Ravens vs. Colts: Baltimore's Biggest Wild Card Winners and Losers
The Baltimore Ravens defeated the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 Sunday to advance to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Baltimore will travel to Denver to face the Broncos next Saturday afternoon. The game will be a rematch of a lopsided Denver win in Baltimore in Week 15.
The Ravens might look a little different to the Broncos this time around, as they presented Indianapolis super-rookie Andrew Luck with a much more hostile defense. The Ravens pressured Luck all afternoon, keeping the Colts and their prize rookie out of the end zone all afternoon.
Though he threw for almost 300 yards, the Ravens sacked Luck three times, forced a fumble and intercepted a deflected pass. Ray Lewis, the heart and soul of the Baltimore defense for the last 17 years, returned to the Baltimore lineup for the first time since injuring his triceps in Week 6 against Dallas.
The Baltimore offense came to life in the second half with a pair of touchdown passes, putting the game out of reach. Lewis' "last ride" will make at least one more stop against an old nemesis in Denver. Before we turn our attention to the Broncos and next week, let's look at the winners and losers from the Ravens' AFC wild-card victory.
Loser: Ray Rice
"Hey, Diddle, Diddle...let's try to hold on to the ball for a little."
Two uncharacteristic fumbles from the normally sure-handed running back didn't cost the Ravens, but effectively killed two drives. The first, on Baltimore's opening drive, handed the ball to the Colts inside their own 20-yard line. The second came at the end of a big run into Colts territory.
Rice had no fumbles during the regular season and two on Sunday. It's probably not a cause for concern for Rice, who finished with 70 yards on 15 carries. Against a tougher Denver defense next week, let's hope Rice has better luck controlling the ball.
Winner: Ray Lewis
It was the last dance (at home) for legendary LB Ray Lewis, but he played with an intensity that showed he has plenty left in the tank. Though he isn't as fast or as nimble as he used to be, Lewis was definitely in the middle of almost every play.
His presence alone surely inspired a defense that needed to get healthy. The energy he brings to the Ravens on both sides of the ball seemed contagious as Baltimore played inspired football, particularly in the second half.
Lewis finished as Baltimore's leading tackler with 13, including nine solo stops. With each game potentially his last, expect to see more of the same from Lewis next week.
Loser: Michael Oher
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Switching off the left tackle position was disastrous at times for Oher. Beaten repeatedly by the Colts' pass rush, Oher wasn't much better in the run game. Insert "Blind Side" joke here if you like. But all kidding aside, he'll need to be better moving forward.
Against the Broncos in Week 15, Oher (among others) was a central figure in the lack of Baltimore offensive production. The Ravens managed only 278 yards at home against Denver. Oher and the rest of the offensive line will need to be much, much better if Baltimore wants to have a prayer against the Broncos.
Winner: Anquan Boldin
After a giant goose egg in the first half, "Q" showed up big time in the second half. Boldin was the recipient of two deep balls, the second for a touchdown, putting Baltimore up 24-9 in the fourth quarter. Boldin showed no ill effects from the bruised shoulder suffered against the Giants two weeks ago.
He finished with five catches (seven targets) for 145 yards and a touchdown. Always one of the more physical receivers in the game, Boldin seemed to bail out Joe Flacco on the first deep throw, beating two Colts for the pass.
Loser: Joe Flacco
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It was a tale of two halves for Joe Flacco. After a miserable first two quarters, things seemed to click into place for Flacco as he got more efficient with the ball. Statistically, Flacco had some impressive numbers if you can get past his abysmal completion percentage.
What sticks in my head about Flacco's day are the passes he missed early in the game. Tandon Doss was open for a slant in the first half that was overthrown. Several other bad misses seemed to rule the half for Baltimore's quarterback before he settled in the second half.
Let it be known that I'm not a Flacco "hater.'' In fact, I've tried to defend him on occasion. My issue with him has been his consistency all season. Baltimore can't afford to have a game (or at least a first half) like today against a much better team in Denver.
Winner: Bernard Pollard
What a difference Pollard makes in the Ravens' secondary. With Ed Reed ceding the role of "enforcer," Pollard has embraced the role and delivers huge hits almost every week.
Usually one of the leaders in tackles, Pollard finished with only four with two passes defensed. His signature play came late in the game with a thunderous hit on Reggie Wayne. Though he was flagged on the play for catching Wayne's helmet in the collision, Pollard is developing a nasty reputation as one of the best hitting safeties in the league.
Loser: Cary Williams
Though Williams is pictured with the interception here, it was set up on a terrific deflection by Corey Graham. While Graham had a solid day, it seemed like Andrew Luck was picking on Williams all afternoon.
Though he managed to avoid giving up the big play, Williams seemed to be in the middle of the action because his man was catching the ball all afternoon. Williams' stats look nice, but again, he's making the tackle after he is being beaten on the catch.
Winner: Paul Kruger
The most disruptive and active player on the defense for most of the game, Paul Kruger forced a fumble, tipped a pass and had two-and-a-half sacks for an aggressive Baltimore defense. While Terrell Suggs was a no-show again today, Kruger's motor was relentless in the Baltimore pass rush.
Though the Colts gained more than 150 yards on the ground, Kruger did his part to annoy Andrew Luck with five hits on the Indianapolis quarterback. Kruger, the "Nightmare on Russell Street," finished with four tackles and a deflected pass.
Loser: Torrey Smith
A loser in measurable statistics only, Smith was dogged by top Colts defensive back Vontae Davis all afternoon. Targeted only four times, Smith showed his value as a blocker on several long runs.
Next week in Denver, Smith will probably draw Denver's top corner again in Champ Bailey. Let's hope he can make more of an impact against the Broncos than he did today. With only four opportunities, Smith finished with two catches for 31 yards.
Winner: Bernard Pierce
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Bernard Pierce continues to impress as a legitimate rushing threat. He finished with more than 100 yards again, providing the change of pace that is so difficult to defend. Though he isn't as dynamic (yet) as the man he sits behind on the depth chart, Pierce has shown that he might be the more likely of the two to break a big run.
The Ravens will need Pierce to be just as effective next Saturday in Denver if Baltimore wants to have a chance. The Broncos' defense dominated the offensive line the last time these teams played, taking the Ravens out of their game plan.