Game planning as a head coach is way harder than game planning as a quarterbacks coach. You have to account for 22 other positions and limitless scenarios. And, unfortunately for us, our first game was not what you’d call a pushover. The Baltimore Ravens have always had a staunch defense, and typically have our number. Luckily we caught a break. I hate to be happy about players being injured, but Ray Lewis’s season ending injury was a small blessing for us. It meant that we had a little more breathing room up the middle. if we could get two men on Gregg, and then get a guy on Tavares Gooden, Jamal would have a great run that could bust through the secondary. It helped with passing a little bit too. Brady would feel less pressure and we’d be able to do some good slant routes over the middle. Some tight end ins and outs would also be possible. I’ve never liked the 3-4 defense, mainly because it’s hard to plan against. so many blitzing and coverage possibilities.
I was starting to feel pretty good this year. We had four solid linemen, and a quarterback who could only grow from here. Three wide receivers looking to seal up the starting spot, and a running back who was still a force to be reckoned with. The defense was a little disappointing, but it would be able to hold together. ESPN had us finishing third in the division (not surprising) at 6-10, a three game improvement. I thought it was entirely possible to go 7-9 or 8-8. Ninety percent of the game is half mental, as Yogi Berra so graciously said. I couldn’t agree with him more, and it was my place to make the players feel the same way.
Week One, 2010.
Baltimore Ravens (0-0) @ Cleveland Browns (0-0)
Derek Anderson, 2 Weeks, Dislocated Ankle
Corey Williams, 4 Weeks, Herniated Disk
Ray Lewis, Season, Torn Rotator Cuff
Leading into the first game, we still had a ton of question marks. Every player was under the microscope, no position was safe really. The only people I had utmost confidence in were the two blindside linemen and the defensive tackle. Other than that, it was open season. There wasn’t a whole lot of hype over the 2010 Browns, which made my job a little easier. But the crowd would definitely not be as rambunctious as I’d like. Opening Day should be pretty energetic, I hoped. Especially since we were the season opener. National television, the works. Everyone got excited for a national television game, especially when we are the official kick off of the NFL season.
I gave the team the typical head coach speech, all the fun stuff… it was a little different being the giver of the speech, but I got through it. I was pretty sure the team trusted me, but only a few of the offensive players, and none of the defensive players, knew me very well. This season would be a growing, learning, and bonding experience for everyone as there were a lot of new faces to the team.
We ran out of the tunnel into a packed stadium, cheering and echoing. It seemed a lot louder now that all the actions on the field reflected upon me. It was a little intimidating seeing all the people for what seemed like the first time. A favorite quote of mine is from Tony Dungy, “You can tell if the stadium is packed, because even the bad seats are filled in the corners of the stadium.” Well, I looked in the corners, and sure enough they were painted with brown and orange clad people.
Halftime. 14-10 Baltimore.
Going into the locker rooms at halftime, I was sort of happy with our performance. Every part of our game had ups and downs. Our defense was playing great against an underrated Baltimore team. We had picked off Flacco a few times. We should have led at the half but Ray Rice took one to the house with two seconds left after a well executed halfback screen. We had 163 yards of offense to Baltimore’s 138. But besides yards, our offense didn’t have much to show. Brady came out sort of off, he could never get comfortable in the pocket, scrambling twice for 12 and 15 yards but being sacked twice, and rushed many times. He threw three interceptions the first half, only two of them were legitimate as one of them was picked by a lineman as Brady was being drilled. Lewis couldn’t get the ball rolling, going 5 attempts for seven yards. Vickers had the lone touchdown on a goalline stand. Prater showed his leg strength after completing a 48 yard field goal with about 15 yards to spare it seemed. Holding the Ravens to 14 points made our defense look good, but we only had two tackles for loss, a sack, and one pick. We were playing smart football defensively, which I would rather have than playing aggressively and giving up the longball.
Making a few adjustments to the running game should help our situation. Getting the running started would help with the play action, which is what our wide receivers need to get seperation. Braylon showed some flash on a 47 yard play which ended at the 1 yard line, but there were three dropped passes by three different receivers, all of which could have been game changers. Heading out to the field, I told the team we needed to play sound and focus on the basics. Form tackling, bringing the ball in, and putting a hat on a hat. We were trying too hard out there and we could not get anything going because our fundamentals were out of sync.
4th Quarter, 1:56 remaining. 17-17
The Ravens drove downfield, I was proud of the defense to stop them and hold them to a field goal. Now we could run a moderately conservative offense and hand it to Prater to see if he could boot one through, otherwise… overtime.
