Baltimore Vs. Houston: Good Game, But A Rivalry?
NOTEBOOK: FLACCO, JOSEPH TO DUEL AGAIN; SUPER BOWL ODDS
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- It's no secret that the Baltimore mentality is defensive, combative and downright feisty.
We're not just talking about sports here. It runs through the fabric of daily life in Charm City, a cosmopolitan-yet-gritty locale where there always seems to be a fight, a hurdle, an obstacle to overcome.
And because it takes two to tango, a pair of parties to light a fire under any possible dispute, the word "rivalry" gets thrown around way too loosely as a result.
For instance, some people are suggesting that the Ravens and Houston Texans have a budding rivalry going, because Sunday's game (1 p.m.; WJZ-TV; WIYY-FM) will be the fourth between the teams in less than two years.
Those suggestions have come in the form of questions from Baltimore broadcast media members who have done their best all week to hype the game.
It might be their job to do such a thing -- indeed, these are the only two AFC teams with winning records, and both are on a bye next week -- but to even consider the Ravens-Texans series a rivalry is foolhardy at best.
Yet, one can't blame someone who has played for both teams, such as Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, for warming up to the concept.
"I think both teams know each other pretty well," Leach said. "Both teams want to be a team on top of the AFC. It's going to be a great game."
Great game? Possibly. But to go so far as to call it a rivalry?
The reasons to debunk such a thing are geographical, historical and numerical.
First, the cities are way too far apart and have widely differing demographic groups to the point that they just don't think about one another. Both cities have their merits and faults, but it's an apples-and-oranges scenario.
Although it is true that Dallas and distant Washington formulate one of the NFL's best archrivalries, that's a rare case of the personalities within the two teams and organizations creating the tension, rather than the cities themselves.
Secondly, the Texans have been around for only a decade; they are currently playing in their 11th season since their creation as an expansion franchise. The Ravens are six years older and these two teams are the most recent franchises to win their first-ever playoff games, but there is no long-standing animus between the teams.
While in Baltimore at the Ed Block Courage Awards banquet last March to pick up his award for being named the league's best assistant coach, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips rolled his eyes at the prospect of coming back to the site of his team's playoff loss, but the indignation was clearly mocking in nature.
That's because Baltimore and Houston aren't exactly blood-and-guts adversaries filled with the hate that fans nationwide have for teams such as the New York Yankees.
Yet, it's true that Baltimore Colts fans didn't like it when the Houston Oilers broke an 18-game losing streak -- third longest in league history -- with a 1973 win at Memorial Stadium.
And it's true that Houston fans don't like the fact that neither the Oilers, Texans or baseball's Astros have won a game in Baltimore since 1996, the longest current losing streak by any city visiting here. But that hasn't engendered a Hatfields-McCoys kind of aura.
That last fact alone is reason enough to put any rivalry talk to bed: for all their recent excellence and talent throughout the roster, the Texans -- the Ravens Report's pick to win the Super Bowl this year -- have never beaten the Ravens, the only AFC team and one of only two NFL squads that can say that, Dallas being the other.
Not during five regular-season meetings, not during last year's Divisional Playoff game, never.
As the Houston Chronicle's John McClain put it, "The Baltimore Ravens own the Texans. They must be partners with [team owner] Bob McNair."
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak agrees.
"It's been one-sided," he said. "[The Ravens] have taken care of us all the times we've played them. [Baltimore has] a [heck] of a football team, and it's a big, big challenge for us."
It's true that the teams do have a few things in common.
They both have on-paper marquee defensive talent, they both have dynamic, game-changing quarterbacks and multi-purpose running backs, as well as deadly accurate kickers. Heck, both teams even have cornerbacks with injured groins (see "Texans Talk," below).
And the bottom line is they both have 5-1 records and are coming off performances that are far less than their best.
But what they do not have is a rivalry.
This is a fight Baltimore can win, but it's not one it can -- or should -- pick.
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME: Today's question:
It's a gloomy weather Friday, so we won't tax your brain too hard today.
True or False: The Ravens have never drafted a player from the two main Houston-area colleges.
The answer will be revealed at the bottom of this entry
INFIRMARY, PRACTICE REPORT: Friday's practice was the usual shorts-and-shells affair, held outdoors under overcast, gloomy conditions.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee, shoulder) was the only player not spotted during the media-viewing period. But even though that was also the case Thursday, he did report to the field and took part on a limited basis after the press had left.
The only player to completely sit out on Thursday, tackle Ramon Harewood (head), reported to the field just before the end of Friday's media viewing.
Three other players who were limited on Thursday were on the field Friday: cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin), tackle Bryant McKinnie (hamstring) and defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu (knee).
Despite all the media attention paid to Terrell Suggs' possible return and Ed Reed's admission of a labrum problem, no further light was shed on either of those ailments.
For the Texans, cornerback Johnathan Joseph (see "Texans Talk," below) is the main injury concern, but it's thought he will play through a groin problem Sunday.
Two members of the offensive line, left guard Wade Smith (knee) and center Chris Myers (hip) have practiced fully and are ready to play.
Salisbury native and backup running back Ben Tate (toe) has been limited this week, but special-teams ace Bryan Braman (knee) -- who blocked a punt against Green Bay last week -- will likely suit up.
TEXANS TALK: Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph has 19 career interceptions, and he has picked off the Ravens' Joe Flacco three times, more than any other quarterback.
But for most of this week, it appeared that Joseph would miss Sunday's game against the Ravens because of the same kind of groin injury that is plaguing Baltimore's Jimmy Smith.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Joseph sat out both Wednesday and Thursday practices -- the only Texan to miss both days -- but it appears he will play against the Ravens.
"He did work with the trainers today," Texans coach Gary Kubiak told the Houston Chronicle. "He's very upbeat, so we'll see where we're at [Friday], but I've felt pretty good about him being there for us on Sunday. I think he's feeling pretty good about it today himself, so we'll see."
The injury has bothered Joseph all year, but until this week, he had not appeared on any of the team's injury reports except for the run-up to the Week Three game against Denver.
But Flacco is certainly aware of Joseph's skills and the problems they present.
"He has been a good corner against us for a while," the quarterback said. "When he was playing in Cincinnati, we respected him. We played him a couple of times last year."
But Flacco didn't seem outwardly sure that Joseph's possible absence would affect his own team's play-calling.
"I don't want to say yes or no," Flacco said. "It's a matter of what we have called and what kind of defense they happen to give us. You have to still take one play at a time.
"I'm sure there will be some matchups that we like throughout the game no matter what. We just have to make sure we take advantage of them."
FOR THE BETTOR: Good news and bad news for Ravens fans: according to Bovada, the Ravens' Super Bowl odds remained unchanged at 9-1, even after losing Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis to injuries.
The bad news is the Green Bay Packers' and New York Giants' odds got shorter -- both are now at 17-2 -- so the Ravens slipped from the fifth-favored team to the seventh favorite.
There is now a three-way tie atop the odds board at 6-1 with New England and the two teams this blog picked for the Super Bowl, San Francisco and Houston. The Atlanta Falcons are at 7-1, followed by the Packers, Giants and Ravens.
Behind Baltimore are Chicago and Denver (12-1 each), followed by a huge drop-off to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Diego at 35-1 each.
The Ravens' odds on winning the AFC North got shorter. They are now at 2-7. Pittsburgh is behind them at 15-4, followed by Cincinnati at 8-1 and Cleveland at 75-1.
A special Bovada betting proposition involves Ray Lewis. The site asks, "What will be Ray Lewis' status for Week One of the 2013 season?"
The favored status is that he will still be a Raven (-250). There are also bets that he will either retire (+250) or be playing for another team (+500).
The site also stated there was a -500 chance -- that is, a very good chance -- that the Ravens will not go unbeaten at home this year.
Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a 5-4 favorite to have the first overall draft pick with Kansas City at 3-2 and Cleveland at 3-1.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: When free safety Ed Reed was asked about the intense media interest in his and the rest of the team's injuries, he instead bizarrely launched into an update of the team's bean-bag-toss tournament:
"I think Torrey [Smith] has surpassed Michael Oher, and [punter] Sam [Koch] is always in the running. Mike says it was a lucky victory, but Torrey is doing rather well. ... So, there's a lot of competition going on right now through here. ...
"...A lot of guys take time to practice it. It's a lot of fun we're having."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's what we asked you earlier in this entry:
It's a gloomy-weather Friday, so we won't tax your brain too hard today.
True or False: The Ravens have never drafted a player from the two main Houston-area colleges.
The key word there is "drafted," and it's true that Baltimore has never used a draft pick on a player from either the University of Houston, known for its run-and-shoot offenses of the past, or Rice University, the last-minute host of Super Bowl VIII (Vikings-Dolphins) when the Astrodome was booked for a boat show.
But one alumnus from each school has donned a Ravens uniform.
In 2007, when the injury-riddled Ravens were suffering from a dearth of cornerback depth, the team relied on many options, including Houston graduate Willie Gaston.
Gaston, who wore No. 44, proved to be less than stellar, getting burned many times by quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the Ravens stumbled down the stretch, losing a club-record nine straight games and getting blown off the field during a number of those contests.
But the Rice alumnus that played for Baltimore has had a significantly greater impact on the team and city.
Former Baltimore Stallions (CFL) linebacker OJ Brigance is unique in that he won a Grey Cup ring with that team and, after a stint with the Miami Dolphins, returned to Charm City to be a Ravens special-teams ace.
Brigance, who is fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is the team's senior player development advisor and one of the most beloved figures in Baltimore football history.
Posted Oct. 19, 2012