Ravens need to keep winning ugly

There is no reason for them to be cute against the Patriots

January 15, 2012|Mike Preston

The Ravens' playoff win against the Houston Texans was ugly, and things aren't going to get any prettier.

At this point of the season, though, who cares? The Ravens are who they are, a well-balanced team with few weaknesses and superstars, and enough overall talent to win most games.

Do the Ravens have enough to beat the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday? Of course, but it can't be a pretty game, either. It has to be another ugly masterpiece.

"You win the game no matter what," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "That's what it really boils down to in a situation like this. This football team won the game no matter what. It wasn't perfect by any stretch, but they found a way to win the football game."

That's all that matters. We'd all like to have seen some style points and watch the Ravens beat the Texans like the Patriots beat the Denver Broncos Saturday, but that's not the Ravens' way.

The Ravens play great against the good teams and poor against the bad ones. They haven't shown a killer instinct early in games, which allows other teams to hang around and make games close. But the Ravens have enough playmakers to win.

They win in spite of themselves, partly because other teams out-ugly them, including Houston which had four turnovers and a rookie quarterback named T.J. Yates. Yates threw more passes to Ravens safety Ed Reed than his own receivers.

In Reed, the Ravens have a Pro Bowl safety playing with one healthy shoulder, and a Pro Bowl linebacker, Ray Lewis, playing with nine healthy toes. They have a quarterback who looks like Dan Marino one play and Stoney Case the next.

And the offensive play calling?

Oh, just atrocious, especially in the last three minutes of the game. On second-and-five from the Houston 26 with 3:04 remaining, Joe Flacco threw an incomplete pass to Anquan Boldin on a slant.

On the next play, Flacco threw incomplete to tight end Ed Dickson. The Ravens should have run the ball twice while running time off the clock or forcing the Texans to use some of their timeouts.

Instead, the TV cameras showed Lewis with a baffled look on his face on the sidelines wondering what was offensive coordinator Cam Cameron thinking. Lewis wasn't the only one. Many folks in the stadium wore the same expression.

And the play calling won't change by next week. Hell, it hasn't changed in four years. Every time you think this team has found its identity and is playing reasonably well things get ugly.

That's a good thing. If you want pretty, take the Patriots.

New England seems to be peaking, yet we really don't know where the Ravens are in this post-season run. Great teams don't get stuffed twice on short-yardage situations at the 1-yard line. Great teams don't fumble at the opposing team's 4-yard line or have the quarterback bump into the fullback three or four times while dropping back to throw.

Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Even when the Ravens scored, Flacco almost threw the ball behind tight end Kris Wilson on a 1-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. When Flacco was on target, the Ravens still dropped passes.

That was when Flacco had time to throw. He was sacked five times.

"I would anticipate against the team we're about to play, you have to do a better job offensively, in terms of numbers and stats and points, of course than we did today," Harbaugh said. "We'll see how that plays out throughout the course of the game. That's what the humility is all about. It's about going to work on those things and trying to improve those things, recognizing that a really good job the other team did against us. But it's also about looking forward."

The Ravens accomplished some of the things they needed to do. Running back Ray Rice was a target 26 times as a runner and receiver. Flacco threw a couple of great long touch passes and the back-shoulder throw and 10-yard touchdown pass to Boldin were beauties.

After much criticism from yours truly here during the past two weeks, both Lewis and Reed played their best games in nearly a month as Lewis finished with eight tackles and Reed had six tackles and knocked down four passes.

That seems to be the way the Ravens roll. They do enough to win, getting a big play here and there from somebody. But even Reed admits if the Texans had quarterback Matt Schaub, the Ravens probably would have lost Sunday. And ugly wins might not be fashionable next week in Foxborough, Mass.

"We have to play a lot better than today," said Reed. "Like I said, they're a great football team. They make great adjustments. They have great football coaches and great players that understand football. We look forward to it, and I'm sure, like I said, they are too."

Here comes ugly.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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