Waking up this morning, I still am not quite sure what I saw yesterday afternoon. Well, I know what I saw, but I still have not been able to fully comprehend it. I suppose all that matters is that the Ravens have at least one more game on their schedule for now.
In shuffling through the piles on on-line jargon about the Ravens-Titans game, however, one thing kept coming up. The repeated mentions of how these defensive battles are so much like boxing matches—how many times have you heard “knock-down, drag-out fight of a football game” in the last 24 hours?
So it got me thinking. If last night’s game were a boxing match, which would it be? The answer is all too obvious: Foreman and Ali’s classic "Rumble in the Jungle," where Ali unveils his classic Rope-a-Dope scheme.
It doesn’t fit perfectly, I know, but it still fits.
For the entire game, the Ravens were on the ropes—and I mean that as literally as possible when talking football. Tennessee’s underneath passing game had the Ravens defense on the field for more than 10 minutes in the second quarter alone. Before his injury, Chris Johnson was cutting through the Ravens like Walter Payton through anybody.
And in terms of an offense for the Ravens, we can say simply, "what offense?" The Ravens running game was practically non-existent and the passing game was hardly better.
The Ravens were toast. They were out-planned, out-played, and out-manned. As much as I hate hearing it from the big media sources as a reason the Ravens are in trouble, this is certainly one game where the Ravens' brutal 17-straight weeks of football was clearly slowing them down.
And yet, every time the Ravens looked like they were about to go down—every time it seemed like the brutal assault from the Titans was just too much to take—the Ravens would fire back. Perhaps only with a punch or two—a forced turnover or a solid punt return—but they would fire back.
Somehow in the end, the Ravens were able to stand up, put together a pair of scoring drives, and stop the Titans when it mattered most. And so the Ravens, battered and bruised, are left standing.
Beat up but not yet beat down.
In football terms, the Ravens were completely outplayed and outmatched. They were on the receiving end of a few friendly calls and a few magical plays. You won’t hear any argument about that. But that’s how football is sometimes.
The Ravens have been on the wrong side of this kind of game plenty of times in recent memory—twice this season, even. It is certainly not the kind of performance that should be flaunted.
Offensively and defensively, this team is far from perfect. We all know that. We can admit that. There is no shame in saying that. There is no shame in saying we slipped away with one. LenDale White may be right; the Titans may win that game nine times out of 10.
But if he wants to play a series, he can go play baseball.
Perfection is overrated. Just ask last year’s Patriots. Perfect all the way to the Super Bowl, only to lose in the biggest game of the year.
So much for 18-0.
Excuse the sappy romanticism and the Billick-ism, but football is as much about toughness and resiliency as it is about specific skills. And in those terms, in terms of intangibles, you will not find a team that can compete with the Ravens this season.
**Quick Bonus Thoughts**
Jim Leonhard: My postseason awards are waiting for the Ravens' season to end. Jim Leonhard continues to make a strong argument that he deserves all of them—MVP, Unsung Hero, Best New Raven—his tackling is precise, he is always around the play, his blitzing is phenomenal, and his value as a returner is unmatched. And did anyone else pick up that bit from last week’s game?
Leonhard learned the Ravens' entire defensive scheme in a week. One week. That's seven days if you're counting.
Running Game: Hard to be happy with the way it performed yesterday. Running up the gut on the Titans line clearly wasn’t working. Still not sure why the Ravens never tried to get outside with either Willis or Ray Rice, who was in on a few plays but never got a carry. I think it could have really helped the offense find its feet.
And for all that has been said (including by me), it sure is nice to have Willis McGahee on this team in a playoff run. His blocking could still use some work, though.
The Officials: With the exception of the delay-of-game call, there should be no complaining about the officials. They did a pretty solid job both ways. The Titans were called for some personal fouls, but the Ravens were called for their fair share of penalties to help the Titans.
Defensive holding may only be five yards, but it's still a first down. The Ravens gave the Titans two on their first scoring drive.
And as for the delay of game? How ironic that just last week the same thing happened with the Dolphins and Phil Simms, in all his wisdom, was able to explain that when the clock hits zero, the ref has to see it, then see the ball unsnapped—so there’s always a second or two delay.
All I can say is "phew."
The Gameplan: Weak. Defensively you could tell that even Ray did not like what the Ravens were calling in the first half. He was on the bench with Rex Ryan more than once shaking his head and clearly saying the plan wasn’t working.
By the second half, the defense had made some quality adjustments. Offensively, the gameplan was classic Cam Cameron in a big game—the same Cameron we’ve seen against every other good team this season. The Ravens almost had to overcome his game plan.
It’s not a matter of stretching the field and going deep. It’s a matter of opening the field up—find the 5, 10, or 15-yard passes, the outside runs.