“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records” – William Arthur Ward
Last Sunday night the Baltimore Ravens clinched their fifth straight playoff appearance when the Dallas Cowboys knocked off the hated Steelers. But no one in Crabtown seemed in a celebratory mood as the Ravens were thrashed earlier in the day by the Broncos 34-17 to lose their third straight.
Joe Flacco’s blunt assessment in his post-game interview summed it up best. “It feels like we’re 0-14.”
It’s easy for the Ravens and their fans to feel that way. Sunday’s loss highlighted a multitude of problems; a leaky offensive line, an injury depleted defense, an inconsistent offense, and an inability to protect the football.
The Ravens have lost games before but they enter rare territory heading into this week against the Giants. Baltimore hasn’t lost three in a row since 2009. In the past the Ravens were usually able to follow up a loss with a victory the following week and “stack up” wins to get to the second season.
The team would often look to its’ leaders – players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for guidance. But both men are in the twilight of their careers in Baltimore. Lewis has been relegated to cheerleader due to age and injuries and Reed is busy dodging high jumping running backs and guessing wrong on pass coverage. So who is ready to lead this team now?
That duty falls on the collective heads of Head Coach John Harbaugh and Quarterback Joe Flacco. The duo has been incredibly successful in their time together winning 70% of their regular season games, five straight playoff appearances, and two AFC championship appearances. But over the past month both have come under scrutiny and both will need to improve to repair their image in the eyes of many. Are they leaders or were they just along for the ride?
John Harbaugh must find a way to rally his club. They are in danger of a collapse of epic proportions if they lose the next two. Sure, the Ravens are assured a playoff spot but no one would expect more than a one and done at most from this team.
His team put in a sloppy effort Sunday. Undisciplined. Lacking in effort and purpose. The unsportsmanlike penalties by Cary Williams and Anquan Boldin were a concern to me. Both were unnecessary and displayed the frustration that many are feeling about this club’s recent failures. Playoff teams don’t do foolish things like that in December. This team needs a boost and it must come from the top. He needs to find a way to get his team to tighten up on both sides of the ball and get a win over a team in the Giants that may be even more desperate than his group.
Harbaugh needs to improve in area that has long been considered a weakness and that’s as an in-game manager. He needs to make better use of timeouts and challenges. He may also need to insert Bryant McKinnie into the lineup to help his ailing line.
I’ve read a few people suggesting that now Harbaugh is on the hot seat. I wouldn’t go that far yet but it’s clear that with Cam Cameron no longer there to shield him the spotlight is on him. It’s time to perform.
Few players have played worse than Harbaugh’s signal caller, Joe Flacco which hasn’t helped matters. One constant in the Ravens losing streak is turnovers by Flacco, he’s fumbled in each of those games. His pick six before the half against Denver may be considered his worst pass of his career and huge momentum killer heading into halftime.
Confidence in Flacco is at an all-time low. Just look around the blogosphere and you’ll find that “Flacco-ing” is all the rage. For those not in the know, just spread yourself out face down on the ground, arms outstretched after missing a tackle. It’s the latest version of an epic fail.
Right now Flacco looks like a man that is crumbling under the stress of a playoff push, the uncertainty of a new contract, and the added expectations placed on him due to Cameron’s dismissal. There is now a growing sentiment among fans that the Ravens should simply let Flacco walk in March instead of finding a suitable cap number to keep him around long-term. I don’t agree with it but I understand why it exists.
Flacco has bounced back from bad performances before and as we’ve seen the streaky quarterback just needs some ample time and space to get comfortable to unleash a few deep bombs and tight out passes. But time feels like it’s running out and he needs a good game against New York to reassure a lot of people about his ability, maybe even himself. He needs to take charge more in the huddle. He needs to lead his group to a win.
Say what you will about Joe Flacco’s abilities but he’s always been a guy who doesn’t reject accountability for his mistakes. So I’ll close with another line from his post-game comments.
“It tests all of us,” said Flacco of the three-game losing streak. “It tests our leadership. It tests our toughness. We believe we have a tight locker room. We believe we’re pretty stand up guys, tough guys, guys with character.”
Over the next month we’ll see if Harbaugh and Flacco pass with championship colors.