Sunday, January 14, 2007

And how would you like those words cooked, Sir?

"Once the undefeated Colts burn out under the heat of the national spotlight again, I can't see any reason to pick against Baltimore to get back to the Super Bowl."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"The Ravens are going to win the Super Bowl. I don't see why anything else needs to be said ... I'm telling you right now, book it."

Friday, December 29

Mmmm ... yummy. I always find that words taste a little better when they are italicized rather than boldfaced, which can so easily overwhelm the delicate flavors. So, I was wrong, but it's not like I jumped on the bandwagon late, and I think it's official now. I am a Ravens fan. If anything, this loss solidifies that more than a win.

It turns out that it really didn't matter that the Colts were stolen away from Baltimore all those years ago. That former Colts cheerleaders now in their 60s and 70s were torn about which team to root for. Or that the local supervisor of the Mayflower Moving Company said he had no idea what was going into the trucks on that snowy night that so many Baltimoreans refuse to let go. Or that the mayor of Indianapolis at that time now lives in Maryland. (I'm not going to provide all the links to those stories; they were all in the Baltimore Sun last week).

Nope, none of the history or the karma came into play at M&T Bank Stadium last night. The Colts sure came to play though. In the kind of defensive struggle that was hard to watch - boring if you weren't a fan of either team, excruciating if you were - Indianapolis endured its mistakes and stuck with a gameplan that was conservative and risky at the same time. The Colts' record-setting QB threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, but five times Indianapolis got the ball close enough for Adam Vinatieri to kick it through the uprights, and with each successful boot, the pressure on the Ravens nudged up a few more psis.

So, credit Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning and especially the oft-maligned Indianapolis defense. The only really bad decision the Colts made all day was the third down no-huddle offense that never worked and led to at least one turnover. Aside from that ill-conceived tactic, Indianapolis stuck with the run and the medium-range passing game to move the ball into field goal range. This was not the kind of performance that will get Manning any more commercials, but a few more like it could get him a Super Bowl ring.

Now, what went wrong for the Ravens? Let's see, when Brian Billick fired Jim Fassel midseason and took the reins of the offense, he was able to rejuvenate Jamal Lewis and the running game. On the Ravens' best drive of the first half, they drove 51 yards to the Indianapolis four on six runs and one pass before Steve McNair was picked off by Antoine Bethea. So, what did they do when they got the ball again, this time in the third quarter? Passed the ball six straight plays and then punted. Lewis got all of two carries in the third, against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. He got two more in the fourth, in a game when the lead was never more than nine points.

Okay, what else? Todd Heap fumbled for the first time this year, which gave Indianapolis field position for its second score. Bethea picked off McNair at the goal line, saving at least three points, and somehow he hung onto the ball despite a violent collision with his teammate. When McNair finally completed a deep ball to Mark Clayton late in the third, Clayton fumbled, but thanks to an Indy penalty, the Ravens ended up with a five-yard gain to their own 22 instead of a 48-yard gain into field goal range.

On defense, Ed Reed had two interceptions but would likely have had four if Ray Lewis hadn't just barely tipped two Manning passes. And on one of his picks, Reed lateraled to Chris McAlister but was wrongly ruled out of bounds, and the play was blown dead. Terrell Suggs forced a fumbled at the Baltimore 24 that bounced right to Ben Utecht, the only Colt anywhere near the ball.

And, just for good measure, on special teams, don't forget Vinatieri's 51-yarder that bounced on, and then over, the crossbar. If the above paragraphs sound like excuses, I can't offer any argument. Being a fan is all about emotional and irrational justification of nonsensical behavior.

This game could not have been more hyped locally. In a town whose residents wear their inferiority complices like badges of honor, the media dug up every painful memory, ripped apart more than two decades of scar tissue to whip the populace into a purple frenzy. For the last few days, you saw purple everywhere you looked. Today, at church, at the coffee shop, at the grocery store, not a stitch. Just like that, it's all gone.

But of course, the fans will remember. And when next year's schedule is released, the date with Indianapolis will be circled in purple.

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