Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Invading Cincinnati

A few weeks ago, I checked StubHub.com for Ravens-at-Bengals ticket prices and was surprised to see $65 tickets on sale for $20. So I snatched up five tickets and this past weekend, Impressions from 540 and Friends invaded Cincinnati.

We came… we saw… we conquered.

Ravens 34, Bengals 3.

It almost wasn’t even fair.

Remember the days when a little rain would turn the Ravens’ offense into a high school team?

Not anymore.

Remember when the Ravens offense would struggle to score points against even the worst defenses?

Not anymore.

Remember when the Ravens were almost guaranteed to turn in a dud on the road, against a division rival?

You get the point.

540’s man-crush, Joe Flacco, tossed his now-to-be-expected 2 TD’s (another long one, this time for 70 yards), Mark Clayton (yes, you read that right) threw a 32-yard TD pass to Derrick Mason and Le’Ron McClain bashed his way to 86 yards in the lopsided victory.

The defense shut down the hapless Bengals offense, resulting in a long day for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (12-31, 120 yards). The Bengals managed only 155 yards of offense in the game.

Truth be told, I actually felt sorry for Bengals fans. Coming into the game, the Bengals were 1-9-1 and missing Carson Palmer like the deserts miss the rain. The stadium was only 3/5 full at kickoff, granted there was some rain, but by the end of the third quarter, the Bengals fans staged a mass exodus to find a drier, and happier place.

The ones who stuck around cheered loudly as the third-string QB, Jordan Palmer, entered the game. To add insult to injury, the first pass he threw was intercepted and returned for a TD.

It was the same old Bungles so I couldn’t exactly gloat too much in my first Ravens road trip. But, the Ravens hadn’t won in Cincinnati since 2004, so I’ll take it.

That said, it was an awesome experience. Once the game was over, I mean officially over since it was very much over before it began, my friends and I headed toward the Ravens tunnel to cheer them on as they left the field with the rest of the Ravens faithful who made the trip. To my surprise, Daniel Wilcox threw me his glove, which I caught and will lovingly wear to bed each night.

As a city, Cincinnati left a lot to be desired. I’m not sure if I missed some hotspots or not, but the downtown area seemed empty and generic. My friends and I did manage to find a nice sports bar (Sully's) and bar/nightclub (The Lodge) close to our hotel, but trips around the city and across the river for action turned up empty.

And the Skyline Chili was almost room temperature.

Paul Brown stadium is in one word – funky. I still haven’t figured out if that’s a good thing or not. It’s angles and lines are too modern and the stadium is too wide-open to hold noise. Also, you can’t walk around the entire stadium from the upper deck. Yes, my friends and I did walk all the way up to the wrong side of the upper deck. So that sucked. But it was pretty much the worst thing about the entire trip.

Moving forward, the Ravens take on the Washington Redskins (7-5) next Sunday night. The Redskins are fighting for a playoff spot that is starting to slip through their fingers and it doesn’t help that Clinton Portis left the game with an injury in their loss to the Giants and is questionable for this Sunday.

Despite their recent struggles, the Redskins are an overall solid team, but against the Ravens, they look to be practically dominated in every facet of the game, especially if Portis is forced to miss any time.

QB Jason Campbell is at his best when the Redskins running game is clicking, and hasn’t demonstrated the ability to take over games and win them by himself. When he is forced to win the game on his own, he becomes prone to turnovers. He looks to be in for a very long day against the Ravens’ second-ranked defense.

The Ravens still control their own destiny in the playoff hunt, but will have to walk a tight-rope to win a Wild Card spot with the Colts finding ways to win (even when they don’t score offensive touchdowns) and the Patriots and Dolphins breathing down their necks. The Ravens’ best bet is to steal the division from the Steelers, but that might be easier said than done after the Steelers crushed the Patriots in New England last weekend.

However, the Steelers next three games are still tough: Dallas, at Baltimore and then at Tennessee.

But let’s not look ahead too much. The Redskins come to Baltimore for the first time and it’s a prime-time game.

Remember when the Ravens laid an egg in prime-time games?

Let’s hope we can add that one to the list.

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