Monday, September 21, 2009

Football, movies, what else is there?

The Baltimore Ravens' defense went to such an extreme of the "bend but don't break" cliche Sunday, I felt like had tuned into an Advanced Pilates class on the Fitness Channel instead of an NFL game on NBC. The first four times the San Diego Chargers advanced inside the Ravens' 20-yard line, Baltimore tightened up and forced them to bring in kicker Nate Kaeding and settle for three points instead of six. San Diego's fifth foray into the red zone came to a dramatic, violent halt thanks to Ray Lewis, who crushed Darren Sproles (and the Chargers' last chance) on fourth down with a hit I haven't seen him make since taking on a door.

It was the kind of play that usually comes at the end of a Hollywood 97-minute macho melodrama about a group of scrappy lovable underdogs coming together to surmount internal and external obstacles to emerge victorious as champions. More on sports cinema magic later, but even though this was only the second game of the season, it was a cathartic, satisfying ending to a very entertaining game - for Ravens' fans anyway. I'm sure most coaches want to end a game with their offense grinding out a clock-killing drive while protecting at least a 10-point lead, but I'm equally sure most fans get greater enjoyment from a big play that delivers a win that was anything but certain prior to that moment. For many football teams, that play is a long touchdown pass, but for Ravens' fans, that play is more often made by the defense, and when Ray Lewis makes the game ender, well, you might as well have ripped a page out of a The Official Ravens Roost Handbook. That's the play that gets you out of your seat, causes hand-blisteringly intense high-fives and the occasional fist-pumping shoulder injury.

The Ravens went to San Diego as three-point underdogs, and while it's still early, this is a significant win for a team that has the Super Bowl in its sites. Certainly the Chargers have to be considered an upper-tier AFC team, so beating them on the road is a bit of a big deal, even when you factor in the absence of LaDainian Tomlinson and assorted offensive and defensive linemen due to injuries.

And of course Charger coach Norv Turner's ineptitude is always worth a few opportunities for the opponent. He doesn't give away the game, but he does leave it dangling in plain view. Two cases in point: at the end of the first half, he sent the field goal unit onto the field on third down with ten seconds left on the clock instead of trusting his veteran QB to either make a play or throw incomplete and leave time for the kicker. And his final call, on 4th and 2, was a handoff to Sproles, when his team had a total of 53 rushing yards and 463 receiving yards and distinct physical mismatches at wide receiver. Hard to argue that he didn't deserve the result.

The Ravens have now scored 69 points in their first two games, their highest in the first two games since they came to Baltimore. That's a completely irrelevant bit of trivia, so how about another one? The previous high was 55 points, which they scored in 2006 when they won the division and also in 2000, when, hello, they won the Super Bowl. So that's a fun, meaningless trend I'll be tracking until it becomes statistically anomalous.

For me the interesting thing about all these points is that the defense has scored none of them. Don't get me wrong, the defense has been pretty good. Most of the points in the Chiefs game came as a result of special teams and offensive miscues, but the Raven's defense of the past several years has been good for seven to ten points per game. Could be the loss of Rex Ryan as coordinator (and the departure of Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard), could just be coincidence, but the offense's ascent has come at the same time as a toning down of the defensive ferocity. Still, the results are there.

That's enough Ravens for today. Back to the movie subplot I mentioned earlier. Over the weekend, while my younger son was at a friend's house, the rest of us settled in for a nice wholesome family movie. Unfortunately, when you have a 12-year old boy in the house, it's sometimes challenging to find an agreeable selection, so eventually we gave up and chose something called "The Comebacks," a spoof of sports movies that earned every bit of its' PG-13 rating. There's no way I can recommend this fine film. It's so bad, the only suspense is in trying to figure out which movie or cliche was being mocked all the while cringing at the bombardment of sex jokes and racial stereotypes. Still, we all laughed and were thankful that it cost only $2.99.

The weekend's other movie moment came when I stumbled on the original "Bad News Bears." This one I can watch every time it's on, as opposed to the 2005 remake which I won't even dignify with a link. The team cheats, they lose, they exemplify poor sportsmanship and disrespect authority, their opponents and the game. The only concession to Hollywood sports mythology is that they come together as a team. They also have a lot of fun. I'll watch it every time.

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