Ravens self-destruct in loss to Colts

If the Ravens wanted to resemble the exact opposite of the team that took the field last week in New England, then they accomplished their mission on Saturday night in Indianapolis.

Baltimore turned the ball over four times in its 20-3 Divisional Round playoff loss to the Colts. If you count Ed Reed’s fumble (what a tremendous play by Pierre Garcon, by the way) following an interception of Peyton Manning, then the Ravens fumbled the ball three times tonight. Ray Rice was a small disaster, while Joe Flacco threw two interceptions and averaged just 5.4 yards per passing attempt.

The Colts deserve a ton of credit for playing fundamentally sound for most of the night. But this game should have been closer then the final score indicates and there’s little doubt that head coach John Harbaugh will lose some sleep tonight thinking about how many opportunities his team coughed up. What happened to the Raven team that marched into Foxboro last week and gave the Patriots the beating of a lifetime? What happened to the team that was so focused, so mentally prepared to play that many people thought they would pull off the upset in Indy?

The Colts once again proved that they match up extremely well with Baltimore. The Ravens beat themselves throughout the night, but it’s not like their offense was moving the ball at will either. They had a couple of nice drives that ended in turnovers, but for the most part the Ravens looked completely out of sync offensively.

Baltimore reminded everyone tonight why it finished 9-7 this season. They were too inconsistent throughout the year to make a deep run in the postseason and maybe we should have seen this outcome coming.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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NFL Divisional Playoff Preview: Saturday

Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints
4:30 pm ET

If last week’s wild card game between Arizona and Green Bay is any indication, the Cardinals are having a difficult time stopping the opposition. And when the opposition is the New Orleans Saints, who boast the top offense in the NFL, you have to believe this game today could get ugly. Pair that with the fact that the Cardinals racked up 51 points last Sunday against the NFL’s second ranked defense, and that New Orleans is 25th overall in team defense (26th against the pass), and there is more fuel to the shootout theory here. Of course, the game plan for each team should be to try and run the ball to control the clock, and if that’s the case, the Saints have a decided edge with their sixth ranked rushing attack. Remember, though, the key word in “game plan” is “plan,” because it’s not likely the Packers or Cards expected to play an arena league game last week. In other words, you can bet Kurt Warner and Drew Brees will wind up airing it out in this one, with those speedy receivers on both sides reducing the game to a track meet. And really, that’s how this game should be. As for the outcome, we’ll give the rested home team a slight edge. THE PICK: SAINTS 52, CARDINALS 49

Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts
8:15 pm ET

Speaking of rested players, there is going to be a mutiny in Indianapolis tonight if the Colts lose this game. Head coach Jim Caldwell and owner Bill Polian have been adamant about their belief that resting Peyton Manning and other regulars during most of the final two games, instead of pursuing a perfect 16-0 record, was the prudent thing to do. And while playing those guys would have been a huge risk (see Welker, Wes), you have to believe it was even riskier to not play them. Meanwhile, the Ravens, who come in with a solid ground game that is ranked fifth in the league, are just the kind of team that can give the Colts and their 24th ranked run defense fits anyway. John Harbaugh wants to run Ray Rice all day long and keep it away from Mr. Manning as much as possible, and he’d love to run the ball 52 times like he did against New England. When the Colts do have the ball, they are ranked dead last in rushing offense but second in passing. So guess what they’re gonna do? But the Ravens were in Tom Brady’s face all game last week, and you can expect Ray Lewis and company to try and do the same to Manning, who also has to worry about ball-hawking safety Ed Reed, voted Safety of the Decade earlier this week by USA Today. The Colts are extremely talented and didn’t win 14 games by accident, but that resting players thing is going to bite Caldwell and Polian in the butt. THE PICK: RAVENS 23, COLTS 20

NFL Playoff Preview: Sunday games

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
1:00 pm ET

Last season, the Ravens began their playoff journey as a wild card by upsetting the AFC East champion Dolphins, and then upsetting the top seeded Tennessee Titans, before losing to the eventual champion Steelers in the AFC championship game. This season the Ravens went 10-6 and eked into the playoffs in Week 17, but their losses have mostly been close games, including a 27-21 defeat in New England in Week 4. The Ravens’ fifth ranked rushing attack is led by RB Ray Rice, and they will once again use their stout defense (ranked third overall) to try and stop Tom Brady, Randy Moss and company. The Patriots will try to run the ball to control the clock and keep it away from Rice, and also try to use said running game to allow Brady and his receivers to stretch the field. Of course, everyone knows that Wes Welker is out for the season after jamming his knee into the Reliant Stadium turf last Sunday. But did anyone expect rookie WR (and 7th round draft pick) Julian Edelman to catch 10 passes for 103 yards and run up and down the field looking like a Welker clone doing it? Not really. Still, Brady didn’t have guys named Lewis, Suggs and Reed lining up on the other side last week, and those guys in purple jerseys could force him into making a few mistakes. The bottom line, however, is that the Patriots are 8-0 at home this season, and a Bill Belichick coached team is a tough out in the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
4:40 pm ET

