Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Price is right

In addition to guest writing for The Wire, Price has written eight novels and several screenplays, including The Color of Money and Shaft (2000).

On my lunch break just now, I got up from the couch in my office with a smile on my face. Why you ask? After all, it's not Friday, yet. No, I was reading Clockers, by Richard Price.

"Where does the smile come from?", you ask. It's in the beauty of Price's writing. And as corny as that sounds, it's absolutely true.

If you've watched The Wire (and judging by the show's huge following, you have), you're familiar with some of Price's work -- and how he can capture the tragic beauty, and comedy, in the midst of all urban decay that pollutes so many American cities today. Price was a guest writer on The Wire, and the now-famous "Good night, fiends. Good night, hoppers. Good night, hustlers." scene in season 5 was ripped from the pages of Clockers.

Clockers was written in 1992, but if it came out yesterday it would still be as hard-hitting and truthful as it was back then. Maybe you're familiar with the 1995 film, which was directed by Spike Lee. I haven't seen it yet, but it's coming up on my Netflix queue. I'll watch it once I finish the book. But I can guarantee that Spike Lee, even on his best day, couldn't capture half the emotions that Price jam-packs into his novels so effortlessly.

What sets Price's books apart from most others, like The Wire from other shows, is the unjudging look at people -- good or bad. Just because someone is a cop or a drug dealer, Price doesn't judge. They are still people with feelings, and in most cases, even a moral compass, as corrupted as it may be.

If you're looking for a plot, Price not may be for you. His books are not meant to be read on the beach, although I wouldn't hesitate to do just that. Instead, Price is more fascinated with his characters and the tricky situations they get themselves into, and out of, depending on the sacrifices they are prepared to make. But believe me, it all makes for intense reading. Despite their slow pace, Price's books are page turners.

And what's funny, is that while I read Price, I usually see and hear characters from The Wire, as if the actors who played characters in that show are playing the characters from the novel in my head. Right now, the character of Rodney in Clockers is being played by the same guy who played Prop Joe on The Wire. And it's eerily accurate.

You should give it a try sometime. But beware.

As a novice writer, who's dabbled in fiction, reading Price makes me feel like I'm painting in watercolors while looking at the Sistine Chapel. It's hard. Sometimes I feel like throwing away everything I've written because of this guy. Seriously. He's that good.

But I keep reading -- keep torturing myself -- because his writing, as raw and as heartbreaking as it is, makes me smile. And I did a lot of that while watching The Wire.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What to expect from the Orioles in 2010

2010 should be the final year of the "Andy MacPhail Rebuilding Project". We can only hope.

As we draw closer to the 2010 season, I think Orioles fans should consider the following things to make the season a little more enjoyable.

For one, I think it's asking too much for the Orioles to contend for the division or wild card at this point, and I think it was too much for some fans to expect Andy MacPhail to spend big this offseason to add marquee players such as John Lackey, Matt Holiday and Jason Bay. The Orioles lost 98 games last season and spending money this offseason would be like buying a roof for a house you don't own yet.

That said, the Orioles have spent approximately $25 million this offseason, plugging various holes that exist now, but could be filled with internal options in the near-future. It's why you've seen MacPhail sign or trade for players who will be under control for 1-year (Garrett Atkins, Miguel Tejada and Kevin Millwood). So the Orioles aren't exactly saving their money for a rainy day either.

For fans, hopefully 2010 will be about putting the finishing touches on the roster for 2011. Yes, Tejada, Atkins and Millwood will be gone, but Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder and Jake Arrieta will all potentially be on the MLB roster by season's end. And the likes of Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Felix Pie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman are already here -- and they are going to be at the center of any improvement in 2010.

I expect the Orioles to win 75 games this season, with 85 games being the ceiling. Of course, if a couple things go wrong, we could be looking at another 65 win season. But I do think that outside of a major injury to Matt Wieters or Brian Matusz, the Orioles will show drastic improvement from 2009.

And regardless of the win-loss record (unless it's catastrophic), I do believe 2010 is the last year the Orioles will operate the way they are currently. I do believe that MacPhail is at some point going to be more aggressive in his signing of free agents. Or if we do end up with a surplus of pitching this season, you'll see him make a blockbuster deal to acquire a power hitter.

While Andy MacPhail may not have satisfied the hunger of every Oriole fan, he has usually done what he's said he's going to do. So if his mantra is "grow the arms, by the bats", then I do believe that some point he is actually going to do that. And I mean buy more bats than just Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada.

So I am excited for 2010 more than I have been excited for an O's team in a long time. I said after the Kevin Millwood trade that I believe the 2010 season could look eerily familiar to the 1992 season.

And in case you missed it, the Orioles won 89 games that season.


The Orioles signed Miguel Tejada over the weekend, and will move to 3B in 2010.

The Orioles signed Miguel Tejada to a one-year deal over the weekend. Ironically, the news of the signing coincided with FanFest. Hmmmm...

I pontificated on the potential signing in my last entry, so a lot of my thoughts on the signing can be found in it. Overall, I like the move.

Tejada still hits doubles (he lead the NL last year with 46) but he unfortunately hits into a lot of double-plays too (29 in 2009). He'll be moving to 3B, a new position for him, but with his strong arm and bulldog mentality, I think he'll be able to make the move pretty easily. And now that Tejada is older, and his power has decreased over the years, he can be moved down into the 6 or 7 hole with little pressure to carry the offense. Leave that to sluggers like Luke Scott, Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold.

Hopefully this era of Tejada will go better than the last one and the Orioles will start to improve instead of get worse, like they have since 2004, the year Tejada was originally signed.

Now let's see if the O's will make the other half of my last blog entry come true by signing Erik Bedard. If they do that, color me happy with this offseason.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bedard & Tejada Homecoming?

There's been some recent chatter about the Orioles entertaining the possibility of bringing back pitcher Erick Bedard and infielder Miguel Tejada. I say infielder in regards to Tejada because the Orioles are looking at him as a potential 3B, not the shortstop that Tejada has been his entire career.

I find it interesting that the O's are looking into bringing these players back. You'll remember that during the 2008 offseason these two were undoubtedly the O's best players and were traded for a pretty epic haul of young players. Bedard alone got us two All-Star players and a top pitching prospect. The quality of Tejada trade has faded somewhat, but it brought us Luke Scott, who has bettered Tejada's offensive output since he arrived, and Troy Patton, an injured, but one-time top rated prospect who can still have an impact at the age of 24.

Anyway, bringing back these players would make those trades look even better. Putting them on loan two years got us 10 players total, and helped deepen our organization with talent. And while neither player is as close to what they were when they were traded, they would each fill a role that the Orioles still need to fill.

Erik Bedard, who is recovering from a torn labrum, would likely miss a big chunk of the 2010 season as he finishes rehabilitation. Andy MacPhail has said that he believes Bedard will be ready to pitch "sooner than later", whatever that means, but there's no chance that Bedard is ready for opening day.

Over the last 2 seasons, Bedard has only pitched 164 innings, but when healthy, he's still got it. Last season he finished with a 2.82 ERA and the season before, 3.67. Bedard hasn't had an ERA above 4 since 2004. But the biggest question with Bedard is always going to be his health.

The Orioles are entertaining the possibility of Erik Bedard's return. However, he will miss a portion of the 2010 season recovering from labrum surgery.

Bedard has had some small attitude issues in the past, but after being dealt to Seattle, there were many rumors of Bedard homesick for Baltimore, where there was little pressure and not much of a spotlight. Bedard isn't getting many offers from other teams, probably because his 2010 status is so uncertain, so it sounds like of the Orioles want Bedard, he wants them.

As for Tejada, Miggy had some excellent seasons in Baltimore, despite his eventual discord with the organization. Tejada was regularly critical of the front office, who sold him on the idea that the Orioles were a rising team. But after Tejada signed with the club, they failed to upgrade the team in the following years, and Tejada sulked, showed up late on game day, and even asked for a trade. He seemed to eventually accept his fate in Baltimore, and still played hard at times, but overall, it was tough to watch Tejada, an ultra-competitive player, waste away in Baltimore.

Like Bedard, Tejada isn't getting many offers from other teams, so Tejada and the Orioles may find themselves in a marriage of convenience. Plus, Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette, who signed Tejada and then left him out to dry, are no longer the GM's.

Miguel Tejada lead the NL in doubles last year. Will the Orioles bring him back?

