Extra Points: Cameron's exit means more heat on Flacco

Panicking in private is a lot like a tree falling in the woods -- it happens all the time but others don't necessarily know about it.

Put that same hysteria in front of an audience, however, and you have the Baltimore Ravens.

The coach of a 9-4 football team alerted the world that he really doesn't believe in his quarterback earlier in the week when John Harbaugh fired his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, and elevated quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, the former head man in Indianapolis, to the position.

"My charge -- our responsibility as a coaching staff -- is to maximize the opportunities for our team to win, and we can still reach all of our goals for this season," said Harbaugh in a statement Monday. "We have a motto we follow on this team: W.I.N. -- What's Important Now -- and what's important now is to find ways to get better, win the AFC North and advance to the playoffs."

Harbaugh's decision came one day after the Ravens lost their second straight game, coming up just short in a 31-28 overtime setback at Washington. That of course came on the heels of a 23-20 loss to AFC North-rival Pittsburgh, a hiccup which halted Baltimore's imposing 16-game winning streak in Charm City.

Heck, take away Ray Rice's miracle 4th-and-29 conversion back on Nov. 25 in San Diego and you could have been cueing up Tom Petty in Baltimore, because the Ravens would be Free Fallin'.

"We are going to make the most of our opportunities going forward, and this change gives us a better possibility to achieve our goals," Harbaugh said. "It's not about fair or unfair, right or wrong. My responsibility is to the whole team and what's best for them right now. We need a change."

Needed a change?

Here's the reality of the situation. A Baltimore team without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb still has a comfortable two-game lead over both the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in the North with just three games to play and its two losses have been by a combined six points.

Against Washington it was the Ravens' defense and special teams who came up small. Baltimore allowed backup rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins to throw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon with 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter before letting him run in the game-tying 2-point conversion.

In the extra frame the 'Skins Richard Crawford came through with a pivotal 64- yard punt return to set up Kai Forbath's third field goal of the afternoon -- a 34-yard game-winner.

Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes and Rice put up 121 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts for the Ravens yet Cameron is the one looking for work today.

"There is a very human side to this. Cam is my friend, he taught me a lot about coaching, and he is an outstanding coach," Harbaugh continued. "Personally, this is the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a coach. Cam has been a significant contributor to all of our successes over the past four, almost five, seasons. Deservedly, he is highly regarded, and we owe thanks to him for what he did for the Ravens."

Clearly this had nothing to do with Cameron's job performance last Sunday -- it has to do with his relationship with Flacco, a good but not great NFL quarterback.

The Ravens have been in the middle of the pack in total offense for much of Cameron's five-year tenure with the club. The best rank for the team under Cameron was 13th in 2009 and this year's unit was 19th entering Week 14.

Some in Baltimore feel those numbers should be better and Flacco should be in the elite category by now, yet he still lacks pocket awareness and occasionally makes poor decisions, things that are now being placed at the feet of Cameron.

Harbaugh, who rarely criticizes Flacco, said pocket presence is an issue his quarterback is well aware of.

"That's something that he's very much aware of," the coach said. "You turn the ball over, you put yourself in jeopardy. I don't care what position it is. So when you play that position and you're in the pocket, you need to protect that football. That's something that we need to be better at going down the stretch."

It's safe to assume general manager Ozzie Newsome still believes in Flacco since he drafted him and personnel people aren't exactly big on self-scouting or looking in the mirror.

Newsome also now has to convince his owner, Steve Bisciotti, to either commit big money to lock Flacco up after this season or at least put that decision off another year by placing the franchise tag on the University of Delaware product.

It's clear Harbaugh, Newsome, or both felt Flacco was no longer improving under Cameron and Caldwell, who spent nearly 10 years "tutoring" Peyton Manning in Indy, could unlock something.

Talk about pie-in-the-sky.

Nothing against Caldwell but coaching Manning is similar to teaching a child prodigy. You might point them in the right direction on occasion but it's best to just get out of the way.

Things like the aforementioned pocket awareness, the ability to extend plays and reading defenses when the bullets are flying are largely innate. Sure you can improve slightly with extended film study but the greats have something the rest of us don't.

Flacco is a capable guy -- nothing more, nothing less. He's never going to be Manning or Tom Brady or Joe Montana no matter who is coaching him ... and Baltimore is about to find that out.


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THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - Overall record against the spread (92-109-7 .459). Last week (6-10).

Cincinnati (7-6) at Philadelphia (4-9), Thursday, 8:20 p.m.

