Let's not kid ourselves: Losing to league's best team is no surprise

November 18, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,mike.preston@baltsun.com

You didn't really think the Ravens were going to beat the New York Giants on Sunday, did you?

Come on, let's be real. A win over the Giants would have been tantamount to the Giants' upset of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The Giants are playing at a level where the Ravens hope to be playing in a year or two, which is why there shouldn't be much despair around town about the 20-point loss to New York.

The Ravens are 6-4, and three of the losses have come against teams you probably thought they would lose to when the NFL schedules were announced in April.

Now, with that said, the loss doesn't change my opinion of the Ravens. They are slightly better than average and they are a well-coached team that is on the verge of becoming good. More importantly, they are still in contention for a wild-card playoff spot.

There were a lot of questions coming out of Sunday's loss. Do some of the aging veterans on defense have enough left to carry the Ravens through the remainder of the season? Are the Ravens for real or just a team that beats up on losing football teams? Can they rebound Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, another quality team from the NFC East?

Enough, already.

The bottom line is the Ravens lost Sunday to the best team in the NFL, with no apologies to the unbeaten Tennessee Titans. You could see this train wreck coming.

New York was the last in a six-game stretch when the Ravens played five on the road. The Giants were one of the hottest teams in the league, and the game was being played in the Meadowlands, where the defending champions had won five straight.

The Giants are a well-balanced football team. They can run. They can throw. They can stop the run, have good special teams and the only weakness appears to be in the secondary. They dominate the line of scrimmage with a great physical presence and athleticism and are well-coached.

So, it wasn't a total embarrassment when the Giants smacked around the Ravens. It was disappointing in the way the team lost, because few opponents have pushed the Ravens around, and even fewer have run for 207 yards as New York did Sunday.

But in perspective, it was no big deal, because the Ravens aren't in that class yet. They still have too many weaknesses that will be exposed when they play good teams.

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has made good strides, but his arm can't carry this team yet, not with only one good receiver in Derrick Mason. The Ravens' offensive line is young and being held together by a Band-Aid from all the injuries. On Sunday, this group got taught a collective lesson from one of the most dominating defensive lines in the league.

On defense, the Ravens got manhandled by a veteran offensive line. Linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott were in position to make tackles, but their tackling wasn't fundamentally sound, and the Ravens' pursuit angles were atrocious. Giants running back Brandon Jacobs can make a lot of defenses look bad, but the Ravens made themselves look even worse.

But on Sunday against the Eagles, the Ravens will rebound. There won't be any Joe Namath-like predictions here, but those veteran defensive players that some think are out of gas will carry the Ravens.

You see, the Giants didn't just take away the Ravens' pride by running the ball. They insulted their manhood. Guys like Lewis, Scott, Trevor Pryce, Haloti Ngata and Jarret Johnson will respond to the new challenge in the Eagles.

The Ravens are in decent shape. Four of their final six games are at home, including a December date with the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers.

Maybe at the beginning of the season some of the remaining opponents seemed unbeatable, like the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars, but not anymore. The Ravens got pushed around by the Giants on Sunday, but they were still in the game late in the third quarter.

If you took away a couple of big Giants plays, then it was a close game. A week ago, the Ravens were tied with the Steelers for first place in the division.

Now, they are a game back but still in the playoff hunt with several other teams with 6-4 records. At the beginning of the year, I never thought the Ravens would be in playoff contention this late in the year.

I was wrong, but I was right about one thing. I never thought the Ravens would beat the Giants. A loss to New York was not going to be a big deal.

It still isn't.

Listen to Mike Preston every Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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