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ESPN steady, solid in telecast of Ravens' win over Texans

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.

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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.

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With 5:25 left in the first quarter, the Ravens came up way short on a third-down pass, and McDonough was perfectly clear about what was going on at M&T Bank Stadium.

“The boo birds are out early tonight in Baltimore for this dreadful offense,” he said.

Yes, “dreadful,” that’s the word he used. And I say thanks for the clarity, Sean.

“”Well, they’re tired of this pass offense that can’t seem to make any big plays,” Gruden said. “And Joe Flacco, after missing training camp, has not played at a high level.”

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Thanks for making that connection between the missed training camp and subpar performance as well, Jon.

And they stayed on point with that analysis all night.

'Monday Night Football' sideline reporter Lisa Salters lives in Baltimore and will be covering a Monday night game at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since her debut in 2012.

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.

With the game hanging in the balance, the Ravens forced two turnovers in the final five minutes to help the Ravens hold on for a 23-16 victory over the Texans.

Gruden’s keenest analysis of the night was focused on Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the Ravens’ inability to cover him with one defensive back.

Replays showed even cornerback Jimmy Smith couldn’t handle him man-on-man.

“DeAndre Hopkins is having quite a night,” Gruden said after a big catch by Hopkins with 9:34 left in the game. “He has burned Jimmy Smith repeatedly. They got to give Jimmy Smith some help.”

With 5:16 left in the game and the Texans looking like they might still have a shot, Gruden predicted they’d go to Hopkins as they came up to the line for a key play.

Sure enough, they did. And even with Ravens defensive back Brandon Carr hanging on Hopkins’ jersey, the Texans’ receiver made the catch.

It's a good week to admire Terrell Suggs and the Ravens made clever in-game adjustments, but the team still failed to inspire confidence with its latest victory.

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.

But except for that, and that is pretty minor, it was a solid telecast. Nothing fancy, but the replays were all there. The cameras showed me everything I wanted to see.

And the conversation in the booth took me deeper inside the game while making me feel I wasn’t totally crazy for feeling so frustrated about the Ravens offense all year.

Gruden can be a pleasure when he tones down the hot-dog stuff and tries to help fans understand some of the games within the game. I wish he would do more of that.

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