On the Ravens, Joe Flacco, Tony Corrente's very rough cancer treatment, Bill Leavy and the unfortunate power of Twitter's immediacy, and some tentacles from the Manning/Umenyiora trade concerning the Cleveland Browns:
• Who are the Ravens, exactly? The stuff I'm hearing out of Baltimore's camp fiercely defensive of Joe Flacco reminds me of times in the Billick Era -- particularly the Super Bowl season 11 years ago -- when Ray Lewis and friends would staunchly defend Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks despite a terrible offensive performance for much of the season.
Remember that year? Baltimore advanced to the Super Bowl despite scoring zero touchdowns in five October games. Matt Stover's 14 field goals were all the offense for the Ravens for the month. This is not that bad -- not at all. And remember that the Ravens started to get decent offensive production as the season wore on, thanks largely to field-position football helped by a great defense. But Baltimore scored 95 points in four postseason games, and the defense did the rest, routing all four foes on the way to the Super Bowl.
This team has a better running game than the one that struggled in the 2000 postseason, and Flacco is better than Dilfer/Banks. But it's still worrisome when you've gotten the home game you so desperately wanted after seven straight playoff roadies, and you put up 227 yards, and you score three points in the final 46 minutes, albeit against a strong Houston defense. Against New England, Rice is the key to whatever the Ravens are going to do. He has to touch it between 25 and 30 times and stay inbounds, and the Ravens have to limit Tom Brady's possessions to eight or nine.
• On Flacco. It's obviously hard to tell when you're not there daily, but looking at the offense, and watching the interaction between offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Flacco, there just seems to be a disconnect. When's the last extended period that Flacco tore up an opponent? (St. Louis, maybe, with the Torrey Smith explosion?) I don't recall. Maybe the December game at the wounded Colts, but that almost doesn't count.
He's had some good moments, but 13 touchdowns in the last 13 regular season games? With the arm that Flacco has, it's got to be killing him that the passing game has struggled the way it has. With Smith and Anquan Boldin, to have 20 teams better this season in the illuminating passing yards-per-play stat is a worry.
Now, the key for Flacco, and the most important thing with a defense like Baltimore's, is to be safe with the ball ... and he deserves an A-plus for that. In seven games against playoff teams this season, Flacco is 7-0 -- and he's thrown just two interceptions. (With 10 touchdowns, and a 62-percent accuracy rate.) That's the kind of game Flacco has to play Sunday: move the chains, don't turn it over, keep the clock running.
• Tony Corrente's struggles. If you read my Jan. 9 MMQB column, you read about NFL ref Corrente's fight against tongue and throat cancer. He took to his blog Monday to update those who have sent well-wishes on his progress:
"Where do I begin? There has been so much going on since we first discovered this Devil in my throat ... As many of you noticed, I did officiate a 'Wild Card' round of the NFL playoffs. As I told my crew after the game, I don't know if I've been willing my body to stay healthy until we got through it but I can say that the reason why I remained strong enough to work was because of the eight men with whom I work with every week. These men have become so close, and we had such a great year that I wanted to be on the field with them more than my words can describe.
"This was a bittersweet game because there was an emptiness to it. Our umpire, Fred Bryan, collapsed a week earlier and was diagnosed with a blood clot in one of his lungs and was hospitalized, forcing him to miss what would have been his first NFL playoff game. I really hurt not to have him beside us as we worked. Since then, the chemo and radiation have begun to show how they can alter your life. The chemo has brought back the rash and pimples and is progressively making me more and more fatigued. The radiation though is an entirely different monster. Because of it, my saliva is so thick that if I were to chew any food, it becomes a thick paste in my mouth and literally causes me to dry up and I can't really swallow that mass of gunk. Food, well, the best way to put it that nearly everything now tastes repulsive.
"I have been on a completely liquid diet of Ensure Plus for a week now and have only lost 7 pounds. Half of the top of my tongue is blistered and my throat is blistered worse. Swallowing anything has become a chore, but as I told the doctors, 'I don't want a feeding tube' and will fight through all I have to to prevent it. The doctors are telling me that the next 3 weeks will be really a struggle but it will be the three weeks following my return home (around Feb. 9th) that will surely be the hardest.
"Some have asked how I'm able to deal with all of this...the answer is quite simple; because of the outpouring of cards, letters, emails and yes, this blog, where each of you continually send me words of encouragement or your prayers. Your prayers are being delivered, and trust me, they do help keep my spirit alive. I want to express my most sincere gratitude and to say THANK YOU to each and every one of you. It is your strength of conviction and the power of your friendship that has inspired me to fight so hard. Friends, Tony.''
• Twitter stuff. The other day, watching Green Bay and the Giants, I reacted to seeing Eli Manning take the Giants downfield, and seeing Clay Matthews get single-blocked by Kareem McKenzie, by saying on Twitter something smart-alecky. Paging Clay Matthews, pick up the white courtesy phone, Clay Matthews. Later, I watched two replays of the infamous Greg Jennings fumble/non-fumble and said Bill Leavy did the right thing by not reversing the play. Both dumb tweets by me.