Tejada is open to moving to 3B, and could still offer plus production for the position, while 3B prospect Josh Bell gets his feet wet in AAA Norfolk. Last year Tejada lead the NL with 46 doubles, despite his decreasing HR totals. If Tejada can be signed for 1 year, or 1 year plus an option for a second, the Orioles should do it.

The only other free agent possibility for 3B is Joe Crede, he of no stick and constant injury problems. Crede is still a solid defensive player, but do we really want the entire left side of our infield to be no-offense players?

Signing Tejada, however, would murky the roster a bit. It appears Garrett Atkins is going to start the year as the Orioles 1B. That means Nolan Reimold is the everyday LF with Luke Scott as the permanent DH. Ty Wigginton is on the bench along with Felix Pie.

Wigginton, who had a significant down year last year, should bounce back in 2010 and could offer the same kind of production that Tejada would. Wigginton is signed through this year, so if Josh Bell does come up at some point, Wigginton can go back to the bench or another position, whereas someone like Tejada or Crede has no other position to play and would need to be traded or released to make room for Bell.

I personally would like to see the Orioles bring back Bedard and Tejada, despite the somewhat crowded house that will result in their return. Bedard is a good contingency plan if someone in the rotation is injured or doesn't perform, and Tejada could succeed at the bottom of the order. His defense at 3B is a question mark, however.

If anything, it makes the 2008 trades a lot more impressive, and gives the team an instant boost in talent and fan interest.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spotlight Is Back on Orioles

With the Ravens having been eliminated from the playoffs over the weekend, the attention of most fans will no doubt turn back to the Orioles as the offseason winds down and we start hearing the words "pitchers and catchers report" over the next few weeks.

It's a shame there isn't much to pay attention to. The Orioles offseason moves have been limited thus far, and it's unknown whether the O's will add any more players before spring training begins.

We all know that 2010 hangs on the group of talented young players already on the roster, and that alone is reason enough to be excited. But fans are demanding more be done to improve this team, which lost 98 games a year ago.

And they are right.

Garrett Atkins lost his job as the Rockies 3B last year, hitting .226 and 9 home runs after 3 seasons in which he'd hit more than 20 HR and batted above .286.

Kevin Millwood finished 2009 with a very respectable ERA of 3.67, but in the 2 seasons prior to '09, his ERA was over 5.

And Michael Gonzalez, who will be the closer, looks to be no better than George Sherrill, who was traded last season.

And now that the Ravens' season is over, now is the time for Andy MacPhail to get O's fans excited. Sure, there isn't one move that is going to send fans racing to the ticket counter, but there are any number of signings and trades that could make fans anticipate the season more than they are now.

Last time I checked, the Orioles could still use another starting pitcher, a first baseman, and a left-handed reliever.

Going internally to fill those positions is fine, especially for a rebuilding team like the Orioles, just don't be surprised when the second home game of the season draws 12,000 fans.

And that is why the Orioles are in a tricky position. There is real reason for hope and improvement in 2010. But most fans will not buy that until it shows up in the standings. In the meantime, the only thing that will appease fans is flashy offseason movement.

Is that the right thing for the Orioles to do? Listen to fans and make the moves they want to be made? It's a little too late for that. Matt Holliday and John Lackey have been off the boards for a while.

So maybe it is best for the O's to stick with what they have.

But it's boring, and even lazy.

After 12 years of losing seasons, would you expect O's fans to say anything else?

Ironically, Orioles Fan Fest is this Saturday. When is the last time you even thought about going?

My point exactly.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Make it 8: Ravens lose to Colts....Again

Hang your head in shame: Flacco threw 2 INT's in the 20-3 loss to the Colts.

The Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs last night, losing 20-3 to the Colts in a game they were never really even in. The Ravens hung with the Colts for all of one quarter before the Colts broke the game wide open in the second quarter. And when the Ravens were down 17-3 going into halftime, the game could have been called and Ravens fans would have probably been OK with that.

Why? Because when the Ravens play the Colts they become the same team they've been during the last 8 times they've played Indianapolis: A very poor one.

The Ravens haven't scored a touchdown versus the Colts since Troy Smith rushed for a TD against them in garbage time during a 2007 Indy rout of the Ravens.

