I am renaming my dog, my firstborn, and my critically acclaimed, experimental klezmer album after Joe Flacco. The dog won't know the difference, and my daughter kind of looks like a Joe Flacco anyway. The only tough part will be putting new labels on the 73,000 copies of Jimmy Jams Vol. 9: Klez-More! I've got stacked in my rumpus room, but it is the absolute least I can do. Joe Flacco provided Baltimore with a genuine Christmas miracle, made all the more miraculous by the fact that he pulled it off 346 days before Christmas.
I promise, I'm gonna talk about the AFC Championship game, but grant me a moment to reminisce about what is the most thrilling game in Baltimore postseason history. (The '58 NFL Championship? Sorry. The '77 Colts' double-OT loss to the Raiders? Nope. This game was more shocking than the '76 Colts-Steelers contest, and that game crescendoed with a plane crashing into Memorial Stadium.) How do you top a game with a pair of special teams touchdowns, a Corey Graham pick six off of the legendary Peyton Manning, and a pair of Torrey Smith TDs on future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey-a 59-yarder and a "short" 32-yarder that was a thing of Lynn Swannian beauty. Of course, you know by now, but I'll tell you again anyway.
Forty-two seconds left, no timeouts, and on their own 30, Jacoby Jones hits the jets down the sideline. With the pocket collapsing, Joe Flacco spots him, steps up, toe to the line, and drops a 70-yard F-Bomb (that's a Flacco Bomb, if you were wondering. Great games need names, I'm nominating BMore F-Bombs Broncos) on the Broncos D that shocks the world and nearly shut down Twitter. Top it off with a double-overtime Ravens win, and it's not only the greatest game in Baltimore postseason history-if the Ravens go on to win the Super Bowl, it's right there as one of the greatest games of all time. I really haven't yet come to grips with that game. If Flacco misses Jones, I'm still giddy. It was a remarkable effort by a team that seems to be peaking at just the right moment. But to win it? It's still too big for my tiny brain.
Now the Ravens head up to New England, and Vegas has pegged them as nine-and-a-half point underdogs. That's the same odds they had in Denver, and it's sound thinking. The Patriots have been one of the hottest teams in football, winning nine of their last 10 in the regular season and then pounding the Texans, a team that, in turn, pounded the Ravens for a second time in the division round. They've got a tough home crowd, and the Ravens have been uneven on the road all year. New England's pass defense has improved with the return of cornerback Aqib Talib, and Ravens' killer/man-manatee hybrid Vincent Wilfork, who was just named All-Pro, leads a stout run D ranked ninth in the league. That run D will not only cause trouble for running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but it could also play havoc with the Black Birds' play-action passing game. The Patriots have Bill Belichick, their genius coach who apparently traded every ounce of his God-given fashion sense for preternatural football savvy and quarterback Gisele Bndchen's Husband. It's enough to stack the odds further in their favor, and they've already won this game. The Patriots beat the Ravens in last year's AFC Championship and the oddsmakers have got to be thinking this looks like dj vu all over again.
But there are some good reasons for the Ravens to be optimistic. While the Pats' pass defense is improving, they allowed a staggering 74 passes of 20 yards or more, including a couple of F-Bombs to Torrey Smith in the Ravens' Week Three Sunday-night victory. This could be a huge mismatch for the Ravens' big-play speedsters Smith and Jacoby Jones, who has been a much bigger part of the Ravens' game plan under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. And while the Patriots have played tough against the run, Caldwell has shown he's willing to stick with Ray Rice and the running game, even if it's starting slow. Considering the 150 total yards Rice put up in the prior meeting, it's doubtful the Ravens will be intimidated.
The Ravens are playing their best football of the season right now. The defense that was so often suspect during the regular season is playing at a higher level. There's the return of Ray Lewis and his remarkable leadership, but perhaps more important has been the improved play of fellow linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, rookie Courtney Upshaw, and developing sack-monster Paul Kruger. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line that offered the protective qualities of a colander for much of the year has been rejiggered, with left tackle Bryant McKinnie getting back into the starting lineup and forming a mauling one-two with natural left guard Kelechi Osemele. And as for the big personality, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has gone X for O with Belichick and done it without looking like he found his wardrobe in a hobo's giveaway pile.
And then there's that game last week in Denver. This Ravens team has been rolling in winner stink, and no one reeks of it more than Joe Flacco. Flacco smells like he could spot them a dozen points and still lead the Washington Generals to victory over the Harlem Globetrotters. Flacco has come up big in big games for three straight years, and head to head, he has thoroughly outplayed Gisele Bndchen's Husband in their last two meetings. Flacco has outgained Tom Brady with 688 yards, five touchdowns, and only two interceptions-versus Mr. Bndchen's 574 yards, only one TD, and a pair of picks in those two games-and he was a Lee Evans drop from taking this team to the Super Bowl a year ago.
I'm just spitballin' here, but look for this year to be different. Joe Cool's going to drop a couple F-Bombs on Foxborough and win a scorcher late, 37-30.