What We Learned: Ravens-Giants
Thanks to the Giants' trio of backs, the Ravens were powerless against the run
The 9-1 Giants have arguably the NFL's toughest road from Weeks 12-17
The Ravens need to beat the NFC East teams to have a real shot at the playoffs
1.The irresistible force trumps the immovable object. Much was made of the matchup between the Giants' top-ranked rushing offense against the Ravens' top-ranked rushing defense. Elias Sports Bureau said it was the first such meeting since the Chiefs (top run 'O') rushed for 185 yards in a 31-24 loss to the Broncos (top run 'D') on Dec. 15, 2002.
On Sunday, the battle within the battle was over early. Brandon Jacobs had more yards in the first quarter (70) than the Ravens were allowing per game (65.4). Jacobs also had more rushing TDs in the first 12 minutes (two) than the Ravens had allowed in the first 540 minutes of the 2008 season (one). And it wasn't just Jacobs. With their big bruiser in the locker room getting re-taped, the Giants (9-1) ran off a 12-play, 90-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, with backups Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw splitting the carries. Bradshaw later dealt the knockout blow, breaking through the Ravens' front for a 77-yard scamper in the Giants' final TD drive in the fourth quarter.
The Giants dominated the entire line of scrimmage in totaling 207 rushing yards, running the ball up the middle 11 times, to the left 11 times and to the right nine times (unofficially and not counting the two kneel-downs in the final minute). The balance kept the Ravens (6-4) defense from finding a rhythm and embarrassed a Baltimore defense that hadn't allowed more than 76 yards rushing to a team all season.
In the most misleading stat of the day, the Ravens did extend their streak to 29 games of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, with neither Bradshaw (96 yards), Jacobs (73) or Ward (41) able to break through. Try to remember this throughout the rest of the season and beyond as the Ravens PR staff continues to trot out this stat.
2. Joe Flacco sees Aaron Ross in his nightmares. You could hardly blame Ravens QB Joe Flacco for the game-defining play, when wideout Derrick Mason had a perfect pass deflect right off his facemask and into the waiting arms of Aaron Ross. The second-year cornerback returned it 50 yards for a touchdown to extend the Giants lead to 17. Ross also picked off Flacco in the second quarter, the second two-interception game of his young career. Not sure if Ross has been to Hawaii before, but he may get the chance soon.
For the record, Flacco, who finished 20-of-33 for 164 yards with one TD and two picks, was not the reason the Ravens fell short. Flacco kept Baltimore in the game, running for 57 yards, including three for first downs in the second half. The Ravens simply weren't good enough to overcome the myriad mistakes -- blocked field goals, 10 penalties and dropped passes -- made against the defending champs.
3. The Ravens' storybook start might have an unhappy ending. Along with Atlanta, Baltimore was the biggest surprise at the season's halfway point, going into Week 11 with a 6-3 record, a rookie coach and rookie QB. But the fairy tale began to end here. Sunday marked the first of the Ravens' four-game gauntlet through the NFC East over the next six weeks (vs. Philadelphia in Week 12, vs. Washington in Week 14, at Dallas in Week 16).
A 2-2 mark against the NFC East, along with two wins against the only teams with losing records (Cincy and Jacksonville), would leave the Ravens with 10 wins and five losses and would likely mean the Week 15 game at AFC North leader Pittsburgh wouldn't be a must-win. But dropping three of four in the NFC East, or all four, and the Ravens would put themselves in a difficult position to make the postseason.
On the flip side, the Giants appear to be in prime position for a return trip to the playoffs. But the road to home-field advantage will be tough -- New York doesn't face a team with a losing record the rest of the way (at Arizona, at Washington, vs. Philadelphia, at Dallas, vs. Carolina, at Minnesota). The Giants will definitely need a healthy Jacobs, who left Sunday's game with a sore knee, for this brutal end of the season stretch.
4. Matt Stover? More like PAT Stover. Fitting that on a day when a bad snap caused the Giants to fail on an extra-point attempt, Ravens kicker Matt Stover set an NFL record with his 372nd consecutive point after touchdown attempt, breaking the mark set by Jason Elam and Jeff Wilkins. Stover's streak started Oct. 27, 1996, against St. Louis during his sixth season in the league. The 18-year veteran has now converted 541 PATs in 544 attempts.
Extra Point: Sunday was the Giants' first-ever win against the Ravens. Baltimore had beaten the Giants twice in regular season meetings in 1997 and 2004 and also won their only postseason meeting -- Super Bowl XXXV.