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The Setup
It was a Monday Night contest in front of a huge national stage. The ESPN announcers (most notably John Gruden) were effusive in their praise of the Cardinals - from the Front Office on down; coming close to annointing them Super Bowl contenders and trashing the poor 1 & 5 Ravens ("who played it close in every game but couldn't seem to buy a win"). In other words, the perfect recipe for disaster. We almost got to see disaster occur in slow motion before our very eyes, as we watched the Cards almost blow a seemingly insurmountable 4Q lead with just over 4:30 on the clock. But the boys from AZ came up with a big play at the very end to preserve the "W."

The Lede
Cards Hang On to Preseve a Win.

The Bottom Line:
Cards outplayed the Ravens but were only able to open up a 14 - 10 halftime lead. A strong third quarter enabled us to gain a 20 - 10 edge, but a series events (mostly having to do do with "Punt (er)...Pass (er)...& Kick (er) - mostly in the 4Q - almost cost us the game.

The final 4:30 was a classic prescription for how a team can find a way lose an apparantly nailed-down contest. The clownfest started innocently enough with the Cards scoring a TD and holding what seemed to be an insurmountable 17 point lead - only it wasn't 17; it was 16 (because Catanzaro whiffed on the XP attempt). Sixteen is a very interesting number, because it represents 2 touchdowns plus two 2-point conversions (not out of the realm of possibility if you know the NFL and have followed the Cardinals over the years).

The second (not so innocuous) indicator that the world definitely was not in perfect order came on what should have been a routine punt. The way the Raven dude whizzed past our long snapper and straight up the middle to block the punt was far from routine. Ba Boom. A quick TD from one-yard out, 2-pointer successful. We've got a TD football game. And guess what? There's still 4:26 on the clock. But we should still be able to milk some time off the clock. We did - our ball, 2:32 left and no Raven time outs left. Just run a couple of plays, maybe pick up another first down and watch Palmer take a few knees (or, at the very worse, run the clock down past the 2:00 mark into the mid-low 1:00-range and dare Flacco to beat us). Instead, Carson Palmer fades back...takes a couple of steps to his right...maybe even reaches the hashmark (& intentional grounding protection)...and then throws one (I mean there was no red jersey within 100 miles of where ge put that ball. Naturally, Carson gets called for intentional grounding, we lose a down and the clock stops.

So where are we? We wind up with the Ravens ball on their own 24 with 1:53 left and no time outs. Flacco manages to pick up 3 more 1st downs in 8 plays to reach the Cardinal four with 0:18 left on the clock. The second of one of those delayed official calls (where the flag isn't thrown until after the play turns out to be unsuccessfu) puts the ball on the Cardinal 9 with 0:13 still left to play). Fortunately an all out blitz forces Flacco to put up a floating "balloon" toward the back of the end zone where Tony Jefferson grabbed it to end the Raven rally. Lesson learned - We were only 9 yards and 13-seconds away from a tie or even a possible loss.

Game Recap

1st Quarter
  • Cards received. TB on the KO. CArds moved easily into Baltimore territory, but a couple of unsuccessful runs followed by a sack of Carson Palmer set up a 55 yard Catanzaro FG attempt that was wide right. Baltimore started from their own 45 and managed during a penalty-filled drive to move to the Cardinal 15 where a minus-11 yard sack by Rucker forced then to lick a 44-yard Tucker FG. (So instead of using the opening possession to gain a lead, we wound uo 3-points behind). Ravens 3 Cards 0.

    TB on the KO. It took three plays to get the lead back (a 21-yard pass/run to Grisham, a 33 yard deep pass to Floyd and a nifty cutback against the grain by Chris Johnson for a 26-yard TD. Cards 7 - Ravens 3.

    TB on the KO. A 22-yard throw to Steven Smith Sr. helped move the Ravens over midfield to the AZ 47 to end the quarter.

1st Quarter Score: Cards 7 - Ravens 3.

2nd Quarter
  • A 16-yard Flacco-to-Smith Sr. hookup helped the Ravens reach the Card 23, but a holding call along with an incompletion and couple of stuffs of running plays behind the LOS forced the Ravens to punt from their own 40. Punt was downed at the one-inch line (Looked like a touchback to me). A 14-yard completion to Fitz helped get the Cards out of trouble, but they eventually had to punt from their own 23. Fair catch net a penalty gave the Ravens the ball on their own 16. A 29-yard completion to Smith Sr. (who looked ready to tear the roof off the sucker) along with a couple of mid-sized gainers by J Allen helped set up a 14-yard TDpass over the middle to Forsett. Ravens 10 - Cards 7.

