Friday, February 18, 2011

Sometimes, when things are darkest ...

the virtual world comes through.

Madden 2010, franchise mode, year 2012. The Lions are defending Super Bowl champs, and after going 15-1, we're facing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. (91 rating: Brady still at QB, Welker and Moss at WR, Sproles at RB ... very strong offense.)

I knew it was going to be a long game when, on the second play from scrimmage, Sproles put on the Madden RB cloak and broke free for an 80-yard TD. (Just as a reminder, RBs are ridiculously overpowered in Madden. For some reason, EA thinks we all wanted an arcade-style game where every RB can break five tackles per play.) No problem, we answered with a TD and then held New England to a FG, down 10-7.

But then the Maddening began in earnest. I threw a dumb interception and then was forced to fumble, and suddenly, it was 24-7. We intercepted a Brady pass and promptly fumbled it back, despite the fact that I was holding RB the entire time. We eventually scored two TDs to close the lead to 24-21 at halftime, but lost 96-rated Stafford for the game. Despite the injury, we'd receive the second half kickoff, so we looked to be in a good position.

However, Madden had other ideas. After two more forced fumbles, one by rookie QB Garrett Hoffman returned for a TD and one by Kevin Smith, we were down 31-21 and looking to fall behind further. However, Richard Marshall picked off a Brady pass inside the 10 and went the distance with it, and after forcing the Patriots to punt on a 4th-and-1 from the 31 (????? AI fail), we scored again to take a 35-31 lead as the quarter ended.

The Madden "magic" wasn't over yet. New England put a TD to go up 38-35, the injury gods took out Smith for a quarter (which meant the game, given that it was the fourth quarter) and Pettigrew for several plays, and after we punted, New England scored again. 45-35 with 6 minutes to play and backups at QB, RB, and TE.

The rookie found Calvin Johnson for a 9-yard score to make it 45-42; the defense forced a punt, and as the Patriots stepped up the pressure, Hoffman found Johnson again, and Megatron took advantage of the trucking bug to score from 50 yards out. Lions 49, Patriots 45, 1:47 remaining, and you know what that means ... yep, AI scoring drive. Another TD from Brady gave the Patriots a 52-49 lead with 16 seconds remaining. With two timeouts left and no star QB or RB, could we mount a comeback?

Just barely. The backup FB returned the squib kick to the 49, and two plays later, Garrett Hartley hit a 44-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.

Now the injury recovery for Smith becomes more significant: he's going to come back during the overtime period, as Pettigrew will, if only we can keep the ball long enough. Sure enough, as the Madden powers start to wear off, we win the toss and receive the kick, but without Smith and Pettigrew, we get just seven yards on three plays. I line up to punt ... and picture the result. What are the odds the AI will let me stop Brady? Exactly. I call time out.

On fourth down from our 33, the seventh-round pick from Portland State (no, really – you can't make these things up) finds Johnson for a first down: we keep possession. Pettigrew and Smith return, and the running game starts to click. (Hey, I'm going to use the trucking bug to my advantage ... you bet.) We drive to the 11, when I can't chance it any more, and Hartley hits a 28-yarder to win, 55-52 in overtime.

Hoffman's numbers: 20-29-0, 264 and 2 TDs. Smith had 19 carries for 140 and 2 TDs, Megatron had 16 receptions for 255 yards and 3 TDs. Despite obvious and repeated attempts by the AI to hijack the game, I was able to pull it off.

It was a welcome respite from the week I've had.

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