Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gary Shelton: Can't keep these Ravens down

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.

The quarterback is unlikely. The defense is aging. The team is improbable.

So how in the world do you explain these Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl?

Even in their moments of triumph after beating the Patriots 28-13 in the AFC title game Sunday night, it was hard to figure out just how the Ravens pulled this unexpected journey off. This was a team that was supposed to stop by the playoffs, nothing more. By now, everyone figured, the Ravens would have given a gold watch to its retiring linebacker Ray Lewis and gotten out of the way.

Yet, here they are.

Yet, there they go.

Miracle after miracle, the Ravens have found a way. Surprise after surprise, they have snuck up on a Super Bowl that no one expected them to reach. You could have gotten better odds on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel being repainted … by Sherwin-Williams.

True, other wild-card teams have reached the Super Bowl before. It really isn't that rare anymore. But no other team has conquered Peyton Manning and Tom Brady back-to-back on its victory march. No other team had less momentum, losing four out of its last five games and firing its offensive coordinator in December.

This was Peyton Manning's year, remember? He had one of the best comebacks in history, and he put up MVP-type numbers, and it was easy to believe he was destined to make it to another Super Bowl. And the Ravens beat him and the Broncos.

This was Tom Brady's back yard, remember? No one came into Foxborough and beat the Patriots. They were 7-1 in AFC title games before this, and since 2002, they had won 10 of their 12 playoff games at Gillette Stadium. Some were already calling Brady the best quarterback in NFL history, which made it easy to believe he was heading toward yet another Super Bowl. And the Ravens beat him, too.

How did this happen? And furthermore, when? Did the Ravens become a contender when they beat the Colts in the first round? When they won the stunner against the Broncos?

Now comes the HarBowl: The 49ers and the Ravens.

Anyone want to bet against this team?

Oh, there are moments these Ravens sputter and moments they spew. They are not particularly flashy or slick. And the defense that has carried them for more than a decade has started to show some wear. On the other hand, that defense gave up only one touchdown to Brady on Sunday night.

Then there is Joe Flacco the Unappreciated. There are moments you can see the Ravens QB's rough edges, too. He hit only one of his first six passes Sunday night, and for a while, it seemed as if it was only a matter of time until the Patriots took over.

Sometimes, however, small injuries make big differences. Observe, for instance, the familiar face who spent most of the game on the Patriots' sideline.

It is fair to say this was the kind of game the Patriots had in mind when they traded for Aqib Talib, the troubled cornerback who once played for the Bucs. New England just hoped it would be Talib's entrance into the lineup, not his exit, that would be the difference.

The early season had demonstrated just how suspect the New England secondary was, and when the Bucs finally had their fill of Talib's off-the-field headlines, the Patriots decided to take the risk. In his time with the Patriots, Talib had drawn mostly positive reviews.

On the Ravens' second series of the game, however, Talib grabbed at his leg while defending a third-and-12 pass over the middle. He spent the rest of the night in a parka and a wool hat, watching from the sideline.

Oh, so that's why the Patriots wanted Talib.

After Talib's injury, Flacco was a different quarterback. He hit 20 of his last 30 passes for 223 yards, and he finished with three touchdowns and no interceptions. New England coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots made adjustments after losing Talib, but nothing that plugged the leak.

The Patriots still haven't announced if Talib is coming back next season. If not, this will leave a lasting final image of him in the New England area.

As far as the Ravens, there are still images left to savor.

There is a Super Bowl ahead. John Harbaugh gets to coach against his brother, 49ers coach Jim. Joe Flacco gets to play against Colin Kaepernick. Ray Rice gets to run against Patrick Willis.

Odds are, the Ravens will fall behind. Odds are, Flacco will make a big throw or two. Odds are, Baltimore will go into the final quarter with a chance to surprise America one more time.

Go ahead. Remind the Ravens they are underdogs. Tell them they can't win.

Just understand if they don't listen.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

Comments
NFL Playoffs: Reconsidering the franchise quarterback imperative

NFL Playoffs: Reconsidering the franchise quarterback imperative

TAMPA — So much for needing a franchise quarterback to reach the Super Bowl.Sure, the Patriots Tom Brady is back in his seventh straight conference championship game and his 12th overall. But check out the other schlubs under center SundayIt's ...
Published: 01/19/18
Happy 15th anniversary to the greatest play in Bucs history: Ronde Barber shuts down the Vet

Happy 15th anniversary to the greatest play in Bucs history: Ronde Barber shuts down the Vet

Fifteen years ago today, cornerback Ronde Barber made what's considered the greatest play in Bucs  history, returning an interception of Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb 92-yards for a game-clinching touchdown in a 27-10 win in the NFC Championship...
Published: 01/19/18
Jameis Winston shares MLK’s message: Don’t lose infinite hope

Jameis Winston shares MLK’s message: Don’t lose infinite hope

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, only weeks removed from a disappointing 2017 season, had a relevant but larger message for teenagers on Friday morning: Don't let small setbacks keep you from your dreams."If you have a phone, if you have a pen and pa...
Published: 01/19/18
Greatest moment in Tampa Bay sports history happened 15 years ago today

Greatest moment in Tampa Bay sports history happened 15 years ago today

Happy Friday, Tampa Bay.Fifteen years ago today, Ronde Barber intercepted Donovan McNabb to shut down Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium and send the Bucs to the Super Bowl. Times columnist Tom Jones and many others consider this the greatest moment in ...
Published: 01/19/18
Rick and Tom podcast: Super Bowl berths on the line

Rick and Tom podcast: Super Bowl berths on the line

In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones look back at last week’s playoff games to break down the upcoming conference championship games.Rick and Tom agree that New England should roll over Jacksonville but disagree on Minnesota-Philadelphi...
Published: 01/19/18
Rick and Tom podcast: What does it mean when Bucs GM cringes at expectations?

Rick and Tom podcast: What does it mean when Bucs GM cringes at expectations?

Bucs general manager Jason Licht told Rick Stroud that he cringed at some of the preseason expectations last season, and the outrage from some fans has been more than he expected.In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones break down what it a...
Published: 01/18/18
DeSean Jackson says Jameis Winston needs to stop trying to “impress the world,” and play his game

DeSean Jackson says Jameis Winston needs to stop trying to “impress the world,” and play his game

Receiver DeSean Jackson stopped short of saying he regretted his decision to sign a three-year, $33.5-million contract as a free agent with the Bucs last March. But he certainly is disappointed in his lack of chemistry with quarterback Jameis Winston...
Published: 01/17/18
Bucs LB Kwon Alexander headed to Pro Bowl

Bucs LB Kwon Alexander headed to Pro Bowl

Kwon Alexander is headed to the Pro Bowl.The third-year Bucs linebacker, who led the NFL in solo tackles a year ago, was announced Tuesday as an injury replacement for Seattle's Bobby Wagner.Alexander, 23, won't have to go far, as the game is back in...
Published: 01/16/18

AFCCONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPJaguars at Patriots, 3 p.m. Sunday TV: CBS Line/OU: Patriots by 7½; 45NFCCONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPVikings at Eagles, 6:40 p.m. Sunday TV: Fox Line/OU: Vikings by 3; 38½Super Bowl LIIJaguars or Patriots vs. Vikings or Eagles, 6...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/19/18

Shrine Game journal: Homecoming for Utah OL Salesi Uhatafe; Quinton Flowers works on snaps

ST. PETERSBURG — Salesi Uhatafe is back in his hometown, and though he moved to Texas when he was still a baby, it’s very much a homecoming as the former Utah offensive lineman plays in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field."I’ll probab...
Published: 01/15/18