Amazingly, this game is the third contest of the weekend that is a rematch of a Week 17 game, and like the Philly/Dallas game, this one is also in the same building, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona. Will it be the same outcome though? Last week, the Packers played all of their starters in annihilating the defending NFC champs 33-7, but Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt did not use star QB Kurt Warner after the first quarter. Still, how much of that crap about tipping your hand before playing an opponent again do you believe? This is the NFL, and the team that executes their game plan usually wins. Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy believed that letting Aaron Rodgers and his receivers stretch the field against the Cardinals’ 23rd ranked pass defense, as well as mixing in a heavy dose of Ryan Grant and Ahman Green to run the ball and keep it away from Warner and Matt Leinart was an effective strategy. Of course, McCarthy’s Packers boast the #1 rushing defense in the NFL and the #5 passing defense, so they feel like they can stop whoever is trying to move the ball against them anyway, especially if star CB Charles Woodson suits up after aggravating a shoulder injury last week. Remember, though, that the Cardinals are recently playoff tested, and came within a brilliant Santonio Holmes touchdown catch from winning it all less than a year ago.

NFL Week 7 MVP Power Rankings

There was some shifting in the ranks after Week 6 games, and now we have three Vikings in the Top 5. Here is how we’re seeing things now, subject to change again after this weekend!

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts—We can’t let Peyton slide down just because he didn’t play last week. And he’s likely to stay here with the Rams looming on Sunday.

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints—After dissecting the Giants’ stingy pass defense on Sunday, it’s safe to say Brees and his Saints are not only for real, but they are legitimately the top dog in the NFC and maybe in all of football.

3. Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings—He’s done nothing to let us think he’s not worthy of MVP consideration. 278 yards and 3 more TDs against Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company is Favre’s latest line.

4. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings—He hadn’t rushed for 100 yards since the opener against Cleveland, but Peterson managed to bust through for 166 all-purpose yards against the Ravens and he took over the NFL’s rushing lead from Cedric Benson, who laid an egg against Houston.

5. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings—Check out this year-to-date stat line—27 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, one fumble return for a TD and one safety. The dude is a one-man wrecking crew on an already stout defense, and this makes three Vikings contending for MVP.

Honorable Mention–Cedric Benson, Bengals; Elvis Dumervil, Broncos; Andre Johnson, Texans, Steve Smith, Giants, Tom Brady, Patriots

Ravens rip officials after loss to Patriots

Following their 27-21 loss to the Patriots in Foxboro on Sunday, several Ravens players ripped the officiating, particularly two roughing the passer calls on Tom Brady.

“Without totally going off the wall here, it is embarrassing to the game,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “[Tom] Brady is good enough to make his own plays, let him make the play. When you have two great teams that are going at it, let them go at it. Both of their touchdown drives had personal fouls that kept drives alive. Did that win or lose the game? No, but it got them 14 points.”

Asked his biggest gripe, Reed said: “It just felt like everything was kind of all over again. You hate to come into a game where you have to play against a team and the officials. Like I said, nothing to take away from their team, nothing to take away from the officials. We have to help each other out in a way to where it’s near as perfect as we can be. Like I said, it’s a game of inches. We have too much going on with this game, from where it’s come to in 2009, 2010, to say we can’t be a little bit more precise with things.”

Reed was specifically referring to Willis McGahee’s fourth-and-1 run in the fourth quarter in which he was stopped for no gain, and the Patriots’ fake field goal in the fourth quarter.

“When Willis had his fourth-down try, it probably wouldn’t have been a first [down], but it probably should have been a little closer,” he said. “The [Patriots’] spots, the guy stepped out of bounds. Even though we got the penalty on that fourth down when they faked the field goal, the guy stepped out and he reached the ball. Certain things like that. Like I said, you have to play the game.”

I hate that this needs to be said because it shouldn’t matter, but for the record I’m not a “Patriots hater.”

That said, New England has gotten some calls in the last two weeks that have been questionable at best. The two roughing the passer penalties yesterday were cheap and there was a play last week in the Patriots’ win over the Falcons where Atlanta receiver Michael Jenkins and a New England defender were both jostling in coverage and the refs called pass interference on Jenkins, which wiped out a touchdown. Brady was also able to throw a touchdown pass last week to put the game away thanks to one of his offensive lineman bear-hugging John Abraham to avoid a sack.

It appears that the refs are calling penalties based on Brady’s injury last year, which is ridiculous. Just call the game – don’t throw a flag every time a defender is within a mile of Brady’s knees.

All of these calls could have gone either way…they’ve just been going the Patriots way so far.

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