Monday, January 17, 2011

Liveblogging a day of NFL playoffs from the Baker St. Bar and Grill

This was originally four posts, which I've combined into one so that it's easier to read them in the proper order. They were all blogged from the Baker Street Bar and Grill, where I had gone to enjoy an afternoon of just kicking back and watching the games and trying (in vain, as it turned out, given the difficulties we encountered in getting our patch installed) not to think at all about work.

A conversation while watching NFL playoffs

ME, when on the opening kickoff Mike Tomlin throws one of his challenge flags to try to turn a sixty-yard Raven return into...well, into a forty-yard Raven return:

"Really? Within the first twenty seconds of the game, you're going to use one of your challenges for the sake of twenty yards? This seems smart to you? Really?"

[less than one-quarter of the game passes before Timlin throws his second flag, on a play where he had no hope of getting the call overturned but which at least was an important play]

REFEREE: "Pittsburgh is now out of challenges."

ME [addressing Timlin out loud in the pub]: "Thank God you saved those twenty yards on the opening kickoff."

BARMAID [politely]: Um...did you want another Bass?

Another conversation from the game

ME, when the Ravens get the ball back after an entire third quarter in which they have mechanically passed on every single first down and then equally mechanically run on every single second-and-long: "I think you'd better try running on first down this time."

CAM CAMERON: "No thanks, I prefer to have my quarterback throw a back-breaking interception on first down."

ME: "Well, you're the professional..."

STEELERS: "You shut up and stay out of this."

In all seriousness, it appears that it never crossed Cameron's mind that the Steelers might make defensive adjustments at halftime.

UPDATE -- and as I type, Baltimore throws an incompletion on first down to start the next drive. Who saw THAT play call coming??

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE -- and then they fumble the snap. Talk about a unit walking onto the field after halftime and just collapsing...the Baltimore offense just seems astonished that the Steelers defense came out in the second half prepared to stop the passing game, and appears to have no idea what to do next.

Another thought from the Baker St. Bar and Grill

This pub makes really very good bangers and mash. Very much enhanced the first quarter.

For the third quarter I ordered fish 'n' chips.

This pub makes really very good bangers and mash.

(In the meantime, Terrell Suggs is playing out of his mind.)

Why don't I just liveblog this?

6:28 [after an outstanding Ravens return for a touchdown] That may be the most astonishing initial move by a punt returner I've ever seen.

6:29 [after said return is called back on a holding penalty at about the Steeler ten-yard-line] I'm not at all sure that was a hold. And, to add to Ravens fans' misery, I'm not at all sure the Ravens offense can score a field goal even when your special teams unit gives them a first and goal.

6:30 I saw empty backfield and thought, "Bad idea" -- but there was nothing wrong with the play call, just an NFL receiver (Anquan Boldin) with hands of stone who cost his team four points. [Takes a deep breath and manages not to mention the name "Jackie Smith."]

6:34 Well, it's tempting to figure that it's now a question of which defense/special teams unit can either score on its own or else make it really really easy for its offense to score.

6:36 I didn't really care who would win the game when it started, but the Steeler players have played so dirty and been such jerks I'd now officially hate to see them win. (Meanwhile, Roethlisberger pulls one of his patented escapes to avoid a sack.)

6:38 That's a heckuva pass into a heckuva tight window for the first down.

6:38 This Steeler offensive line just really isn't very good, are they?

6:40 Since the announcers have mentioned the new overtime rules...why not just say, "The first team to score four points, or else the team that's ahead when overtime ends, wins" -- and be done with it? How hard is that? Instead, let me see if I can find and post the rules for postseason overtime in the NFL now...

6:41 And the Ravens let a wide receiver behind them on 3rd and 19 for a bomb down to the three. Well, okay, now I don't mind the Steelers winning, because a defense that brags as much as the Ravens brag, and commits that kind of mental error in that situation (with eight men in coverage, no less!!!), deserves to be eliminated from the playoffs. Heckuva throw by Roethlisberger, though, props to the man there.

6:43 [To the guy at the next table] Dude, if you're going to spill your beer, at least spill it on your own cell phone, not your date's.

6:46 Defensive holding on a running play at the goal line...not sure I've seen that before.

6:48 Harbaugh going absolutely nuts on the sideline trying to call a timeout like he's making a snow angel...and he can't get an offical's attention. How is that possible? Even a casual fan has to expect the Ravens to call time out in that situation...and not one of the officials checks the sideline to see what Harbaugh's doing?

6:49 So I think if I'm the Steelers I trust Roethlisberger enough to play-action here with most blockers really selling the run.

