Close games have become Ravens' calling card

Close games have become Ravens' calling card
December 9, 2013, 10:30 am
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"I've never been on a roller coaster like that before"


Two words sum up the Ravens’ season. Close games. Eight of their 13 games have been decided by three points or less. Think about that. All season they have walked a very fine line between winning and losing.

Torrey Smith was being funny Sunday when he said, “If you have a heart condition, you can’t watch the Ravens.” But Smith’s point was well taken. The most over-the-top example was Sunday’s 29-26 win over the Vikings, when both teams spent the final 2½ minutes stealing the game from each other. Still hard to believe that five touchdowns were scored in the final two minutes, seven seconds. If you missed it, watch the highlights. You may never again see a finish quite like that.

So what do we make of the Ravens (7-6) with just three games left in the regular season? This is who they are. They are a team with enough talent to make the playoffs, but with little margin for error each week.

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The Ravens have rarely shown the ability to dominate. They have just two convincing wins, beating the Texans, 30-9, and beating the Jets, 19-3. The rest of their victories have been hard-fought, grind-it-out affairs.

On the other hand, the Ravens have been blown out just once, when they lost 49-27 to the Broncos in Week 1. For 10 straight games, the Ravens have had a legitimate chance to win. That’s a good sign for the Ravens, because their last three games are against division leaders – at the Lions (7-6), at home against the Patriots (11-2), and at the Bengals (9-4).

Sunday’s victory was thrilling, but the Ravens will need to play better over the next three weeks. The Vikings (3-9-1) have not won on the road all season, yet the Ravens barely escaped, and their defense gave up some huge plays in the fourth quarter. If the Ravens could not contain Cordarrelle Patterson of the Vikings, how will the Ravens stop Calvin Johnson next Monday night?

It may take 30 points to beat the Lions, so the Ravens’ offense and special teams must continue to make big plays. The Ravens got a major lift Sunday with the return of tight end Dennis Pitta, playing his first game since hip surgery in August. Pitta (six catches, 48 yards, one touchdown) was clearly more than a decoy. He looks healthy and with Pitta, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Marlon Brown, the Ravens have four receivers who have earned Joe Flacco’s trust. That means Flacco can keep spreading the ball around, trying to compensate for a running game that remains ineffective.

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Winning on Sunday was crucial, because it kept the Ravens in control of their playoff destiny. They are tied with the Dolphins (7-6) for the No 6 seed, but the Ravens win the tiebreaker because they beat the Dolphins in October.

Whether the Ravens can win a playoff game on the road, where they are 1-5, remains to be seen. First, they must make the playoffs. But whatever happens over the last three games, expect all of them to be close. That’s simply how the Ravens operate this season.