This week’s NFL ratings will show that an average of about 8 million people watched Thursday night’s Rams-Raiders classic on Amazon. But when Baker Mayfield started the Rams’ penultimate game, trailing 16-3 with just over 12 minutes left, the entire crowd could have been entirely filled with Rams fans, Raiders fans, desperate Thursday Night Gamblers and I make up… and I’m paying to watch the game as much as Al Michaels, who sounds like he’s calling from Men’s Grill on the Riviera.
Then Sports did what Sports do, making all 38 of us ecstatic, and until then, we were still watching a game of messy roadkill. You wouldn’t watch a bad three hour movie if the last 10 minutes were great. You don’t sit down to a horrible meal and hope a tangy dessert will make up for it. But a three-hour football game — four hours if we’re talking college — could lead to something we’ve never seen before…like a quarterback jumping out of a plane and calling his Dramatic victory for the new team.
Mayfield — who touched down in Los Angeles just 46 hours before kickoff — led the Rams for more than 173 yards on two drives and ended with a touchdown, with the blocker snuggled softly in Van Jefferson’s arms With a 23-yard touchdown pass, it was as if Mayfield was delivering a baby. And just like that, everyone outside of the Raiders fans — and anyone who chose to report in Las Vegas — went to sleep happily after the miserable Super Bowl defending champions pulled off an unexpected victory.
It was the second straight NFL game in which the quarterback made a smart comeback from a 16-3 deficit. But Monday night’s game put Tom Brady in the jackpot, so the question isn’t whether he’ll come back to beat the Saints, but how much time he’ll need to do it. (The result was two minutes and twenty seconds.)
Going into Thursday night, Mayfield hadn’t even risen to the “damaged goods” level. He’s more of the NFL’s version of the goodwill donation you toss in the trash on New Year’s Eve afternoon to write off taxes, a depraved quarterback who — if you believe the detractors — has apparently forgotten How to handle the ball, let alone go through middle school or run a two-minute offense.
On Thursday night, though, Mayfield ran two life-and-death plays back-to-back with far more confidence and precision than many other starting quarterbacks are capable of…and he likely did so without knowing a few teammates The case of the name did with his field. Whether he revived his career or whether this was his last bright spot doesn’t matter now; he did what he was supposed to do and earned NFL praise for it. Patrick Mahomes, Cordarrelle Patterson, JJ Watt and many others tweeted their congratulations and admiration.
The Rams-Raiders also provide an interesting contrast to the ongoing World Cup. Most of the 8, 15 or 20 million fans who watch an NFL game might say football is boring, but the irony is that Thursday night’s game was as close to a World Cup game in terms of emotional intensity, Because the NFL generally likes to score. One team leads, equal to 2-0, and then the other team turns the game around with two late scores. Boredom and weariness, then nervousness, then euphoria…it’s there.
Like a World Cup win in stoppage time, Thursday night’s action is what keeps sports fans relentless and why we’ve been fascinated by children’s games all our lives. This is the reward for spending hours, seasons, or even a lifetime watching these games. Unlike movies, endings are not predetermined. Unlike music or art, repeated experiences do not bring the same joy. There’s something ecstatic about a sudden, unexpected victory, whether it’s a HORSE race in the driveway or the Super Bowl. And it’s always, always possible.
Next Monday, the Cardinals play the Patriots in a game that few would describe as a must-see. This could push our luck to the limit, hoping for a third straight weekend to miraculously end…but hey, you never know. That’s why we end up watching.
Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter @jaybusbee.