Never in all the time that I have written reviews of Ravens telecasts have I seen the team get the kind of respect it did on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
Respect doesn’t even communicate the tone of play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore and analyst Booger McFarland in talking about the Ravens on Monday. It was somewhere between reverence and awe, particularly when talking about quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Before Jackson took one snap, they were calling him “amazing, “incredible” and “unbelievable.”
By the end of the first half with the Ravens ahead 28-6, Tessitore and McFarland upped the ante in their descriptions of Jackson to “magnificent,” “the ultimate chain mover” and “pure danger on the edge.”
Tessitore called Jackson’s performance “an absolutely dominating display,” while labeling the quarterback’s statistics “just absurd” ― in a great way.
By the third quarter, the two were delivering dueling hosannas.
“He’s the force multiplier,” McFarland said.
“The ultimate weapon,” countered Tessitore.
And why not?
Jackson wound up with five touchdown passes before leaving the 45-6 victory, making him the first player in “Monday Night Football” history to accomplish that, according to Tessitore, who instantly termed the quarterback’s accomplishment “The Jackson Five.”
It must have been painful for Rams fans who were watching the telecast to hear that endless stream of praise for Jackson and the Ravens ― kind of the way it was for Ravens fans who complained about the way national announcers worshipped Tom Brady during past battles between the New England Patriots and Ravens.
Maybe all that morning-after, sports-radio, it’s-a-conspiracy-against-us, fan whining about Baltimore getting no respect from national announcers will finally stop after Monday night. No one watching ESPN’s coverage will be able to cite one whiff of anything Baltimore negative from McFarland or Tessitore.
Overall, I like this broadcast team, which includes sideline reporter Lisa Salter, a lot. Tessitore is as rock steady as they come in an NFL booth, and there is not an ounce of hot dog in him.
McFarland is not asked to constantly explain what happened with instant replay of key plays, but when called on to do so, he proudly and skillfully serves. A former defensive lineman, he’s football smart about what’s happening on the field especially in the trenches, and he communicates it in an engaging, totally accessible way.
And McFarland has some pop culture chops, too, which he displayed Monday night in comparing the Ravens to the gritty, hard-edged, Baltimore-based HBO series “The Wire,” produced by former Sun reporter David Simon. The Rams, meanwhile, he said made him think of the prime-time soap opera “Melrose Place” from producer Aaron Spelling, a glitzy series about young adults living in an upscale apartment complex in Los Angeles.
"This is ‘The Wire.’ This is Baltimore. This is physical. This is, ‘I’m going to hit you in the mouth,’ " McFarland said.
To the best of my recollection as a critic who reviewed the series in its original run, “Melrose Place” was pretty physical with residents of the apartment complex hooking up left and right, but I don’t recall anyone saying they were going to hit you in the mouth.
Give McFarland credit for using the national stage to recant his past lack of appreciation for Jackson’s talents. In fact, I thought he went a little overboard in repeating and repeating and then repeating again how wrong he was. But as they say, there is no believer more fervent than a convert.
Salters did a nice job of catching Jackson before he left the field for a postgame interview, getting him to talk about how he and his teammates are trying to stay “humble” and “hungry” as they are “chasing a Super Bowl.”
In terms of production, ESPN did the obvious in focusing its cameras on Jackson and getting out of the way, avoiding anything technical that would distract viewers’ attention from the quarterback’s epic coming-out performance. To the credit of “Monday Night Football,” the producers, technical crew and announcers understood that Jackson’s performance was the story and they were mainly there to record and transmit it to millions. Much praise to ESPN for that kind of humility and restraint.