    3:50 left in the half. (Beginning of the so-called "witching hour" where the bad things happen that typically cost the Cardinals points just before halftime - but not this time). TB on the KO. Cards were held to 3 & out. Punt was received by Ross at the Raven 16 and returned 8 yards to the Raven 24; but (& it was hard to see on TV) Bethel's tackle and fumble recovery (which survived a challenge) turned the ball over to the Cardinals at the Balt 12. The Cards (aided by an interference flag generated by Fitz) helped set up a 3-yard TD completion to Floyd. Cards 14 - Ravens 10.

First Half Score: Cards 14 - Ravens 10.

3rd Quarter
  • (The beginning of the 2H often is a momentum-setter). Ravens received. TB on the KO. An 11-yard sack by Freeney helped force the Ravens into a 3 & out. Peterson returned the punt to the Balt 49. A 39-yard pass to Smokey Brown put the ball on the Raven 9, but the Cards struggled in the red zone and had to settle for Catanzaro's 21-yard FG. Cards 17 - Ravens 10.

    TB on the KO. (Bethel in for Powers). Ravens generated a few first downs but had to punt from their own 49. Peterson returned it to the Card 13. (Game Breaker !!!): On the fourth play of the possession, C Johnson seemed to be stopped up the middle but miraculously regained his balance withouth his knee hitting the ground and turned it into a 62-yard gain. Cards were in good shape at the Raven 8, but had to settle for a 21-yarder by Catanzaro. (The extra 4-points might have nailed the win then and there, but it did open up a 10 point lead). Cards 20 - Ravens 10.

    TB on the KO. Ravens managed to move to their own 39. to end the quarter.

Third Quarter Score: Cards 20 - Ravens 10.

4th Quarter
  • Two plays later, Balt punted from their own 38. Fair catch by Peterson at the Card 21. (This is where we needed to keep the pedal on the floor). Cards marched steadily down the field, with a 16-yard completion to FItz and a 23-yard hookup with Floyd setting up a 4-yard TD at the right stantion to Smokey Brown. (This should have put us three scores ahead of the Ravens with 8:08 left to play, but Catanzaro's XP attempt bounced (in the wrong direction) off the right upright. (With two 2-pointers, it would now be a 2 TD game). Cards 26 - Ravens 10.

    Ross returned the KO to the Balt. 25. Ravens and Cards exchanged 3 & outs. (4:40 on the clock - what could possibly go wrong)? After a false start by Weatherspoon, Butler's punt was blocked - dude blew right by the center and right up the middle. It was returned to the Cardinal one, where Flacco hit Juszczyk for a TD. The 2-pointer (pass to Boyle) was good. We're now only a TD and 2-pointer ahead.Cards 26 - Ravens 18.

    4:26 left. Free kick was fair caught by Peterson at the Cardinal 15. (Thank God it wasn't an on-sider). A 16-yard comletion to Gresham and one to Ellington +11 helped keep the chains moving (& the clock running) but - with all three Raven time outs used up and 2:32 on the clock, Palmer did a really weird thing - on a 2nd & 10 at his own 44, he faded back, took two steps to his right and threw one. The intentional grounding call stopped the clock abd cost the Cards 12-yards. (Actually, I thought Carson reached the right hash mark before he threw, but why'd he do that)? Two plays later, Butler punted from his own 38 (and didn't have it blocked).

    Ravens ball on their own 24 with 1:53 left and no time outs. Flacco managed to pick up 3 more 1st downs in 8 plays to reach the Cardinal 4 with 0:18 left on the clock. Some quirky clock-management and penalty calling by the officials finally made it Ravens ball at the Cardinal 9 with 0:13 left. I'm not sure if it was Freeney, the Badger or someone else who blitzed off the right side to force Flacco to prematurely put up a floater, but his pass for Gilmore was picked off by Jefferson to secure the win.

Final Score: Cards 26 - Ravens 18.

Game Stats.

  • Passing: Palmer was 20 for 29 (275 yards, 2 TD's and 0 picks). Cards held Flacco to 26 of 40 (252 yards, 1 TD and 1 pick.

