By Richard Barnstein
ABOVE: Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans looses the ball for what would have been the game winning touchdown to advance to the Superbowl in the 2012 AFC Championship Game. Notice how his right hand is loose/away from his body after catching a perfectly thrown pass to his chest.
No one will know the real answer to this question. If Lee Evans either used poor technique in securing the ball, or perhaps prepared to celebrate prematurely by raising his right hand in the air, (We’ll break it down here on video), he would never admit to those blunders publicly. Now that Ravens fans have had a week to get over this heartbreaking loss, lets look at the perfectly thrown pass by Joe Flacco that should have sent the Ravens to the Superbowl. (Painful for Ravens fans, but true!) Plus, where does this drop rank in all time NFL playoff chokes?
Let’s get right to the nitty gritty. I’m not going to talk about whether two feet were down/whether it really was a catch. (I don’t think it was…but it certainly should have been reviewed.) What I’ll break down is what happens right as Evans catches the ball.
The most important angle to watch in this video is from 28-35 seconds. Enlarge it on your home computer. Pause and play it slowly. What I’ve noticed is:
1. This was a perfect pass from Flacco, that couldn’t have been more on target given the situation.
2. Evans has PLENTY of time to secure the ball. He knew this was the game winning TD to advance to the Superbowl. The Patriot’s defender Sterling Moore made the right play in reaching towards Evans to try and grab him, and reaching towards the ball in hopes of knocking it loose. He’s become a hero because of this play, and rightfully so, but Evans served it to him on a silver platter, more so than the defender making a great play. Historic play at a crucial time…yes…but not a great play. Think about how often you see a play like this in the end zone…hardly ever because most players know to clamp tightly onto the ball when catching a ball in the end zone if it hits them in the chest.
3. Evans catches the ball on the lower part of the “3” of “83” on his lower left chest at ~30 seconds. He catches it more with his left hand/left side, and immediately brings his right onto the ball to secure it.
4. Right as Moore makes contact with the ball at 32 seconds, for some reason, Evan’s right hand looks loose, and even comes away from the ball, where Moore slaps the ball down. Why is Evan’s right hand so loose? This is an excellent angle to analyze it. I think there could be 2 reasons. One is that he may have been trying to shove Moore’s hand away from the ball, where it was sort of a knee-jerk reaction. He may have been turning his body, where he was securing the ball in his left hand and using his other hand to shield/push away the defender’s hand/arms. If that was the case, it was a major mistake because it’s not like Evans was trying to get free for a big run downfield. ALL Evans had to do was catch the ball to advance to the Superbowl. He didn’t even have to turn his body at all. Just catch, cradle tightly, and fall to the ground without having to turn away. As a professional wide receiver in the NFL, JUST HOLD ONO IT FOR THE WIN! Another possibility is that Evans may have been celebrating early where he was securing the ball in his left hand/arm, and raising his right hand in victory. Some may say that’s ridiculous, but watch the video slowly from 32 to 33 seconds and see how his right hand comes up. Why would his right hand come up if he’s trying to catch/secure a game winning TD? He doesn’t need to shove Moore’s hand away… just catch it for victory! Evans knew that he was in the end zone! I understand that this was a boom-boom play, but Evans blew it!
I think more than anything the this was a mistake in technique and mental error. Here’s a perfect example of the right way. When Brandon Stokley caught the 38 yard TD pass in the 2001 Superbowl, watch (~1:00 into the video) how he caught the ball and then secured it tightly with both hands and arms. Even when he was dragged to the ground by the Giants defender, NOBODY was getting that ball out of Stokley’s hands. He knew what he was going to do with the ball when he caught it! Sure, the Stokley TD was a different throw/play/angle, but he handled it perfectly. Check it out at ~1:00 into the video. Watch it a few times to see how tightly Stokley secured the ball after he caught it. The defender could have body slammed Stokley, causing a concussion and a brain hemorrhage, BUT THAT BALL WAS NOT COMING LOOSE!!!
I believe Evans’s biggest mistake was not visualizing what to do with the ball once he caught it, before the play even took place. Just like when playing baseball, fielders always think, “if the ball comes to me, this is what I should do.” Evans reacted with poor technique because his head wasn’t in it, as to what he should have done when he caught the ball. This is also like when we see time and time again, how after a fumble, a player tries to pick up the ball and run with it, only to lose the fumbled ball, instead of just dropping on the ball, like they were always taught. What Evans should have done is catch it with his left hand into his lower left chest, immediately bring his right hand over the ball, AND CLAMP ON FOR DEAR LIFE! No need to turn his body at all if he’s already in the end zone, which he had to have known. Fall on your butt, take a step, whatever, but think, “NO ONE IS GETTING THIS BALL OUT OF MY HANDS/CHEST BECAUSE I’M GONNA HOLD ONTO THIS BALL LIKE IT’S ONE OF MY LIMBS. YOU CAN BREAK MY LEG, BUT THIS BALL IS NOT COMING FREE!!!! BECAUSE THEN WE’RE GOING TO THE SUPERBOWL!!! I feel bad for Lee Evans. I’m sure he’s a great guy, but he made history on the wrong side last week! Next week I’ll discuss where this blunder ranks amongst all time botches in playoff history.