Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Were the Patriots Lucky to Beat the Ravens?

Today on ESPN's "First Take," former NBA guard Greg Anthony and Skip Bayless debated whether or not the Patriots were lucky to beat the Ravens last night. Bayless' take is that the Ravens would have won were it not for Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan calling timeout on one fourth down play where the Ravens appeared to have stuffed the Patriots and then the Patriots committing a false start on the next fourth down play that also seemed to be going nowhere; of course, New England converted a fourth and six after that penalty en route to scoring the game-winning touchdown. Anthony argued that players ease up after they hear an official's whistle, so it is impossible to say whether or not the Ravens really would have stopped the Patriots' initial fourth down play; as for the penalty being lucky, Anthony logically pointed out that in most cases when a team converts fourth and six against a good defense on the road that we praise that team for its execution. Listening to the two of them argue back and forth sounded very much like eavesdropping on someone who has actually competed at a high level and understands what that is all about trying in vain to explain those experiences to someone who has no idea what he is talking about.

Later on the show, former New York Giants Coach (and former Baltimore Ravens assistant coach) Jim Fassel offered his perspective on the timeout that Rex Ryan called. Fassel said that he had no problem with one of his assistant coaches calling a timeout provided it was a critical situation in the game and it was apparent that the team was not lined up correctly or had the wrong personnel on the field; there is not always time for the assistant to ask permission to call timeout or to have a whole discussion about it. As for the specific sequence in yesterday's game, Fassel said that he spoke with Ryan and what happened was the Ravens only had one defensive lineman on the field prior to the first fourth down play. The Patriots love to run a quarterback sneak right up the middle in such cases, so Ryan called the timeout to get the right personnel on the field; if he had not done so and then the Patriots successfully ran the sneak then Ryan would have been rightly criticized for having the wrong personnel group on the field. Fassel said that the smaller players that the Ravens had on the field went after the play so aggressively that it looked like maybe they would have stopped it anyway but that calling the timeout was the right thing to do strategically.

The bottom line is that, as Anthony correctly said, we will never know if the Ravens would have stopped the first fourth and one play if it had gone all the way through and we also will never know what would have happened without the false start penalty on the next play--but good teams find ways to win and bad teams find ways to lose. This year, the Ravens are a bad team and the Patriots are a very good team; the Ravens had an opportunity to stop the Patriots on a fourth and six play and did not do it. That--and other blown chances on both sides of the ball--is why the Ravens lost. Bayless always seems to look for ways to blame the losing team instead of praising the winning team for its poise and execution. Next time, Bayless should do what Fassel did: pick up the phone, talk to someone who was actually involved in what happened and apply that information to his analysis.

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