Last Sunday, the Ravens fell to 9-4 following yet another heart-breaking loss, a 31-28 overtime thriller against the Redskins. For the first time in three years, the Ravens have lost consecutive games. The game was a shootout from the beginning, with the two teams exchanging passing touchdowns on their first possessions. After Alfred Morris gave the 'Skins the lead back with a TD, Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense answered with two touchdowns of their own, including Anquan Boldin's 2nd of the game, to take a 21-14 lead into halftime. Two long-distance field goals from Kai Forbath brought the Redskins to within a point with a quarter remaining to play. Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a crucial late-game drive, going 62 yards in a matter of four minutes, and extending the Ravens lead to 28-20 after a Ray Rice rushing TD. But the Redskins refused to fade. Robert Griffin III, who had a least been somewhat neutralized by the Ravens defense thus far, began a drive to attempt to send the game into overtime. But his quest was cut short after a gruesome injury that proved him unable to walk, sending him to the sidelines. Fellow rookie QB Kirk Cousins entered the game to take over where RGIII left off. On third down from the Ravens 11, Cousins rolled out and floated a touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, making it a two-point game. On the two-point conversions, the Ravens defense read pass, and Cousins made them pay. He took it himself up the middle to tie up the game. During the overtime period, the Ravens got the ball first but could not do anything. On the punt, rookie Richard Crawford returned the ball deep into Ravens territory, with punter Sam Koch hunting him down to prevent a touchdown. Just a few plays later, Kai Forbath hit from 34 yards out, giving the Ravens their second consecutive loss on a field goal. With the Bengals and Steelers both losing, a Ravens win would have sealed the division.
Player of the Game: Redskins K Kai Forbath-3/3 (49, 48, 34)
Key Takeaway from the Game: They can't finish. Right now, the Ravens cannot finish the job. They lost a very winnable game to the Steelers in the final minutes, and did it again last week in Raljon. The defense could not come up with the key stop late in the game, as they usually are able to do. The offense was dead in the second half, possibly because they "did enough" in the first half. This lack of a killer instinct does not bode well for a team looking to be playing football late in January and into February.
This Sunday, the Ravens will return home to face Peyton Manning's rejuvenated 10-3 Denver Broncos, who have won eight consecutive games. The playoff implications on both sides for this game are difficult to overlook. With a Broncos win, the Ravens will not be able to clinch a first-round bye. With a Ravens win and and at least one Patriots loss the rest of the way, the Ravens will control their own destiny for a first-round bye and a #2 seed in the conference. The Ravens have never lost at home to the Broncos, but they'll have a whole new kind of test with Manning under center. Peyton has thrown for close to 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a comeback season for the ages. He has lead the Broncos to be the 4th ranked offense in the NFL, scoring the second-most points per game. An injury to former Ravens RB Willis McGahee has given Peyton more opportunities to pass the ball, which he is gladly accepting. Manning is known for his poise and quick decision-making, an ability that has been furthered with an offensive line that ranks second-best in the AFC in sacks. Manning has helped make WR Demaryius Thomas one of the more dangerous receiving threats in the league. Thomas has reeled in over 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on the season. Manning's other targets include Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme, and former Ravens WR Brandon Stokley. On defense, the Broncos rank in the top ten in all four major categories. Their pass rush is led by linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, who have combined for 24 sacks on the season. They will prove quite a test for a struggling, beaten-down Ravens offensive line that has surrendered nine sacks in the past three games. The biggest question mark on the Ravens offensive line is Michael Oher, who can't seem to match himself up with any pass rusher with any kind of speed or agility. In the secondary, the Broncos are headed by the ageless Champ Bailey, who is still as productive a corner as ever. That 4th-ranked Broncos defense will be facing a Ravens offense that is undergoing a change late in the season. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was canned, leaving way for Jim Caldwell to step in, who had been the team's quarterbacks coach prior to his upgrade. You may remember Caldwell from his days in Indianapolis, where he coached none other than Peyton Manning himself. Don't expect a major upheaval in offensive gameplanning, but expect some more no huddle, if anything. Ray Rice's touches per game dropped drastically with Cameron at the helm, so he is taking a deep breath with the change. He could be a major factor in keeping the Ravens in this game. The Ravens are about as beaten and bruised as you'll see them. Will they fall in the face of pressure or rise to the occasion?
Prediction: No one is giving the black and purple any shot to win this game. The team is surely listening. Their response is a whole different story altogether. For a team that has not fared well historically against Peyton Manning, this could be a rough afternoon. Or they could step up and inspire us all. I almost never pick against the Ravens, mainly because I think they can beat just about every team in this league. But given all the factors coming into the game, I think the Broncos have the edge. They'll win this one, 23-17.
Key Matchups for Broncos at Ravens
Ravens CB Corey Graham vs. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas Edge: Thomas
Analysis: Thomas has a size and speed edge over Graham, and is quickly becoming one of the better receivers in the league. This matchup could prove fatal for the Ravens.
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Broncos QB Peyton Manning Edge: Manning
Analysis: Two future residents of Canton will both need to be on their game Sunday in Baltimore. Reed didn't do well reading RGIII last week, which isn't a good omen with Manning coming his way.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Broncos LB Keith Brooking Edge: Rice
Analysis: Ah, the one shining light for the Ravens. If Rice goes off, we've got a ball game. If he can't get it going, we're in some major trouble.
Ravens LT Michael Oher vs. Broncos LB Von Miller Edge: Miller
Analysis: This is a mismatch all the way. Oher has been struggling of late, while Miller is one of the better pass rushers in the league.
LB Jameel McClain-Neck-OUT
TE Ed Dickson-Knee-DBT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle-QST
DE Arthur Jones-Shoulder-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Ankle-QST
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-QST
S Bernard Pollard-Chest-QST
CB Jimmy Smith-Abdomen-QST
LB Terrell Suggs-Biceps-QST
G/T Marshal Yanda-Ankle-QST
G Chris Kuper-Ankle-QST
LB Wesley Woodyard-Ankle-QST
AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 9 4
Steelers 8 6
Bengals 7 6
Browns 5 8
AFC North Outlook: A Ravens win and the division race is over. The only situation in which the Ravens do not make the playoffs is if the Ravens lose out, and the Bengals-Steelers game next week ends in a tie. This week, the Steelers play in Dallas and the Browns host the Redskins. The Bengals beat the Eagles in Philly on Thursday Night Football.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!