three more division games (two against the Chiefs and at home against Oakland) as well as thee others against the Colts, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.  The Chargers finish divisional play next week against Kansas City at home and then face the Browns, Cowboys, Bengals, Titans and Redskins to finish out the year.  It would help a lot if the Titans are able to beat the Texans tonight, but beyond that, the race is tough to call.    

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