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.

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2010 NFL Playoffs Fan Battle: Ravens vs. Colts Preview

To get you ready for the Ravens-Colts’ Divisional Round battle in Indy this Saturday, here’s a preview of the game via a mock dialogue between two fans.

Colts Fan: If you think the Colts are going to be as disinterested in playing the Ravens as the Patriots were last week, then you’re delusional.

Ravens Fan: Oh, I see – the Patriots lost, but the Ravens didn’t win. Do I have that right? Face it, the better team won last weekend in Foxboro. We came prepared to play and they couldn’t match our intensity. And if I were you, I’d be highly concerned that the Colts haven’t played in three weeks.

Colt Fan: No, the starters haven’t played in three weeks – there’s a difference. But Peyton Manning, ahem, the MVP this year, will be ready to go as always. And if anyone should be concerned, it should be Baltimore’s pass defense.

Raven Fan: Have you even been watching lately? The Ravens are tied for eighth in passing yards allowed per game with 207.3. Our total defense ranks third in the NFL and we’re allowing just 16.3 points per game. Plus, we almost beat you in the regular season.

Colt Fan: There’s no prize for “almost,” my friend. Plus, that game was in Baltimore; now you have to travel to Indy this time. Had Jim Caldwell not pulled the starters in the second half against the Jets, we would have easily gone undefeated at home this season.

Raven Fan: Now who’s talking about whoulda, coulda, shouldas? Speaking of Caldwell pulling the starters, that same philosophy has hurt the Colts in the past. Bill Polian insists that momentum means nothing for teams heading into the playoffs but he must be trying to block out all the times that his team has choked after resting starters before.

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NFL Week 9 MVP Power Rankings

With Drew Brees and Peyton Manning leading their teams to victory again, barely, there is no good reason to drop them in the rankings here. Meanwhile, Brett Favre and Jared Allen did not play, so we held spots for them, but moved Cedric Benson up based on a second 100-yard rushing performance against the Ravens.

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints—Halfway through the season, Brees and his Saints are 8-0 and have a three game lead in their division. Suffice to say, this team appears to be headed toward a first round bye, and their QB is one of the biggest reasons.

2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts—After a subpar start to 2008 after knee surgery, Manning wanted to get off to a fast start this season, and he has done just that. But what might be more impressive is that after Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, he’s throwing to guys named Garcon and Collie.

3. Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals—He rushed for 120 yards against the Ravens in Week 5, and 117 yards against them in Week 9. Read that back. That’s two 100 yard games against the Baltimore Ravens, and that’s just sick.

4. Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings—The old man still has it, much to the dismay of everyone in Northern Wisconsin. You think Ted Thompson is sleeping well lately?

5. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings—He’s had two weeks to rest those wheels that never seem to stop moving. Next on Allen’s hit list is that poor Stafford kid in Detroit.

Honorable Mention–Elvis Dumervil, Broncos; Andre Johnson, Texans, Tom Brady, Patriots; Adrian Peterson, Vikings; Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars, Chris Johnson, Titans; Reggie Wayne, Colts; Michael Turner, Falcons; Reggie Wayne, Colts; Steve Smith, Giants

Dolphins completely blow final series in loss to Colts

I’ll get to the greatness of Peyton Manning in a second, but first I’d like to know what the hell the Dolphins were thinking on the final series of their 27-23 loss to the Colts on Monday night.

For three and a half quarters, Miami’s game plan was executed to perfection. They ran the ball well, grinded out the clock and kept Manning and the Colts’ potent offense on the sidelines.

But once Manning led Indy on one of his vintage drives late in the fourth quarter to put the Colts up 27-23, Tony Sparano and his coaching staff didn’t make any adjustments. The Dolphins played their final offensive series like it was their first drive of the game. They ran the ball, they wasted time by not getting to the line of scrimmage quickly and on least two occasions, they called play action passes.

Now why, in the name of all that is holy, would you run play action in an obvious passing situation? Did offensive coordinator Dan Henning think that he would get the Colts’ safeties to bite on the run with 36 seconds left and Miami needing a touchdown to win? It’s wasted time for Pennington to mimic a handoff to his running back when he could have used it to find open receivers. He should have been in the shotgun or at the very least in a five or seven step drop so he could survey the entire field. Play action doesn’t do Pennington any favors in that situation.

And I’m sorry, but if Ted Ginn Jr. wants to be a No. 1 receiver in this league, then he’s got to come down with that pass in the end zone on 3rd and 10. It wasn’t an easy catch by any means, but he out jumped the defender and Pennington put the ball in only a place where Ginn could get it. I know he had a good night (11 catches, 108 yards), but Ginn has to come down with that ball and give his team a chance to win.

I don’t have the numbers, but I’ve never seen a team win in the NFL by only running 35 total plays like the Colts did tonight. For the Dolphins to execute their game plan for 58 minutes and lose in such a way at the end should piss Sparano off. And if it doesn’t, then maybe Bill Parcells made the wrong choice for head coach a year ago.

As for Manning – he’s a freaking machine. The way he read what Miami was trying to do on that 48-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon was pure Peyton. I love watching Tom Brady play in a tight ball game, but I don’t think any quarterback is smarter than who the Colts employ under center every week.

NFL Playoff Preview: Colts need to get healthy in a hurry

The Indianapolis Colts have a lot going for them these days. They’ve won nine straight, will play the San Diego Chargers Saturday in the opening round of the NFL playoffs, and their starting quarterback just won his third career MVP award.

About the only thing working against the Colts, is the amount of injuries they’ve amassed over the past couple weeks, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

The most notably injury is to strong safety Bob Sanders, whose knee continues to bother him. Tony Dungy says he expects Sanders to play Sunday, although it’s unclear at this point whether or not he’ll be slowed by the injury.

One player who won’t suit up is linebacker Gary Brackett, who missed the entire week of practice due to a fibula injury, and has missed the past four games. Defensive tackle Eric Foster, wideout Pierre Garcon, guards Jamey Richard and Mike Pollack, and defensive back Keiwan Ratliff are all listed as questionable.

Philip Rivers has been outstanding all season despite his top receiving weapon Antonio Gates missing time due to injury, as well as LaDainian Tomlinson having a rare down year. Point being, for as well as Manning has played over the second half of the season, the Chargers are more than equipped offensively to get into a shootout with the Colts.

Having a healthy Sanders in the defensive backfield is the key for Indy. He’s a game changer and he can erase mistakes in the blink of an eye. But if he can’t play, or is slowed by his knee injury, it’s no secret opponents have been able to run the ball effectively against the Colts’ defense. And if the Chargers can get LT and Darren Sproles rolling like they did against the Broncos in their division-clinching win in Week 17, there’s no reason to think that San Diego can’t pull away in the second half and force Manning and the Colts’ offense to be one-dimensional.

Before their 23-20 win over the Chargers on November 23 of this year, the Colts had lost their previous three games against San Diego, including a 28-24 playoff loss in Indianapolis last season. Every team struggles with certain opponents, and the Chargers could be the Colts’ thorn.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Colts’ injuries will affect their play on Saturday. One named not previously mentioned was Indy linebacker Freddy Keiaho, who is expected to play. If they can get a healthy Sanders in the mix, the Colts will be more than ready to take the Chargers best shot. But if Sanders and company can’t go, there’s a chance not even a three-time MVP will save them.

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