The AFC Wild-Card game between the Baltimore and New England started off with a bang. The Ravens Ray Rice ran 83 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
CBS' lead announcer Jim Nantz was on the mark right from the start. Before the snap, he mentioned that Rice had a 50-yard run against New England earlier this season and that it was the longest run the Pats had given up all season.
Simms followed it up with mentioning that Baltimore was focused on shutting down New England's frequent use of the screen pass. He didn't follow it up with why they rely on the screen so much.
The production team was also ready by posting a stat that this was the first time the Ravens scored first in the postseason since their Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants (eight postseason games). With a big play so soon into the game, the CBS team was off and running.
The immediate touchdown was shocking and before the Patriot fans could settle in their seats, a sack of Tom Brady by Baltimore's Terrell Suggs resulted in a fumble and a Pats turnover. The Ravens scored a few plays later and less than five minutes into the game took a shocking 14-0 lead.
The production crew was ready again. They showed Ravens defensive end Dwan Edwards recover a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown after a Suggs sack.
Nantz was on top of the Ravens' early dominance by relaying to the audience that Baltimore was able to accomplish their lead without throwing a pass and by rushing for 100 yards in the first four-and-a-half minutes. Simms mentioned that Baltimore's safeties were a key for them stopping the run. It was a good observation, but there was no further discussion as to why.
Baltimore got off to a historic start in the first quarter. It tied for the second highest scoring quarter in NFL playoff history. The Raiders hold the record with 28 points in a game in 1969. It was never mentioned whose record the Ravens tied.
Nantz was on top of how crucial it was for the Ravens to get off to a good start. New England was the NFL's best first half team in 2009 and the Ravens were the league's best second half team.
The second quarter began with key play. Ravens safety and special teamer Tom Zbikowski muffed a punt. Patroits gunner Kyle Arrington appeared to recover the ball along the sideline at the Baltimore 16 on his way out of bounce.
As with a reception, the player must come have possession of the ball on his way out of bounds. When CBS showed the replay, Arrington appeared to be bobbling the ball on his way out of bounds.
Nantz and Simms were both surprised that Baltimore coach John Harbaugh did not challenge the play. Simms criticized Harbaugh's staff. According to Simms it was the responsibility of the staff upstairs to let the coaches on the field know about a play that needed to be challenged. He also keenly observed that Harbaugh couldn't see the play because it was on the other side of the field.
With the Pats so far behind, the usually calm and cool Brady seemed frazzled. Simms noticed that Brady had an opportunity on a scramble to run it in for a touchdown. Instead he threw the ball out of the end zone after appearing to cross the line of scrimmage.
The first half ended with the Ravens leading 24-7. The second half was either going to be one of the greatest comebacks in NFL Playoff history, or plenty of filler time for Nantz and Simms.
The second half opened with Simms being impressed that the Ravens beat the Patriots at their own game. They used three straight running plays to gain a first down and run out the clock at the end of the first half. During the regular season, Baltimore finished fifth in the NFL in rushing and New England 12th. The Ravens rushed for 17 yards more per game than the Pats.
Nantz posed the question to Simms "What did Belichick say to the Patriots at the half"? Simms came up with the simple answer slow down the running game. Earlier in the game Simms commented that the Ravens safeties moved up in the box to help against the Pats running game an on screens. That would have been a good answer as to how Belichick planned to stop the Ravens running the football, but we did not receive a strategy of how New England was going to slow down Baltimore's ground game.
Simms also pointed out that the Patriots defense had settled down. After allowing 24 first quarter points and getting a shutout in the second quarters, this was obvious. A simple look at the stats would have also provided the imbalance in Baltimore's offense.
After commenting on Brady earlier in the game on Brady being disrupted by the Ravens defense, Simms said that it is hard for Brady to pin point passes down 24-7. Nantz implied that the 20 temperature and 10 degree wind chill also had something to with Brady's struggles.
The Patriots lost Wes Welker to a severe knee injury in their last regular season game against Houston. Julian Edelman replaced him. Simms felt like it didn't matter. "Looking at the Stats, Edelman and Welker are the same guy. Simms felt that Welker is quicker, but Edelman is faster."
Simms didn't use any stats to illustrate his point. In the their win over Baltimore in the regular season, Welker caught six passes for 48 yards, Edelman went for six for 44 and two touchdowns on Sunday. Brady's struggles continued. Simms noticed that Brady twice checked down on Edelman before the ball was tipped an intercepted.
Simms also commented that Baltimore's defense needed to avoid giving up the big play. Forcing the Patriots to move the ball and use up clock should have been obvious. The production team helped illustrate Brady's struggles by showing the the Ravens had 92 yards in return yards off Brady's interceptions, while Brady only had 83 yards passing at that point in the third quarter.
The Pats scored with 1:47 left in the third quarter to cut the score to 27-14. New England still seemed to have some hope. Simms squashed that a bit by noticing that Ravens defensive back Chris Carr fell down on the play, otherwise Baltimore "had the play defensed perfectly."
Baltimore answered with a key drive of their own. A key play occurred on third down. Ravens Quarterback Joe Flacco ran near the first down. The question was where the spot should be. Simms noticed that Flacco reached the ball out to the Ravens seven and the original spot was at the eight.
The difference would be 1st-and-goal or a field goal attempt. Simms correctly pointed out that the spot is where the ball and not Flacco's foot goes out of bounds.
The production team was also on top on of the play with an overhead view of Flacco's run.
After the spot was reversed by replay, Simms rather obviously informed the audience that it wasn't just about getting the first down, but it was also the ability to run time off the clock.
The Ravens wound up scoring on a Willis McGahee three-yard run. That was the final score in the game and seemed to put the Patriots away.
After the touchdown, the Ravens went for two. The conversion would have put them up 35-14. There was no discussion from either Nantz or Simms about the decision. Down 16, NE needed only two touchdowns (plus two two point conversions) to tie the game. With an extra point, New England would have trailed by 20 necessitating three touchdown drives.
Simms continued to be the master of the obvious all day. After a Steven Gostkowski missed field goal for New England, Simms said that its "Safe to say the Ravens will run." Nantz noted that the field goal miss came after Gostkowski had connected 33 straight fourth quarter field goal attempts.
With the Ravens running out the clock, Nantz and Simms were forced to go to filler to finish the broadcast. They used many stats in the final few minutes. The Ravens 1-6 record against playoff teams coming into the game. Flacco's three wins in his first to playoffs and so on.
The also used an anecdote about the Flacco having a Brady poster in his parents house.
The Ravens have been one of the more consistent teams throughout the 2000s. A graphic was on the screen at the end that Baltimore's five road playoff wins in this decade are the second most in any decade in NFL history. Dallas won six in the 1970s.
Two more wins by the Ravens will break that record and put Baltimore in the Super Bowl.
This was the Belichick's eight playoff appearance as a head coach and the first time that he has ever lost his first game. This amazing fact was never mentioned. It was also never mentioned that Belichick's first career playoff victory was against the Patriots while he was the Browns coach.
The easiest games for announcers to cover are close playoff games that come down to the end. Those produce the most drama and intrigue.
The Ravens dominating win was a challenging game for Nantz and Simms. They had some great points and insight and at other times merely stated the obvious. In the divisional round, we should expect more.
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