6:50 What a GREAT cutback by Mendenhall!! That should do it; I don't think Flacco has a two-minute touchdown drive in him against this defense. That phantom hold that called back the Ravens touchdown, and the dropped pass in the end zone, both look REALLY big now.

6:51 #68 is the same S.O.B. who got away with a blatant late hit in the first half. Did exactly the same thing here. I certainly hope the league fines him well and truly.

6:53 [laughing] There's no question which Pittsburgh unit Tomlin trusts more, or more likely which Ravens unit he fears more...despite kicking off fifteen yards back because of the penalty, he squib-kicks. The Ravens get the ball inside the fifty, and yet I can't help feeling that their odds of success just dropped dramatically, thanks to their not having been given the opportunity to score a tying touchdown without having to depend on their offense to execute.

6:54 Receiver was open, Flacco had plenty of time...and simply missed him. Terrible pass. I don't believe Flacco makes the jump this year.

6:55 Terrible pass, great defense by the offensive player to keep it from being intercepted. I don't believe Flacco makes the jump this year.

6:55 [laughing] You frequently see backs do a poor job of picking up a blitz, but you rarely see a back have a straight shot at the blocker and not even touch him -- athletic play by the blitzer to jump right over him, I'll grant you; but if you're blocking you HAVE to keep your head up and keep your shoulders higher than the blitzer's knees.

6:57 And that's it, though that last incompetion's on the receiver, not Flacco. TMQ's home-field-in-round-2 rule holds true.

That was a good game if you like defense. (Which I do.)

On the bright side, if you're a Ravens fan, you'll be happy to know that Ray Lewis just told the sideline reporter that next year's team is the most talented Ravens team he's been on since the Super Bowl team. (This is an inside joke for readers of The Sports Guy, who likes to make fun of Lewis's annual pronouncement to that effect.)

Whoops, I forgot I still owe you the new overtime rules

NFL VERSION

• Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner.

• If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team shall have the opportunity to possess the ball. If [that team] scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the score is tied after [both teams have a] possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.

• If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if [the overtime period's] initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue until a score is made, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.

THE VERSION I LIKE

First one to four wins.

See, it's just not that hard...

PACKERS/FALCONS

And here we go...you should certainly see WAY more offense in this game than in the last one.

7:17 Hey, where's the offensive pass interference call there? I guess maybe ruled uncatchable, but that was a first-play pick-six waiting to happen.

7:27 [laughing delightedly] Now THAT was a wild play...a great third-down conversion on third-and-fourteen inside Green Bay's own ten-yard-line, and then he shoots the gap between a couple of DB's and I'm thinking, "Hey, he could go all the way" -- except that then he's stripped from behind and the fumble bounces straight up into an Atlanta player's hands on a dead run -- except that he's at a dead run toward his own end zone, and then even after he turns around, every time he tries to dodge somebody he runs backwards some more instead of just going down so that I start to think we may yet see a safety on a ball fumbled fifty-five yards away from the relevant end zone, and finally the play ends after a spectacular block lets the runner pick up about twenty extra yards to wind up with only a negative-five-yard return...I think I need to see another replay. I was exhausted by the end of that play just watching all the running around that was going on.

7:34 Hey, I like this -- the Falcons are playing to win today. Gutsy call to go for it on fourth down there.

7:35 OH-HO-HO WHAT A RUN! That's a direct quote from yours truly, as yelled when Turner made that tackle-breaking spin move at the 5 on his way in for the TD.

7:43 Tennessee and Vanderbilt are playing women's basketball on the screen next to the Packers/Falcons big screen. Now, women's basketball can certainly be enjoyed, in much the same way that minor league baseball and high school football can be enjoyed. Competitive spirit, heart and character are independent of athletic ability. But if you're a women's team sport organization, and your athletes do not play in bikinis or at least in very short skin-tight shorts, then I really think you should demand that your sport never be shown on a television right next to a big-screen television that is showing an elite-level men's sporting event...because the comparison is painful. I realize that the University of Tennessee women's basketball team is composed 100% of young women who are more athletic, and more highly coordinated, than I am. But they're not playing on a television next to me. They're playing on a television next to Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan and Donald Driver and Michael Turner...and the girls, bless their hearts, look downright slow and clumsy, sheerly by comparison.