LINE: Bengals by 3 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Bengals let one golden opportunity slip through their fingers last week against Dallas. That can't happen on Thursday when they visit an injury-plagued Philadelphia team. If Cincinnati, which finishes its season with games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, has any plans of making the playoffs a win this week is imperative. The Eagles are playing a ton of youngsters in a short week and their makeshift offensive line should be no match for Geno Atkins and Co. A.J. Green, meanwhile, figures has to bounce back against one of the NFL's most troubled secondaries.

PREDICTION: Bengals 24, Eagles 17

NY Giants (8-5) at Atlanta (11-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Falcons by 1 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Falcons need to bounce back from a poor performance in Carolina last Sunday and send a message to a team which drubbed them, 24-2, in the Wild Card round last year. Atlanta has already clinched the NFC South and is closing in on a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the NFC, while Big Blue leads the NFC East by one game over both Washington and Dallas.

"This game is very important," said Falcons head coach Mike Smith. "There are a lot of things that are going to happen over the next few weeks and that's what makes it fun. We've got to go out and play our best football of the year now."

PREDICTION: Falcons 21, Giants 20

Denver (10-3) at Baltimore (9-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Broncos by 2 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Broncos have already clinched the AFC West and the Ravens can secure the AFC North with a win. Both teams are vying for a first-round bye in the postseason but the Ravens are in disarray, firing Cameron and elevating Caldwell. Denver, meanwhile, has won eight consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL.

"I'm focused on the Baltimore Ravens and I'm not going to sit back and watch our playoff fate be based on other teams," said Rice. "We pride ourselves on beating people and going into the playoffs strong. We've got to get ourselves back."

PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Ravens 20

Green Bay (9-4) at Chicago (8-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Packers by 3

THE SKINNY: Green Bay enters Week 15 with a one-game lead over Chicago in the division and a victory will give the Packers the NFC North division crown for the second consecutive season. The Bears still currently hold one of the two NFC Wild Card spots but have lost four of five and quarterback Jay Cutler is dealing with a stiff neck, while the team will be without defensive leader Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and proven kicker Robbie Gould (calf)

"It's now about a three-game season and this next game," said Bears coach Lovie Smith. "That's going to dictate what happens with us. We're still in position to accomplish all of our goals that we set out early on."

PREDICTION: Packers 24, Bears 14

Indianapolis (9-4) at Houston (11-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Texans by 7 1/2

THE SKINNY: Houston still owns the AFC's best record after laying an egg against Tom Brady and the Patriots on Monday Night Football but Indianapolis sits just two games behind the Texans in the AFC South and the teams play each other twice in the final three weeks of the season.

"We're 11-2 and there's a lot to do this season," said Texans linebacker Connor Barwin. "There's a lot of football left. We have to move forward."

A win on Sunday by Houston will clinch the division for the Texans, who also hold a slim one-game lead over Denver (10-3) and New England (10-3) for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Colts, meanwhile, can clinch a playoff berth with a win, something that would cement quite a turnaround. Indy finished the 2011 season with a 2-14 record.

"It feels good," said Colts safety Antoine Bethea. "For us to come in here this year and do the things that we've done so far, it feels good. As everybody knows, last year was a long year for us. We've proven the critics wrong but we still have three games left."

PREDICTION: Texans 24, Colts 21

Washington (7-6) at Cleveland (5-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.


THE SKINNY: All eyes will be on dynamic Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III this week as playoff-hopeful Washington gets ready to visit Cleveland. Griffin suffered a Grade I sprain of the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee in a win over Baltimore last Sunday and wide receiver Pierre Garcon told ESPN Tuesday that backup quarterback Kirk Cousins will start against the Browns. That said, Griffin hasn't been ruled out for the 'Skins, who are a game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East and a game behind Chicago and Seattle for a Wild Card berth. Cleveland, meanwhile, will be shooting for a fourth straight win.

PREDICTION: Browns 20, Redskins 17

Jacksonville (2-11) at Miami (5-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Dolphins by 7

THE SKINNY: Jags QB Chad Henne will return to Miami in this Sunshine State battle. Henne was selected in the second round by Dolphins in the 2008 NFL Draft and spent four seasons in South Beach. In his past two games on the road, Henne has passed for 556 yards with five TDs versus just one pick. Miami, meanwhile, is using 2012 as a rebuilding year behind rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, who already has the most passing yards (2,709) by a rookie in Dolphins history.

