Sunday, January 11, 2009

It Was A Great Game

Shortly after the Raven/Titan game Chris messaged me with the question 'where does that game rank among all games this season' or maybe 'was that the best game this year'. Something along those lines. Anyhow I was irritated at some things only peripherally related to the outcome of that game and I (correctly) assumed that it was just Chris being his normal exuberant self. I dismissed the question instantly with some emutterings that I hammered out along the lines of ... bah ... sloppy game ... lousy execution ... luckbox Ravens ... last team to make a mistake lost. Stuff like that. And while my answer seemed to quiet Chris a bit, the question resonated with me and throughout this afternoon's games. What makes for a great game? Where does the Raven/Titan game sit in the pantheon? The answer is, among all-time games not particularly highly, but in 2008? Yeah, it was one of the best. At least until next week.

Let's take a look at the components of greatness in a gridiron tilt to see where this game falls.


Great games are typically important. I don't recall any great games between 4-11 teams running out the string in week 17. Great games have something at stake. In amateur football, pride is often a factor. Bragging rights. Army-Navy is always huge because, well, it's Army-Navy! But in professional football winning Super Bowls is what counts. Playoff games are all more important than regular season games, Conference Championship games more important than mere playoff games and so on. For both Tennessee and Baltimore this was the most important game they've played to date. But oops, now Baltimore has a more important game upcoming. It was an important game, but people don't typically remember Divisional Playoff games.



Great games often are built over many years. Green Bay/Chicago is billed as big rivalry every year simply because they've been playing for 80 years straight. Everyone knows there is a bit of history between Tennessee and Baltimore, or at least everyone who watched the game because the broadcasters wouldn't let us ignore the parallels to '00. Neither Baltimore (in its current incarnation) nor Tennessee have deep traditions though, not in their city or in infrequent clashes with one-another. Even so, there were still players on the field yesterday who played in that more memorable game 8 years ago.



Great games feature great personalities. This game featured Matt Stover


Close Outcome

This kind of goes without saying but we need to include it. No game can be "great" if it isn't in doubt in the last two minutes. This one went down to about 0:40 before we knew for sure so that's pretty good.



Great games don't usually have a lot of sloppy play. Crisp offenses versus strong defenses with playmakers on both sides making the difference. Yesterday? Well, that game wasn't quite like that. Tennessee's defense was dominant but unable to create any big plays. Baltimore's defense was not as effective as usual but they managed to be in the right spots a couple of times. LenDale White's poor ball handling and Rod Bironas' lack of execution had more to do with the Ravens win than anything else.


Big Plays

Okay, since execution was poor then there must have been some really exciting plays to make up for it, right? Wel, yes and no. Every game has its share of big plays, and yesterday's was no exception, but it really wasn't loaded with big plays. Mason's touchdown catch was huge. The hit on Crumpler to force the fumble was beautiful. Chris Johnson fighting his way out of the endzone to avoid a safety (or did he?) was key. So yes there were big plays, but how memorable were they? Will the casual fan really remember any of them? I sort of doubt it.



How can it be a great game without momentum swings? And yeah, this game had it. Tennessee dominating the first half but unable to put up more than a digit on the scoreboard when ... whup! 7-7 Joe Cool to Mason. Tennessee continuing to pile up yards all game while Baltimore was very limited but Tennessee unable to break Baltimore's back.



So was the game exciting? Were there jaw-dropping feats of acrobatics? No, not really. Other than the hit on Crumpler there was very little in the way of exciting play. This isn't to confuse excitement with drama, of which there was much. But any close game with high stakes is going to be loaded with drama.


Key Injuries

Not a lot of games are decided by attrition, and even fewer great ones, but this one was. Baltimore had no answer for Chris Johnson but his tendons did. One knee sprain later and Baltimore had life. This game was a game of collisions, more than most, and the injury report reflected it. Suggs and Rolle knocked out with uncertain status, McClain sidelined for a bit on the Baltimore side. Johnson, Haynesworth, Vandenbosch, Kearse all hurt at some point for Tennessee.



How can it be a great game without controversy? Did this one have it? Sure. Did Flacco step on the back line? Or the real one, why wasn't the delay called? I've heard the explanation but I'm not sure I accept it. Why are the officials so insistent on "please reset the playclock to .." if they are keeping it on the field? One wonders.


So summing it up. Great game? No one outside of the fanbases of Baltimore or Tennessee will remember the game in five years, or even next year. But in terms of 2008, in terms of an important and toughly contested contest, in terms of players exerting their full will toward the task of winning each down and each series, yeah it was a great game.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, how did I miss this post 7 months ago??? It's so up my alley.

    Patch, you are taking the curmudgeonly bit to extremes here, with your assessments of the history, importance, and personalities. I can only assume it's in reflex to Chris's bubbling enthusiasm.

    "people don't typically remember Divisional Playoff games"
    "few great games are decided by attrition"

    Tell it to the 81/82 Chargers-Dolphins.

    Having said all that -- we'll have forgotten this game in a couple years. But it was exciting.


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