Not Such a Happy New Year for Baltimore.

Baltimore Ravens

 

If you’re a Baltimore Ravens fan like I am, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Our team is a reasonably acceptable 10-6, especially when compared to any number of other quarterback-hungry teams in the NFL. Unless you consider that we are 1-4 in the last 5 games, including two divisional losses to the Steelers and Bengals respectively. Not a great way to end the regular season by any measure.

Usually around this time of the year, I’d be giving thanks to the football gods, whether or not they exist, for helping my team continue as one of the NFL’s elite when it comes to making the playoffs year in and year out. Only teams like the Philadelphia Eagles under Andy Reid(before this season), the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick, New Orleans and Indianapolis Colts(with Peyton Manning) could claim as many consecutive playoff appearances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still giving thanks for not being a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars or Carolina Panthers. Thanks for not having Kyle Boller as my starting QB, and thanks for having Justin Tucker instead of Billy Cundiff as our kicker. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but something just feels different this season. Kind of like having a dozen snakes crawling around in my stomach, telling me something is wrong with the greatest team to ever play professional football.

I know that sounds biased but since I don’t really care about any other team than my Ravens, I don’t really care. Taking a look at some of the other teams that are joining us in the playoffs, especially troubling are the Denver Broncos and the Patriots. We got beaten down like a red-headed stepchild a few weeks ago by Peyton Manning and Co., and it doesn’t look like our defense has figured anything out since then. Princess Brady is throwing like an MVP candidate again this season, and if we couldn’t seal the deal last year when our defense wasn’t ranked in the bottom half of the league, I don’t see how we will this year.

Sure could use a miracle right about now, God.

Until the past couple weeks, Houston and its brutish manchild at defensive end, J.J. Watt, looked like they could beat the snot out of  the rest of the NFL. They sure did when they played us earlier this season. They plain embarrassed us, winning by only around 30 points. Big deal, right? WRONG. For all the faith and bravado I usually have in my team, all the blustering in the world isn’t going to change the fact that we are having trouble on both sides of the ball. Even if we take a Mulligan on this week’s game at Cincinnati, I mean we did sit our starters, we still went 1-3, losing all 3 by a combined 12 points. I don’t feel like there’s a single easy win available on our playoff schedule. Especially not on the AFC side. At times like this, you really gotta dig down deep and ask yourself the following question: “If the Ravens play their absolute best on Sunday, will it be enough to win if __(Insert Team Here)__ plays their absolute best as well?” By now your probably getting that wiggly feeling in your stomach as well… if you didn’t already have it before and were just ignoring it.

I guess the only thing we can do this year is remember the good times we had over the past couple years. Especially last year. Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Ravens were amazing success stories in 2012. The Orioles performed way beyond my wildest dreams, even going so far as to crush those irritating Texas Rangers in the wildcard round. The Ravens came a Billy Cundiff untied shoelace away from possibly going to the Super Bowl. I know, I know, anything can happen on any given Sunday.

So do you really believe this team has a real chance to win a championship this season?

Here are a few final questions and thoughts:

Can Flacco not give up too many Saccos? (Note: That’s such a terrible line, yet it’s so catchy and everyone says it around here.)

Can Torrey Smith be consistently good for 4 straight games?

Can Michael Oher do anything other than beat up drug dealers in a movie based loosely on his life? (Zing!) Can Terrell Suggs regain his form that got him a defensive MVP award ?

Are Ray Lewis & Ed Reed too old to play solid Ravens football?

Can Justin Tucker, as amazing as he’s been in the regular season, keep his cool in the playoffs?

Can new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell run an effective offense with two weeks under his belt?

Read, React, Response and Comment. Oh, and ENJOY!

~Michael, WONG_83@HOTMAIL.com

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YEAAAAH! O’s Go The Distance, AGAIN!

I’ve been waiting a long, long time to feel this good.

Let’s make this short and sweet, the Baltimore Orioles won tonight in dramatic fashion on the New York Yankee‘s home turf. After 15 straight losing seasons, the Orioles stay alive with the win tonight. They now have a chance to clinch a spot in the American League Championship Series(ALCS) against the Detroit Tigers.