And last night, whenever the Ravens put themselves in place to close the gap, they immediately coughed up the ball, killing any chance of making last night's game...a game.

Take for instance Ed Reed's interception of Peyton Manning in the 3rd quarter. Reed made a perfect read of Manning and jumped in front of Pierre Garcon to pick off the pass. He returned it 38 yards before Garcon, making a great play as a defender, punched the ball out of Reed's hands and into the arms of Dallas Clark. It was as if the whole thing was planned from the start.

Instead of the Ravens taking over on offense at around the Colts 15 yard line, the Colts were basically pushed back 38 yards to start the drive. The drive resulted in a Matt Stover field goal to put the game well out of reach, 20-3.

Another Reed interception on the next Colts drive was wiped out because of pass interference. And a long Ray Rice run, which would have set up a chance for a late touchdown, ended in a fumble after Rice kept trying to break tackles.

It was the old one step forward, five steps back routine. And the Ravens hit each note.

On offense, the Ravens couldn't get anything started against the Colts, as usual. Their first drive was the Ravens longest drive of the season at 7+ minutes but the Ravens faltered in the red zone and had to settle for a Billy Cundiff field goal. Little did we know it would be the Ravens lone score of the game. On the drive Joe Flacco made some great passes and the receivers were doing a great job getting open. Derrick Mason caught a pass without a Colts defender on the TV screen. You don't see that happen very often.

But aside from that drive, the Ravens were stuffed at the line of scrimmage whenever Rice tried to run. He ended up with a good average of 5.2 yards per carry, but only rushed 13 times ending up with 67 yards. Most of his yardage came late in the game when the Colts backed off the line and allowed the Ravens to run the ball. And most of those yards came on the aforementioned run which resulted in a fumble.

As for Flacco, it's probably good the season is over. He was dealing with injuries for most of the season and had trouble reading defenses and picking up blitzes. He looked a little better last night, with more pep in his step than usual, but he threw 2 bad interceptions. For his career in the playoffs, Flacco has thrown 1 TD and 6 INT despite his 3-2 record. Flacco should go home, relax, get healthy and watch a lot of game film from this season and figure out why he looked worse in the pocket in his second season than he did as a rookie.

On defense the Ravens played about as well as you can against Manning and the Colts. If any other playoff team could hold the Colts to 20 points and 275 total yards, they'd probably win the game. The Ravens held the Colts to a field goal to start the game, a small victory after the Colts had marched down the field at will. They eventually pressured Manning in the second half, but the game was over by then. The Ravens defense also played well on third down and forced the Colts to punt 6 times.

You just have to tip your cap to the Colts, as much as it pains me to do it. They've had the Ravens solved for years on offense and defense. And until the Ravens can get an offense that can hang with the Colts, the Ravens will keeping losing to them.

All in all, 2009 will go down as a disappointing season. Coming off an AFC Championship appearance, the Ravens were supposed to be improved with Flacco in his second year, but at 9-7, the Ravens were a team that always found a way to erase any momentum they'd gained with a penalty, a missed field goal, a turnover, or some other kind of mistake. Sure, last week's rout of New England was fun, but you can't help but wonder what could have been if the Ravens had played better in the regular season. Maybe they would have gotten a home playoff game. Maybe they wouldn't have had to face the Colts.

We'll never know.

One small positive going forward, the Ravens don't face the Colts in 2010.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

O's still home for the holidays?

It's been nearly a month since the Orioles made a move of any importance. On December 17th, the Orioles signed 3B Garrett Atkins and RP Michael Gonzalez and then appeared to go home for the holidays.

Apparently, the Orioles are still home feasting on the leftovers because there are no rumblings of any kind connected to the team and the moves they could make. They don't appear to be chasing down any free agents or discussing any trades.

To be fair, Andy MacPhail works in secrecy. He likes to surprise fans by making a flurry of moves that seem to come out of nowhere.

But could the Orioles finished for the offseason?

God I hope not.

The Orioles could still upgrade the 1B position and add another starting pitcher to take pressure off Chris Tillman, who in a perfect world, would start the season in Norfolk. But the possibility of Garrett Atkins or Michael Aubrey starting the season at 1B is real (yuck). And I'd be surprised if MacPhail signed a starting pitcher who would enter the season in the rotation.

