Ravens' stirring comeback hides another subpar effort

Once again Ravens don't look the part of a championship team

October 30, 2011|Mike Preston

Ravens coach John Harbaugh tried to play the role, but he was very transparent. He was happy with the win, but not with the performance.

The Ravens staged their greatest comeback in franchise history, rallying from a 21-point deficit to defeat Arizona Sunday, but that was about the only good thing you could say. They won.

That's it. They won. They beat one of the worst teams in the league, and had to rally from three touchdowns down. Go ahead, jump up and down. Break dance if you want. Lift your champagne glass, but there is not much to celebrate.

Going into the big game next week in Pittsburgh, more was expected. I wanted the Ravens to establish a running game, harass the hell out of Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb and send a message to the Steelers by burying the Cardinals at M & T Bank Stadium.

Instead, the Ravens barely squeaked by the Cardinals on a 25-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff as time expired. Big deal.

A letdown was expected if the Ravens had played well offensively last Monday night against Jacksonville, but they turned in two more dismal quarters and were down, 24-6, at halftime Sunday.

These were the Cardinals. They had the No. 16 ranked offense and No. 26 defense in the NFL. They had won only one game and been outscored 153-116 in six games. They very seldom play well on the East Coast and have two young cornerbacks, A.J. Jefferson and Patrick Peterson, who have a combined three years of playing experience in the NFL.

After last week's embarrassing 12-7 loss to Jacksonville, a beat down was expected here in Baltimore. Instead, the Ravens almost got embarrassed again.

"We still have the Steelers in front of us next week," Harbaugh said. "We have a huge challenge in front of us next week, and we have to get ready for that now. That's the challenge."

Now, don't get the impression Harbaugh wasn't satisfied with the win, because the alternative would have been disastrous. But there were few things, especially offensively, that the Ravens could build off from Sunday.

They had 107 yards rushing on 26 carries, but they weren't dominant. Arizona had three sacks, and even knocked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco around in maximum protection. Flacco had 336 yards passing, but could have had 500 yards and two more touchdowns if he had been more consistent.

The Ravens best play was taken from the Brian Billick playbook of just chucking it up to receiver Anquan Boldin.

"That probably can be one of the things," said Boldin when asked about the self-imposed pressure Sunday following the debacle in Jacksonville. "When you're playing this game, you have to play loose. Whenever you are tight, guys just try to make things happen and end up making mistakes, and that's not how you play football."

Boldin wasn't making excuses, and he might be on to something. But there were some other things that concerned me, like the poor pass protection and the two taunting penalties. The Ravens had eleven total penalties for 99 yards, and twice kept Arizona drives alive with stupid mistakes.

Two Ravens turnovers led to 14 Arizona second-quarter points, and during that period the Ravens allowed an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. On that play, they missed five tackles. There wasn't one time in this game that I thought the Ravens were going to lose because, after all, these were the Cardinals. They are some of the biggest losers in NFL history.

But the concern, though, is Pittsburgh next week and another tough team like the New England Patriots or the San Diego Chargers in the future.

"We woke up, plain and simple," said Boldin. "Our offense came out flat. We turned the ball over a couple of times. We felt like we gave them 14 points. We just woke up in the second half. We knew that we couldn't keep putting our defense in that situation. We still had a bitter taste in our mouth from last week, so we wanted to come out and rectify that."

Maybe they did, and maybe the Ravens are starting to find an offensive identity. They were able to solve Arizona's pass rush in the second half with Flacco taking a short drop back and throwing short passes.

They found a rhythm with the no-huddle offense in the final two periods. On defense, outside linebacker Paul Kruger had two sacks and safety Bernard Pollard has become the hard hitter in the secondary.

But if the Ravens play against Pittsburgh the way they played against Arizona or Jacksonville, it could be a long day. Everything has to get turned up a notch from what we saw Sunday.

"We know what this is: It's Pittsburgh and Ravens," said Ravens safety Ed Reed. "They started off rough, but here they go. They are playing good. It's going to be a battle. "

Not if the Ravens continue to play like they have the past two weeks.


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