By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
BALTIMORE, Md.—As great as the Baltimore Ravens defense is, it’s too bad their offense is not held in the same esteem.
On a day when their defense held Peyton Manning and the powerful Colts offense to five field goals and no touchdowns, the Ravens offense failed to be consistent when it needed be. The Colts came away with a 15-6 victory in the AFC Divisional Playoffs at M&T Bank Stadium to advance to the AFC Championship game where they will take on the New England Patriots.
The Ravens, who led the NFL in turnover ratio this season, shot themselves in the foot by committing four turnovers. McNair threw two interceptions on drives where it looked like Baltimore would put points on the board. Perhaps the most devastating of the two picks occurred early in the second quarter when the Ravens had the ball at the Colts 4-yard line and McNair was picked off by rookie and Howard University grad Antoine Beathea at the one.
“Our turnovers, you can’t turn the ball over in a championship style game,” said Ravens head coach Brian Billick. “You just can’t do it. Obviously, it was very disappointing at that point in the game to not come away with the touchdown and change the temperament of the game and we didn’t.”
McNair took responsibility for the offense’s inability to establish any kind of rhythm on offense. He said the little things such as untimely penalties contributed to the Raiders demise against the Colts.
“We just didn’t execute. We make a big play, and come back and throw an interception or we get a penalty, false start and then we get a holding call, things like that. Just the little things stopped us from getting into a rhythm,” McNair said.
What really hurt the Ravens was their inability to convert on third down. Baltimore was a mere 2 of 11 on third down conversions. The Ravens failed to get into any kind of offensive rhythm throughout the game and wasted another good effort by their defense.
“That hurt big time and that always kills you,” said Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who gained 53 yards on 13 carries. “When you’re playing a team like the Indianapolis Colts, you really do want to get those third downs and keep the changes and keep things going so you can keep Peyton Manning off the field.”
Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason put the offense’s weak performance in its proper perspective. He said the defense did everything it could to win, but the offense didn’t hold up their end.
“We just didn’t play well today. You can’t sugar coat it. Anytime you can hold that offense to 15 points, you should be able to win the game and we didn’t,” he said.
For the second straight game, the much-maligned Colts defense came up big. They allowed six points and allowed just 83 yards rushing.
“That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to go out there and make some turnovers and get our offense back on the field and get off the field on third downs,” said Colts defensive lineman Raheem Brock.
Manning and the Colts offense didn’t necessarily bring their A-game. Manning threw two interceptions and the Colts failed to score a touchdown. But their offense was good enough to give kicker Adam Vinatieri the opportunity to score points with his legs. The former Patriots kicked five field goals, including a 51-yarder that bounced off the crossbar, to give Indy all the points they would need. Vinatieri set a career post season record for the most field goals in playoff history.
“Adam has been exceptional all year,” said Colts head coach Tony Dungy. “Offensively, it was how we thought it would be. You’re looking for plays and we got just enough of them. We missed some, but that’s how they force you to play.
”Manning had another sub-par outing completing 15 of 30 passes for 170 yards and two interceptions by Ed Reed. The Ravens could have had even more interceptions but they were dropped. For Manning it was an ugly game, but the important thing is they came away with the win.
“It’s tough to get into sync against these guys. They don’t let you,” Dungy said. “You know you’re going to get a play here and a play there. When you get the opportunity, you got to make it count.”
Meanwhile, Manning himself said he relished being the underdog over the last two weeks, especially in this game against Baltimore. He said is expecting the same thing against the winner of San Diego and New England.
“People are saying who are you pulling for in tomorrow’s game and if you want to play at home.You have to be careful of what you wish for,” Manning said. “Both teams that we play next week are awesome and outstanding. And if we don’t play well next week we won’t win.”