Steelers Game Was No-brainer

December 30, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

I predicted the Ravens would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, and - the final score notwithstanding - I'm standing by that prediction.

In an alternate universe where a parallel Terrell Suggs, Oniel Cousins and Kelley Washington had anything resembling a clue, the Ravens would have won the game by at least 17 points and been headed for the playoffs on an emotional roll. So, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Now, you're probably shaking your head right now and wondering why I'm so bent on self-justification, but this isn't about that at all. I've made plenty of bad calls over the years, and I've generally manned up and conceded my flawed judgment.

In this case, however, the only thing I failed to predict correctly was the level of boneheadedness that the Ravens were able to achieve in the course of Sunday's 23-20 loss at Heinz Field. And that's why I'm totally on board with John Harbaugh's comment Monday that they are "capable" of making a Super Bowl run.

Though I wasn't in the post-game team meeting Sunday, I kind of imagine that it went something like this.

Harbaugh: "Jeez, guys, how stupid can you get?"

Suggs: "I don't know, coach, what's the highest score?"

Frankly, I thought the organization had reached the apex of over-the-top on-field idiocy in that game against the New England Patriots a couple of years ago when Bart Scott threw the penalty flag into the stands, which - along with a loss to the 0-13 Miami Dolphins - probably led to Brian Billick's exit from the organization. That single incident still stands out, but I can't remember another Ravens team doing more dumb things with as much on the line as this one did late in Sunday's game.

That's why I'm convinced that this will be a week of real and positive self-reflection for these Ravens, which will result in a calm, workmanlike victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday and a new, more businesslike attitude going into the playoffs.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I've got to believe that the Ravens - as a group - are looking at themselves in the mirror right now and realizing that they are a pretty talented team when they don't have their heads where the TSA is soon going to be searching you at the airport.

That wasn't the best Steelers team they've ever faced, but the second half was so completely lopsided from a purely mano a mano standpoint that it proved the Ravens can compete with anyone anywhere if they can just keep their focus on the team concept.

Frank Walker, for example, needs to realize he hasn't played well enough this season to spend 5 yards showing off for the TV cameras when he finally makes a big play. That happened in the one-sided win over the Chicago Bears, so nobody really cared, but he and his teammates need to recognize that it doesn't matter when you put the team second. What matters is the realization of what can be accomplished if you always put it first.

There are going to be penalties. There are going to be moments when emotion overcomes reason. It's a very intense game that requires people to be very intense to be successful. Everybody steps over that fine line once in a while, but the Ravens played Sunday as if they didn't have any idea where that line is.

Harbaugh obviously recognizes that. He seldom says anything that might reflect poorly on the opposing team - especially after a loss - but he said a mouthful during Monday's news conference with just one sentence:

"That should not have been a close game."

Instead, it was not only a close game, but it was also a very deflating loss against the one team that actually factors into the self-identification of the Ravens. The Ravens and Steelers are so alike and, to each other, so easy to dislike that every game leaves a mark.

For that reason, it should also be the ultimate wake-up call. The men in the mirror know exactly why they lost, and - just maybe - they will use that painful revelation to morph into a very formidable postseason team.

If they didn't learn something profound from the consequences of their disturbing performance, than it's really not going to matter what happens Sunday in Oakland - unless the only goal is to stumble into the playoffs and stumble right back out.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM) and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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