John Harbaugh is one of the great coaches of this or any era. He’ll have a bust in Canton; he already has earned it. And his 2012 Super Bowl win could be joined in time by more, whether with the Ravens or (if the Ravens are ever dumb enough to let him get away) another team.
That doesn’t put him above criticism or scrutiny, however. And it’s fair to criticize the decision to put his own players (and Denver’s players) at needless risk on the last snap of Sunday’s game against the Broncos, all in the name of extending a meaningless record about which few were even aware before Sunday’s antics.
The Ravens now have 43 straight games with 100 or more team rushing yards. That matches the 1974-77 Steelers, who did it in an era that was far more conducive to running than passing. And to that we (and surely many others) say, “Whoop-dee-freaking-doo.”
It’s right up their with the franchise’s all-time preseason winning streak. Who cares? Harbaugh does, for some reason.
Of course, the reason that he cares is one of the reasons why he’s great. He’s ultra-competitive. And the drive to rack up things that matter (like winning games that matter) can compel a person to pursue stuff that doesn’t matter. Like an obscure record about which no one — other than Harbaugh — gives a crap.
Watch the video of the reaction by the Denver sideline. Listen to the bleeps. Broncos coach Vic Fangio was pissed. And rightfully so. The game was over. Take a knee. Walk away. Avoid needless contact. Needless contact leads to avoidable injuries.
It’s somewhat similar to the much-criticized tendency of former Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano to aggressively attack victory formation. In those situations, however, there was a strategy rooted in actually trying to win the game. If Schiano’s team had forced a fumble by plowing hard into the line/quarterback, they could have won the game. On Sunday, the Ravens already had won the game.
Indeed, as noted by Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com, the Ravens became one of the rare NFL franchises to actually gain yardage while leading by 10 or more points and snapping the ball in the final five seconds of a game. Via Hensley, the Elias Sports Bureau found a play in 1992, when Oilers tailback Spencer Tillman gained one yard with two seconds left in a game that Houston led, 27-0, over the Chargers. Otherwise, this kind of thing doesn’t happen. And for good reason, especially in an age of unprecedented sensitivity to health and safety.
Harbaugh nevertheless defended the decision to not take a knee for the one play that followed an interception of Broncos quarterback Drew Lock in the end zone, with Baltimore leading, 23-7.
“It’s one of those things that’s meaningful,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a very, very tough record to accomplish. It’s a long-term record. So, I’m not going to say it’s more important than winning the game, for sure. It’s certainly not. But, as a head coach, I think you do that for your players and you do that for your coaches, and that’s something they’ll have for the rest of their lives.”
But what do they have? A trophy? A ring? Anything tangible? When they’re in their rocking chairs, will they mutter to whoever is listening that they matched the 1974-77 Steelers with 43 straight games of 100 or more rushing yards? If they do, will anyone do anything other than roll their eyes and say, “He has his good days, and his bad days”?
No one cares. No one except Harbaugh. Hell, Lamar Jackson — who gained the yardage that put the Ravens over 100 for the game and in so doing exposed himself to unnecessary injury risk while still not having his well-deserved second contract — doesn’t care.
“I’m not going to lie,” Jackson said after the game. “I ain’t really care about the record. I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about winning the game.”
The game was already won. Future games were put in incremental jeopardy by having Jackson run the ball one last time. All because the ultra-competitive Harbaugh wanted to add another meaningless plaque to the wall, right next to the one that commemorates the all-time record winning streak in meaningless games.
Again, that competitive nature is what makes him great. He’d be even a little bit greater if he realized when to turn it off.