After a dark season, the Ravens get just the late-season spark they need

November 29, 2013|Mike Preston

This could be the spark the Ravens need to make a late-season run.

The Ravens have now won two in a row, and played their most complete game in quite a while against their archrival Thursday. The Pittsburgh Steelers could be on their way out of the playoff picture, while the Ravens might be making a serious move.

No one knows for sure, but at least there is hope now. There wasn't any after the Ravens lost in overtime to the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, and there wasn't much even after the Ravens defeated the New York Jets on Sunday.

But there were signs of life from the Ravens last night. The defense has played well most of the season, and the team got a solid effort from the offense against Pittsburgh. The special teams were excellent, and quarterback Joe Flacco turned in possibly his most complete game of the season.

That's what you look for at this time of the season. In the watered-down NFL, you look for a flicker of hope that your team could possibly go on a run late in the regular season. With two straight wins, the Ravens face a struggling Minnesota Vikings team next week before going on the road for a Monday-night game against the Detroit Lions.

If the Ravens beat the Vikings, anything can happen. Players gain confidence. Coaches start feeling better. Fans start getting chirpy.

There were some positive signs Thursday night. Flacco completed 24 of 35 passes for 251 yards and finished with a quarterback rating of 98.6. He made some outstanding plays with his arm, but more with his legs as he moved around in the pocket.

For the second straight week, the Ravens got big plays from Jacoby Jones as both a receiver and returner. With Jones on one side and Torrey Smith on the other, the Ravens have great speed, and now they can make big plays.

What about the wildcat offense?

Maybe that did serve as the turning point. Flacco didn't want it, and said so publicly this week. His comments didn't make his coach happy. But maybe that was a rallying point.

Besides Jones and Flacco, the Ravens also got strong running from Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce for the first time this season.

Combined with a strong defense, the Ravens might be able to start stringing some more wins together. Maybe the most surprising play has come from the secondary, which continues to play well. That was once the Achilles' heel of this defense.

If safeties Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo continue to get better, the Ravens could be strong by the end of the season.

That's all wishful thinking. But the Ravens went through some similar struggles a year ago, and rallied in the postseason on their way to the Super Bowl.

We're not talking about the Super Bowl yet. We're talking about challenging for the final playoff position in the AFC, or maybe an outside shot at winning the AFC North. But several weeks ago, the Ravens were heading south.

After Thursday night, they started to look like a real team. The win against Pittsburgh was a complete team effort.

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