    Takeaways: Cards +1. Palmer wasn't picked off/Flacco threw one pick. Cards surrendered no fumbles. Ross lost a fumble. Steelers blocked (& recovered) a punt.

  • Rushing: Cards gained 150 net yards (5.4 yp). Raven runners racked up just 55 (3.4 ypc). C Johnson racked up 122.
  • Receiving: Pretty much spread around - Smoke Brown had 4 catches for 65 yards and 1 TD. Gresham had 4 for 62 yards, Floyd had 3 catches for 59. Fitz had 3 for 39, Ellington had 3 for 28.

  • Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: . (Runs: 28/Pass: 29). Raven Run/Pass Ratio: 16/40).

    Card ball carriers averaged 5.4 yards on the ground. (Run defense gave up 3.4 ypc.)

  • Bucannon led the Cards with 9 tackles. Johnson and Mathews had 7 tackles apiece.

  • Sacks - Cards had t3 (Freeney, Mathieu and Rucker). Ravens had 2 (Mosely and Orr).

    Situational Efficiency: Cards converted 5 of 13 third downs (38%). Ravens were 5 of 12 (41%). Cards were 2 of 4 in the Red Zone (50%). Ravens were 2 of 4 for 50%)

    Penalties: Cards were penalized 4 times for 40 yards (Ravens were penalized 9 times for 64 yds).

    Time of Possession: Cards 29:36 - Lions 30:24

Bright Spots

  • Only major injury we know of was Powers. .

    Cardinal running attack (150 yards/5.4 ypc). 50-50 Run/Pass ratio. We have enough depth at RB to bring in fresh legs in 4Q.

    Congrats to C Johnson for his heads-up play on the 62-yarder that, in some ways, was a game-changer.

    All three Cardinal receivers (Fitz, Floyd, Smoke) were clutch.

    Tyrann Mathieu was all over the field making plays.

    Freeney is beginning to make his presence felt. (Congrats on your first sack as a Card).

    Calais Campell is quietly solidifying the Front 7 of the defense.

    Palmer wasn't sacked.

    5 & 2 is better than 4 & 3.

The Dark Side

  • Though Palmer wasn't sacked, he did get hit too often.
  • What was Carson doing when he drew the intentional grounding flag?

    D Johnson was embarrassed in blitz pickup.

    We continue to do dumb things at critical times that winning teams learn how not to do.

    We're not 100% adept at locking down hot opposing receivers, .

  • Mostly a perception, but playcalling - especially later in games - sometimes seems to be on the verge of having a case of the blahs and becoming predictable. i.e. when we unsuccesasfully run on firstdown, you kind of know we're going to pass on second and then 3rd down (because down and distance kind of dictate). Or vice versa (i.e. if we unsuccessfully pass on first down, we're more likeltly to run on second down)..

    In my opinion, the Cardinals as a team need to be more paranoid about the things teams do that will lose them football games - from blocked punts, missed FG's or XP's to poor clock management, ball security miscues, funky decision-making etc. If we're to be a consistent winner and a playoff-bound football team, we cannot make those kinds of goofball mistakes.

Last Word:
I felt we were jinxed when I heard all that praise oozing from the ESPN commentators before the game. While I listened with a sense of pride, I was nervous that maybe we wouldn't live up to all that flattery. I was almost right. Those last 4 minutes or so were knuckle-biting and they didn't have to be. If we are to go deep into the playoffs (& possibly all the way to earning a ring) we cannot afford to allow the kind of mistakes we made last night to be made or else it will cost us dearly.

To put it more succinctly - Imagine if The Cat didn't miss the XP and FG. Or Butler's punt wasn't blocked. Or Carson wasn't flagged for intentional grounding. We'd have been up by as much as 24 points and using the final 2 - 4 minutes to relax, cheer-on our backups, slap one other on the back and practice our kneeling-techniques. But instead - we had to spend those final 2 - 4 minutes wasting energy, grinding hard and sweating the possibility that the final pass in the end zone might be caught by their guy instead of our guy.

Next week is Cleveland (on one day less rest, at their place and against a team that's not all that different from Baltimore, talent-wise). Let's not make the week between games a paradygn for what happened late in the 4Q last night. From now to the Cleveland game, let's practice smart, study smart and live smart. Onward!

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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/26/2012