A dagger in the hearts of the Volunteer state.
Jarret Johnson is without a doubt one of the most rugged players ever to don a Ravens uniform and certainly among the most popular.
Other players have had more talent. Others have drawn more glory. Johnson laces up his cleats, goes to work, and makes possible the tightly functioning thing we call a football team.
A fourth round pick out of Ozzie Newsome’s alma mater, Alabama, Jarret Johnson can lay claim to being one of the better players to come out of the Roll Tide.
Therefore, it is fitting that Johnson’s most important play in his career would come on a play he never should have been involved in in the first place. And we’ve got the GIFs to remind you.
Let’s go back in time to 2008
I had a working hypothesis of what Jarret Johnson’s most important play might be but I wanted to confirm it with some numbers. I turned to Advanced NFL Analytics, the producer of live win probability charts and Win Probability Added. In short, part of their bread and butter is to measure the impact of a single play on a game’s outcome.
First, I ran a review of the games in the season in question. They are ranked by level of excitement and comeback. Here is the list for 2008. It so happens the game in question is right at the top as the most exciting game of the season. Here is the associated win probability chart for the game.
Setting the Stage
The Ravens 13-10 win over Titans was an iconic win in the franchise’s history. Winless in January since the 2001 season, the Ravens had only made the playoffs in 2003 and 2006 since, exiting in the first round both times. Jack Harbaugh, John’s father, cried on the sideline afterwards. It would also be Rex Ryan’s last victory as a Raven.
The Titans had dominated the regular season, earning the #1 seed. They beat Baltimore at M&T. They destroyed the Steelers in Week 16. They started 9-0 and they had done it all without their third overall pick from 2006, Vince Young.
This was a game rich in storylines. Kerry Collins’s revenge game? Check. Baltimore and Tennessee settling old scores on the playoff field of battle? Check. Derrick Mason going against his old team? Check.
Through one and a half quarters, the score was tied 7-7. Tennessee had moved the ball far better than the Ravens but had little to show for it after their early touchdown. Chris Johnson’s injury helped but ultimately it was forced turnovers that made the difference.
With less than three minutes left in the half, Tennessee began driving. Collins was hitting Justin Gage for wide open gains all day and this drive was no different. Gage had 95 yards receiving before halftime, putting his team to the 30 yard line with 51 seconds to go.
The Titans would get the drive to 3rd-4, setting up an absolutely vital third down from the 22. And that’s when Jarret Johnson struck.
Pre-snap, here is Jarret Johnson’s alignment. You’ll see he’s lined up on the strongside of the formation.
Suggs was by this time out of the game with an arm injury.
Facing this 3rd-4, the Titans dial up a smart delayed draw play.
LenDale White bounces it outside and picks up the first down. Right at the moment White crosses the first down line, he fumbles:
You’ll note Johnson initially rushes the passer checking for any run keys. He sees the delayed handoff and begins fighting towards the backside. White is able to pick up the first down.
That’s when Johnson gets him. He punches the ball out with one hand and tackles with the other. White never sees it coming and has no chance. No one else on Tennessee is trying to block him as they are busy blocking players at the second level. But Johnson gets there all the same.
The ball flies right into Jim Leonard’s hands (who himself would have perhaps the most critical play of this game later). Here is a GIF of the end zone camera angle:
Impact of the fumble
Brian Burke’s charts suggest the play increased the Ravens’ win chances by 15%.
Instead of expecting at least 3 if not 7 points, the Titans ended with zero. That would prove to be a critical stop in a low scoring game where even a field goal would have made the difference.
Tennessee was also moving the ball comfortably on Baltimore. Here are the Titans’ stats through halftime:
As you can see, the Ravens were getting killed in production by the Titans. However, and this is a big however, the Titans played sloppy and made horrendous turnovers. Playoff games are decided on less. The Ravens were going to need to win this one on hitting a few deep shots, sound execution, and limiting mistakes.
Without this play it is easy to imagine Tennessee pulling away. The Ravens had one of their best defenses in team history but had lost Suggs early in the game to an arm injury. That was one reason Johnson had to rush the passer on third down.
Johnson made plays like this all the time, albeit usually on smaller stages. It’s only right that his most impactful play would be no different than what he’s always done.
Closing the book on a great Raven
Nothing I can write can do proper justice to Jarret Johnson. He is a quintessential Raven, beloved by all those who adorn themselves with the Purple and Black on Sundays, respected by the men he lined up alongside. Certainly no stat anyone can come up with can ever hope to capture his contribution.
Football is a game played by individuals who work the entire year, nay, their entire lives, for thousands of hours towards these small moments in time we call a game-day. Perhaps some mystique is best left unsullied about the game and players like Jarret Johnson who just played some subtle but integral part in working towards the ultimate team goal in all of sports.
Farewell, Jarret Johnson.