As the Ravens arrived at their team complex in Owings Mills today, overjoyed that they still have more football to play, the euphoria surrounding their victory over the Houston Texans Sunday and a berth in the AFC Championship game had been replaced by a sobering reality.
The Ravens have less than a week to prepare for the New England Patriots and what coach John Harbaugh called the most explosive offense in the NFL, and find a way to jump start their own attack, which managed just three points in the final 46 minutes of the 20-13 victory over the Texans.
"You try to correct things but you can't really chase backward too much this time of year," said Harbaugh who will coach in his second AFC Championship game in four years Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. "Everything is looking ahead. We're going to try to play the next game and not trying to replay the last game. But third down is going to be really important on both sides — getting off the field and extending drives. Time of possession for us is going to be important in this game. It's going to be a big red zone game on both sides, really."
While Tom Brady threw for six touchdown passes in the first 2 1/2 quarters and the Patriots wracked up 509 yards of total offense in a 45-10 beat down of the Denver Broncos Saturday, the Ravens had 227 yards of total offense, including 156 in the final three quarters against the Texans.
They went 4-of-16 on third downs, were held scoreless for seven consecutive possessions at one point, averaged just 3.6 yards per play, watched quarterback Joe Flacco get sacked five times and running back Ray Rice get held to 60 yards rushing on 21 carries. All of which has re-ignited the discussion among fans about offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and his future with the team.
But facing the No.2 ranked defense in the NFL, the Ravens also did enough to win, getting two touchdown passes from Flacco and committing no penalties. They're just going to have to do much more Sunday to beat the Patriots and get back to the Super Bowl.
"I think it would be safe to say that we're going to have to score points to win this game," said Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith. "We obviously have one of the top defenses in the league and we stand by our defense and believe in our defense. They're pretty much the rock of our team. But for us, we know that we're going to have to help them out a lot, try to take the care of the ball. We can't have any three and outs. We have to keep their offense off the field and keep our defense rested, and score points."
Most of the Ravens' players weren't scheduled to start watching film of the Patriots until Tuesday so Smith joked that the only thing he really knew about New England came from playing video games.
"My brother always picks them in Madden," Smith said. "They pretty much always have the best offense for some years in that game. … I mean, my brother plays with them all the time. It does not fail."
Brady's unit, highlighted by star tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and wide receiver Wes Welker, has put up 27 or more points in nine straight games, and they hung 35 first-half points on Denver last Saturday. The Broncos had one of the better defenses in the NFL during the regular season.
The Patriots have tallied 31 or more points in eight of their past nine games and they've needed to in several of them. Though New England's defense completely dominated Tim Tebow on the Broncos, the group allowed 411.1 yards per game during the regular season, the second highest total in the NFL.
"I look at every team, whether they are struggling or the best in the league, it's an NFL defense," Smith said. "You're going against 11 other guys who were drafted, 11 other guys who have proved that they deserve to be here. For us to disrespect them in any way and feel like we're just going to run the ball all over them and throw the ball over them and they're going to just lay over and let us do it, that's not the right way to go about it. You have to prepare the same and go out and execute. That's what it's all about at the end of the day."
Flacco acknowledged that he'll likely go into Sunday's game with a certain point total in mind that the Ravens will have to reach in order to win.
"At the same time, we have a good defense," Flacco said. "They way they've played all year, the way they've played in the past, they put points on the board. So I think as an offense, you have to go in there and put points on the board, too."
While facing constant pressure from the Texans' relentless defensive front, Flacco was 14-of-27 for 176 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Texans. Asked about the importance of his quarterback's play beyond the numbers, Harbaugh said, "I think I've done that many times. I don't really feel like running down all those things right now. I can just tell you this last game, he won and his quarterback rating was what, 97?