Saturday, January 15, 2011


After the Steelers beat the Ravens in Baltimore on Dec 5th, I wrote this in an email to Chris & Patrick:

If you can't beat the Steelers last night, then you just can't beat them. You're at home, you knock out their punter and their RT, break the QB's nose early, get the better of the refereeing decisions, penetrate their O-line constantly, have the lead and the ball with 3 mins left – and lose.
it seems to me that the Steelers have the edge in poise, composure, focus, playmaking in key situations – "clutchness", whatever that is. You don't see the Steelers jumping offside on 3rd-&-1 in a chaotic hurry-up situation. You don't see them fail to wrap up the tackle on a 3rd-&-goal pass well short of the end zone. You don't see Roethlisberger short-arming a pass on 4th-&-2, so it bounces before it gets to the receiver. Etc.
Obviously I think the same thing now, except re-quintupled. You take a 21-7 lead into halftime, on the strength of exactly the kind of horrible plays the Steelers have typically made in games against the Ravens. You have to know a storm is coming in the 3rd quarter, right? Of course you do.

So how on earth does Ray Rice choose this moment to carry the ball like an iPod in the commercials, and fumble after a fumble-free season, his first fumble in 406 touches? How does 6-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk snap the ball into his left thigh rather than the QB's hand, for another turnover? How does 3-time Pro Bowl WR Anquan Boldin, Baltimore's big offseason acquisition to jump-start the passing game, how does he let a go-ahead TD pass bounce off his chest in the end zone, in the 4th quarter? How does TJ Houshmazilly drop a 4th down pass that hits him in the hands? How do you have the opponent deep in a hole, facing 3rd-and-19 in their own end, just before the 2-min warning, where all you need to do is force the punt to wind up with pretty good field position, 2 mins and all 3 timeouts, a great chance to drive for a winning FG – with a Pro Bowl kicker warming up on your sideline! – and give up a 58 yard bomb to their #5 WR, down to your 4 yard line? Their number 5 wide receiver! Dude had 16 catches on the season, on his career, going into the game. The Ravens defenders let him run right past them. Undisturbed, unmolested. He didn't even lay a move on them, he just ran in a straight line downfield.

Dierdorf was was doing the game for CBS, and postgame he used words like “implosion” and “self-destruct”. Those are the right words. Aren't they?

The thing is, champions have an extra gear they can kick into when they absolutely, positively have to. We may not believe, as statisticians, in something as unquantifiable as “clutchness”. But as fans, we see something that looks like it must be “clutchness”. The hard thing that, as a Ravens fan, I have not wanted to admit is, the Steelers have it. When they absolutely, positively had to make something happen in the 4th quarter on Dec 5th, Troy Polumalo did. And when they again had to make something happen in the 3rd quarter today, they did again. And you knew it was coming, and the Ravens had to know it was coming (my wife knew it was coming), and they did it anyway. Playmaking. It takes stone cold brass ones to throw the bomb to your #5 WR on 3rd and 19 with 2 mins to play in a tie playoff game. The Steelers did it, their QB did not hesitate for an instant, he let if fly, and they made the play.

The Steelers have it. And the Ravens don't.

Oh, maybe some of the Ravens do. Ray Lewis has proven his abilities to deliver in big moments over the course of 15 years; if he doesn't have as much left in the tank now, that doesn't make him less than clutch. Ed Reed, same notation. Terrell Suggs was a beast today, a monster, a titan. He was dominating, with 3 sacks and I don't know how many hits and hurries. But as a team, the Ravens don't seem to have it. They are a little jittery in key moments, flinch a little, commit small errors.

Is this is a permanent state? Is it too late for this group of Ravens to ever develop "clutchness", if indeed that thing exists? Might Flacco still be promising? He seems a little robotic at times, and he takes terrible sacks. But he did hit Boldin in the chest in the end zone on a crucial 3rd-and-goal in the 4th quarter. Flacco only made one costly mistake in the game, the INT on the deep pass to Heap. If Boldin holds onto that ball in the end zone, everything is different. Even the season ending incomplete on 4th down, that ball hit the receiver in the hands past the 1st down marker.

These are the things Ravens fans will be wondering about, as we watch the Steelers in the conference championship game and wait for next year.

1 comment:

  1. Does this benefit the Patriots (assuming they get past the Jets)? Based on recent history, it looks as if the Ravens have been more successful against NE than the Steelers have.

    What about if the Jets pull the upset? Who was better suited to beat them, BAL or PIT? I think BAL as well.


About This Blog

Twitter: oblong_spheroid

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP