Ravens survive, head to Foxboro

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Ravens survive, head to Foxboro

Next up for the Patriots: Baltimore. The Ravens capitalized on a first-quarter special teams gaffe by the Texans and survived a brilliant effort by Houston's defense to advance to next Sunday's AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens are lucky to be alive. And the Patriots offense is going to face its stiffest test of the year (though it might have been even more daunting if Houston won). Check the missteps and bad breaks by Houston. A first-quarter punt muff by Jacoby Jones inside his 10 led to a touchdown. It was a 2-yard drive. The Ravens' next drive ended with a field goal and the first T.J. Yates interception led to the final Ravens score of the first quarter and a 17-3 lead. In the fourth, Yates was picked off twice. The final Yates interception came on a throw to the end zone with 1:51 left that Ed Reed came down with. The would-be game-tying throw was Yates' third pick. The Texans also had a Billy Cundiff field goal hit the crossbarAll that was enough for Baltimore to survive the Texans defense which sacked Joe Flacco five times and allowed just 75 yards on 19 carries to Ricky Williams and Ray Rice. Flacco was 14-for-27 for 176 yards. The Ravens offensive line looked terrible, getting collapsed regularly. And Flacco looked like a guy trying to will himself invisible when the pressure swirled. Didn't work. New England can't bring that kind of heat. And the Ravens' downfield threats -- especially the underrated Anquan Boldin (4 catches and 73 yards) -- are more potent and stand a better chance of testing them than the Broncos could have. Still, the Ravens offense is not terrifying. Not by a long shot. And New England has its best performance of the season to build upon. What was more alarming for the Ravens -- and encouraging for the Patriots -- was the permissiveness of their defense. Inaccurate as Yates was, he found receivers all over the yard running fairly free. And Arian Foster absolutely feasted on the ground running behind the Texans line which just overpowered the Ravens front-seven. Foster carried 27 times for 132 yards. Andre Johnson had 111 yards receiving on eight catches. The Ravens didn't get a sack of Yates. Terrell Suggs was quiet as a church mouse. And Ed Reed appeared to get injured on the final Houston play of the game. We'll watch those this week. So, in short, Baltimore won against a team that threw it to them three times and handed them the ball on the 2-yard line. And they still won by just a touchdown. At home. Underwhelming win. But can the Patriots make the Ravens look as bad offensively as they did against Houston? We'll certainly be discussing it over the next couple of days.

Steelers descending into disarray?

Steelers descending into disarray?

Less than 48 hours removed from openly wondering if the AFC Championship Game stage was “too big” for some of his young teammates, Ben Roethlisberger has decided to play the latter-day Hamlet/Brett Favre game.

Speaking on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday, Roethlisberger hinted at retirement.

“I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options,” Roethlisberger said. “To consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season. All those things. I think at this point in my career, at my age, that’s the prudent and smart thing to do every year.”

The soon-to-be-35-year-old Roethlisberger is a likely Hall of Famer who’s still arguably one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. But for whatever reason, he’s got an insatiable need for people to register concern about his status. Whether it be limping around the field, lamenting injuries or this, few quarterbacks in the league go through the same histrionics Roethlisberger does in order to get those, “Attaboy, Ben!” backslaps.

I remember being at Steelers training camp in 2009 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and having veteran Steelers writers roll their eyes as Roethlisberger started hopping around like he was on hot coals after a throw. The quarterback having an owie act was a daily tradition.

Roethlisberger’s also got a passive aggressive side in which he’ll deftly twist the knife on coaches and teammates but leave himself enough room for plausible deniability.

In addition to openly wondering if his young teammates took the AFC Championship Game seriously enough, Roethlisberger gave the “just running the plays as I’m told” answer when asked about the Steelers resistance to running a quarterback sneak when they were at the Patriots goal line before halftime. Roethlisberger could have taken offensive coordinator Todd Haley off the hook there – he’s lobbied for Haley to get a head coaching shot after the two had a bad relationship when Haley arrived. But he opted not to.

Similarly, earlier this year, Roethlisberger’s critiques of the way head coach Mike Tomlin was running the team were aired. 

So, this could be part of a Roethlisberger power play aimed at the Steelers bowing to his wishes.

That wasn’t the only tidbit from Pittsburgh that looked bad for the AFC finalists. Linebacker Bud Dupree said the Steelers were surprised by the Patriots using an up-tempo offense earlier in the game. 

Do they not have electricity or internet access in the Steelers facility? Up-tempo is a staple part of the Patriots offensive diet. You can see it on the television or the internet through your smart phone.

While there’s no doubt that defensive coordinator Keith Butler – and defensive minded head coach Tomlin – were aware and talked about the Patriots going no-huddle, the fact Dupree (and his teammates) were unable to recall the preparation or adequately fall into an emergency plan to address it does fall on the coaches.

Need more? It’s also being leaked out of the building that Antonio Brown cares too much about his statistics. He made clear last week how much he cares about advancing his personal brand at the expense of Tomlin and the team with his Facebook Live video. 

If there’s an upside for anyone in all this, it would have to be Joey Porter. Nobody’s even talking about his off-field fracas anymore.

As this season ably demonstrated, the Patriots have plum run out of authentic rivals in the AFC. That the team they just pulverized is steamrolling into an offseason of dysfunction and uncertainty isn't good if you like parity. But it's terrific if you couldn't care less.