Updated, 3:58 p.m.
Cue up Peaches and Herb. "Reunited" should be playing over the M&T Stadium sound system around 11 o'clock Sunday morning.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan and D-coordinator Dennis Thurman were assistant coaches with Baltimore, most recently in 2008 on John Harbaugh's first staff as the Ravens' head coach. Harbaugh also was an assistant with O-coordinator Marty Mornhinweg on the Eagles. Jets safeties Dawan Landry and Ed Reed were starting safeties for the Birds for half a decade. Baltimore S James Ihedigbo began his pro career with the Jets in '07.
But after the bro hugs will come brother vs. brother. In the parlance of the NFL, in a game like this, go with the team that has the most to lose. But which team is it?
The Jets are still in control of their AFC Wild Card destiny, since if they run the table they'll beat out Miami, the only other 5-5 team at the top of the sixth-seed pile. But a loss drops the Green & White into the pool of playoff piranhas a game behind, including the 4-6 Ravens. And a loss would further sink them to a dismal to 2-6 in conference games, a key tiebreaker.
"We have to go out there," QB Geno Smith said, "and we have to win."
Baltimore is merely the defending Super Bowl champion trying to avoid the ignominy of not even getting back to the postseason the following year. They've lost four of their last five, all close games, to fall two games underwater, and they'd like nothing better than to right their ship in front of their loud loyalists.
Dan Dierdorf, who will be calling this game with Greg Gumbel for CBS and announced earlier this week that he's retiring from the TV booth after this year, put the purple team's task equally succinctly:
"For the Ravens, this is an all-in game."
Here are 10 things to look for in this important AFC clash:
1. Harboring Doubts? — The M&T setting is picturesque, the seafood exquisite in the Baltimore Inner Harbor area. But the place has never sat well with the Jets, who are winless in four trips and in fact have never held a halftime or second-half lead there. The last win in the city of Baltimore was by 10-6 in 1983 — over the Colts. Early signs of nerves or, conversely, of steely reserve such as no giveaways or no quick or growing deficit could foretell how we'll fare in this road test.
2. Bombs Away — The desire to go up top will be strong. The one nice thing Geno Smith did last week was find Santonio Holmes for 33 and 38 yards, and Baltimore has allowed 25 passes of 25+ yards, tied for 24th in the NFL. Guess who else is tied for 24th? The Jets, who gave up four 25+ plays to the Bills and need to be on their game against Joe Flacco-to-Torrey Smith. "Flacco's got a huge arm. This is a vertical passing team," Rex Ryan said today. "Absolutely we're expecting a ton of shots thrown at us."
- Turn It Over —** We'll take any takeaway at this point. Landry/Reed can show the way — they had 39 of their combined career interceptions together with the Ravens — and Antonio Cromartie, who's struggled on deep balls this season, has 28 career picks, 11 as a Jet. With Flacco on his usual 20-INTs pace with 13 so far, a Jets theft or two is doable. But how about a fumble recovery? We've recovered just one opponent fumble in the last nine games, the kind of drought experienced only once before in franchise history, back in 1967 (two recoveries in the first 12 games).
4. Fried Rice — It's possible that Ray Rice got back on track at Chicago with 131 yards on 25 carries. On the other hand, the Birds are still 31st with 3.0 yards/carry and Harbaugh said Rice's hip flexor has been a factor "but the problems are deeper than that, different than that, and not something I really want to get into." Very cryptic. Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson, and the rest of the Sons of Anarchy will want to get into the backfield with our No 1 rush defense, in position to become the first NFL team in six seasons to allow less than 3.0 yards/carry.
5. He's Got to Move It, Move It — Besides deciding how to balance Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell behind Smith, Mornhinweg has to draw up plans to get Geno galloping again. Smith's passing isn't the only thing that rises and falls in alternate weeks. His rushing line in odd-numbered games: 25 carries, 132 yards, 5.3 avg., three TDs. In even games, it's 12-for-40 (3.3), no TDs. Geno knows he "did a terrible job of moving" in Game 10 at Buffalo. Sunday is Game 11.
|JETS-RAVENS RIVALRY FACTS||Record/Score|
|Regular-Season Series Record||Ravens 7-1|
|Last Game||Ravens 34-17, 2011|
|Last Jets Win||Jets 19-16|
6. Fortify the Flanks — Smith had problems at Buffalo but some were not of his making, namely many of the four sacks and four more hits he absorbed. "You need to protect the quarterback well, especially on the road," said Rex, and Geno surely agrees with that as he tries to stare down the rush of LBs Terrell Suggs (9.0 sacks) and Elvis Dumervil (8.5), both in the NFL's top 10 in sacks. But as Geno said this week, "I have full confidence in my O-line and my right and left tackle, and I know those guys are going to be prepared for the battle."
- Red Light —** Watch if and when we get inside the Baltimore 20. The Ravens are No. 1 in red zone defense with a 32.1% TD rate (9-for-28), which LB Daryl Smith attributes to attitude: "That's our end zone and we don't want anybody in it." But the Birds do give up FGs down there and Nick Folk is still good to convert the three-pointers (although wind could again be an issue as it was at Buffalo). But can we get there in the first place? Our 24 RZ possessions are tied for last in the league. Yet we punched one in with Chris Ivory at Buffalo when it was still something of a game. Maybe we're on a red zone roll.
8. Middle of the Trenches — We all know how the Nick Mangold vs. Haloti Ngata battle went back in primetime in 2011. It never happened because Mangold was out with his high ankle sprain, so Ngata feasted on rookie free agent Colin Baxter. On Wednesday, Nick had worn protection on his right hand for an unspecified soreness. But Ryan said today that Mangold, sans covering, practiced full and his regular and shotgun snapping seemed fine. On the other side, Ngata may not be at full strength with a knee injury that kept him out of Sunday's game and Wednesday's and today's practices.
9. Side by Side — Against the Bills, Reed and Landry started their 60th NFL game alongside each other. The first 59 were with the Ravens from 2006-10. Look and listen for the fans' reception for two of their once-favorite sons. "I spent a lot of time down in Baltimore and plan on spending a lot of time after football in Baltimore," said Reed, "so I would hope there's a warm welcome."
10. No Tandon Ovations — Josh Cribbs has been solid in kick and punt returns for us, but he's been perhaps his sharpest in punt coverage. Cribbs, Ellis Lankster, Isaiah Trufant and company will need to be at their cover best against Tandon Doss, who is the NFL's leading punt returner at 15.6 yards/return with a TD and is in danger of flipping all-important field position in this game at any time.
|First Downs Gained/Game||17.4||18.7|
|First Downs Allowed/Game||17.6||17.4|
|Time of Possession/Game||30:59||29:58|