Erik Bedard has been discussed recently, but his arm injury is likely to keep him out until the All Star Break. So signing Bedard would be a good contingency plan if say Tillman flops, but it offers no immediate help to a rotation that is still filled with as much potential as it is filled with question marks.

I do believe the 2010 will be an improvement over the dismal 2009 season as the younger players improve. But I also think that MacPhail owes it to the players and the fans to add some more pieces to the current team to insure that said improvement does actually happen.

Otherwise, he's basically betting the farm, on the farm.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Those F--king Colts

The Ravens will look to end a 7-game skid to the Indianapolis Colts this Saturday night.

There's no getting around it. In the Ravens last 7 games against the Colts (including playoffs), they're 0-7 and in many of those games they've been absolutely dominated from start to finish.

You have to go all the way back to December 2, 2001 for the last time the Ravens beat the Colts. Ah, those were the days, when you could actually beat the Colts in a shootout, which is what the Ravens did that day, 39-27.

They racked up 368 yards of total offense, and held the Colts to a low-for-them 314 yards on offense. That said, the Colts were 6-10 that year, and it was the season where head coach Jim Mora went on his "Playoffs?" tirade that has become a sports talk and beer commercial staple, so it's not like the Ravens beat a powerhouse Colts team that year. But a win is a win, especially against the hated Colts.

But since then, the Colts have owned the Ravens like a house cat that gets in your way. You just give them your foot on their rear and they might bat at you, but in the end, you've had your way with it.

So in hopes to reverse the curse of the Colts, I'll take you through 8 years and 7 consecutive losses against the Indianapolis F--king Colts.

2002, 22-20. Ah, 2002. It's become the forgotten Ravens season. A year removed from their Super Bowl, the Ravens went through a quick rebuild that netted them an unimpressive 7-9 record, but beneath the surface, the Ravens were the NFL's youngest team. It was perhaps Billick's best head season as a head coach outside of the magical 2000 season and a year later, they made the playoffs. Coming into the game against the Colts, the Ravens were 2-2, having looked unimpressive in their first 2 games against the Panthers and Buccaneers before shocking the Broncos in a Monday night beatdown and then winning a close game against the Browns. I was on my honeymoon during this game, and missed it, but I kept checking the hotel bar's lone TV for updates. So I am not exactly an expert on this one. However, according to the boxscore, the Ravens hung with the Colts for the entire game, and even took a 20-19 lead in the 4th quarter on Jamal Lewis' second touchdown of the day. The Colts answered with a field goal to retake the lead 22-20. And on the last drive, QB Chris Redman lead the offense down the field for a Matt Stover FG attempt to win the game. He missed. How ironic.

2004, 20-10. 2004 was the year of Kyle Boller, as it was the one season he started every game at QB and the Ravens missed the playoffs, finishing 9-7. In this game, Boller failed to deal with a relentless pass rush by Dwight Freeney who treated Jon Ogden like a revolving door. Freeney sacked Boller twice and forced him to throw 2 interceptions. Jamal Lewis rushed for 130 yards, but it was all for naught.

2005, 24-7. It was the first game of the season and on ESPN to boot. After entering halftime tied at zero, Kyle Boller was injured in the 3rd quarter which resulted in perhaps the most controversial event in Baltimore sports fan history. Was Boller's injury cheered by the sellout crowd? Or were fans cheering Anthony Wright's entrance into the game? Wright, if you recall, had lead the Ravens to the playoffs in 2003 after Boller, a rookie, was injured. Anyway, the defense was unable to hold the Colts any longer, allowing them to score 24 unanswered points before the Ravens scored on a Wright to Daniel Wilcox garbage touchdown in the 4th quarter. The 2005 season didn't get any better, as the Ravens limped to a 6-10 finish.

2006, 15-6. This is the one that hurt, folks. After cruising to a 13-3 regular season record, the Ravens obtained a first round bye, and hosted the Colts, who'd beaten the Chiefs in the first round. It was as if the stars had aligned. The Colts, in Baltimore for the playoffs. Eliminate the Colts and it would go a long way to erase any leftover wounds from 1984, when the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis. The Ravens back in the Super Bowl was on everyone's minds. But Steve McNair played like complete crap, throwing 2 interceptions (including one in the endzone) and the Ravens only mustered 6 points, despite holding the Colts out of the endzone too. This loss elevated my hatred of the Colts to seeing-red levels, and to make matters worse, the Chargers, who had the #1 seed, lost to the Patriots, giving the Colts the AFC Championship Game at home. They fell behind the Patriots in the first half, but an epic comeback in the second half sent the Colts to the Super Bowl, where they beat the hapless Bears. Un-freaking-believable. The loss still hurts like Robbie Alomar striking out to end the 1997 ALCS still hurts.

