Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 17 2012

Coming into last week's Giants/Ravens game, both teams had a chance to solidify themselves as serious playoff contenders. But you wouldn't have known that with the way the Giants played. In an inspired effort, the Ravens took down the dispassionate Giants, 33-14. With this win, the Ravens have clinched their second-consecutive AFC North title and at least one home playoff game. The Ravens put up two impressive scoring drives to open the game, but the Giants answered with one of their own to finish off the first quarter. After a Justin Tucker field goal, the Ravens put the finishing touches on a superb first half when Flacco found Rice up the middle for a 27-yard touchdown on a play-call that we haven't seen often this year. The play is actually one of the offense's base routes, and in the past has been called on for important third-and-fourth-down situations. In the second half, Justin Tucker would put up three more field goals, and the Giants would score once more in the fourth quarter to end the game.

Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-25/36 for 309 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown

Key to the Win: This was a statement win that the Ravens needed badly. After losing three straight games, a chance to beat a team like the Giants was one that was too opportune to give up. The Ravens showed up in all three phases of the game. Justin Tucker was perfect from field goal range, and luckily we didn't see too much of Sam Koch. Flacco was clicking offensively and both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce ran for over 100 yards. The defense kept an explosive Giants offense in check, limiting key receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

This Sunday, the Ravens will wrap up the regular season in Cincinnati against a 9-6 Bengals team. When the two teams met in Baltimore back in Week 1, the Ravens handed down a 44-13 beat-down. But that game is nearly irrelevant now as now these two teams are in vastly different places. This is an odd game when it comes to playoff implications. The Bengals are locked into the #6 seed, while the Ravens look to be in the #4 spot, barring a Dolphins upset over the Patriots in New England (they would jump to #3). Neither team has too large of an incentive for winning this game. But that doesn't mean they won't be trying to win it. The Bengals have lost four straight to the Ravens, and will be looking to knock that monkey off their backs. They believe that in order to get where they want to go, they need to go through a Ravens team that has owned them in recent years. Also, both teams will be looking to get momentum heading into the playoffs, and can do so with a win. Don't expect to see either team benching too many of their non-injured starters. The Ravens may give a break to some of their more banged-up players, such as Haloti Ngata and Marshal Yanda, so don't expect to see much if any from them this weekend.

On offense, the Bengals are led by a youth movement consisting of second-year QB Andy Dalton and his favorite partner, Pro-Bowl WR A.J. Green, who has established himself as one of the better up-and-coming receivers in the league. Green has over 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on the season thus far. Though he has had some troubles hanging on to the ball, he is extremely dangerous when he does hang on. Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, in contrast, has fumbled just three times in his five-year career. All three, however, happened this season. Green-Ellis has started in all fifteen games this season, racking up six rushing touchdowns and over 1,000 rushing yards. The Bengals are also helped out offensively by rookie weapon Andrew Hawkins, who caught eight balls back in Week 1, and TE Jermaine Gresham, who has five touchdown catches on the year.

The Bengals are much flashier on defense, however. Ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense, they are third-best in the AFC with 44 sacks. DT Geno Atkins has a team-high 12.5 sacks on the year, coupled with four forced fumbles. Rookie LB Vontaze Burfict, who the Ravens passed on following the draft, has been a huge help to the Bengals on defense. He is second on the team in tackles, just a few behind fellow LB Rey Maualuga, who has become a staple on the Bengals defense. In the secondary, the Bengals have received jolts from veteran CBs Leon Hall and Adam Jones, who have rejuvenated their careers with good seasons in Cincinnati. If the Ravens can hold off the dangerous Bengals pass rush, Joe Flacco should have enough time to find an open receiver against a talented secondary lacking in depth.

Prediction: Whoever wants it more will get it. If the Ravens treat this game like a third pre-season game, they won't win. Both teams want to have something to ride with heading into the playoffs, which start next week for both teams. Expect both teams to come out in full force to try and take this finale. I have the Ravens winning, 23-13.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Bengals

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green  Edge: Green
Analysis: While Cary has had a remarkable year, he will have a tough afternoon going up against the size and physicality of Green.

Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe vs. Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis  Edge: Ellerbe
Analysis: This is one of the matchups the Ravens desperately want to win. Ellerbe has had a great year, and will continue against Green-Ellis.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Bengals CB Leon Hall  Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith's vertical game will help him in this matchup against a size-disadvantaged Leon Hall. His leaping ability will give him the win here.

Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Bengals DT Geno Atkins  Edge: Atkins
Analysis: Atkins has been dominant off the edge, especially of late. He'll continue his success against a struggling Ravens offensive line. 

