Probabilities and improbabilities
Football is a game of probabilities and improbabilities.
Thursday night’s game between the Browns and Ravens in Baltimore, for example, foretold a probable victory for the Ravens, who owned eight straight victories over the Browns and had the best home record in the National Football League over the last 35 games.
The game proceeded along at a winning pace for the Ravens until about a minute remained in regulation with the Ravens leading, 23-16, and the Browns in the improbable position of actually tying the game.
The Ravens’ lead would have been smaller had the Browns found a way to slow Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin. A virtual non-factor in the first half, Boldin torched the Cleveland secondary for nine catches (eight in the second half) and 131 yards and helped sustain several drives.
Still, the Browns had a chance to tie the game and coaches never complain when their players give themselves a chance to accomplish that. Pat Shurmur had to be feeling confident when his club forced a punt and began its final drive of the evening 90 yards from the Baltimore goal line with 65 seconds left, trailing by seven and no timeouts.
Sure it was a long way. But Brandon Weeden earlier in the game engineered a beautiful 11-play, 94-yard drive for the Browns’ first touchdown of the evening.
No way would they get close enough to that goal line and put themselves in a position to tie the game and then pull the stunning upset in overtime. But the Ravens, whose defense this season looks more vulnerable than in the past few seasons, did them a favor by dropping back into the dreaded prevent defense.
Before you knew it, the Browns improbably marched down to the Baltimore 33 with 25 seconds remaining and the Ravens doing their best to prolong the game by allowing Browns receivers Benjamin Watson and Jordan Norwood to scoot out of bounds after sizable gains and stop the clock.
Usually, these things happen to the Browns, not by the Browns. If there’s a mistake to be made, you can bet they will find a way and make it. The Ravens are too smart, too savvy to let this one slip away.
So when Weeden’s fourth-down Hail Mary heave into the Baltimore end zone was batted away from tight end Jordan Cameron and only two seconds remained, Browns fans believed they were treated to another maddening loss as the Ravens rejoiced.
But wait. A yellow penalty flag landed on the field near Weeden. What now? Just another slap in the face for the Browns. How much more salt could the officials (the regular guys are back . . . yeah) rub into the wounds of losing this time?
Probably a penalty against the Browns. With only two seconds left, who cares?
But no. It was Baltimore defensive end Paul Kruger who uncapped the bottle of stupid pills, swallowed a whole bunch of them and was flagged for a personal foul after pushing Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas to the ground well after the play.
That’s the kind of idiotic move a member of the Browns usually makes. Also a penalty the scab officials most likely would not have called.
It had to be a mistake. No Raven is that dumb. But sure enough, the replay showed Kruger shoving Thomas fell backward so convincingly, he should be at least nominated for best actor for a dive worthy of some sort of acting award.
He sure fooled the officials. So the Browns breathed new life, albeit brief, and faced the real possibility of actually tying the game from the Baltimore 18 with one shot left.
One miracle please. Just one miracle. Is that asking too much?
First, ponder this. What’s the worst thing that could happen to a team on the opponent’s 18-yard line with two seconds left and trailing by seven points? The very worst thing. A dropped pass? Sure. The Browns had five more of them on the evening.
How about a sack? Probably not. The Browns’ offensive line protected Weeden well all evening. Only one sack, by the aforementioned Kruger.
A throw beyond the end zone? Are you crazy? That would be the ultimate stupid thing to do. Never saw one of those.
And yet, there was Weeden, who threw for 320 yards while completing less than half of his 52 passes, badly overshooting the end zone, rewarding Browns fans with yet another strange and improbable way of losing a ball game. I can’t remember a Hail Mary landing nearly 10 yards beyond the end line. Call it the pass too far.
That was not a rookie mistake. That was a mistake no quarterback should make, whether he’s been around for 10 years or making his first start. There is no excuse for making that dumb a throw. It is unforgivable.
We all know Weeden has a strong arm, although his floater on a quick out to Travis Benjamin was turned into a pick 6 by Ravens cornerback Cary Williams in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter, giving the Ravens a 23-10 lead.
He showed off that arm on occasion against the Ravens and would have brought the Browns to within three points had Greg Little been able to hang on to his perfect throw before dropping it while falling backward into the end zone with 4:40 left in the fourth quarter.
Instead, Phil Dawson kicked the third of his three 50-plus-yard field goals. If Little catches that pass, the Browns would have trailed, 23-20, instead of by seven heading into that final drive.
If the Browns had played this well against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, they would be 1-3 today instead of 0-4. If, if, if.
The only solace they can take away from this one is that they played the Ravens tough all evening. The defense did not allow Joe Flacco and his no-huddle offense to run away and hide and shut down Ray Rice in the process.
Now they’ve got 10 days to prepare for the New York Giants on the road. Winning that one also falls into the improbable category. Probably.