By Derek Arnold
If I told you that Todd Heap caught a 65-yard touchdown pass, what would you immediately imagine?
Most likely a 2003 vintage Brian Billick “jump ball” type play where Heap simply out leaps about four defenders in the end zone and comes down with the score, right?
Certainly, you wouldn’t picture Heap catching a 25-yard pass and then turning on his “jets” and outrunning an entire secondary for the next 40 yards to paydirt. Well, that’s exactly what happened in the second quarter on Sunday. The Bucs forgot to cover Heap, Joe Flacco’s eyes lit up, and he hit “The Stormin’ Mormon” at about the Bucs’ 40 yard line. From there, instead of what we’re used to seeing from (goes down in a ) HEEEEEEEEEEEAP, Todd made a beeline for the goalline and the longest play of his career put the Ravens up for good.
It was 10-3 at that point, and the Ravens would never look back. Joe Flacco would find Derrick Mason from 10 yards out on the very next possession, and the 17-3 halftime lead was all B’More would need on this day.
Mason’s touchdown came at the end of half during which he was targeted a ridiculous 14 times by Flacco. The obvious reaction to this from fans and media alike is that Mason’s tantrum during the fourth quarter of last week’s Carolina game (when he reportedly grabbed Joe’s facemask before teammates separated the two) paid immediate dividends. John Harbaugh and the Ravens’ official stance was, and will be, simply that the Bucs’ were doubling Anquan Boldin, leaving Mason singled up on his side of the field.
On the surface, this explanation makes some sense. The FOX broadcast team repeatedly pointed out how Bucs’ CB Aqib Talib was giving Mason a very large cushion, one that the cagey veteran was all too happy to exploit on comeback route after sideline route after hook route in front of Talib, who is extremely talented, but only in his third professional season.
The extent of Talib’s talent was on full display earlier in the second quarter. He jumped in front of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, had Joe Flacco’s pass bounce off his chest initially, then proceeded to cradle the ball between his calves while falling to the ground before pulling it to his chest for the interception and returning it to the Ravens’ 36-yard line. It was Flacco’s first interception at M&T Bank Stadium since the heartbreaking pick he threw at the end of the Indianapolis game in Week 11 of 2009.
That’s right, it had been over a full calendar year since Joe Flacco threw an interception at home. Keep hating, haters.
Anyway, back to Mason. While the company line seems to check out on the surface, one has to wonder if Mason’s demanding of the ball directly impacted the team’s – and more importantly Joe’s – plans going into the game.
The fact is, Cam Cameron is still trying to figure out how to get the ball in the hands of all of the Ravens’ offensive weapons. Mason wants the rock. Housh wants the rock. We saw what a finally healthy Todd Heap can still provide. And we’ve yet to even mention the team’s big offseason signing, Anquan Boldin. Boldin was the forgotten man in the first half, but then the very first play of the second was a quick pass to him – so you wonder if #81 may have had some words for his quarterback and/or offensive coordinator during the intermission.
The most frustrating thing for we fans is that, despite all of those aforementioned weapons, the offense continues to bog down time after time. They only managed two offensive touchdowns in Carolina, and matched that number yesterday. In fact, the Ravens managed points in only the second quarter Sunday, going scoreless in the first, third, and final periods. Let’s not take anything away from Tampa’s defense, who were coming off a shutout on the road in San Francisco, but many had hoped that this would be the “epiphany” game that Ravens fans have been waiting for – and had really hoped to see materialize prior to the Pittsburgh contest.
Well, it obviously wasn’t.
In the first quarter, the Ravens squandered some great field position, going scoreless despite starting their second drive on the Tampa 47-yard line. After starting on the Bucs’ 41, they managed only a 45-yard Billy Cundiff field goal. On Mason’s touchdown – the team’s second and final of the day – the team would have again been forced to settle for a field goal were it not for an extremely questionable pass interference call that set them up with 1st-and-goal from the 10.
In the second half, they had a 76-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Ray Rice nullified by an illegal block penalty (also highly questionable) on Boldin. Other than that, they never – NOT ONCE IN THE ENTIRE SECOND HALF – moved the ball even as far as Tampa territory until their final possession, when they were simply trying to run out the clock. There was absolutely no sense of urgency, and certainly no indications that they were trying to put the game away with another score or two. The final seven-point margin of victory was the result.
And so, this is the point where we put on our purple glasses, cross our fingers, and hope that the Ravens’ offense is simply “playing possum” going into the critical match up with the Steelers, at which point Cam will UNLEASH THE FURY!
Anyway, let’s talk defense for a minute. As worried as we were about LeGarrette Blount running roughshod over the Ravens, they held him largely in check. The big rookie managed only 55 yards on 13 carries, with a long of 16. And as nervous as big Josh Freeman had us, the Ravens did a great job of rattling the second-year quarterback, flushing him out of the pocket and making him throw on the run all night long. Fortunately, he was off the mark far more often than not. Although they were unable to register a sack, the constant pressure was very encouraging. This week, they face old nemesis Ben Roethlisberger, who isn’t as fleet-of-foot as Freeman, but who is much more accurate throwing on the move. They’ll have to do a better job of getting him on the ground than they did with the Bucs’ QB.
On the whole though, it was a strong showing from the defense. Despite another poor tackling effort (something it appears we’re just going to have to live – and cringe – along with in 2010), the Ravens, for all intents and purposes, held the Bucs to just three points until “junk time.” Even those three points were set up by the Talib interception, which gave them a short field to work with.
Unfortunately, the win did not come at no cost to the team. Starters Le’Ron McClain, Dawan Landry, and Michael Oher all left the game with injuries. Landry sustained a concussion on a vicious hit on Tampa running back Cadillac Williams. As long as he can pass his concussion tests later in the week, he’ll be good to go Sunday. Though it looked to be much worse initially, Oher’s injury is being reported – to this point – as simply a sprained knee. McClain’s injury may be the most serious. “Pain Train” was blocking on the kick return after the Tampa field goal in the second quarter, when his ankle was rolled up on. On the play, David Reed brought the ball out from 6 yards deep in the end zone; if he just does as he is most likely taught there – down it for a touchback – McClain’s injury never happens. Annoying, but that’s the game, and the injury did occur. With any luck, it’s a run-of-the-mill ankle sprain, and Le’Ron will be back very soon. With no luck, we’ll be referring to #33 as not “Pain Train” but as Le’Ron “High Ankle Sprain” McClain for who knows how many more weeks.
Let’s hope for a speedy recovery for all three, as a loss of key players couldn’t come at a worse time.
Once again, a Ravens win came with very few style points. The substance though, of 8-3, cannot be understated. If they manage another win next Sunday exactly like this one, I’ll be absolutely ecstatic, won’t you?
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