Injury Report
WR Anquan Boldin-Shoulder-QST
WR Tandon Doss-Ankle-QST
DE Arthur Jones-Thigh-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Ankle-QST
LB Albert McLellan-Shoulder/Thigh-QST
DT Haloti Ngata-Knee-QST
G/T Marshal Yanda-Shoulder/Knee-QST

K Mike Nugent-Calf-OUT
CB Jason Allen-Hamstring-QST
CB Terence Newman-Groin-QST

Ravens Playoff Outlook: The Ravens will be playing at home next week to open up the playoffs. Barring a Dolphins upset of the Patriots, the Ravens will be hosting the Indianapolis Colts. With a Ravens win and a Dolphins win, the Ravens will be hosting, ironically enough, the Bengals.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 16 2012

Last Sunday, the Ravens fell for the third consecutive week, beaten to a pulp by a rejuvenated Broncos team, 34-17. The Broncos jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the final minutes of the first half. Joe Flacco began to drive the Ravens down the field to get a score, finding Torrey Smith near the goal line with 30 seconds left. Although the Ravens still had all three timeouts, they opted not to use one. Flacco rushed to the line and was picked off by Chris Harris, who took the ball back 98 yards for a touchdown, giving the Broncos a 17-0 lead at halftime. The Ravens got on the board with a field goal in the second half, but the Broncos answered with two touchdowns of their own, blowing the game open. In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Flacco finally got it going, throwing a 31-yard touchdown score to Dennis Pitta. Later in the game, Flacco found Pitta again, who broke tackles and scampered his way 61 yards down the field and into the end zone, finishing off the scoring for the day. The Ravens defense did not play all that badly, but the offense gave them no time to rest on the bench, tiring them out by the second half of the game. Despite the Ravens loss, a Steelers loss helped the Ravens clinch their fifth consecutive playoff berth, making the Flacco-Harbaugh tandem perfect in their years in Baltimore.

Player of the Game: Broncos WR Eric Decker-8 catches, 133 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

Key Takeaway from this Game: It seemed as if the Ravens players, and fans for that matter, conceded this loss before we even kicked off. Peyton Manning knows how to take advantage of teams' weaknesses; the Ravens' weakness being their defense. The Ravens won't have it easy against playoff teams. We can only hope that they can stay in games and give our defense the rest it needs.

This Sunday, the Ravens host their regular season home finale against the 8-6 New York Giants, who are coming off a blowout loss of their own, losing 34-0 last week in Atlanta. In a matchup of two teams desperate for bounce-back victory, the Giants could be fighting for their playoff lives. And we all know how the Giants are able to pull things together late in the season, including last year's late-season run to a Super Bowl championship. We'll see which side of these two two-faced teams comes out to play Sunday afternoon. On offense, Eli Manning leads a dangerous attack which has been weakened on the ground, but still remains a large threat in the air. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has been sidelined with an injury, but expects to return (possibly on a limited basis) on Sunday. Backup running back David Wilson has taken over the reins and run for 155 over the past two games. In the air, the Giants present two very dangerous threats in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz has caught nine touchdowns, and remains Manning's favorite target. But tight end Martellus Bennett has become another favorite of Manning's, racking up nearly 600 yards and five touchdowns. Bennett presents a matchup problem for the Ravens depleted linebackers corps. On defense, the Giants rank in the bottom 10 in three of the four major defensive categories, including yards per game. The most daunting of the Giants unit defensively comes on the defensive line. Linemen Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul have combined for 15.5 sacks on the season, and could prove to be game-changers against a struggling offensive line unit for the Ravens. The Giants are significantly less scary on other parts of the defense, including a secondary that is ranked 28th in the league in passing yards. If the offensive line can give Joe Flacco time in the pocket, he could use it to beat the weaker parts of this Giants defense.

Prediction: The Ravens need this one bad. Then again, so do the Giants. A Ravens win seals the division, and this team would love to have that off their backs heading to Cincinnati next week. If the Ravens offensive line can hold their ground, and give Joe Flacco time to throw in the pocket, the Giants could be in for a long day. But if they let their strong defensive lineman get to Flacco, it could be a long day for the Ravens. Expect the Ravens to open with a strong ground attack to open up play-action later in the game. I have the Ravens winning the game, 27-23.

Key Matchups for Giants at Ravens

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Giants WR Victor Cruz  Edge: Cruz
Analysis: Manning loves Cruz, and makes him one of the better receivers in the game. While Cary has made some big plays on pass deflections, he also has the tendency to let a receiver get away from him. If that happens against Cruz, we're in trouble.