I think the whole business model for women's sports was thought up by committed feminists laboring under the delusion that most women would watch women's sports Because They Are Women -- that is, that most women see themselves as being On The Women's Side in some sort of gender-loyalty contest and make decisions accordingly. But I doubt that most women actually do see themselves that way; I don't think most women see themselves as owing some sort of loyalty to The Sisterhood. I think most women who like sports, like sports, for pretty much the same reason most guys who like sports, like sports. And the more you like something for its own sake (rather than out of some misguided tribal loyalty), the more you prefer to watch the people who are best at it, whether they're part of your tribe or not. I think most women who really like basketball, would much rather watch men's basketball than women's...because the men's game is better, in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reason that major league baseball is better than Class AA. Class AA has just as much heart and just as much passion and just as much commitment. But the major leagues have more athletic talent -- and that makes them better...but why am I spending all this time arguing this? The point is so obvious that anyone who doesn't already see it, is almost certainly emotionally invested in not seeing it, and all I'm doing is convincing them I'm a sexist pig (or whatever is the misandrists' preferred epithet du jour). So back to football we go, no doubt to the relief of all.

7:59 Wow, that's a pretty disastrous back-to-back pair of special teams plays for the Packers. First you give up a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and then when they kickoff to you, you try to catch the ball next to the sideline on your own ten and promptly fumble it out of bounds with no Falcon even close enough to you to be in the video shot. But at least you've got Rodgers trotting out there, whom the Falcons have yet to slow up.

8:01 [three Rodgers completions later, already in Falcons territory] As I was saying...

8:05 Troy Aikman, Master of the Obvious, after a completion down to the Falcons 8-yard-line on a drive that began at the Packer eight: "This is a pretty good drive here." Aikman is a nice enough guy but I'm not sure I've ever heard him say a single usefully insightful thing during a NFL broadcast.

8:08 Touchdown, Green Bay. Hey, Troy, I think that was a pretty good drive. What's your take?

In the meantime, if this were a baseball game, I'd be worried about sending Matt Ryan out to the mound after sitting so long on the bench -- you had a long Green Bay drive, followed by a Falcon kickoff return for a touchdown, followed by another long Green Bay drive. It seems like a week since Ryan took a snap.

Also, if I'm Matt Ryan, it's sinking in on me that my team's chances to advance rest pretty much entirely on my offense's ability to score a touchdown on pretty much every drive...because my defense looks completely outclassed at the moment.

8:33 Well, I was out of blogging commission for a while for two reasons:

1) I figured it had been a while since I had added anything to my bill (I feel a certain responsibility to rent the table, as it were); so I decided to try this pub's apple cobbler and their coffee.

This pub makes really very good bangers and mash.

2) Apparently there's going to be a live band here once the game is over, and the stage is in front of the big screen...and the band members decided to go ahead and set up even though we're not even done with the first half. This includes setting up two big speakers one on top of another, completely blocking the view of the tables along the side, where of course I happen to be sitting. And one of the band members, who weighs 350 pounds if he weighs an ounce and therefore blocks a wide proportion even of a very large screen...he spent a lot time just standing on the middle of the stage doing nothing but posing. Only with great difficulty (and only by reminding myself over and over that I am a representative of Christ to the world, and also that I don't want to embarrass my ridiculously kind and sweet wife even in absentia), did I manage to avoid saying something like, "Dude, I didn't come here to see your lame-ass wannabe small-town pitiful attempt to live out your adolescent Guitar Hero fantasy -- I came here to see elite professionals perform at the highest level. So move your useless ass out of the way." (This despite the fact that I have known at least three people who have played in local bands and I know how hard they work at it, and when they're not between me and an NFL playoff game I admire them and wish them the best of luck.)

See, I'm not really a very nice guy...I just have years invested in keeping my temper and not letting the mouth speak out of the overflow of the heart; and then of course I get lots of help from God's grace. When I remember to ask for it. Which is quite a bit less often than I should.

Anyway, I merely took a deep breath and moved to a different table.

I'm still pissed off, though.

[laughing at self] And, no kidding, I was in the middle of typing the sentence about "elite professionals perform at the highest level" when Matt Ryan threw a gawd-awful pick-six on the last play of the first half, thereby putting TMQ's home-team-wins-round-1 rule in grave peril. Maybe I'd be better off listening to the band after all...upon sober (more or less) reflection they're probably not going to play worse than the Falcons are playing at the moment.

9:00 They just turned the game off!! At the start of the second half!!! In order to make way for the Guitar Heroes!!!!

So I guess I owe the Guitar Heroes an apology, as it turns out that it's the pub itself that thinks I'd rather watch lame-ass wannabe small-town pitiful attempts to live out adolescent Guitar Hero fantasies than see elite professionals perform at the highest level. I'm so outta here -- hey, waitress, check please!

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