There’s few things I like better than a rare Saturday night off, and especially during NFL divisional playoffs weekend. Seven hours of football is just fine with me. So I sat down and prepared for the Titans and Panthers to take care of business.
Well, they took care of something, alright. But it wasn’t business. It was themselves.
Let’s start with the Ravens’ win. I have to admit, I have a somewhat irrational dislike for the Ravens. It’s not so much the team as much as a handful of obnoxious fans who have rubbed me the wrong way over the years. It’s not quite like my father’s hatred for the New England “Cheatriots” which has gotten surprisingly fierce (he took great delight when they missed the playoffs … I don’t think I’ve seen him that happy since he got married a few years ago. And in case he reads this, I’m just kidding). But generally, I don’t root for the Ravens.
Having said that, I know this is going to sound like sour grapes now, but for most of Saturday’s game, the Titans were the better team. They ran the ball better (until Chris Johnson was lost to an injury in the second half … his speed and ability to burst through holes before the Ravens could fill them was sorely missed), easily threw it better (The Kerry Collins-to-Justin Gage connection was very good) and should have put at least 20 points on the board.
But they didn’t, because of three turnovers in Ravens territory. How many turnovers did the Ravens have? Zero.
And that’s the thing about the Ravens, what keeps them in every game they play and gives them a great chance to win every game: They don’t beat themselves. They didn’t beat themselves during their Super Bowl year, and they’re not beating themselves this year.
The only way a team beats the Ravens is by landing a knockout punch. The Titans had their chances and never landed it.
So now the Ravens are sitting in a great situation. Either they’re going to get a third game against the Steelers — and if you don’t think the Ravens would go into that game as fired up as any team ever has, when Pittsburgh is a huge divisional rival that has beaten the Ravens twice this year, you’re crazy — or the Chargers, against whom the Ravens should be favored, even on the road. Doesn’t this feel like their Super Bowl year all over again?
As for the Panthers … here’s the two images (which were shown numerous times tonight) that captured that game: Jake Delhomme ripping his chin strap off after each of his five interceptions, and Panthers coach John Fox looking skyward, as if to ask the heavens, “Are you kidding me? Are you really kidding me? What the heck is this?!”
Seriously, who had the Cardinals (0-5 in East Coast games, four of which they looked terrible, although the weather played a part in the Patriots fiasco) beating the Panthers (8-0 at home)? My pregame thoughts were this: Carolina is great at running the ball, OK at throwing it and good on defense. Arizona can throw the ball all over the lot but can’t run and has a shaky defense. This shouldn’t be close.
Delhomme is going to take all the heat for the loss (and he probably deserves a lot of it), but I have to say that I thought the play-calling was somewhat shaky, especially late in the first half when it was still a 14-7 or 17-7 game and there was no need to change tactics. Carolina is a running team, and had it stuck with it a little longer, maybe Delhomme doesn’t self-destruct. Instead, there was one drive where the very first play, the Panthers called a pass, and it was picked off. I don’t understand why the Panthers didn’t try to re-establish the run there. It worked so well on the first drive of the game.
That said, it’s hard to defend Delhomme for at least three of the five interceptions, which were all thrown into double coverage and should have been easy reads (as in, don’t even try to throw the ball there).
If the Steelers, Chargers, Giants and Eagles learned something heading into Sunday’s games, it should be this: Value the ball.
I’m particularly interested in the Steelers’ game (mainly because I want to see another Steelers-Ravens clash). That game is going to come down to two things: Can Ben Roethlisberger avoid making mistakes, and can the Steelers keep Darren Sproles (who is insanely dangerous) from breaking big plays? The Steelers’ defense is too good for Philip Rivers to throw the ball all over the lot on them, so if Pittsburgh simply plays a solid, mistake-free game, they should win.
But as was made clear today, the team that “should” win, sometimes doesn’t.