While each NFL season is often outlined by the Super Bowl and its champion, there is typically a game inside the folds of an everyday season that perfectly encapsulates what the yr was all about—its developments, its shortcomings, its stars.
Perhaps final yr it was one of the dreadful slogs by way of the officiating doldrums; groups profitable and losing because of the whole brokenness of reviewable move interference and normal helplessness of an overmatched cadre of referees. Maybe the yr prior it was the Rams-Chiefs recreation with 105 total points, representing the offensive evolution that throttled defensive coordinators across the sport and fundamentally changed the way groups drafted gamers, employed coaches, and took dangers.
On Monday night we had the game of 2020 if only because like the yr itself, it contained too many wild vacillations, obscure tentacles, and we-have-no-choice-but-to-laugh moments to digest in a single watching. Too many oddities to run through. Too many bad jokes about issues we’ll by no means know the reality about. The ultimate rating, 47–42, a rating that has by no means occurred within the historical past of the National Football League, was just the beginning. Even the ultimate play, a flitting, drawn-out try at multiple laterals by the Browns in a last-ditch comeback effort, swung betting traces throughout the nation, sinking the hearts of anybody who took the Browns at +3 whereas they watched Cleveland slowly retreat into their own finish zone for a safety.
The game featured the best of football’s embrace of analytics (despite the broadcast booth’s continued incapability to grasp it), the most effective of Baker Mayfield (and perhaps a few of his worst), the most effective of Kevin Stefanski as a budding star head coach on this league, the most effective of the Ravens’ teaching employees, who were fully undermanned on protection and elsewhere, the most effective of Lamar Jackson, who left the game with cramps, obtained an IV and returned to sling a 44-yard go-ahead touchdown pass on fourth right down to an embattled and disgruntled huge receiver and the most effective of a legendary kicker who drilled a recreation winner from 55 yards out as if it had been a free throw in an empty gymnasium.
The groups’ histories collectively, Baltimore’s evident lack of magic this season, the Browns’ recent profitable streak, Baltimore struggling to forge forward after a massive COVID outbreak whereas concurrently trying to mount a legit playoff comeback that will require them to win all of its remaining games, Cleveland absorbing the prime-time air as a franchise lastly related within the winter months just baby steps from its first postseason in nearly two decades,
all of it created the sort of ideal conditions for the kind of matchup that removes each ounce of collective good from its members. If we’re fortunate, we get a kind of a yr, the place the post-game celebration is a mass of individuals so joyously or frustratingly zapped that they seem to drift off the field without touching the ground. Jackson and Mayfield had been operating on one other airplane for a lot of the night time, firing footballs into the padding behind the top zone, thumping their chests, screaming and shouting.
And it retains on giving. There’s little doubt that what we noticed gave life to the beforehand middling Ravens, who’re gifted enough to gate crash an AFC playoff race that has more than its justifiable share of intrigue as we head into the final weeks of the regular season.
And possibly it gave just a little little bit of life to all of us who had been lucky enough to stay with a recreation that had a win chance of greater than 90% for the Ravens all through a lot of the third quarter earlier than a 21-yard landing move to Rashard Higgins cut the rating to 34–28. Earlier than Jackson vanished from the sidelines, scurrying up the ramp to the locker room to revive cramping in each of his legs and arms. Earlier than a punishing Cleveland landing drive that soaked up a lot of the third quarter put the Browns ahead by a point after trailing by 14. Earlier than Hint McSorley, a sixth-round choose, once Baltimore’s third-string quarterback,
converted a third-and-long on the next drive to maintain the Ravens on the sphere simply lengthy sufficient for Jackson to dash again onto the turf and float that season-altering landing. Earlier than the Browns answered right again however left an excessive amount of time on the clock. Before Justin Tucker gave us the walk-off night time cap the game deserved (even if the lot of us had been begging for extra time).
Whereas we‘d end up thinking that most of the football being performed in any respect in 2020 was absurd and egocentric and wholly against the scientific proof we do have in the intervening time, we’ll probably also keep in mind the Ravens and Browns for taking us out of that harsh actuality for only a moment in just a few hours of chaotic perfection. It is the strange mental juxtaposition we have been laboring by way of all season, in any case. In a yr that taught us to appreciate these windows of beautiful distraction thoroughly, it will be hard to forget.