Ravens LB Brendon Ayanbadejo vs. Giants TE Martellus Bennett  Edge: Ayanbadejo
Analysis: This is a close one, but Ayanbadejo has had a nice year filling this role. If he doesn't let this matchup affect other parts of his game, he'll win this one. Bennett is having a good year as well, and could very well take this one.

Ravens T Michael Oher vs. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul   Edge: Pierre-Paul
Analysis: Pierre-Paul is one of the premier pass rushers in the league, and will easily beat Oher in this matchup. Oher just can't lose it in a blowout.

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. Giants CB Corey Webster  Edge: Boldin
Analysis: I have a feeling Boldin will have a good day as Torrey Smith will be limited (if he plays at all) with a concussion. Webster is also known for giving up some big plays.

Injury Report
LB Jameel McClain-Neck-OUT (will miss remainder of season)
S Bernard Pollard-Chest-DBT
WR Tandon Doss-Ankle-QST
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Ankle-QST
LB Albert McClellan-Thigh/Shoulder-QST
RB Bernard Pierce-Head-QST
WR Torrey Smith-Head-QST
G/T Marshal Yanda-Ankle-QST

C David Baas-Hip/Shoulder-QST
TE Travis Beckum-Knee-QST
RB Ahmad Bradshaw-Knee/Foot-QST
S Kenny Phillips-Knee-QST
S Tyler Sash-Hamstring-QST
G Chris Snee-Hip-QST
DE Justin Tuck-Shoulder-QST

AFC North Standings

Team        W     L
Ravens     9      5
Bengals    8      6
Steelers    7      7
Browns    5      9

AFC North Outlook: If the Ravens win one of the final two games, the division is theirs.The Bengals host the Steelers, with a Bengals win eliminating the Steelers from playoff contention. The Browns visit the Broncos.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report. See you next week and go Ravens!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 15 2012

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.

Injury Report
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!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 14 2012

Last week, the Ravens suffered a heart-breaking home loss to the Steelers, 23-20, giving the Ravens their first home loss since 2010, also against the Steelers. The teams exchanged field goals to begin the game, but the Ravens would waste no time taking the lead. A Justin Tucker field goal coupled with Anquan Boldin's second touchdown catch of the season helped the Ravens jump out to a 13-6 halftime lead. On their first drive of the second half, Isaac Redman found a hole and rushed sixteen yards to the end zone, tying the game. But late in the third, Ray Rice bounced to the outside and sped 34 yards to the end zone, giving the Ravens the lead with a quarter left to play. After a key interception by Ed Reed, the Ravens gave the ball back when Joe Flacco was sacked, fumbling the ball and giving the Steelers prime field positon. Just over a minute later, Charlie Batch found Heath Miller in the end zone to tie the game once again. The Ravens were forced to punt on their next drive, giving the Steelers the ball back with 6:14 remaining on the clock. Batch used his time management skills to help drive the Steelers down the field, and set up a 42-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. The Steelers took home a win that prevented the Ravens from clinching a spot in the playoffs. Batch, who has thrown in his 15-year career about as many passes as Drew Brees does in two typical seasons, got an emotional boost to his waning life as a backup NFL quarterback.

Player of the Game: Steelers QB Charlie Batch-25/36 for 276 yards, 1 passing touchdown, 1 interception

Key Takeaway from the Game: In reality, this loss isn't crucial in terms of the Ravens' playoff race. But, as with every loss to the Steelers, it hurts. Joe Flacco underperformed, giving his doubters another moment to point there fingers at and scream "you see" and seem smart. Will Flacco ever be the elite quarterback he once seemed destined to be? Who knows. But here is what we do know. Joe Cool has taken us to four consecutive playoff appearances (almost five), two AFC championship games, and a 53-23 record. No one knows what we'll say of Flacco ten years from now, but right now, he is finding a way to get the job done.

Ray Rice touched the ball thirteen times on Sunday. Yes, you read that right. And yes, that's unacceptable, but it isn't as easy as just giving him the ball. Cam Cameron needs to find opportunities for Rice to get open all over the field, both on the ground and out of the backfield. Our main offensive weapon should have a main role in the offense.