2007, 44-20. A week before this game, the Ravens had almost beaten the undefeated Patriots on Monday Night Football. The Patriots would finish 16-0 in the regular season that year. Any hopes of doing the same against the Colts were erased quickly as they hopped out to a 30-0 lead before halftime. Kyle Boller was at his best, throwing 3 interceptions before Troy Smith relieved him late in the game. It was thankfully Boller's last game as a Raven, so it wasn't a complete waste.

2008, 31-3. Le'Ron McClain fumbled on the first Ravens drive and it was all she wrote. Flacco did his part in the loss, throwing 3 interceptions. It was somewhat of a landmark game, however, as the Ravens went on to finish the season 9-2 and shook Flacco from his rookie-season doldrums. Flacco played excellent down the stretch throwing 13 TD's and 5 INT after starting the season with 1 TD and 7 INT.

2009, 17-15. Again, I was out of the country, but managed to catch this game at an American-owned bar in Prague. I wish I would've missed it. The Ravens held the Colts to under 20 points, which should earn them a win just for that feat alone, but a missed Billy Cundiff field goal, a failed 1st-and-goal stand, and a late Flacco interception stopped the Ravens from being able to get the monkey, or Colt, off their backs.

So what will it be this Saturday? Number 8? Or will we finally be able to beat the Colts? The Ravens had previously never beaten the Patriots before finally winning against them last Sunday, so will the Ravens be able to continue exorcising demons this post season?

We can only hope.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ravens Dominate Patriots

Group hug! The Ravens defense baffled the New England Patriots all day in their 33-14 victory.

The Ravens stunned the NFL yesterday with a 33-14 beat down of the New England Patriots, something that not many people saw coming.

For years, the media fawned over Tom Brady -- from his chiseled good looks down to his clutch performance in the playoffs and multiple Super Bowl victories. That New England nut-hugging also included Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a man who loves one-word answers in press conferences as much as he loves hooded sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off.

So it was nice to put a final nail in the coffin of the Patriots dynasty yesterday. And the Ravens did it with a sledgehammer.

From the beginning of the game, the beat down was on. On the first play from scrimmage, Ray Rice took off on a 77-yard TD run. By the end of the first quarter, the Ravens were up 24-0. They'd forced Adonis himself (Brady) into 3 turnovers in the quarter and on offense, the Ravens dared the Patriots to stop their running attack.

The Patriots couldn't.

Once the first quarter ended, the game was essentially over. But that didn't mean the Ravens weren't going to let the Patriots get back into the game for a little while.

During a Patriots punt, Tom Zbikowski made contact with the ball, and the Patriots tried to recover it, which means they would have gotten the ball deep in Ravens territory. However, the Patriots player who recovered the ball didn't maintain control of it as he fell out of bounds. The ruling on the field was a fumble recovery for the Patriots, but replays clearly showed that the Patriots player didn't maintain control.

Did the Ravens challenge the play? Nope. And the Patriots scored on a Tom Brady pass to Justin Edleman a few plays later.

What happened exactly? According to John Harbaugh, the booth didn't see the replay. No clear explanation was given. Were they napping? Did the replay monitor in the Ravens' booth just mysteriously not work? Wouldn't be a surprise in Foxboro...

Anyway, the Ravens and Patriots exchanged punts for the rest of the first half, and a Joe Flacco interception was rendered moot when the Ravens defense was able to stop the Patriots on offense. Brady's 3rd interception (Dawan Landry) resulted in another Billy Cundiff field goal, making the score 27-7.

On the following Patriots drive, Brady drove the offense down the field for their best drive of the game, resulting in yet another Brady to Edelman touchdown. And at 27-14, the prologue for an epic Patriots comeback was being written.

