Jan 24, 2012

What I Learned from the Ravens & Giants

Howard Cosell once said that, "sports is human life in microcosm."  And after watching the NFL's AFC and NFC championship games on Sunday, I couldn't agree more.  The loss by the Baltimore Ravens and the win by the New York Giants were glaring examples of two opposite ways we can approach life in the quest of being successful.  I'll start with the positive.

Take Risks - Just Don't Rush It
The New York Giants are known as having a well balanced offense, meaning they both run and pass the ball well (for those of you with a low football IQ).  And their quarterback, Eli Manning, has been establishing himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the League, having won the game with some last minute heroics.  Their opponents were the San Francisco 49ers who are known for their old school-like defense.  They have the best defense in the League and showed that they could also stick with you if you run up the score after beating the New Orleans Saints at their own game last week.  I'm not a Giants fan, but do follow them so was hoping they would win.  But I'm also a realist and was concerned about their ability to run the ball and protect Eli against the 49ers.

The first two quarters went as I expected and it was a very close and defensive-minded game.  San Francisco took the lead first with a 73 yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis and proceeded to begin the gamelong beat down on Eli.  He was able to throw a touchdown pass and get down the field for a fieldgoal in the 2nd quarter however, I was worried because the Giants had not established a run game, which I felt was paramount for them to win.  What Coach Tom Coughlin decided to do was to spread the San Francisco defense by taking a risk - passing the ball.  It was risky because it made his team one dimensional, which is easier to defend, and with rain a factor, made it that much more risky.  However, the Giants approach to this risk was perfect.  They didn't just throw bombs down the field; they were precise in timing when a pass would be for 10 yards or more.  What they did was throw to the appropriate points on the field that would spread out the defense and allow them to throw in run play in every now and then.  Hello, well balanced offensive attack.

It worked.  The risk they took was necessary and it took the 49ers out of a major part of their game plan to strictly beat up on Eli.  Don't get me wrong - Eli was definitely manhandled, however, he was still able to execute the Giants gameplan which is what kept them in the game and then gave them the win.  They also got some help with a couple of miscues by the 49ers special teams.

It was a great game and the Giants' adjustments to the obstacles that presented themselves reminded me that in life you must take risks at times.  They don't have to be completely off the charts however, and if planned carefully can get you the win and the ticket to the big game.  Those that know me know of my "love" for all things New England so know that I cannot wait for Sun, Feb 5th!  Go Big Blue! ;-)

Play to Win the Game
The Baltimore Ravens are known for their defense and have a solid quarterback with Joe Flacco.  New England....what can I say; they're located north of New York City.  Alright, alright.  To be fair, they have arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of our time, are known for an explosive offense, the super wizardry of their Coach Bill Belichick and The Tuck Rule (yes, my fellow Raider fans, we were robbed in 2002's Snow Job!).  The Ravens were supposed to rid me of the bleeping New England Patriots.  But they didn't, even though they had a great chance to win the game late in the 4th quarter.  And it simply boils down to this: (1) they took risks, but didn't think them through so they didn't work and (2) then when they should've taken another risk, they were conservative and played to stay in the game, rather than win it.  Where's Herm Edwards (former coach of the New York Jets) when you need him??

After a spectacular interception, the offense led by quarterback Joe Flacco moved down the field.  It's 3rd down and 3 at the New England 33 yard line with a little over 3 minutes left to play.  New England is up by 3 points.  In my opinion, the Ravens make a horrible mistake by calling for a run play out of the shotgun (WTF!) right up the middle - not fooling ANYONE.  Now with 4th down and a very long 6 yards, they take a time out and decide to take another risk and go for it.  After the expected pass rush, Flacco has no choice but to throw it out of bounds and the Ravens hand the ball over on downs with 2:46 left on the clock.  Jeez!  But they get another chance.

After a great hold by the defense, the Ravens get the ball back with 1:44 left to play and work themselves back down the field to the New England 14 yard line.  Flacco makes the perfect throw to Lee Evans in the end zone....but he drops it.  Unbelievable, but there's still time.  After another incomplete pass at 3rd and 1, they bring out the kicking team to kick the game tying field goal.  We all know what happened next.  This was absolutely the wrong move as far as I'm concerned.  You take the risk here and try and get the 1 yard to sustain the drive.  There are tons of folks that would disagree with me and say, you have to go for the tie, but look what happened. Which is why Herm Edwards' tirade during a press conference, "you play to win the game", is so apropos (and one of the greatest quotes).  The Ravens played to stay in the game, not to win and that's why they lost.

We all know that life is a game of sorts.  You have to decide whether you're in it to win it or just to keep playing.  If it's the latter, be ready to give yourself a pep talk more often than not and let yourself know that you'll have "better luck next time/year/lifetime".

Both the Ravens and the Giants took risks in the game.  For one team, they were calculated and worked perfectly.  For the other, they were rushed and not well thought out so they failed them.  That failure led to them deciding not to take the risk when the opportunity presented itself again and it led to the team losing the chance to play for the ultimate prize.

Always play to win the game.  Your heart may skip a beat as you're playing, but in the end, even if you lose, you'll at least know you tried.  And all those heart palpitations remind you that you're alive!  LIVE life.  NEVER survive it.

We're left now with a rematch of one of my FAVORITE Super Bowls.  I can't wait to see what the Giants and Patriots teach me in two weeks!  Go Giants!


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