Late For Work 12/12: Rice Frustrated With Bengals, Redskins

If the season ended today, can’t hide Pagano; Flacco is playoffs x-factor, expecting child.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Monday, December 12th, 2011 at 8:59 am | Categories: Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

Rice Frustrated With Bengals, Redskins

Ray Rice hardly gave himself a chance to celebrate his record-setting day against the Colts yesterday.

Moments after the game ended, Rice stood at the podium in front of media and calmly greeted the group, “Good afternoon.”

Texans-Bengals Highlights

He glanced up at a TV monitor and blurted out, “Damn!” as he banged the podium with his hand, prompting laughs throughout the room.

“You know what I’m looking at, right?” he asked the group.

Patriots-Redskins Highlights

It was the Texans celebrating their last-second victory over the Bengals.

After holding a 16-3 lead at halftime, Cincinnati went on to lose the contest by one point when rookie quarterback T.J. Yates led the biggest drive in Texans history, throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left and securing a 20-19 victory.

With that game-winning drive, Houston (10-3) clinched the AFC South, maintained the top seed in the AFC and remains the only team ahead of Baltimore (10-3) in the conference standings based on best win-percentage tiebreaker.  It’s the second time in four days that an AFC North team failed to help the Ravens, as the Browns fell short in Pittsburgh Thursday night.

But that wasn’t the end of the bad news.

A journalist told Rice, “It’s not any better over there,” pointing at another TV monitor in the room.

“Oh Lord,” Rice exclaimed as he threw his head back in frustration and pounded the podium again.

This time the Pro Bowler saw that New England squeaked past the Redskins, 34-27. Washington had the game-tying score on the board with just over a minute left in the fourth, but it was called back because of an offensive pass interference call. The Pats notched a game-saving pick two plays later.

Despite the Patriots win, the Ravens move ahead of them in the conference based on a strength-of-victory tiebreaker, per ESPN.

At this rate, the Ravens will have to win out if they want to get the No. 1 seed.

“The AFC is very competitive. We have control of our own destiny. We’re in our driver’s seat, but at the same time, other teams are playing good football as well,” Rice said. “So you hope a team drops one. We don’t say ‘help’ because we feel like we control our own destiny. As long as we keep winning, we’ll be fine.”

If The Season Ended Today…

This will surely change with three games left to play, but if the season ended today, here’s how the seeding would look, per NFL.com:

No. 1: Houston Texans (10-3); AFC South Champs; first-round bye
No. 2: Baltimore Ravens (10-3); AFC North Champs; first-round bye
No. 3: New England Patriots (10-3); AFC East Champs; wild-card matchup vs. Jets
No. 4: Denver Broncos (8-5); AFC West Champs; wild-card matchup vs. Steelers
No. 5: Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3); wild-card winner
No. 6: New York Jets (8-5); wild-card winner

In the hunt:

No. 7: Tennessee Titans (7-6)
No. 8: Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
No. 9: Oakland Raiders (7-6)
No. 10: San Diego Chargers (6-7)

Not only did the Bengals hurt Baltimore yesterday, but their loss knocked them out of the final wild-card spot for the time being, and the Jets were all too happy to snatch up the vacancy.

But can they get it back?

“The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t a playoff team this year,” wrote ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “That’s not to say they’re eliminated from the postseason. That’s not to say the Bengals will fail to reach the playoffs next season and the next five years after that. But Sunday’s 20-19 loss – make that punch-in-the-gut collapse – to the Houston Texans illustrates one point: The Bengals aren’t ready.”

A Deep Playoff Run Will Make Hiding Pagano Difficult

Chuck Pagano has helped restore swagger and dominance to the Ravens defense.

His players don’t want the league catching on.

But if Baltimore reaches its postseason goals, it will be difficult to hide his light from teams who are desperately looking for a head coach to solve their issues.

“If the Ravens make a deep run in the playoffs, he’s going to be a hot candidate for a number of head coaching positions. And he deserves to be,” wrote The Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Van Valkenburg.

“Pagano is a charismatic guy with an aggressive mentality, and he seems to understand if the Ravens make a few mistakes here and there, that’s ok. At least there won’t be bullets left in their six shooter when it’s over.”

In a matchup against the Peyton Manning-less Colts, it’s hard to judge just how good Pagano and his crew were.  We’ll get a better idea when the Ravens travel to San Diego, where they gave up 436 passing yards and two touchdowns to Philip Rivers in 2009.

“San Diego is going to be a tremendous test for Pagano, maybe the biggest test his secondary has faced this season,” wrote Van Valkenburg. “But he continues to show how creative he is by moving players around, blitzing with different players, going deep into his bench, and getting everyone to buy into the Ravens’ overall goals.”

