Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ravens edge Jets for first win

Ray Lewis was pumped up last night, kicking ass and chewing bubblegum. And he was all out of bubblegum.

Between the Jets and the Ravens, the hype alone was enough to power the electricity in the new Meadowlands Stadium last Monday night: many football experts had picked both teams to advance to the Super Bowl this season.

And there was no shortage of bad blood between the teams. The Jets, lead by loudmouth head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, have several former Ravens on their defense including Bart Scott and Jim Leonard. And Ray Lewis, never one to stay silent, returned the Jets' banter and backed it up with his performance.

But despite all the hype, once the tempers had flared, the whistles blew, and the game was played, it was the Ravens who were the better team.

The score of 10-9 won't tell you much. It was a close, defensive struggle for that reason alone. But digging deeper, the Ravens domination of the Jets becomes more apparent.

The Ravens had 282 yards of offense. The Jets 176.

The Ravens had 20 first downs, the Jets 6.

6 of the Jets 9 points came from Ravens turnovers.

Each QB was sacked 2 times.

Neither team did much on offense, but the Ravens did a little more, and that was the difference. If the Jets are "for real" anywhere on their team, it's on the defensive side of the ball where they were ferocious last night. On the Ravens first offensive play, two Jets defenders sandwiched Joe Flacco in a brutal sack and fumble that had Ravens fans everywhere cringing. Flacco was OK, but it was a bad omen to start the 2010 season that way.

After the sack and fumble, the Jets recovered the ball on the Ravens 11 yard line but were held to a field goal. Jets up, 0-3.

On the next Ravens drive, they moved the ball down field well, with Flacco connecting with new-Raven Anquan Boldin for 14 yards, Todd Heap for 16 yards, and Ray Rice for 16 yards. On the Jets 20-yard line, Willis McGahee fumbled the ball, ending a promising drive that had taken 9 minutes and 10 seconds off the clock.

The Jets went three and out on the next drive and the two teams were stuck in a battle for field position for most of the second quarter. The Jets kicked another field goal, to put them up 0-6 with 8 minutes left in the half.

The next Ravens drive was chugging along nicely, thanks in part to a Jets 28-yard pass interference penalty and a Flacco to Derrick Mason 12 yard catch, but the drive ended abruptly when Flacco was intercepted by Jets CB Antonio Cromartie at the goal line and returned the interception 66 yards to the Ravens Ravens 31 yard line. Flacco had been working well with Boldin so far, and forced this pass into coverage.

However, Jets RB Shonne Greene fumbled the ball early in the Jets next drive and the Ravens recovered the ball on their own 24-yard line.

And then the Ravens offense finally showed what it can do, albeit for just one drive.

Flacco connected with Houshmandzadeh for 27 yards. Then found Mason for 9. The Jets were getting angry with themselves at this point, and committed a 22-yard pass interference penalty on Houshmandzadeh that gave the Ravens the ball on the Jets 1-yard line. A McGahee run got nothing. A pass to fullback Le'Ron McClain was overthrown by Flacco. Finally, McGahee found paydirt, putting the Ravens on top for the first time in the game, 7-6.

And the loud Meadowlands stadium fell silent during halftime.

The second half of the game was largely a battle for field position. A nice drive from their own 8-yard line resulted in a Billy Cundiff 25 yard field goal, to put the Ravens up 10-6. On the drive, Flacco connected with Boldin for 38 and 27 yard passes.

The Jets forced the Ravens back against their endzone for a drive that got the Ravens to their own 3-yard line where Sam Koch was forced to punt with his back to the goal post. The Jets got the ball on the Ravens 35-yard line. Their drive only went 5 yards, but it was enough for Nick Folk to kick a 48-yard field goal to make the score 10-9.

The Ravens next drive stalled at the Jets 42-yard line. They pinned the Jets deep on a punt, and the Jets couldn't get past their own 24. With 4:35 left, the Ravens started from their own 26 and Flacco found Heap for a 35 yard gain on the first play of the drive. It was a ballsy move that paid off when most Ravens teams of the past would have elected to run the ball and kill the clock. The drive eventually stalled at the Jets 36-yard line. The Ravens punted, putting the Jets at their own 18 yard line with a minute thirty-seven to drive down field within field goal range.

So it came down to this. Was golden boy Mark Sanchez a good enough QB to drive the Jets down to within field goal range against a stout Ravens defense that had smothered them all game? Was the hype surrounding him premature? Sanchez showed flashes of greatness in his rookie year, especially in the playoffs as the Jets shocked the NFL and advanced to the AFC Championship game before falling to the Colts. But Sanchez had never been that kind of QB who could win the game with his arm. Many think he never will be.

The Jets' drive didn't get off to a good start, when a false start backed them up 5 yards to their own 13. A screen to Ladanian Tomlinson gained 9. Another pass to Braylon Edwards gained 9 more. Then, on 4th and 10 with 0:36 left on the clock, Sanchez passed to tight end Dustin Keller for a 9 yard gain. Keller, either not realizing where he was or unable to overcome his momentum, ran out of bounds one yard short of the first down marker, ending the Jets drive and giving the Ravens the win.

It was refreshing to see the Jets, such a hyped and loudmouthed team beat themselves on that play. Rex Ryan, standing on the sidelines where the play took place, starting clapping, thinking Keller had gotten the first down.

Wrong. More like the loss.

So how did the team perform individually?

Joe Flacco played well against a tough Jets defense that sacked him twice, including that brutal opening sack and fumble. He moved around in the pocket nicely and appeared recovered from his foot injury from last year, and extended many plays by ducking the pressure and stepping up in the pocket. He passed for 248 yards and made on one mistake on the forced pass to Boldin at the goal line that resulted in an interception. The offensive line played well against the Jets front seven, which blitzed early and often. They had their problems, but overall they played nicely.

Anquan Boldin stepped up and showed us why we traded for him this pass offseason, hauling in 7 passes for 110 yards. He was Flacco's favorite target once the Jets unwisely took Darrelle Revis off Boldin. Todd Heap had a good game as well, catching 6 passes for 72 yards. It was nice to see Heap become a part of the offense again.

On the ground, the Ravens had trouble getting the running game going against the tough Jets defense. Ray Rice ran 21 times for 43 yards. McGahee ran 6 times for a total of -2 yards despite the touchdown.

On defense, the Ravens came to play. They sacked Sanchez twice and pressured him when he stood in the pocket too long. Ray Lewis delivered a punishing hit on Dustin Keller over the middle on the final drive of the game, knocking the ball loose at the first down marker. It was a play that embodied the game on defense for the Ravens, and showed that Ray Lewis is still one of the best linebackers in the game at the age of 35.

On special teams the Ravens did what they could with what they were given, and Jalen Parmalee returned 3 kicks for 57 yards, while Tom Zbikowski had one return for 15. The Ravens allowed a few big returns from Brad Smith, including a 32-yard return, but overall, kept the Jets out of the Ravens side of the field for the most part.

It was a close game. A defensive struggle. And it lived up to the hype. But once the Ravens protected the football, they were clearly the better team. They passed a test last night, proving that they should be considered for the super bowl while people may need to reconsider the hype placed on the Jets.

The Ravens travel to Cincinnati this Sunday to take on the 0-1 Bengals.

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