Sunday, January 10, 2010
AFC North playoff recap
By James Walker
Here are five things I learned about the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals during the wild-card round:
1. Baltimore is a tough out: We all knew the Ravens were tough. But it’s something about the urgency of the playoffs that brings Baltimore’s game to a new level. Second-year coach John Harbaugh improved to 3-1 in the postseason. His goal all along was to have his team playing its best football at the right time, and on cue Baltimore played it’s most complete game against a quality opponent in Sunday’s 33-14 win over the New England Patriots. The playoffs are about getting hot at the right time, and the Ravens fit that description.
2. Cincinnati's offense needs tweaking: The Bengals' running game is what got them to the postseason. But to take the next step, Cincinnati also needs to make big passing plays. During Saturday's 24-14 loss to the New York Jets, the Bengals' passing attack was exposed by Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis shutting down Chad Ochocinco. With his top option covered, Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer never looked comfortable throwing to receivers Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell. The Bengals' offense will be limited until they add another big-time threat opposite Ochocinco via the draft or free agency.
3. Ravens can start fast: Slow starts have plagued Baltimore. But that year-long issue was nowhere to be found in Gillette Stadium. Baltimore jumped out to a 24-0 lead thanks to a Ray Rice 83-yard run and a great strip by defensive end Terrell Suggs of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to open the game. The Ravens were ready to play early, and that’s the mindset this team needs the rest of the way.
4. Cincinnati’s late-season struggles mattered: The Bengals swept the AFC North division on Nov. 29. Although the division wasn’t officially clinched at that point, they were a virtual lock for the playoffs. So it was hard to tell if the team's 1-3 finish in the regular season meant anything. Some teams can handle early-season success and rest players late, while others need to continue to stay sharp on the field. Cincinnati has never been in the position to shut it down before the postseason under head coach Marvin Lewis. I think he learned something about this experience, as the Bengals were not able to flip the switch in the playoffs.
5. Baltimore can be disciplined: The Ravens have the potential to beat the NFL's top teams on any given week. But often penalties and mental errors would result in close losses. Sunday against New England, Baltimore had just three penalties for 15 yards. It was a very efficient performance for the Ravens. They ran the football 52 times and had zero holding calls. For the most part the secondary also stayed out of view from officials. It had zero pass interference calls and one illegal contact on cornerback Chris Carr. When the Ravens aren't beating themselves, they are hard to beat.