Of course to get there they’ll have to beat the Yankees one more time in a winner-take-all game 5 showdown in the Bronx. The odds are stacked against them, having played and won more overtime games than any other ball club this season, but it seems like the sky is the limit for the boys in orange & black.

I’ve asked God, Allah, Buddha, the Devil.., basically anyone with the power to give this team the win, for help. Just for good measure. To any other demigods, spirits, ghosts, demons, or leprechauns listening, we could use a little help turning that pop-fly into a home-run or having the Yankees starting pitcher leave one hanging over the middle of the plate. As long as we’re still communicating, thanks a lot for bringing Manny Machado to the Orioles. He’s really shored up Baltimore’s defense at third base, a position with more in common with a Merry-go-Round for most of the regular season.

Also, I’d like to thank whoever brought Manager Buck Showalter to Charm City. Without his steady hand guiding our team and making roster moves all year-long, we would have never won 90+ games and beat out the Los Angeles Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays for the final wildcard spot in the American League. Sure it would’ve been nice to win the AL East Pennant, but I’m not complaining since we beat the fearsome Texas Rangers for a chance to play against our arch-rivals in the AL Divisional Series.

In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone I would rather play in the ALDS than the Yankees. With a little help from J.J. Hardy, I think we can beat the Yankees in Game 5. This would only be fair since the Yankees still owe us for knocking Nick Markakis out with a hand injury near the end of the regular season.  I typically consider myself a fairly decent person, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be very sad if Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, or Curtis Granderson got struck by lightning, getting horribly maimed and therefore not being able to play the rest of the postseason.

Either way, whether we win or lose this series, I’d have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with how well our team played this year. Even though Jim Johnson hasn’t played nearly as well as we had during the regular season, he sure made up for it with a save in Game 4. I think our team as a whole improved greatly from the sub-.500 season last year. A lot of people might be devastated if we don’t make it to the ALCS; I’m not one of those people.

Just the fact that we won 3 postseason games this year is more than I could have ever dreamed of before the season started. More than anyone could have dreamed of. At least I’m not one of those guys who never watched a Orioles game, never followed the team or even skimmed an article about them in the Baltimore Sun. It really annoys me when I see people posting on Facebook about how much their “home-team” means to them, especially when I never heard them talk about the Orioles before they got to the postseason.

Now suddenly they have become the biggest Orioles fan. Where were these ‘fanatics’ when the Orioles were dumping money on aging veterans, just to see the team falter after the All-Star Break. Where were they when Cal Ripken Jr. retired from baseball, leaving us with a small-market team with a bad farm system that couldn’t win 75 games if their professional lives depended on it. I’ll tell you exactly where they were. Rooting for those dirty Yankees, or the Washington Nationals.

Whether they win or lose, I’m proud to have been a fan of Baltimore baseball for most of my life. Watching them play and win all those close games and overtime games has only made my love for this team even stronger. They say you can’t really experience pleasure without knowing what pain feels like. They also say you can’t really appreciate something until it’s been taken away.

I was only a child when I went to my first ball-game at Camden Yards. The Orioles were still good then, with an uncertain future looming over the horizon. Baltimore went from being a playoff contender to last in our division in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Being so young, I never really realized how bad it felt being 20 games out of 1st place until it actually happened. Now imagine your team being 20 games out of 1st place by mid-season, every year for over a decade.

You can’t even imagine how much pleasure and appreciation I feel now that Baltimore baseball, thanks to Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, is back for good.

*KNOCK, KNOCK*

That’s the sound of me knocking on wood.

~MSW, WONG_83@HOTMAIL.COM (PS: Thanks for helping Joe Saunders not give up his career average during the game against Texas.)

The Author is a longtime Baltimore Orioles/Ravens fan, having been born at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Southeast Baltimore. One of his favorite childhood memories is going to Camden Yards for the first time, and actually seeing people in the stands. He hopes that one day, he’ll see the old ball-park filled to capacity regularly, rather than just during postseason games.