Whew. Colts got BadNFL back to .500, but only barely, as they beat the Ravens 17-15, exceeding the 1.5 point spread by a mere half point. Here's how they did it:
The Ravens were pathetic in the red zone.
Sometimes, a game boils down to one simple stat: the Ravens only got 2 FGs out of their 4 trips inside the red zone. Responsible were a confluence of factors, chiefly that the Colts' defense stiffened in the red zone, making plays all game including a game sealing interception by Gary Brackett. But even more than the Colts' defense, which was solid--and has statistically climbed to become one of the elite defenses in the league--I thought the problem came down to poor decisionmaking by Joe Flacco. As I wrote in my prediction for this game, I've never been on the Flacco bandwagon, and he was quite pedestrian on Sunday. Part of it is certainly his woefully inadequate collection of pass catchers, but a major part of it was the sheer predictability of his reads. Breaking down the film on Flacco, it's obvious that he locks onto Ray Rice short over the middle when under pressure in the red zone, and on the crucial Brackett interception, the Ravens put three defenders on Rice and Flacco tried to force it into him anyway! That ended the game, and it was symptomatic of the Ravens' struggles of late; Flacco has now gone 3 straight games without a TD pass.
1. The Colts are barely winning right now. Many analysts thought that the Colts were generally outplayed in this game. Manning certainly wasn't happy with the way the offense played. His stats weren't pretty, the Colts had an uncharacteristic fumble inside the 10 yardline, and they never seemed to get in a rhythm the whole game. But somehow, as they've done all year, they squeaked out the win. In other words, I am really not confident in the Colts right now, and I could see their run coming to an end sooner rather than later.
2. The Ravens' special teams are a reason to hate them in close games. The one aspect of my prediction that I did get right was this: "Finally, in a close game, you have to trust the Colts to eek out the win, since the Ravens' kicking game has been an unmitigated disaster this year." That was borne out, as Billy Cundiff missed a huge FG that would have been the difference in the game. Moreover, the Ravens' lack of confidence in the kicking game, combined with their fear of giving the ball back to Manning with 2 minutes left, led them to call an aggressive pass play at the end of the game when they were already in field goal range. It's true that the Ravens still have a point differential that suggests they are one of the top teams in the NFL. But as I noted earlier after one of my picks premised on that exact logic fell through, the Ravens have been finding ways to lose close games, and their late game futility was on display Sunday. That's why, although this bet barely came through, I'll gladly take it.