Despite Rushing Success, Flacco Still Determines Post-Season Run

Quarterback Joe Flacco was a key cog in the Ravens’ upgraded performance in the red zone yesterday.

Coming into the matchup, Baltimore ranked 22nd in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage. Flacco found receivers in two of his trips in the red zone, but his second toss to tight end Dennis Pitta after scrambling and extending the play is what stuck out for Van Valkenburg.

The scoring pass was Flacco’s “best Ben Roethlisberger impression” and an athletic play that can keep defenses honest, according to the columnist.

And even though Rice is having one of the best seasons of his career, Flacco could be the Ravens’ X-factor as they make a bid for a Super Bowl run.

“As much as the Ravens have been talking about running the ball late in the season, I still believe how far Baltimore goes in the playoffs will eventually fall on Flacco’s shoulders,” wrote Van Valkenburg. “He won’t have to carry the team, but he will need to make more plays in the red zone. That will be the difference between beating Pittsburgh or New England and losing to them.”

Appears Ravens Have Learned Their Lesson

One of the biggest knocks on the Ravens so far this season is their tendency to play down to the level of their opponent.

But John Eisenberg and Hensley think those days may be behind the Ravens after mauling the last-place Browns and winless Colts the last two weeks.

The Ravens didn’t play down to their competition this time, ambushing Indianapolis in the first half,” wrote Hensley.

“The Ravens have had their issues in games against opponents with losing records this season, but if the last two games are any indication, they learned their lesson,” added Eisenberg. “The Ravens … behaved like a playoff-bound team vying for a high seed. They never let an outmanned opponent entertain thoughts of pulling an upset.

“The Ravens are developing a tangible sense of momentum down the stretch. They’ve won four games in a row, the last three with the same blend of balanced offense and stifling defense. December is here, and they’re looking focused.”

Birk Wants His Reward From Rice

For the third season in a row, Rice has run for 1,000 yards.

Everyone knows Rice is special, but where would he be without his offensive line?

“I’m not real prideful,” center Matt Birk told Brent Harris after the game yesterday. “I’m just concerned with how Ray might reward the offensive line. I don’t know [what we get for 1,000 yards]. We’re going to have to sit down with Ray and talk about that.”

Birk said he’s received a big-screen TV and a Playstation 3 for helping running backs break the 1,000-yard barrier in the past.

Looking into the camera, Birk said, “That was a nice gift, Ray.”

Quick Hits

  • RavensInsider: Joe Flacco confirmed that his wife is pregnant with their first child. They are excited and want the sex of the baby to be a surprise [Twitter]
  • KVanValkenburg: An NFL scout just walked by Colts execs in front of me, shook hands & said “It could be worse. You guys could have taken the Orioles.” #ouch [Twitter]
  • 1WinningDrive: @RayRice27 started to do the Ray-Ray dance to end the offensive intros. Then stopped midway through and did his typical flex [Twitter]
  • How crazy is it that Ray Rice hadn’t had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games before Sunday?” asked Matt Vensel. “Even coach John Harbaugh was surprised by that stat when a reporter brought it up in the post-game press conference.” [The Baltimore Sun]
  • 1WinningDrive: #Ravens came out without any major injuries. Billy Cundiff started to feel pain on kickoffs, so that’s why #Ravens went to Sam Koch
  • Suggs was the first player to record three sacks and force three fumbles in the same game in any of the last three NFL seasons. The last player to do that was Jason Jones of the Titans against the Steelers in 2008. [Elias Sports Bureau]
  • “Apologies to Jarret Johnson, but Cory Redding has become Ravens most underrated defender,” wrote Van Valkenburg. [The Baltimore Sun]
  • “One thing Cameron did that I loved was give Rice the ball on a play where he lined up at wide receiver and came in motion,” he added. “I still think the Ravens would have more success in the red zone if they ran the ball from spread formations like that than they would jumbo packages. [The Baltimore Sun]
  • “Ravens tackle Bryant McKinnie has played well lately, but he had his hands full with Dwight Freeney, the Colts’ Pro Bowl defensive end. Freeney sacked Joe Flacco twice,” wrote John Eisenberg. [CSNBaltimore.com]
  • “CBS kept showing those sideline shots of Peyton Manning. He started out looking exasperated. Then he progressed to looking disgusted,” wrote Kevin Cowherd. “By the end of the game, he looked like a man about to pass a kidney stone as he jogged off the field with his head down.” [The Baltimore Sun]
  • “Please, let’s not hear any wailing about that garbage-time touchdown the Colts scored as the clock ran out,” added Cowherd. “It meant nothing. And everybody knows it.” [The Baltimore Sun]

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