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ESPN Monday Night Football comes up big in end

The broadcast trio in the booth had its lapses. But taken as a whole, ESPN came up big when it had to in its Monday night telecast of the Baltimore Ravens 34 to 28 overtime win against the Houston Texans.

For openers, let's be fair, all you Baltimore viewers who are so certain that Jon Gruden hates the Ravens: The former Tampa Bay coach was nothing but compliments through most of the three quarters.

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And in the fourth quarter when Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was shredding the Ravens' defense on drives of 99 and 95 yards, can you blame Gruden for repeating how "gassed" the defense looked and expressing his amazement at how worn down they seemed to be?

And his partners in the booth, play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and analyst Ron Jaworski, backed it up with the statistic that the Ravens gave up 90 points in the fourth quarter this year versus only 15 in the third.

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The ESPN telecast team would not have been out of line in questioning coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens conditioning. But they didn't. So spare me the comments as to how much this broadcasting team favored the Texans. There wasn't a bit of it Monday night.

From the deft camera work and evocative framing of images at the end of the game, to the skillfully edited halftime package of highlights from Brett Favre's career, ESPN put on a big league telecast Monday. It didn't have the splash and gloss of NBC's Sunday Night Football package, but if you came looking for top-flight football coverage, it was all there on the screen.

Yes, Gruden had his wrongheaded blowhard moments, as when the Ravens at the start of the fourth quarter brought in Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee, and Gruden announced, "They're going to slam the ball right at the Texans now."

Except they didn't run the ball -- the Ravens passed.

And Jaworski had to try and help Gruden get his foot out of his mouth by saying, "That formation will certainly give the illusion of a run, Jon ...."

But Gruden had his share of correct calls, too, primarily involving Joe Flacco throwing sideline patterns to Derrick Mason in tight spots during the first three quarters.

The broadcast's best moments came during the final moments of the Texans comeback in regulation play. The camerawork caught every big play, and the replays helped viewers see the field almost as Schaub did with angles that showed what he was viewing as he looked upfield for each incredible pass down the homestretch.

I was really impressed by the succession of sideline images of members of the Ravens' defense right at the end of the game as they all but crawled off the field after giving up the last touchdown and tying two-point play. The cameras moved from one player sprawled on the bench with trainers pumping fluids into him, to  another bent over gasping for air, as a third was shown his head and face covered in water as he tried to cool down and catch his breath. The direction and camerawork made you feel the physical brink to which the Ravens had been pushed in that last drive by the arm and willpower of Schaub's super-effort.

And looking at those images, the guys in the booth explained just how important and lucky the Ravens were to win a coin flip that would keep their defense off the field at the start of overtime. The analysis was in perfect sycnh with the imagery.

The last 20 minutes of football Monday night were rollercoaster exciting, and the coverage from ESPN skillfully took viewers through every twist and turn without getting in the way of the game.

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