“Grandad, what do you remember about the time they tied the record?”
“Oh, I remember it so vividly. I had just turned the game off and was sitting down for a late dinner. I think it was shrimp scampi. About an hour later my old neighbor Fred stopped by to see if Amazon had accidentally dropped a package off for him at our house. He said, ‘How ’bout that game earlier?’ Now your grandma’s scampi was quite good, so I wanted to hurry him along. ‘Yeah Fred, solid win, see you later.’ But Fred then said, ‘What did you think about them going for the record?’ to which I said, ‘What record? When?’ He said, ‘At the end of the game! They didn’t take a knee so they could get over 100 rushing yards!’ And I said, ‘Who the hell got 100 rushing yards? The running backs were terrible and Lamar Jackson barely ran!’ Then Fred said, ‘No! The team! The team ran for 100 yards!’ And I said, ‘Oh? And that’s some sort of record, pray tell?’ Then Fred said, ‘Well yeah, they tied the Steelers for the longest streak of 100 or more rushing yards in a game!’ And I said, ‘They did now. Isn’t that nice? Well Fred, have a good week now.’ And wouldn’t you know it child, the scampi WAS cold by the time I got back in. I’ve never really forgiven Fred for wasting my time with all of that nonsense.”
And … scene.
I don’t want this to become too hyperbolic. The Ravens’ (John Harbaugh’s) decision to eschew the victory formation late in their win against the Broncos in favor of having Lamar Jackson run a sweep in order to reach the 100-yard rushing mark for a 43rd consecutive game isn’t that big of a deal. But the “controversy” surrounding the decision is definitely more interesting than the record itself. Which, of course, is the reason why there’s any controversy at all.
As you can probably tell, I didn’t think much of the decision. Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. First, I’m not terribly worked up about this. It won’t change my opinion of John Harbaugh (who of course is an objectively outstanding coach). Second, I think some of the pushback to this column will be from those who don’t actually read it but instead redirect their misplaced machismo and say something like, “Why should I care what the Broncos players think? They’re just mad they couldn’t stop it!”
To which I say, quite clearly, that I do not care what the Broncos players think. They’re just mad they couldn’t stop it.
My opinion about the decision has absolutely nothing to do with Broncos players reportedly being “livid” about it. If an athlete is so fragile that they’re shook by their opponent running a football play in a football game, football might not be the sport for them.
My issue is that such a decision spits in the face of the analytics-driven decisions the Ravens have been embracing in recent years.
No one apparently got hurt on the play in question, but there was a greater risk of such an injury than if the Ravens had simply taken a knee. How do I know that? Because the Ravens have taken a knee EVERY time they’ve had the ball in the closing seconds of a game they lead by multiple possessions since at least the start of last season. (It’s definitely a streak much longer than that, I just chose to stop tracking after a certain point). The Ravens (like all football teams) know that without players engaging, the risk of injury goes down significantly.
There is, of course, an amount of risk on ANY play. There is no greater risk on a run play called in lieu of taking a knee than a run play called earlier in the game (although there weren’t many of those called for Jackson all day, if we’re being fair). But there is SOME greater risk of injury. And the injury risk of the average play call is of course well worth it because the trade-off is the reward of helping the team win. We know the last-second run call did not help the Ravens win the game, so the reward must have been significant otherwise, right?
John Harbaugh described tying the Steelers’ 43-game, 100-yard team rushing streak record as something the Ravens’ players and coaches will have “for the rest of their life.” And I guess that’s true. I will have forgotten about it myself by Thanksgiving, but maybe they’ll remember it a bit longer.
Or maybe not.
“I’m happy we got the dub,” Jackson said after the game. “I’m not going to lie, I don’t really care about the record. I don’t think about that. I only think about winning the game.”
I’m trying to be as nice as I possibly can about this. It’s quite difficult. What kind of “record” is this? Since when was 100 rushing yards AS A TEAM some sort of single-game accomplishment? Are we certain that the 1970s Steelers were aware they even held such a record? Were they prepared to pop bottles if Jackson had been stopped in the backfield?
Does the MLB team that holds the record for the most consecutive games with eight or more base hits have any idea they hold the record? Considering 20 minutes of Google searching couldn’t get me the answer, I’m guessing probably not.
There are circumstances where I would totally understand a team doing something outside of taking a knee at the end of a game. If a player was threatening to break a significant record — like the most rushing yards in a game, or if a popular player has a significant incentive bonus that can be reached –I’d be more understanding of such a decision.
This isn’t really even an anomaly. This is barely even a strange coincidence. The analytics say the risk was greater than the reward because the reward was … nothing at all.
It’s not that big of a deal. But could you even imagine trying to justify such a decision had a player been hurt on the play?
“Sure, Lamar Jackson’s done for the year but also we tied a record none of us even knew existed until like three days ago.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox