Monday, December 22, 2008

Big Win in Big D

The Ravens did the seemingly impossible last Saturday night, spoiling the Cowboy’s final game in Dallas Stadium, winning 33-24 and helping their playoff prospects immensely.

Dallas jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead after a Joe Flacco fumble gave the Cowboys the ball on their own 9-yard line. But then the defense stepped up, shutting out Dallas for the next two quarters.

During that span, the offense chipped their way back into the game with 3 consecutive Matt Stover field goals. Then with 2:51 left in the 3 quarter, Flacco found Derrick Mason, his favorite target, in the corner of the endzone for the Ravens first touchdown of the game, putting them ahead, 16-7.

Dallas and the Ravens traded field goals over the course of the next few drives, and after a Tony Romo to Terrell Owens touchdown brought them within two, at 19-17, it appeared the Ravens would be headed for another late loss.

With 3:32 left in the game, and on the first play of the drive, Willis McGahee busted off a 77-yard run to put the Ravens up 26-17 and driving what appeared to be the final nail in Dallas’ coffin.

But Dallas wasn’t quite dead just yet. They drove down the field at will on Rex Ryan’s soft prevent defense and scored a Jason Witten touchdown to pull within 2 points again at 26-24.

With 1:18 left, the Ravens just needed a first down to kill the clock and win the game. But just like the drive before, on the very first play, Le’Ron McClain huffed and puffed his way to an 82-yard TD, and this time, ending the game at 33-24. It was also the longest TD run by a visiting running-back in Dallas Stadium. Way to send it off, right?

The most comforting thing about this win, besides the huge help it gave the Ravens' playoff chances, was the return of a smart and effective Joe Flacco. After 2 disappointing games, Flacco finished with 149 yards and a TD and most importantly, 0 INT. His fumble was costly, but you can't blame him when the pocket collapses like the dam in Superman: The Movie. Flacco made the passes he needed to make against a pretty tough defense and was instrumental in winning the game.

And Derrick Mason was a warrior. Mason played through a separated shoulder, finishing with 66 yards and a TD. You really can't say enough about Derrick Mason, a veteran who plays with heart and has become a leader on offense. And when you look back and remember that Mason chose Baltimore over New England, you almost want to cry with happiness.

So here the Ravens are, at 10-5, headed into their final game against the 5-10 Jacksonville Jaguars. If the Ravens win, they’re in the playoffs and will travel to Miami, New York or new England in the first round. If they lose and New England loses to Buffalo, they are still in. Otherwise, if they lose, they’re out.

However, this game against Jacksonville is no gimmie. The Jags gave their all against Indianapolis and really should have won that game if not for a late David Garrard interception returned for a touchdown. Maurice Jones-Drew is a weapon, and while the Ravens are proficient at stopping the run, he presents a host of challenges since he can catch the ball out of the backfield.

But, all that said, the Ravens should beat the Jaguars. It’s all on the line and the Ravens are too well coached under John Harbaugh to look past the Jaguars to the playoffs.

And after coming off a disappointing loss to the Steelers and heading into Dallas, the writing was on the wall. It didn’t look good for the Ravens. But they saved their season. So failure against Jacksonville is not an option.

In closing, I am very worried about the Ravens guarding a small lead. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan plays too soft, and the results are disastrous. Up 9-6 in the 4th quarter against the Steelers, Ryan played the prevent defense and the result was a Steelers 92-yard drive for the win. And up 9 against Dallas, the Ravens played off the line of scrimmage and Dallas marched down the field, 70 yards, for the score. Thankfully for the Ravens sake, Dallas was down by 2 scores.

So, if the Ravens find themselves in that position again, protecting a small lead, I sincerely hope that Ryan doesn’t call off the dogs. He should have learned his lesson by now.

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