The air is thick with the smell of hotdogs, sweat, and anticipation. The Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions, having made it through their respective championship games against Kansas City and San Francisco, just like most of us hoped they would, have marched out onto the field to take their shots at glory.
For the former it’s about the legacy of a quarterback who’s all but wrapped up his second MVP at just 27 years old and a defence that’s strangled the life out of the league’s most elite attacks this year that’s on the line. For the latter, it’s the legacy of an entire organisation whose history is stacked with a lot more disappointment than success, the battle-scarred, but unbroken beast that hasn’t made the Super Bowl since before the Super Bowl was even a thing.
Only one will have the redemption they desperately crave when today’s game in Madden NFL 24 is all said and done.
The first drive goes to the Lions and Jared Goff, the resurgent quarterback who came to them via trade from the Rams as a cast-off who it was believed would never again be anything more than a stopgap starter. Soon, he’s kicking off his second Super Bowl appearance with a first down-notching pass to rookie Sam Laporta on third and two. Sadly, he can’t quite manage another this time, and the Lions punt the ball over to the men in purple.
Lamar Jackson, flanked by the Raven offense, takes the stage for the first time. He quickly finds himself staring down a fourth down with just a yard to spare. John Harbaugh elects not to go for it. The opening punches have been thrown, and the stalemate remains intact. Not for long, though. With their next drive, the Lions carve upfield and Jameson Williams finds the endzone after just six plays. 7-0.
Now the pressure’s on for Baltimore. Jackson’s back out there and this time, he gets going with a big completion to Rashod Bateman. After slicing down to the Lions’ goal line, there are some hairy moments. A drop on second and goal, a run on third that doesn’t make it in. Going for it on fourth is the only option, and Lamar finds Nelson Agholor for the TD. The Ravens team that didn’t come undone against Patrick Mahomes and the reigning champion Chiefs has stared down early adversity and not blinked. 7-7.
It looks for a little bit like the Lions might answer right back with a tuddy of their own, but the Ravens’ vaunted D forces a loss of yardage on a key third down. Michael Badgely delivers the game’s first field goal to make it 10-7 Lions as the first quarter draws to a close. The Ravens kick off the second with some clear momentum, moving steadily down the field until Aidan Hutchinson throws a wrench in the works by landing the game’s first sack, pushing the offense far enough back that a punt is all it can muster.
Now, it’s the men in Honolulu blue who’re rolling, all the way to a third and nine with the endzone in sight. A pass to Williams ends up as an incompletion, rather than his second score of the game. Another kick on fourth makes it 13-7 Lions. Even though it didn’t come back to bite him against the 49ers, Dan Campbell seems to be feeling cautious on fourth downs.
The next Ravens drive looks like it could be on the ropes early, until a pass interference call against C.J. Gardner-Johnson converts a third into a first. A couple of plays later Mark Andrews, who fought to get back in time for the conference championship game, hobbles to the bench hurt. The Ravens ride the Gus Edwards bus down to the goal line, but they can’t ride it any further, despite hopping aboard three times. Justin Tucker boots through his first points of the day, 13-10 to the Lions. Detroit’s drive with under three minutes left in the half goes well early, but stalls out with a failure to convert on fourth.
The Ravens get the ball back with under a minute to go, and manage to get into field goal range. It’s good. It’s 13-13 as the halftime show roars into life.
It’s Baltimore’s ball again to start off the third, they’re firing on all cylinders. Lamar can’t run it in on first and goal, but finds Bateman on second to give his team their first lead of the game. 20-13 Ravens following a quick review of the play. Goff and the Lions come out, but are barely on the field before a Jadaveon Clowney sack has them heading back off. Soon, the Ravens are in the endzone again with a returning Andrews. 27-13. Another Lion three and out is followed by another long Raven drive and a second Andrews TD. The second half Ravens have turned up, just like they did against the Texans, and they’ve just forced yet another punt.
The third quarter is nearly over. Ravens ball again. Playoff Lamar takes the field in Las Vegas, hungry to finish off exercising his postseason demons. Opposite him, the team that pretty much invented the idea of being haunted by NFL demons sets up for yet a pivotal defensive stand. Everyone in the crowd at Super Bowl 58 takes a breath. A shiver runs down the spines of the players on both sides. The ball is snapped.
Lamar’s gone. 73 yards. A career defining first down run to the house. 41-13. The Lions punt again to end the third. It’s gotta be over.
Then again, maybe it isn’t. After a quick Baltimore three and out to start the final period, the Lions’ David Montgomery is soon diving into the endzone. 41-20. Another Raven drive goes nowhere, and soon the Lions are going for it on fourth. Goff finds Jahmyr Gibbs streaking down the sideline towards the endzone. 56 yards. 41-27.
It’s not quite panic time, but Lamar and the Ravens know they need to stem the bleeding as they retake the field. With a run, another big Bateman catch, and a fourth down conversion to Zay Flowers, they’re on the goal line. The first stab is a miss. The second isn’t. Andrews’ third TD of the day means one thing.
The Lions manage to take it to the house one more time in the final five minutes, but it doesn’t matter. The Ravens have 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 feel truly over until that final late strike by the NFL’s now unquestionably best player in 23/24.
Lamar and his brethren in purple have answered the doubters. Their opponents came up just short, but fought so valiantly that they’ve undeniably shifted the mood in their city and their team’s perception on the national stage. They’ll have a great shot to be back next year, bigger and better, with a chance to properly finish off 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…