August 20, 2011
If you happened to be watching the Baltimore Ravens' Friday evening 31-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, you may have noticed that Baltimore's side of the scoreboard became rather inflated as the clock ran down — the Ravens scored three touchdowns in the last 7:16 of the game to emerge from a 13-10 deficit. Apparently, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley believed that the scoring spree was an example of poor sportsmanship, and he had a few words for Ravens head coach John Harbaugh as the two men were leaving the field.
The issue was that Haley didn't understand the difference between the preseason and regular season. If you're up by 11 points as the Ravens were, with less than two minutes left in the game, common courtesy dictates that you take a couple of knees and let your opponent off the hook with a bit of dignity. But the preseason is a teaching tool. After Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor(notes) juked linebacker Justin Houston(notes) out of his shoes with a ridiculous jump cut for a five-yard rushing touchdown at the two-minute warning, the Chiefs went four-and-off in their subsequent drive when quarterback Ricky Stanzi(notes) threw a pick. Now, the Ravens had two choices — they could give the Chiefs a break, or they could give third-string quarterback Hunter Cantwell(notes) a few throws against a 12th-string NFL defense.
Harbaugh chose the latter option, and right away — with 1:18 left in the game, Cantwell threw a deep pass to receiver LaQuan Williams(notes) for a 38-yard play. That took the ball from the Chiefs' 41-yard line to their 3. After a false start, Harbaugh called two more timeouts to extend what was eventually a touchdown drive when running back Anthony Allen(notes) scored from the 1-yard line with eight seconds left in the game. As Harbaugh and Haley came off the field, they shook hands and were fairly cordial … but they clearly had a pointed discussion about something, and it wasn't hard to figure out what.
After the game, and Haley's reaction, Harbaugh addressed the situation with the media:
I want to apologize to the Chiefs if they feel like we were not doing the right thing at the end of the game. That wasn't the mindset, OK? The mindset was - this is the preseason. If this had been the regular season, we would've been on a knee. The idea in that situation is to give those young guys who work hard and who are trying to make a football team - this football team or another football team - to play the whole 60 minutes and give them a chance to show what they can do. Offensive line, running backs, everybody.
I know that's debatable, I know there's a point of view both ways, I understand that. But I just feel like that was the right thing to do for our players, to give them a chance to play the game out and see what they can do. So, that was the thinking on that.
I think [Haley] said something like, 'I don't know about that. I understood, and I just said, 'Preseason, preseason for the young guys.' He said 'OK.' I've got a lot of respect for Todd Haley, and a lot of respect for the Chiefs and what they do.
In my opinion, Harbaugh's in the right. These games don't count, and especially with the compressed timeframe left by the lockout, coaches will have to use preseason games as practices more than ever before. Putting Cantwell in the game and allowing him to read what was open was correct under the circumstances. And if Haley wants to get prickly with anyone about the Cantwell throw, he should direct his ire to backup cornerback Quinten Lawrence(notes), who was turned around every which way and wound up falling down as Williams pulled away. The guy was flat-out posterized, and that's not Harbaugh's fault.
You want to keep someone from running up the score? Stop them from scoring! It's pretty simple, really.
Haley had a similar response to former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels last November after McDaniels ran up the score to a 49-29 total against the Chiefs. Haley refused to shake McDaniels' hand coming off the field, and he later apologized for that. I would give Haley a bit more leeway on that one for two reasons: First, as Harbaugh said, there's a difference between preseason and regular-season etiquette. Second … well, let's just say that we're not breaking any news if we inform you that McDaniels can be a bit of a jackass.
For his part, Haley (who's actually a pretty solid guy and a great interview), should take a life lesson from Sgt. Hulka, the noted military philosopher:
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