Oakland Raiders vs. Baltimore Ravens: Was Field-Goal Fake Running Up the Score?
H. L. Mencken once described a cynic as the kind of person who would smell roses and then wonder where the coffin was.
In case you missed it, they did alright on their way to a 55-20 win.
It's one thing to question the Ravens secondary and pass rush that allowed Carson Palmer to throw for 64.44 percent and 368 yards (and yes, they should have done better against such a predictably one-dimensional offense), but it seems interesting when your biggest complaint about a team is when they're trying to keep scoring points.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley at least seemed to understand the motive behind the play, despite saying they might have breached some form of football etiquette.
Even former Ravens coach Brian Billick got in on the action, pointing out Harbaugh's expression after the play worked.
But a main perpetrator seems to be Pete Prisco of CBS Sports. He called the move "classless" via Twitter.
Was Harbaugh running up the score?
Since the world seems to be high on Nate Silver at the moment, I thought I'd bust out my own advanced mathematics to answer this question.
At 41-17, the Ravens led by 24 points. (Stop me if this is getting too complicated.) That's three touchdowns and a field goal to equalise or four touchdowns for the Raiders to move cleanly into the lead.
A favourite strategy of mine is to get you—the good reader—to do some roleplaying. This time you'll be putting on your headset and rather cool Ravens cap as you become John Harbaugh.
Knowing you have a lead of 24 points, you have a choice on fourth down.
If you take the three points, as announced, that gives you a 27-point lead. While the Raiders won't equalise with three touchdowns and a field goal, four touchdowns will still give them the lead.
However, if you execute a move you'd planned specifically for this game and go for the touchdown and it comes off, that gives you a 31-point lead. They now have to score five times to cleanly take the lead.
Now, while neither outcome is particularly likely, you could easily argue the fake field goal was able to ice the game, especially with the numbers Palmer posted.
You're John Harbaugh. What do you do on fourth down?
The reality is, you get almost no reward for taking the three.
You probably have heard this argument a fair bit: The players don't get paid millions of dollars to play tiddlywinks.
The NFL is a league in which 300-pound players hit each other in the mouth for 60 minutes (closer to 180 if you factor in ad breaks but whatever), and we reward the players that are the best at it.
It's interesting how attitudes change when one team gets so good at hitting the other, and it becomes a gentleman's game complete with "etiquette."
Coach Billick said a good beatstick to use is whether you'd like it if another team did that to you.
As a fan, I had no complaints when the Houston Texans decided not to take a knee for every play in the second half of their 43-13 win over the Ravens. They had a 29-3 lead at the half and the Ravens' offense had shown almost nothing.
I had no complaints when teams didn't rest their own star players after Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb all went down (among others).
I had no complaints when opponents chose not to decline suspect penalties that went in their favour.
All these things are what a team does to gain an advantage over the other, and you can bet it beats watching 0-0 draws every week.
I remember watching that 34-3 win over the Chiefs last season, and the commentators went out of their way to defend Bill Belichick's decision to keep scoring points.
"It's the Patriot way," I remember them saying.
So when the Ravens do the same thing, that's a classless breach of the rules of engagement?
Pete Prisco is a master of the dark art
With the above having been said, I think it's fair to examine part of the cause of this criticism.
In today's competitive market for internet traffic, there is a subtle skill to be mastered in winding potential readers up. It's called the outrage machine, and it's not unique to sports.
Pete Prisco is a master of this. He's not the only one, but I'm singling him out here because of his contributions to this debate.
Remember when Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's passing record last season?
An already special moment was made even better by the one pass that broke the record going for a touchdown. Better yet, it was against the archrival Atlanta Falcons.
Imagine Ray Rice breaking Jamal Lewis's rushing record for the Ravens by scoring a game-winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. You'd be elated.
Prisco, however, wrote this piece accusing Brees of running up the score and calling that special moment "tainted."
I guess Brees was supposed to let a second-string quarterback take over and break Marino's record on some obscure second down in the next match.
This isn't the first time Prisco's taken shots at the Ravens either.
Back in July, he said they would regret signing Ray Rice's contract extension.
With this in mind, it's a bit of a mystery why running up the score even became a question in the first place.
Like I said earlier, complain about the flaws that were masked by the Ravens' big win all you want. Personally, I think those criticisms have merit.
What I strongly disagree with, however, is this notion that working to score more points is somehow unsporting—regardless of circumstance.
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