I wanted to spend some time watching the game again on NFL Game Rewind, which I did this morning. Matthews didn't play a great game -- I thought he was victimized and should have made the play on a long Ahmad Bradshaw run, and I thought he could have done more than two quarterback pressures and no sacks -- but it was unfair to say he was MIA. Especially when on at least three plays I saw, he was chipped by a guard, then double-team blocked by a back and McKenzie. So my bad on that one.
Now to Leavy: I thought, as the NFL said late yesterday, that the back of Jennings' leg was on the ground when the ball came loose. That's what I thought I saw on the two replays I watched during the FOX telecast. But watching it 12 to 15 times this morning, it is clear the ball was out of Jennings' grasp before any part of his lower extremities touched the ground. Leavy's call was a poor one, as was my initial reaction on Twitter. Moral of the story: There's something great about the immediacy of Twitter, and something bad too. I'll be more careful about a categorical judgment from here on out.
• On the Renaissance note. The "occupancy tax'' is not kept by the hotel, but rather goes to the local municipality. And local laws require them to stop serving alcohol at 1 a.m. Still, $1,100-plus for two nights?
Now for your email:
I DON'T KNOW, BUT I AM OPEN TO YOUR IDEAS. "So what would be the new name of Divisional playoff weekend? The weekend featured all eight division winners of this season. I know it doesn't happen that often, but it's how things are set up to be. Seems like a reasonable name to me, but I would love to hear your suggestions.''-- M.J. Vera, of Alliance, Neb.
I don't really have one. But "Divisional playoffs'' stinks.
GOOD POINT ON RUNNING IT UP. "After seeing you tweet Saturday night, I was surprised Von Miller wasn't listed in the Ten Things You Don't Like. I have a Von Miller related question: Why does no one take Belichick to task for his running up the score on opponents? I don't mean to argue against it on grounds of sportsmanship, but rather I think it is terrible coaching. Right or wrong, Von Miller-type late hits will happen when you intentionally try to embarrass opponents (I truly believe that is Belichick's intention). Why put your guys in a situation where they will get suspended (from the view I saw, Pat Chung should be for straddling and punching a grounded Bronco on the sideline) or injured (Brady still in on the final drive) when you have an insurmountable lead? Right or wrong, sportsmanlike or unsportsmanlike, Belichick often puts his team in a bad situation with nothing to gain at the end of blowouts. From my view, it is only a matter of time. What do you think?''-- Taylor, Miami
I've agreed on that for a long time, going back to some of those 2007 blowouts. It's why so many fans (and many in the game) don't like Belichick. I said Saturday night it was wrong to have Brady in for the last two series of the Denver game, and I stand by it.
ELI A CHARGER? "Loved your back story about how Eli Manning became a Giant without having to surrender Osi Umenyiora to the Chargers. First I had heard that had the Chargers balked at the Giants offer, Big Ben may have ended up playing in New Jersey. If we can follow the arc of that alternate reality how good a fit would Eli have been playing for Norv Turner and his schemes? Would the Giants have been as successful with Roethlisberger as the Steelers? Would Pittsburgh have drafted a QB that year?''-- David Janssen, Atlanta
First thought: Would New York be the best place for Ben Roethlisberger, after the troubles he encountered in a smaller market like Pittsburgh and in his offseason trips to Nevada and Georgia? New York has been a pretty big distraction to some big athletes over the years. Second thought: Umenyiora is exactly, precisely what the Chargers have been missing over the years -- the edge rusher who has always eluded them, except for the very short period that Shawne Merriman terrified passers. Third thought: Eli would have been good in any system.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE. "As we lick our wounds here in Wisconsin, I think it's worth noting that we may have seen the last (or at least the last playing days) of one of the great over-achievers in Packers history. Donald Driver defied the odds as a seventh-round draft pick to become one of the best receivers to ever don the Green and Gold. I'm sure most of your readers have heard his name, but don't realize the impact his character, his charitable efforts and his heart have made over his 13 years in Green Bay and in the NFL. If his playing days are truly done, a touchdown catch on his final career reception is a fitting way to end the career of a true class act. Thanks for the memories Donald.''-- Doug Francour, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
Well said. I've always admired Driver.
WHITHER THE BROWNS IN THAT 2004 TRADE SCENARIO? "Love your column, but I can't believe you left us hanging on this one: who were the Browns going to trade up for in 2004? Philip Rivers?''-- Brian, Cleveland
Nope. Kellen Winslow. The Browns, originally picking seventh, were concerned that the Lions, picking sixth, would take Winslow. So they tried to deal up with the Giants to be sure they could trump Detroit. That failed, so then they dealt with Detroit to move up one spot to make sure they got Winslow.