CINCINNATI -- This is exciting for me, because you really have to pay attention today. See, I was at an NFL game you didn't watch Thursday night. You couldn't watch, unless you live in Cincinnati, Baltimore or your mom's basement -- and your mom happens to be married to NFL Network president Steve Bornstein.
|Something you likely missed: B.J. Sams carted off with a broken fibula. (Getty Images)|
But you did miss quite a game. It was on TV, but only if your local cable operator subscribes to the new NFL Network, which is viewed about as much as the Golf Network, which exists, and the Lacrosse Network, which does not. Most local cable companies do not subscribe, because they don't take kindly to bullying tactics. See, the NFL Network jacked up its rates nearly 250 percent after buying the rights to show eight games this season. Few cable companies opted to bend over. Not a good start for the NFL Network (though it did graciously bestow its game feed, for free even, upon viewers in Cincinnati and Baltimore.)
First of all, you missed the very thing you typically would watch an NFL game -- on a cool and available network like, I don't know, CBS -- to see. You know what I'm talking about. A gruesome injury. Yeah, you missed it. Baltimore kick returner B.J. Sams now has a second knee on his right leg after suffering a rather gross broken fibula.
With Sams out, Baltimore cornerback Corey Ivy circled under a punt late in the fourth quarter and muffed it. As for Sams' leg-flapping fracture, it'll be available on YouTube.com soon enough. Make sure you watch on an empty stomach.
That's how Baltimore coach Brian Billick and quarterback Steve McNair will want to watch film of the Ravens' final drive of the half, when a mental blunder by McNair cost his team a shot at the lead. The Bengals were ahead 6-0 thanks to a pair of short field goals by Shayne Graham -- this is me doing play-by-play, knowing you didn't watch the game -- when the Ravens drove to the Cincinnati 20 with 28 seconds left.
Out of timeouts, McNair spiked the ball to stop the clock on first down. Then he completed a pass of nine or 10 yards. The exact yardage was important, because McNair apparently thought he had a first down. He hurried to the line and spiked the ball again ... on third-and-1 from the 11. Oops. Now facing fourth down, Baltimore had to kick a field goal -- and after a bad snap threw the timing off, Matt Stover pulled it left.
What else did you miss? Well, you missed a successful flea flicker, which is the football version of baseball's hidden-ball trick. In other words, it never works. Only this time it worked. The Bengals had softened up the Ravens' midsection and brain, with a shovel pass and two runs up the middle. So when Carson Palmer handed the ball again to Rudi Johnson, all 11 Baltimore defenders ran to the ball. Johnson turned and flipped it back to Palmer, who threw the easiest 40-yard touchdown pass of his, and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's, life. That made it 13-0.
With the way Cincinnati's defense was playing, and the way the rain was falling, this game was over. Baltimore (9-3) is still going to win the AFC North, but the Ravens won't have the pleasure of winning it on the division rival Bengals' home field. Baltimore's offense blows, even with cold-hearted genius Billick calling plays after firing coordinator Jim Fassel six games ago, but its defense is good enough to win two or three more games on its own. Assuming it doesn't fall for any more golden oldies like the flea flicker, the unseen banana peel or the pie in the face.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are going to the playoffs as well. At 7-5 Cincinnati has two more games left to win, but that's a formality -- Oakland and Pittsburgh still are coming to town. There's two wins right there for a team whose offense is fabulous and whose defense has put together a franchise-record seven consecutive scoreless quarters dating to its 30-0 shutout of Cleveland last week.
But those are things you can figure out for yourself, by looking at the NFL standings and schedules available here at user-friendly SportsLine.com. What else did you miss because this game was shown by the user-hating NFL Network?
You missed the arrival of the Bengals' next dominant cornerback, rookie Johnathan Joseph, who replaced injured starter Deltha O'Neal (shoulder) and almost intercepted four passes in the second half. Joseph, the Bengals' startlingly fast 2006 first-round pick, kept jumping short routes to make plays on the ball -- though it was veteran cornerback Tory James who made the defensive play of the game. James poked McNair's fourth-down pass away from Mark Clayton with 6:16 left and the Ravens at the Cincinnati 11.
You also missed the unexpected sight of the Bengals second-team offensive line fending off the Ravens defense -- which is ranked No. 3 in the league, and coming off a nine-sack shutout of Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger last week. Cincinnati started the game missing three injured starters on the line, and then a fourth, center Eric Ghiaciuc, left early in the third quarter with a knee injury. Still, the only reason you're reading the words Ray and Lewis in a story about Thursday's game is because I like writing them in a snarky way. It's not like he played his way into this story. He did not.
Ghiaciuc's replacement, Ben Wilkerson, was so surprisingly effective that he received more sideline congratulations following the Bengals' lone touchdown than Palmer, who threw it, or Houshmandzadeh, who caught it.
That's the kind of detail you can only get here at CBS SportsLine.com. You definitely didn't get it from your television set. Who can tell me what was on CSI Thursday night? I missed it. I was at an NFL football game.