|Friday, December 28, 2001|
MNF Past, Present and Future: Week 16
By George Hill and Malibu Kelly Hayes
Special to ABC Sports Online
Monday Night Football's spotting and statistical gurus, George Hill and Malibu Kelly Hayes, view the game from a unique perspective. The two share it each week on ABC Sports Online, giving an in-depth preview of the upcoming MNF game by looking at the matchup from the past, present and the future. Here is the latest installment, leading up to this Saturday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ABC, 9 p.m. ET).
The Past: A look at some past performances on MNF by this week's teams.
The Present: A look at several of this week's key performers.
The Future: Chat with George and Kelly on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Click here to send in a question.
Monday Night Past
This week we look at a Monday Night matchup that took place on Dec. 12, 1988, when a team from Florida, the Miami Dolphins, traveled to Cleveland to face the Browns, the team destined to eventually become the Baltimore Ravens.
The last-place Dolphins (5-9) arrived in Cleveland on a five-game losing streak and had not won a game since Oct. 30. Cleveland, on the other hand, was 9-5, had won three straight, featured the AFC's best defense and with a victory would clinch a wild card playoff berth to secure its fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
It looked like a mismatch, except the Dolphins had Dan Marino, one of football's greatest equalizers. Marino, who would finish the season leading the league in passing-yards (4,434) was brilliant this Monday night, going 30-for-50, and passing for four TDs and 404 yards -- one of his 13 career 400-yard passing games.
Directing the Dolphins to a 31-17 lead, he threw scoring passes of 11 and nine yards to Mark Clayton, two yards to Jim Jensen and two yards to Lorenzo Hampton. Trailing by two touchdowns, the evening looked over for the Browns when starter Bernie Kosar, who had completed 21-of-30 passes for 202 yards and a TD, left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained knee.
Don Strock, who had been released by Miami that August after 15 seasons with the Dolphins, replaced Kosar. Strock entered the game with 9:17 remaining, and tried to steal the show from Marino, his long-time friend and golfing partner. In the relief role, Strock looked like he was going to lead the Browns into overtime, throwing touchdown passes of three and two yards to Reggie Langhorne. His second touchdown pass of the night came with just 59 seconds left and tied the game at 31-31.
Marino then took the field and worked his patented Marino Magic, guiding Miami 65 yards in four plays and just 22 seconds. The biggest play of the drive was a 46-yard strike to Fred Banks to the Browns' 1-yard line. The completion set up Hampton's one-yard run on the next play, giving Miami a 38-31 lead with 37 seconds to play.
Strock tried to rally the Browns once more in the final seconds, but the game ended on a "Hail Mary" that fell incomplete inside the Dolphins 20-yard line.
|Dan Marino flashed his fourth-quarter magic against the Browns.|
Monday Night Present
BUCS WR KEYSHAWN JOHNSON
Amazing. Keyshawn Johnson has already caught a career-high and Tampa Bay Buccaneer-record 102 passes, which also leads the NFL. It is, with two games still remaining to be played, an incredible achievement. Not only that, Keyshawn has 1,237 yards receiving. With just 185 more yards, he will break Mark Carrier's club mark for most receiving yards in a season. So why isn't Keyshawn getting more credit for his spectacular season?
There is just one reason. Johnson has caught just one measly TD pass. Sure, the score was a big one, as it came on a leaping 13-yard grab against the Lions with 45 seconds to play and gave Tampa Bay a must win. But still, when the ex-Southern Cal star signed a mega-contract with the Bucs, Tampa fans surely expected more end zone production from the receiver with the big body and the big skills.
Last week in Tampa's whipping of the Saints, No. 19 was an asterisk in the stats (two receptions, 41 yards). He desperately wants to break out of his shell and show the country that he deserves All-Pro status.
Unless he makes some touchdown catches this week -- and that is plural -- he may end the season as a receiver who leads the league in receptions and is close to setting an NFL record but is still considered nothing more than fodder for Dennis Miller's jokes.
BUCS CB RONDE BARBER
Because he plays on the defensive side of the ball, Ronde Barber has been considered "The Other Barber" by many NFL watchers. Though he has played consistently before for the Bucs, it is his brother Tiki, a running back for the New York Giants, who has garnered most of the family fame.
That apparently is about to change. This Saturday, Ronde Barber gets a primetime showcase to let the Pro Bowl voting public know that he deserves a shot at a NFC roster spot in Honolulu.
The gaudiest Ronde Barber number is nine. That is the number of interceptions he has made for Tampa this season, a figure that leads the NFL. He is coming off a career game against the New Orleans Saints when picked off three Aaron Brooks passes. On his third interception, he capped the Buccaneers' epic performance by scoring on a 36-yard return.
With one more pick, Barber will set a Tampa Bay record for most interceptions in a season. In addition to Barber's thefts, he also has 24 passes defensed this season. Perhaps no other player on the Bucs' defense has been as important in stopping the opposition's passing attack. If the Bucs do reach the postseason, credit should fall on the shoulders of the fifth-year corner from Virginia.
RAVENS QB ELVIS GRBAC
Elvis is alive. Just ask Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick.
Recently he said that Elvis is and will be his quarterback for the foreseeable future. Earlier in the year, after a couple of strong performances by the Ravens backup quarterback Randall Cunningham, Grbac's position looked tenuous at best. But the Ravens have decided that if they are going to the Super Bowl, they will be doing it with last year's AFC Pro Bowl QB.
Thus far Elvis has gone 7-5 as a starter for Baltimore. He has a passer rating of 73.1 and has thrown 16 interceptions compared to 14 TDs. The good news is that he has led the Ravens to five victories when his team either trailed or was tied heading into the fourth quarter.
Some may argue that the reason the Ravens were tied or behind in the fourth was Grbac's play (after all, he has thrown 12 picks in his five losses compared to just four in his seven wins). But that would be cynical. Perhaps a fairer assessment would be that Elvis took a team that was offensively challenged to begin with and helped them survive the loss of super tackle Leon Searcy and uber-back Jamal Lewis. The Ravens still have high hopes for the postseason, and with Elvis at the helm could be dangerous down the stretch.
Monday Night Future
This Saturday when Baltimore visits Tampa Bay, neither team will be needing the services of Miss Cleo and her psychic hotline to explain the future to them. Both teams control their own destiny, and they don't require anyone to tell them that each needs a victory.
Baltimore (9-5) needs one win (or a tie) to secure a playoff spot. Last week against Cincinnati, the defense finally got its first shutout of the year (16-0), after posting four last season.
Tampa Bay (8-6) holds the final NFC playoff spot with two games left in the regular season and several teams still alive. The Bucs have won four of their last five games including the surprising 24-17 win at St. Louis five weeks ago. The Bucs warmed up for the Ravens D by putting a 48-21 whuppin' on the Saints last week, displaying the kind of offensive production that has been expected all year.
When we looked at the Monday Night schedule before the start of the season, we thought this game might be a Super Bowl preview. They both featured defenses that could dominate, and both had acquired a free agent QB in the offseason -- Elvis Grbac by Baltimore and Brad Johnson by the Bucs -- that would add the same kind of firepower to the respective offenses.
Given what we know now, it is obvious that sometimes we struggle peering into the future. So, in the interest of accuracy, we placed a call to Miss Cleo, and asked her what was going to occur on Saturday night. After being on hold for 15 minutes, she answered that the Bucs would pound out a 21-17 win.
MNF Past, Present and Future with George Hill and Malibu Kelly Hayes appears each Friday at ABC Sports Online.
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