Next Sunday, the Ravens travel to face the other team from Maryland, the up-and-coming 6-6 Washington Redskins. The recent irrelevancy of the Redskins has given Ravens fans a lot to brag about, but the "Battle of the Beltways" has taken on a new life this year. The 'Skins are lead by their mobile rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is just as much of a threat with his feet on the ground as his arm is in the air. RGIII has rushed for over 700 yards this season, and is tied for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns, while only turning the ball over six times. On offense, the Redskins' attack is centered upon their ability to use the play-action to set up the passing game and Griffin III's running game. Their upstart "pistol" offense makes it difficult for defenses to read the offense's play call. Don't discount RB Alfred Morris, whose physical but elusive running approach could prove to be kryptonite against a Ravens defense that has struggled with tackling the ball-carrier. This style of offense will be put to the test again against an experienced Ravens defense. RGIII lives on the ability to trick the safety into going the wrong direction. Ed Reed lives on his ability to read where the quarterback is going. You can see where I'm  going with this. But the Redskins are a lot less daunting on defense, where injuries have crippled their early success. They are ranked next to last in the league in passing yards allowed per game, which will allow Flacco to open up the playbook. Their 4th ranked rush defense is lead by a few of the more underrated defenders in the league, including LB Ryan Kerrigan and veteran LB London Fletcher. You can expect Ray Rice to see some burn out of the backfield as Flacco and Cameron hope to avoid dealing with the rush, and get the ball away quicker, something Flacco had trouble with against the Steelers.

Prediction: All in all, the Ravens could have a really rough day if they are unable to put a lid on RGIII. If he has his way, who knows how ugly this could get. But I don't think it will get too ridiculous. On defense, the Ravens need to be able to read the play-action. I think they may have some struggles, but they'll pull it together when they need to. I have the Ravens winning, 27-23. Also remember that the Ravens haven't lost consecutive games since 2009.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Redskins

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III  Edge: Push
Analysis: Hands down the best matchup on the field Sunday. As I mentioned earlier, these two are each other's foil. Reed is the key to neutralizing RGIII. RGIII is the key to neutralizing Reed. Get your popcorn ready.

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Redskins WR Santana Moss  Edge: Moss
Analysis: Moss is one of the best veteran receivers in the league, and has formed a relationship with RGIII that proves lethal to opposing corner-backs. Williams won't be able to keep up with him for sixty minutes.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan  Edge: Rice
Analysis: After a down week against the Steelers, Rice could break out Sunday at FedEx. After all, Rice leads all other NFL running backs with 1,646 rushing yards in December and January since 2009.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall  Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith can break out in this game against a weak Redskins secondary. Hall is not the corner-back he once was, and has had major self-control issues this season.

Injury Report
TE Ed Dickson-Knee-OUT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle-OUT
CB Jimmy Smith-Abdomen-DBT
CB Asa Jackson-Shoulder-QST
DB Chris Johnson-Thigh-QST
LB Terrell Suggs-Biceps-QST

LB London Fletcher-Ankle-QST
CB DeAngelo Hall-Ankle/Knee-QST
OT Trent Williams-Thigh-QST

AFC North Standings
Team             W        L
Ravens          9          3
Steelers         7          5
Bengals         7          5
Browns         4          8

AFC North Outlook: The Ravens can clinch the division with a win and losses by the Steelers (vs. Chargers) and the Bengals (vs. Cowboys). The Browns will host the Chiefs.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 13 2012

Last Sunday night, the Ravens pulled off one of the most remarkable and miraculous wins in franchise history, finishing off the Chargers in overtime, 16-13. The Chargers drew first blood, putting up 10 points in the second quarter to take a two-possession lead into halftime. Justin Tucker put the Ravens on the board in the third quarter, leaving the Ravens trailing 10-3 with a quarter remaining. The Ravens' failure to convert on fourth and short from deep in Chargers territory gave the Chargers momentum, and the chance to extend their lead. They did so, making it 13-3 on a field goal from Nick Novak. Joe Flacco proceeded to lead the Ravens eighty yards on nine plays, finishing the drive off with a touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta, giving the Ravens defense an opportunity to stop the Chargers and therefore give the offense a chance to win or send the game into overtime. The defense did their part, and the Ravens took over  possession at their own fourty with three minutes remaining. After a crucial holding penalty in Chargers territory, Joe Flacco fumbled the ball on 3rd and 20. The Ravens recovered, bringing up a decisive 4th and 29, a highly unlikely conversion. If the Ravens convert, they still have a chance to win. A failed conversion, and the game is all but over. After Flacco found no one open down the field, he effectively raised the white flag, checking the ball down to Ray Rice. Rice reversed up-field, made three Chargers miss, and continued up-field towards the marker. He then received a key block from Anquan Boldin, and propelled himself past the marker. What followed this most unlikely play was ten minutes of reviewing the play and repositioning the ball. After the review and the measure, Rice had picked up the first down by a yard in one of the greatest moments of sheer will you will ever see. Rice self-proclaimed "Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle" will go down in Ravens lore forever. A few plays later, Tucker hit a 38-yard field goal, sending the game into overtime. The Ravens defense stepped up again, stopping the Chargers twice, leaving it up to Flacco and the offense. With five minutes remaining in the overtime period, the Ravens took over deep in their own territory. On third down from the Chargers 47, a spectacular catch by Torrey Smith put the Ravens in field goal territory. Coach Harbaugh decided to make the Chargers burn their timeouts, leaving them with no timeouts and little time in case of a Tucker miss. Well Tucker didn't miss, and the Ravens took home a win for the ages.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-97 rushing yards, 67 receiving yards

