Late For Work 12/5: Still No Breathing Room

Overreaction to Cundiff misses? Birk quiet, funny about injury; give Smith tighter jersey.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Monday, December 5th, 2011 at 9:01 am | Categories: Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

Still No Breathing Room

The Ravens took care of business by dominating the Browns in dreary Cleveland yesterday, but they weren’t able to create any separation from those that most threaten their top standing in the conference.

With the Texans down to their third-string quarterback T.J. Yates, many thought they would falter against the solid Atlanta Falcons. Didn’t happen. The Texans won a battle, 17-10.

Then, some Ravens fans had hoped the Bengals would get the Steelers off Baltimore’s back with an upset in Pittsburgh. Not even close. Steelers dominated, 35-7.

There was little to no chance the Colts were going to shock the Pats and they didn’t despite a late fourth-quarter rally that fell short, 31-24.

Moral of the story? The Ravens must continue to win.

Here’s the playoff picture after 13 weeks of football:

Division Leaders

New England Patriots (9-3)
The Pats currently have the top seed in the AFC through tiebreakers.  If both the Pats and Ravens win out – with the Texans losing at least one – the Ravens will win the tiebreaker of best record against common opponents. If all three win out, it is unknown who will be the top seed because the strength of victory tiebreaker cannot be determined until the end of the season.
Next: At Redskins (Dec. 11)

Houston Texans (9-3)
Three different quarterbacks in three weeks, yet the Texans get three wins. Can rookie quarterback Yates repeat yesterday’s gold-star performance (188 yards and one touchdown) in future games? If so, he may have to do it without All Pro receiver Andre Johnson, who tweaked his hamstring in the win.
Next: At Bengals (Dec. 11)

Baltimore Ravens (9-3)
The only thing keeping the Ravens atop the AFC North is the tiebreaking edge they have over the Steelers with a series sweep.
Next: Home vs. Colts (Dec. 11)

Denver Broncos (7-5)
The Broncos and Raiders flipped spots in the AFC West after Tim Tebow led his team in a shootout over the Vikings, 35-32. Oakland was crushed by the Dolphins, 34-14. Denver owns the tiebreaker because of a better divisional record (3-2 vs. 2-2).
Next: Home vs. Bears (Dec. 11)

Wild Card Leaders

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3)
Pittsburgh loses the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Ravens.
Next: Home vs. Browns (Dec. 8)

Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
The Bengals are holding on to this spot by a thread with a better conference record (6-4) than the Titans (5-4), Raiders (5-5) and Jets (5-5).
Next: Home vs. Texans (Dec. 11)

In The Hunt

Tennessee Titans (7-5)
Next: Home vs. Saints (Dec. 11)

Oakland Raiders (7-5)

Next: At Packers (Dec. 11)

New York Jets (7-5)
Next: Home vs. Chiefs (Dec. 11)

Steelers Most Complete Team In AFC? That’s Bananas

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley acknowledges that the Steelers may not capture the conference’s top seed when all is said and done. And maybe not even the division’s No.1 spot.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t a big, big believer in the black and gold.

“Pittsburgh’s 35-7 dismantling of the Cincinnati Bengals delivered Sunday’s boldest December declaration: The Steelers are the most complete team in the AFC,” wrote Hensley. “With all due respect to the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers played a more accomplished team Sunday and played a more thorough game.    ”

Yes, and the Ravens have also beaten that more accomplished team (the Bengals) and the team that beat the more accomplished team (the Steelers) … twice.

That’s fine, the Steelers can hold the “most complete team” award – which is bananas – but that doesn’t change the fact that they got swept by the Ravens.

Fans Overreacting To Cundiff Misses?

Ravens fans started a thread on this website to debate whether the Ravens should cut kicker Billy Cundiff after he missed two field goals (from the 34 and 41) in the windy and rainy Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Prior to Sunday, Cundiff had not missed this season from inside the 40 and five of his misfires came from over 50 yards.

The Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Van Valkenburg tells fans it’s important not to overreact.

“I do find it somewhat laughable that a small contingent of Ravens fans seems to think the Ravens should ‘get rid of Cundiff’ because the kickoff rule change has taken away some of his value, and they don’t trust him in a big moment after a few misses this year,” wrote Van Valkenburg. “For starters, anyone the Ravens could get at this point off the free agent scrap heap isn’t going to be an upgrade. Second, Baltimore can’t light money on fire every time a player has a stretch of mediocre games. It’s another example of why Ozzie Newsome makes football decisions and you don’t. He doesn’t overreact, or get emotional the way fans do.”

The columnist pointed out that Cundiff is still 14-for-14 in the fourth quarter and the weather was miserable in Cleveland. He believes the problem of missing to the right from the right hash mark seems to be a correctable problem.

“He needs to get some of the kinks worked out over the next four weeks because he’s going to be extremely important come playoff time.”

Birk Has No Muscles To Pull

Center Matt Birk was knocked out of yesterday’s win against the Browns for a few series with a shoulder sprain, but he did return and the rushing dominance continued without a hitch.

The 14-year veteran was quiet, but funny, when asked about his injury after the game.

“I asked Matt about his shoulder, he’s not really talking,” said’s John Eisenberg. “I don’t know what stands there. He said he luckily doesn’t have any muscles – so not too much to pull there. We’ll see [what happens].”

If there are any lingering effects, Ravens guard Ben Grubbs says the offensive line is in good hands with former Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode. The group didn’t have any communication issues when Gurode spelled Birk.

Dre came in and we didn’t miss a beat,” Grubbs told “We didn’t hesitate when Birk went down. We made sure he was OK, but when Dre came in we told him, ‘Keep this train moving.’ He did a great job.”

In Addition To Hair Cut, Now Smith Needs Tighter Jersey

Once again Torrey Smith was just barely caught from behind after Joe Flacco completed a pass to the rookie receiver in the middle of the field.

Against the Bengals, Smith was taken down by his dreads. Against the Browns, he was taken down by his jersey.

Flacco may have to take matters into his own hands if he wants Smith to get into the end zone.

“I told him, ‘You need a haircut and you need a tighter jersey. Get the QB jersey off and put a wide receiver jersey on and you’ll have a touchdown on that one,’” a smiling Flacco told Brent Harris. “And the same thing with the hair. I’ve already told him to get a haircut. I don’t like dreads as they are, and I definitely don’t like them when they take away touchdowns from us.”

Quick Hits

  • “There is absolutely no reason for Ray Lewis to play against the Indianapolis Colts,” wrote Van Valkenburg. “In fact, if he tries to play, the Ravens should lock him in the training room prior to kickoff.” [The Baltimore Sun]
  • “It’s time to start catching the ball more frequently when it’s thrown to you, Anquan Boldin,” added Van Valkenburg. [The Baltimore Sun]
  • “Cleveland fans used to get revved up to play the franchise that former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell moved out of town, but there was little electricity at Browns Stadium Sunday,” observed Eisenberg. “The stadium was half-full at best as a light rain fell. The Browns announced a crowd of 63,648, but that was tickets sold.” []
  • Ray Rice’s 200-yard day against the Browns was the third 200-plus day the Ravens have had against the franchise (Jamal Lewis did it twice in 2003). The only other teams with three 200-yard rushing performances against another franchise are the Bills versus the Jets and the Rams versus the Saints. [ESPN Stats and Information]
  • Just in case the Ravens make a trip … “From the file of poorly kept secrets, the NFL confirmed Sunday what had long been rumored: Madonna will headline the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show Feb. 5,” wrote Nate Davis. [USA Today]
  • “Baltimore-San Diego is the scheduled Dec. 18 night game, but there’s no way the NFL doesn’t flex in something better,” wrote Clark Judge. “Consider New England at Denver that something.”

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