But Cribbs did something I’d never have seen coming, though probably should have. He fumbled the ball on the return. None of the players were near him, as they were all blocking upfield. The Ravens recovered it easily and landed on the 24 yard line.
Within the two minute warning, I’d need to use up all of my timeouts on this drive. Luckily, the defense showed why the game was such a low score, and stopped them and got them to go three and out. I put the field goal block unit out there and told them to block that ball at whatever the cost. They went out there, and did just that. Walter Thurmond burnt the blocker and got just the tiniest piece of his finger on the ball, causing it to fall short. We had the ball back at our 24 and planned on winning this thing in regulation.
Sending Brady out there, I pulled him back and gave him a pep talk.
“Brady, listen. I’ve coached you since you were a freshman at Notre Dame. You and I both know you’re cerebral and able enough to mount this game winning drive. Don’t overthink, just play with your instincts and you have this.”
Brady responded with a “Yes, coach” that I couldn’t tell if it was a sound of defeat, or a sound of confidence. Only the following drive could tell me that. And I was pretty sure I knew what it was.
His first play was four wide, and it was almost picked by the ball-hawking touchdown machine Ed Reed. I breathed a sigh of relief and malcontent. I sent out the next play which was going to be a little more conservative, and aimed towards the sidelines this time.
“Snug Circle 80 Flanker Right”
While that doesn’t mean much to anyone else, it was a pretty money play that did well against the zone and man coverage.
Massaqoui and Edwards went on a streak, while Schilens ran a five yard out to the right. Robiskie runs a slant post to the right sideline. Robiskie had the slight edge on the man coverage, but Brady airmailed it past him. I shook my head again.
Calling in the final play of this drive (hoping that it wouldn’t be) I gave a small prayer, which I usually don’t do. I find it best not to mix religion and sport. Brady dropped back again, saw Robiskie open running across the middle and reared back and fired to his target. Unfortunately, the man-child of Haloti Ngata clipped him hard as he was throwing, causing Nakamura to pick the ball off and bring it back to the 24, where they missed the field goal last time.
I sent out the defense with a similar ultimatum as the field goal block, but to no avail. Ray Rice took a sweep to the left, saw nothing, cut back and scored to the right. I was in a small state of shock as I let the special teams coordinator talk to the kick return. I had to find a play that would get us six.
The offense stepped out onto the field, a cloud of despair hanging over the city of Cleveland. I could tell a lot of players already considered it a loss, which wasn’t great to see as a coach, but no matter. I sent out another of our good plays, Brady scrambled right, saw Braylon wide open, dialed it spot on and Braylon Edwards lived up to his name. He dropped the 40 yard pass.
Cursing and swiping at the air, I tried to calm down to call a play with an even keel. After two more ridiculously awful plays, we were staring at a 4th and ten. I decided to roll out the money play that Brady missed Robiskie on to see if he could get it a little more accurately. Brady read that the Ravens were sending the kitchen sink and chattered to the wide outs before taking one more snap.
He drops back, pumps once and sees a defender coming down the barrel right at him. He steps left, then jukes right and scrambles out of the pocket, grabbing the attention of the other defenders. He spies Schilens open, and in Joe Montana form slings it to Schilens as he watches him do the rest, taking it down to the 22 yard line.
I didn’t know whether to be happy Schilens made such a play, or to be mad that he couldn’t get it in the endzone. Either way, I figured we had one more play to run. Putting back another money play, I sent the call out to Brady. This is where he could look like the fool who threw 4 picks, or the boy who won the game.
He drops back, settles and looks around. He spies Massaquoi open and stares him down for a half second too long. He takes two steps towards him and flings the ball his way. In what seemed like an instant, four Ravens descended on Mohamed and deflected the ball to the ground. I quickly looked to the scoreboard to see the thing I didn’t want to see.
Dejected, and trying to keep face, I took off my equipment, and walked onto the field to go say my congrats to Coach Harbaugh. Films on Tuesday would reveal many mistakes, including a wide open Chaz Schilens on the last play of the game which could have helped us hang on.
QB Quinn: 10/30 187 yds, 4 INT’s
RB Lewis: 9 att 15 yds. 1 TD
FB Vickers: 2 att 6 yds. 1 TD
WR Edwards: 3 rec. 63 yards
WR Schilens: 2 rec. 50 yards, TD
CB Washington: 2 TKL, 2 SCK, 1 INT
K Prater: 1/1 FG, 2/2 XP, Long of 48