But the Ravens squashed any hopes for that on their next drive, which was a masterful 6:12 minute drive that ended with a Willis McGahee touchdown. The Ravens failed to convert on the 2-point conversion (even though replays showed the ball breaking the plane of the endzone).

On the Patriots final drive of importance, the Patriots drove to the Ravens' 27-yard line, where Stephen Gostkowski missed a 44-yard field goal, essentially ending the game for good. The Ravens then drained more than 5 minutes from the game clock, giving the ball back to the Patriots with 2 minutes left.

And at that point, it was a formality. The game was officially over.

The Ravens simply punished the New England defense all day to the tune of 234 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Joe Flacco completed just 4 of his 10 pass attempts for 34 yards and an interception. His QB rating on the day was 10. However, Flacco completed 2 key passes on the 3rd quarter drive that made the score 33-14, so it wasn't a total waste of a performance. But going forward in the post-season, Flacco is going to have to factor into the Ravens offense some more, injured or not.

But, when the Ravens are having success on the ground, and the defense is forcing turnover and turnover, there is no reason to pass. With Flacco banged up, it was the safe play.

Both McGahee and Rice had excellent games. Rice finished with 159 yards and 2 touchdowns. McGahee had 62 and a score, while Le'Ron McClain pounded his way into the endzone for a touchdown as well.

The defense looked ferocious. Ray Lewis was back to his 2000-self. He was everywhere at once, smashing Patriots players and making tackles. Terrell Suggs even got his name called, forcing a Brady fumble in the first quarter. And for the second week in a row, the secondary stepped up in a big way, as Dominque Foxworth, Chris Carr, Frank Walker, Dawan Landry and Ed Reed each made great plays.

So who do the Ravens face next week? Who do you think.

The Colts.

Would you have it any other way?

Stay tuned for my breakdown of this Saturday night's game.

Until then, enjoy this win, Ravens fans.

Friday, January 8, 2010

2009 Ravens Playoff Preview

Ray Rice should see a lot of action against the Patriots 13th ranked rushing defense.

I wrote in my last entry that the Ravens were playing with house money. I still believe they are. Lose on Sunday to the Patriots and no one is going to throw a beer bottle or cuss at their television for much longer that a couple minutes after the game ends. At 9-7, the Ravens were lucky to make the playoffs since it came down to who had the better conference record between the Ravens, Steelers and Texans.

However, in at least 5 of the Ravens 7 losses, there was usually a penalty, a dropped pass or a missed field goal that could be blamed for the loss. And if the Ravens are able to reel in their self-destructive mistakes, they can go as far as any team in the playoffs can.

Aside from the Jets, the Ravens played every AFC team in the playoffs. They beat the Chargers (thanks to Ray Lewis sniffing out a Darren Sproles run on 4th and 1 on the Ravens 5 yard-line), lost two close games to the Bengals twice (thanks to an defensive implosion at home in the 4th quarter), lost to the Patriots (thanks to penalties and a Mark Clayton dropped pass) and lost to the Colts (thanks to a 4th quarter Joe Flacco interception).

No loss was by more than 7 points.

But the Ravens play the Patriots this Sunday and all focus should be on them. And without Wes Welker, the Patriots will be less dynamic on offense, and with Tom Brady apparently nursing some broken ribs and a broken finger, the Ravens should be able to contain the 3rd ranked New England offense. That isn't to say they won't have their hands full all afternoon, but these aren't the 2007 Patriots by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, the Patriots are a step down from the 2008 Patriots, you know, the team that lost Brady in week 1, played Matt Cassell at QB and missed the playoffs despite going 11-5.

But the Ravens are a step down from their 11-5 2008 selves as well. Their 9-7 record proves it. Hopefully, the Ravens will get back to what worked for them in 2008 and that is running the ball. Willis McGahee proved that he is ready to handle more carries last week, and Ray Rice is headed toward the Pro Bowl. That doesn't even factor Le'Ron McCain into the mix, who was the Ravens closer last year, routinely wearing down opposing defenses in the 4th quarter.

Thankfully, Cam Cameron thinks the same, saying that the Ravens "will be conservative on offense in the playoffs". Translation: We are running!

And here is the reason: Joe Flacco is apparently banged up, and it's not the Bill Belichick kind of "banged up". Apparently, Flacco is really hurting. He's still nursing a sore ankle, suffered back in week 6 against the Vikings, and he was seen limping on the practice field this week while holding his hip.