Key to the Win: What can you say? This was a great team effort in all three phases of the game. The offense put up just enough points when it mattered, despite struggling early. The defense made key stops late in the game to give the offense its opportunities. On special teams, rookie Justin Tucker knocked through two high-pressure field goals to tie, and later win, the game. Tucker now has two game-winning field goals this year (Patriots).

Next Sunday, the Ravens will host the 6-5 Steelers in a reprisal of a game we saw just two weeks ago. The Ravens, of course, pulled out a close 13-10 that night in Pittsburgh. But this game will be different that of two weeks ago. Byron Leftwich hasn't played since he broke two ribs in that game. Instead, veteran backup Charlie Batch will be under center for the Steelers. Batch started his first game last week in Cleveland, and the Steelers lost 20-14, turning the ball over an embarrassing eight times, including five lost fumbles. The Steelers' 37-year old quarterback was picked off three times. All this against a defense inferior to that of the Ravens. After the Ravens picked up a season-high six sacks last week against the Chargers, expect more blitzing against a depleted Steelers offensive line. If Batch is pressured all game and the Ravens can strip the ball the way the Browns did, this one should be in the bag. But it isn't that easy, and the Steelers got good news on the other side of the ball. The top-ranked Steelers defense will be welcoming back Pro Bowl S Troy Polamalu, who has been sidelined since Week 5 with a calf injury. The Ravens offense went without a touchdown in Pittsburgh, but has scored 36 points per game at home. Back in the game two weeks ago, one of Flacco's favorite targets, TE Dennis Pitta, was knocked out of the game on the very first play. His presence this week could help Flacco find more of a rhythm, especially with fellow TE Ed Dickson unlikely to suit up. Ray Rice was also limited in that game, so his productivity could once again be in question. The question will be, if Rice struggles early, does Cam Cameron continue to pound the ball, or does he give up on the running game and let Flacco throw the ball 50 times? That answer will be crucial to a sound game-plan offensively for the Ravens.

Prediction: With the long-haired Polamalu looming, Flacco's ability to audible will be put to the test. If he can avoid Polamalu and get things going, the Steelers injury-ridden offense will not be able to keep up. The key to stopping them is limiting the ground game and maintaining pressure on the quarterback. I have the Ravens pulling out a 23-13 win.

Key Matchups for Steelers at Ravens

Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe vs. Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer  Edge: Ellerbe
Analysis: Ellerbe has been outstanding in recent weeks, and will continue to do so, limiting Dwyer and forcing him to fumble once or twice.

Ravens CB Corey Graham vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown  Edge: Brown
Analysis: This is a close one. Brown didn't play in the first game, and the Ravens consider him the most dangerous receiver the Steelers have. He could be a difference-maker. But keep in mind Graham had a pick in the first game.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Steelers S Troy Polamalu  Edge: Polamalu
Analysis: Flacco doesn't have to win this matchup, he just can't get blown out. He can't let Polamalu come off his blind side, as he had done so well. Smart audibles could help avoid game-changing turnovers.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Steelers CB Keenan Lewis  Edge: Smith
Analysis: After Lewis trash-talked Smith before the last game, Smith was rendered a non-factor. He will make up for it at home in Baltimore, catching a key touchdown.

Injury Report
CB Jimmy Smith-Abs-OUT
TE Ed Dickson-Knee-DBT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle/Knee/Finger-QST
DB Chris Johnson-Thigh-QST
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-QST

OT Mike Adams-Ankle-OUT
QB Ben Roethlisberger-Shoulder-OUT
QB Byron Leftwich-Ribs-OUT
LB LaMarr Woodley-Anke-OUT
G/T Willie Colon-Knee-QST
WR Jerricho Cotchery-Ribs-QST

AFC North Standings

Team            W     L
Ravens         9       2
Steelers        6       5
Bengals        6       5
Browns        3       8

AFC North Outlook: With a win and a Bengals loss, the Ravens would clinch their second consecutive AFC North title. The Bengals play the Chargers in San Diego. The Browns play at the Oakland Raiders.

News: For some good news, Ravens LB Ray Lewis, who has been out with torn triceps since Week 6, is expected to return for Week 15, when the Ravens will host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!