The air is thick with the smell of hot dogs, sweat and anticipation. The Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions, having pulled through their respective championship games against Kansas City and San Francisco as most of us had hoped, have marched onto the field to take their shot at glory.
For the former, it’s about the legacy of a quarterback who almost won his second MVP at age 27 and a defense that has strangled the life out of this year’s most elite offenses on the line. For the latter, it’s the legacy of an entire organization whose history has seen far more disappointment than success, the battle-scarred but unbroken beast that hasn’t made it to the Super Bowl since before the Super Bowl even existed.
Only one player will get the redemption they so desperately crave once today’s matchup on Madden NFL 24 is over.
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The first drive goes to the Lions and Jared Goff, the resurgent quarterback who came to them via trade from the Rams as a castoff who was thought to never be anything more than an emergency starter again. He’ll soon start his second Super Bowl appearance with a first down pass to rookie Sam Laporta on third-and-2. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite succeed again this time, and the Lions kick the ball to the men in purple.
Lamar Jackson, flanked by the Raven offense, takes the stage for the first time. He soon finds himself staring down a fourth with only a meter to spare. John Harbaugh chooses not to go for it. The opening blows have been delivered and the stalemate remains intact. But not for long. On their next drive, the Lions take the field and Jameson Williams finds the end zone after just six plays. 7-0.
Now the pressure is on on Baltimore. Jackson is back again and this time he goes to work with a big completion for Rashod Bateman. After reaching the Lions’ goal line, there are some hairy moments. A drop in second place and a goal, a point in third place that doesn’t make it. Going for it on fourth down is the only option, and Lamar finds Nelson Agholor for the TD. The Ravens team that wasn’t undone against Patrick Mahomes and the reigning champion Chiefs has faced the early adversity and not blinked. 7-7.
It looks a bit like the Lions will answer right back with a tuddy of their own, but the Ravens’ vaunted D forces a loss of distance in an important third. Michael Badgely makes the first field goal of the game to make it 10-7 Lions as the first quarter comes to an end. The Ravens start the second with clear momentum, steadily moving down the field until Aidan Hutchinson throws a wrench in the works by landing the first sack of the game, pushing the offense back far enough that a punt is all that’s needed. he can muster.
Now it’s the men in Honolulu blue rolling, all the way to a third-and-9, with the end zone in sight. A pass to Williams ends up as an incompletion, instead of his second score of the game. Another kick on fourth makes it 13-7 Lions. While it didn’t come back to bite him against the 49ers, Dan Campbell appears to be cautious on fourth downs.
The next Ravens drive looked to be on the line early until a pass interference call against C.J. Gardner-Johnson converted a third into a first down. A few plays later, Mark Andrews, who was fighting to get back in time for the conference championship game, limped to the bench in pain. The Ravens ride the Gus Edwards bus to the goal line, but they are unable to ride it any further despite hopping aboard three times. Justin Tucker gets his first points of the day, 13-10 for the Lions. Detroit’s drive, with less than three minutes left in the half, goes well early, but stalls as he can’t convert on fourth down.
The Ravens get the ball back with less than a minute left and manage to get within field goal range. It is well. It’s 13-13 when the halftime show comes to life.
It’s Baltimore’s ball again to start the third, they’re firing on all cylinders. Lamar can’t get the first and goal, but finds Bateman on second and gives his team its first lead of the game. 20-13 Ravens after a brief review of the play. Goff and the Lions come out, but are barely on the field before a Jadaveon Clowney sack sends them off again. Soon the Ravens find themselves back in the end zone with a returning Andrews. 27-13. Another Lion three and out is followed by another long Raven drive and a second Andrews TD. The Ravens from the second half have shown up, just like they did against the Texans, and they just forced another punt.
The third quarter is almost over. Ravens ball again. Playoff Lamar takes the field in Las Vegas hungry to finish off his postseason demons. Across from him, the team that all but invented the idea of being haunted by NFL demons is once again occupying a crucial defensive position. Everyone in the crowd at Super Bowl 58 takes a deep breath. A shiver runs down the spines of the players on both sides. The ball has been snapped.
Lamar is gone. 73 meters. A career-defining first time home. 41-13. The Lions punt again to end the third. It must be over.
But then again, maybe that’s not the case. After a quick three in Baltimore to start the final period, the Lions’ David Montgomery quickly dives into the end zone. 41-20. Another Raven drive goes nowhere, and soon the Lions go for it on fourth down. Goff sees Jahmyr Gibbs running along the sideline toward the end zone. 56 meters. 41-27.
It’s not panic time yet, but Lamar and the Ravens know they have to stem the bleeding as they retake the field. With a point, another big Bateman catch and a fourth down conversion to Zay Flowers, they are on the goal line. The first stitch is a miss. The second is not. Andrews’ third TD of the day means one thing.
The Lions manage to score one more goal in the last five minutes, but that doesn’t matter. The Ravens got their form of redemption by a final score of 48-34, having battled through a game that wasn’t always close on the scoreboard, but certainly didn’t really feel over until that final late charge from the now undisputed best of the N.F.L. player in 23/24.
Lamar and his purple brethren have answered the doubters. Their opponents fell just short, but fought so bravely that they undeniably changed the mood in their city and the perception of their team on the national stage. They have a great opportunity to be back next year, bigger and better, with a chance to properly complete their own Cinderella story.
The crowd begins to filter out of Allegiant Stadium as the last of the confetti falls on Lamar and the Lombardi.
Oh, what could have been…