"...and Bob Bratkowski, son of Zeke Bratkowski, will call the play here that could have an impact on the game and even on the season," intoned Greg Gumbel, as Cincinnati lined up with the ball with 3 minutes and change to go in the fourth quarter, fourth and four.
It had been what they call a hard-nosed football game--and here they were at the crisis of the game, the make-or-break point, in a contest so intense the announcer was now resorting to the epic language of Beowulf in calling the play.
When the game first started, it looked like it was shaping up to be a stinker--Cincinnati fumbled on the kickoff, and then was intercepted, for two quick Baltimore touchdowns. But then little by little Cincinnati kept coming back--and then it just got plain weird.
Carson Palmer, one of the few "name" quarterbacks who doesn't regularly usurp commentator praise from Tommy and therefore has yet to earn my ire, completed a long pass to Chris Henry, who then ran another couple dozen yards up the sideline for a total gain of 71 yards. As he was brought down just short of the goal line, Henry reached out with one arm to push the ball toward the goal line, and lost it. The ball bounced away, only to be recovered by Baltimore's Ed Reed, who ran it back toward his own 20, as I began contemplating what else was on, sure this was Cincinnati's death knell.
Then Reed tripped over Ray Lewis, who was trying to block for him, kneeing Lewis hard in the ribs in the process. Everybody went flying. Then the red flags went flying.
When the dust settled, Cincinnati got the ball back, and Rudi Johnson ran straight up the middle for a four-yard TD. Along the way, he met Ray Lewis, who, it must be said, put up a ferocious, twisting, blocking fight before Johnson simply shifted to the side, put him off balance, and scored. This is among the reasons I also tend to like Ray Lewis.
Cincinnati managed another field goal after that, and on that infamous fourth and four play had the chance, if they drove down for a touchdown, to win the game outright. Palmer dropped back under a heavy blitz and made a desperate bid for TJ Houshmanzadeh (a proud longstanding member of my All-Name Team), who might have caught it for the game-altering first down if he hadn't been tackled from behind by Ronnie Prude.
In response--and in response to the missed call of pass interference that followed, Houshmanzadeh removed his helmet and hucked it to the ground (personal foul number one); then, in the words of Dan Dierdorf, he "made a remark about the referee's lineage" (personal foul number two). That was pretty much the ball game--although of course there was one more twist, in which Baltimore took four knees and found to their dismay that there was still time left on the clock, and so Cincinnati got the ball back with about 25 seconds left, and Palmer heaved the ball deep for Chris Henry, but it was intercepted by Chad McAlister, and Chris Henry didn't even jump for it, and Carson Palmer told Chris Henry "Nice Fucking Effort" with clearly readable lips on the sideline and my father and I both sympathized with Palmer, and so that was the actual ball game. But you know, same dif.
Then CBS cut over to Chicago, where on the frozen tundra the porpoises have put a hurt on Daaa Bears, meaning I know a certain Bears fan who's going to get an earful from me when I see him on Tuesday. (Though once again I've been too much of a wuss to Bill-Simmons-"One Ring" him like I was tempted to do when the Bears fell behind Minnesota on Monday Night Football a few weeks back).
Now, Denver is playing the Steelers, and so we are (hopefully) watching the official death of the Steelers season. And then of course the Denver dominance responsible for this schadenfreunde will promptly cease and desist before the Patriots meet them in the playoffs. Because that's the dream world I live in.
P.S. If you're looking for some good Sunday reading material, I recommend this insightful article in the Globe magazine about Tommy--specifically, the image and the marketing thereof. I will probably also get the book it's excerpted from, Moving the Chains, as well, after thoroughly enjoying that passage.
Back after the 4 pm games.