PREDICTION: Dolphins 21, Jaguars 14

Tampa Bay (6-7) at New Orleans (5-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Saints by 3

THE SKINNY: Two slumping NFC South teams meet in the Big Easy. Both the Saints and Bucs have lost three straight. New Orleans will be looking for its first series sweep against the Buccaneers since the 2006 season, and its third since the division was established in 2002. Since 2002, 14 of the 21 games between these two clubs have been decided by a touchdown or less, including the Saints' 35-28 victory at Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 21.

PREDICTION: Saints 23, Bucs 20

Minnesota (7-6) at St. Louis (6-6-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Rams by 3

THE SKINNY: Adrian Peterson continues his MVP push in St. Louis. Peterson has rushed for 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.04 yards per carry so far this season, becoming the third player in NFL history to rush for at least 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.0-plus yards per carry in his team's first 13 games. The others to accomplish the feat were Hall of Famers Jim Brown (1963) and O.J. Simpson (1973). The Rams have stayed surprisingly competitive behind QB Sam Bradford, and will be aiming for a fourth straight win.

PREDICTION: Vikings 17, Rams 14

Detroit (4-9) at Arizona (4-9), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

LINE: Lions by 6

THE SKINNY: Despite a dismal season Detroit has the NFL's No.1 passing offense at 307.8 yards per game and QB Matthew Stafford has already surpassed 4,000 passing yards for the second straight season. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is also on pace to break Jerry Rice's single season record for most receiving yards. The Cards, meanwhile, have gone 0-9 since a 4-0 September and are in the midst of their worst losing streak since 1944.

PREDICTION: Lions 21, Cards 10

Seattle (8-5) at Buffalo (5-8), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

LINE: Seahawks by 5 1/2

THE SKINNY: Winners of four of their last five, the Seahawks currently hold the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff picture and travel to Toronto this week to face the Buffalo Bills. Marshawn Lynch, originally the 12th overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Bills, will face his old team for the first time as the second-leading rusher in the NFL with 1,266 yards. The Bills, who defeated Washington 23-0 in the 2011 Toronto Series game, are led by RB C.J. Spiller, who needs 56 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career.

PREDICTION: Bills 24, Seahawks 23

Carolina (4-9) at San Diego (5-8), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

LINE: Chargers by 3

THE SKINNY: Cam Newton looks to build on a win over Atlanta in which he became the first player in NFL history with 250-plus passing yards (287), 100-plus rushing yards (116), a passing TD (two) and a rushing TD. In his past three contests, Newton has thrown for seven TDs with no interceptions and a 118.1 passer rating. The Chargers come in off their first ever regular season win in Pittsburgh.

PREDICTION: Chargers 21, Panthers 17

Pittsburgh (7-6) at Dallas (7-6), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Steelers by 1 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Steelers visit Dallas for a key interconfernce battle. Pittsburgh, which has won 12 of its past 14 versus NFC opponents, currently has a precarious hold on the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, while the Cowboys are a game behind the NY Giants in the NFC East as well as a game behind Chicago and Seattle in the Wild Card standings.

PREDICTION: Steelers 24, Cowboys 13

Kansas City (2-11) at Oakland (3-10), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Raiders by 3

THE SKINNY: Not much of interest here with the dismal Chiefs aiming to extend their dominance over lowly Oakland in the Bay Area. Kansas City has won eight of its past nine games in Oak-town.

PREDICTION: Chiefs 14, Raiders 13

San Francisco (9-3-1) at New England (10-3), Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

LINE: Patriots by 5 1/2

THE SKINNY: The 49ers can secure a playoff berth with a win in Foxboro and a victory coupled with a Seattle loss to Buffalo would clinch the NFC West for the second consecutive year for San Francisco.

"We're just locked in on this one here with New England," said 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. "I really believe it's about this next game. We don't take anything for granted. Nothing is secured until it's secured."

New England has won seven in a row, including Monday night's 42-14 drubbing of Houston and has already claimed the AFC East but are now in search of a first- round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

"It's always good to win these games," said quarterback Tom Brady who recorded his 14th career game with at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Texans, the most in NFL history. "We've played a lot of big games here. We've got a great football team coming in on a short week for us, so we've got to put everything into this one next week."

PREDICTION: Patriots 30, 49ers 17

NY Jets (6-7) at Tennessee (4-9), Monday, 8:30 p.m.

LINE: Titans by 1 1/2

THE SKINNY: Somehow the Jets remain in the AFC playoff hunt and will search for their third straight win against the Titans. New York has won five of its past six over Tennessee overall and will try to slow down second-year Titans QB Jake Locker, who is averaging 305.3 passing yards per game at home in 2012.

PREDICTION: Jets 20, Titans 13