Analyst Jon Gruden left most of his hot-dog act in the locker room Monday night, and as a result, I haven't enjoyed an ESPN telecast as much as this one in years.
It didn’t hurt that the Ravens beat the Houston Texans, 23-16. But that wasn’t where the real viewing pleasure came from for me. The offense was as painful to watch as it has been all year. And it felt like one of the longest and slowest games of the season.
The pleasure came in listening to Gruden and play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough talk about the Ravens knowledgeably without pulling punches on the one hand or overstating their comments for effect on the other.
From the start of the game, they were frank about how poorly Joe Flacco and the offense have been playing — and it was relief to hear someone say what you have been seeing with your eyes game after game.
With 1:41 left in the first quarter, Gruden talked about the lack of a vertical passing game by the Ravens this season.
“They used to have it with power pitcher Joe Flacco,” he said. “He used to take shots. But I have not seen him have much success at all throwing it down the field.”
McDonough chipped in 10 seconds later saying of Flacco: “He displayed that big arm and downfield accuracy when they won the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. But he hasn’t been the same since — really before or since. It’s to the point where some wonder whether he just caught lightning in a bottle for those four or five weeks in the postseason of 2012, because he’s been pretty ordinary since.”
Watching Flacco dink and dunk and then throw 5 yards out of bounds on sideline patterns wasn’t so painful thanks to McDonough and Gruden telling it like it is on the veteran quarterback and his underperforming receivers.
I hated some of ESPN’s cutesy graphics, like the animated version of Flacco with flapping Ravens wings that they put on the screen as McDonough compared the quarterback’s golden performance in the postseason of 2012 with his play lately. The wings flapped happily as the cartoon Flacco danced when the 2012 postseason statistics appeared on the screen. But the wings then collapsed and cartoon Joe stopped dancing as the more recent statistics were shown. I think most third-graders would have found it silly.