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Spitballin’

The Thriller in the Chiller

In the most ill-conceived celebration of all time, my cousin Marty high-fived me then punched me in the stomach.

As time was winding down in Sunday’s Baltimore Ravens contest with the Minnesota Vikings, the two teams conspired to provide a perfect 2:05 recap of the Ravens season so far. Heck, the whole game had been feeling like a metaphor for 2013. As I walked into the stadium, the place felt electric. There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of watching a football game in the snow, except for maybe the excitement of preparing to watch your hometown team in its title defense season. Then there was the slow slog through more than three-and-a-half quarters of football duller than a Ginsu knife after cutting through a box of bowling balls. During that long stretch of flaccid football, it was hard not to see the parallels between this game and the long joy drought that has been much of the season. As the clock ticked toward the two-minute warning with the Ravens down by six, hope was hard to find. The waterproofing on my boots had long before given up the ghost, and my fingers were faced with a choice: ball up in the palm part of my gloves and hide from the soggy, icy finger extremities, or preempt frostbite and simply fall off of their own accord—and then we ran out of beer. That moment felt a lot like Week Nine, when the Ravens lost to the Browns for their third loss in a row and all I could think was, Wow. This sucks, and why the hell am I still here?

Then that final 2:05 hit, and the Ravens went from down a score and long on doubt to a Dennis Pitta-back-from-injury TD that felt like a little Super Bowl but was just the first of a fusillade of five scores that tossed the crowd’s emotions about like some sort of sadistic seesaw. I have never before, and if there’s anything to probability or prayers, never will again experience such psychic whiplash. From our seats in the corner of the end zone, Jacoby Jones’ blistering bolt down the sideline was a moment of ecstasy. I’m not sure how he kept his feet in bounds, either something he learned dancing with the stars or, more likely, voodoo magic, but in the most ill-conceived celebration of all time, my cousin Marty high-fived me then punched me in the stomach, and for the first time in my life, I felt the full force of the World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum. If you told me right then we were only halfway through, I’d have punched you in the gut. And that insane up-and-down has been exactly like this season. It seems every week the fans go from giving up to buying tickets to New Jersey for the Super Bowl. The Black Birds’ll win one they shouldn’t and then lose one (or even three) they couldn’t. It’s been like riding an epileptic Brahman bull.

Now, before I get back to the flow of this whole column thing, I want to take a moment to explain to you what I think happened. At halftime the stadium grounds crew brought in the heavy anti-snow artillery and cleared the entire field of all the fluffy stuff that had fallen so far. The snowy field was hardly a fast track, but it provided traction. Once they got down to the carpet, things changed, and then the weather started to shift, waffling between snow and the dreaded “wintry mix.” Halfway through the fourth quarter, the mix was gone, and the ice was on. I can’t speak to the carpet on the field, but in the rest of the stadium, the concrete had become like a skating rink. Watching the drunks flopping in the stands briefly became more interesting than the game. At that point, defenders didn’t stand a chance. They looked like they’d ditched their cleats and instead tacked banana peels to the bottoms of their shoes (an invention I call the Land Skate). Any attempt at changing direction without a good deal of forethought became an exercise in futility. Of course, like when you learned how your parents made you, knowing how it happened doesn’t make it any less shocking that it did happen.

And speaking of shock, this Ravens roller coaster ain’t over yet. At 7-6 the Ravens are two games behind Cincinnati for the division. The Bengals would have to lose at least one more game than the Ravens over the next two weeks to make the teams’ head-to-head to end the season a battle for the playoffs. The Bengals’ remaining schedule—at Pittsburgh and at home against the Vikings—makes that unlikely, but if it happens, woo boy! The energy is gonna be like that last 45-second Flacco drive all over again. More realistically, though, the Ravens are going to be fighting for their playoff lives, trying to hold off the Dolphins who, along with the Chargers, share the Ravens’ 7-6 record. Unlike the Chargers, however, who go into Denver this Thursday and then are at home against the Chiefs in Week 17, the Fish have the easiest schedule of the teams still in the hunt. They’ve got a tough one at home against the Patriots, then off to Buffalo, and home again for the Jets. The Ravens are not so lucky, with three very tough games left to play, going to Detroit in the dome, where the Lions eat opponents like Christians; then home against New England, who will hopefully be without superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski; and finally back on the road versus the Bengals. If the Ravens lose this week and either of those two squads win, we’ll be looking up again.

As long as the Ravens keep winning, each new week will be a must-win. With each loss, it will be scoreboard-watching time. There’s just three weeks left in the season and it’s bound to be a bumpy ride. But if the Baltimore Ravens have proven one thing, it’s that they are built for bumpy rides.

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