On defense, the Ravens got things in order after the bye in week 7, and finished the regular season 3rd overall in defense, but that doesn't mean they suddenly figured out how to get after the QB. They still lack a definitive pass rush and their secondary, while much improved as of late, still has weak spots in Chris Carr and Frank Walker. And if there is a team that can hone in on a team's weakness, it's the Patriots.

And that will make for a close game. I see it looking a lot like the week 4 game against the Patriots, except colder, and the Ravens learning their lesson from that game, and laying off the penalties. I wish.

Here is how the two teams stack up...

On Offense:


Points - 9th
Yards - 13th
Pass - 18th
Rush - 5th


Points - 6th
Yards - 3rd
Pass - 3rd
Rush - 12th

On Defense:


Points - 3rd
Yards - 3rd
Pass - 8th
Rush - 5th


Points - 5th
Yards - 11th
Pass - 12th
Rush - 13th

My prediction:

Ravens 27
Patriots 24

I'll see you next week either way.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ravens beat Raiders, make playoffs!

McGahee rushed for 167 yards and 3 scores as the Ravens beat the Raiders to advance to the postseason.

It wasn't pretty, but the Ravens advanced to the playoffs for the second season in a row with a 21-13 win over the Oakland Raiders yesterday.

After the game, Ray Lewis could be heard saying "all we had to do was make the dance". Ray is correct in that thinking. Any playoff team can get hot and go deep into the playoffs -- see the 2008 Cardinals who made the playoffs with a 9-7 record, were playing poorly as the season ended and then suddenly rattled off 3 wins and then lost a close game against the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

However, it would have been nice if the Ravens had been able to win a few of their close losses, and gotten themselves a better seed in the playoffs. Maybe even gotten a home game. But that's all in the past. The fact of the matter is the Ravens did what they needed to do, and they are in the playoffs again -- the first time the team has gone to the postseason 2 seasons in a row since 2000 and 2001.

The Ravens will play the New England Patriots at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and you probably still remember the heartbreaking 27-21 loss the Ravens suffered to the Pats in October. It was the Ravens first loss of the season and a game in which could have been won if it had not been for a series of penalties that helped the Pats extend drives and score points. The game is also infamous for the Mark Clayton drop on 4th down and 3 yards with a few minutes remaining in the game. Had he caught the pass, the Ravens would have had 1st and goal inside the Patriots ten yard line.

That said, the Patriots team that the Ravens will face on Sunday is much different than the one they faced back in October. The Patriots stalwart #2 WR, Wes Welker, will miss the game with a torn ACL and MCL, the same injury that Tom Brady suffered at the beginning of 2008. Also, Brady is nursing three broken ribs and a broken finger on his throwing hand. Despite that, however, Brady will play on Sunday, but at what level?

Beating the Patriots in New England in the playoffs is an extremely hard thing to do. It hasn't happened since the Houston Oilers did it back in 1978...a year before I was born. But this is a banged up Patriots team that is like a wounded animal right now. They must be finished off.

As for the game yesterday, it's not exactly a game to raise your expectations for the Ravens in the playoffs. The Raiders made this a game from the kickoff, blitzing and pressuring Joe Flacco all day. The Raiders defense held Flacco to just 90 passing yards and sacked him 4 times. Thankfully, Flacco did not turn the ball over.

Luckily, the Ravens utilized the running game to great success yesterday, rushing for a total of 240 rushing yards, lead by Willis McGahee. McGahee totaled 167 rush yards with 3 TD's and ripped off a TD run of 77 yards. Ray Rice also gained 70 yards.

Yesterday proved that the Ravens can still be effective running the ball and the Ravens should keep that going against New England next Sunday. Despite Brady being banged up and missing Welker, the objective of the game should be to keep the Patriots offense off the field as much as possible.

So there you have it. The Ravens finished the season 9-7 and made the playoffs for the second year in a row. Although this season was very frustrating at times, they did what they needed to do to make it to the postseason where anything can happen. I don't expect the Ravens to win the Super Bowl, but that doesn't mean I don't think they can. I do believe they can get by the Patriots.

I am just thankful for more Ravens football. The way I see it, they are playing with house money right now.