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1. The final preseason game usually isn't exciting for casual fans -- if they even tune in -- but it is high drama for the roster hopefuls who can sense their football careers coming to a close.
As the fourth quarter of Thursday night's game wound down, 22 players on each sideline were getting maybe their last taste of the NFL, as teams are mandated to cut their active roster from 75 players to 53 on Friday evening. With the Rams methodically bleeding out the clock with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that lasted four minutes and 19 seconds -- but probably felt like an eternity to players like wide receiver Logan Payne (above), running back Anthony Allen and offensive lineman Cord Howard -- I couldn't help but think of the desperation those bubble boys were feeling on the sidelines. In between their prayers for a change of possession and another chance to impress the Ravens coaching staff or some other coaching staff that would watch the game tape later, they were probably scrutinizing over missed opportunities throughout the summer and wondering if they had done enough to make the team. It's crazy to think that about 700 men will lose their jobs -- and for many, their will to continue chasing after their fleeting football dreams -- before 9 p.m.
This game wasn't life and death for the players, even if the cliché might have felt apt for them at the time. For those who will find out Friday morning that they had not, in fact, done enough to make the team, life will go on. Life will take a few roster-cut castaways to other organizations, others back home to regroup while their agents scour for new opportunities, and some to new professions, with Thursday night being the closest they will get to realizing their NFL dreams.
That desperation actually made for some compelling theater down the stretch. I'm not going to lie: I was probably only watching the fourth quarter of this preseason finale because it's my job to cover the team and also because I was curious to see how all these young men I have seen working and sweating their butts off in the hot summer sun outside the Under Armour Performance Center would fare in one of the biggest football games they would play in a life filled with a lot of big football games.
At halftime, Rams fans started filing out of the Edward Jones Dome to beat the traffic, and I'm sure many domesticated Ravens fans finally coughed up the remote control so their significant others could watch something like "Project Runway." (Thankfully, I have more than one television at my house.) Long after that, the Ravens finally got the ball back near the end of the fourth quarter. Rookie defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson, a seventh-round pick who is on the roster bubble, ripped the ball out of the hands of Rams running back Chase Reynolds near the goal line. The Ravens recovered and the offense ran out onto the field for one last chance to change the coaching staff's mind. Curtis Painter, who is trying to convince the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009, dented the turf with his first two passes from his own end zone. On third down, he threw a pass slightly behind Payne, who had a Rams defender draped on his back and was unable to secure the tough reception over the middle.
Payne, who had spent time with six NFL teams in the past six years, slapped his hands on the turf in frustration after the play. Should he be cut Friday night, Payne, who made five catches for 58 yards in the preseason finale, might wonder if things would have been different had he made that catch or broken free for a long touchdown after one reception earlier in the game. It's the belief that they were so close to making it that keeps hope -- however fleeting it is -- flickering for these players.
August 30, 2012