Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 3, 2012
One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”
Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
This is What I Saw from the past week’s action.
( A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)
Away from the game(s)
I SAW the summer breeze leave North America on Saturday and usher in a smelly autumn Brees. The plight of the Saints quarterback and his winless team is but one of the many examples of the zany and wild ongoing transitory state that is the NFL. Nothing is the same, except for the fact that last year was like this too.
Sunday’s action brought fans the first crazy four o’clock close-game madness of the year with three games going into overtime and several others ending with close margins. The first slate of games started off with an unconventional big play (See: Cincinnati wins @ Washington, 38-31) and ended with the most exciting four quarters in recent memory. (See: Tennessee wins vs. Detroit, 44-41(OT))
Beyond Sunday afternoon’s heart palpitations, even the overall landscape of the league is typically wacky. The Texans are arguably the best team in the league with their first ever 3-0 start. Houston is joined by the purposeful Falcons and the upstart (not flukey) Cardinals as the only unbeaten teams left. New England and its suddenly handsy head coach trail both the Jets and Bills in the AFC East. (Speaking of transitory, is N.Y. head coach Rex Ryan losing weight every game?) The Vikings lead the NFC North. Breathe…Yes, the Vikings lead their division, and the Lions and Packers sit in the basement of the same foursome, at 1-2 and nursing the confidence of star QBs Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers (not to mention Stafford’s leg – see: Tennessee wins vs. Detroit, 44-41(OT)). There’s some familiarity in the NFC East, with a close-fought 3-way tie for the division lead, but all three teams – the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys – are doing it in different ways than fans are used to seeing.
The best part: 27 teams are one game away from a .500 record so all of this could change very quickly…
But be warned, Saints and Browns: The last team to make the playoffs after an 0-3 start was 14 years ago. (The 1998 Bills were led by QB Doug Flutie and one of the best receivers ever at snagging balls on underthrown fade patterns – Eric Moulds.)
I SAW – and I wish I hadn’t – the scab referees get noticeably worse in week 3 than they were in week 2. They’ve now reached the stage of nervous overreaction by making more bad calls while still missing important others. And all the while the players and coaches crank up the pressure on the zebras. Former Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick made a good point on NFL Network’s Total Access about the constant berating the scabs receive during games: All the yelling and bullying might accomplish is putting the scab officials in a state of stress that could actually lead said replacements to make bad calls that hurt those same coaches and players. In other words: It’s one big shit sandwich and we’re all taking a bite.
There were just too many scab mistakes this week to cover all of them in this column. Many of the worst calls – or non-calls – will be touched upon below in their respective games. There are two glaring instances that are particularly concerning because they are so easily avoidable – and they implicate the booth officials who are not scabs.
Example 1: Minnesota wins vs. San Francisco, 24-13. Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh was given two extra challenges he shouldn’t have had. Late in the game, Harbaugh burned his last timeout and during it he asked scab ref Ken Roan to challenge a potential fumble by the Vikings. Presto! Roan conjured up a challenge for San Fran despite the fact that a coach cannot challenge a play without any timeouts. Moments later Harbaugh somehow challenged another play. Ridiculous. During any replay challenge the referee must confer with the booth officials. How did the guys upstairs miss this while fans in couches and bars all over the continent knew it was a mistake?
Example 2: Tennessee wins vs. Detroit, 44-41(OT). This blunder came in overtime – no big deal or anything. Titans TE Craig Stevens made what was initially called a completion and was then the victim of a personal foul penalty from Lions LB Stephen Tulloch. As with any questionable play during OT the call was reviewed, and subsequently reversed – incomplete pass. But the 15-yard flag still had to be marked off. The problem: instead of enforcing the 15 yards from the Titan’s own 44-yard line where the original line of scrimmage was, the scabs did so from the Lions’ 44-yard line. That’s twelve free yards! The Titans would later score the winning TD on that drive.
Again – the on-field officials had to confer with the booth during the review, and in almost any case I can remember, there is noticeable delay while the refs take time with the people upstairs to determine the spot of the ball. How was this missed? It’s unforgiveable. (It’s also the last time I complain when the regular officials come back and they take “too long” to accurately spot the ball after a booth review.)
One has to wonder if the people in the booth are bumbling calls to make a better case for the locked-out officials. I’m not saying that’s what’s happening and thus trying to cook up a conspiracy theory. It’s just that these recent mistakes are true head-scratchers with no sensible explanation.
Nonetheless, the intractable insufficiency of the scab refs became impossible to deny when ESPN’s Human Handjob, commentator Mike Tirico followed his appraisal of last week’s officiating during Monday night’s game as “embarrassing” by stating during this week’s Packers-Seahawks debacle that the scab refs are “making it hard to watch, every single game” and wondered aloud when the NFL owners are going to step in to help force a settlement between the league and the locked-out refs. (And Tirico’s comments came minutes before the already-infamous final play on MNF. See: Seattle wins vs. Green bay, 14-12).
The scabs are in tough spot – patsy-esque, even. They are just not qualified to deal with the NFL stage. I’ve heard NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci and some others offer the same hackneyed defense of the scabs, saying that they “are doing the best job they can do.” It’s true. And that’s exactly why the league needs to give ground and end this work stoppage: Because doing a shitty job is clearly the best the scabs refs can do.
I SAW a need, before a look at the games, to be more positive. Bored of your conventional tailgating sexual innuendos? Fear not – the folks at Neal Brothers Foods have come to your rescue:
Mmmmm. Organic Rods. So good.
TNF-New York Giants(2-1) win @ Carolina(1-2), 36-7
I SAW the Giants put up 405 yards on offense against the Panthers Sunday after racking up 604 in a tough shootout win last week against the Bucs. (It was the second-highest output in franchise history, to 609 against the NY Yankees in 1950.) In a way, the 405 this week is more impressive because it was done without WR Hakeem Nicks and RB Ahmad Bradshaw. The standout performances by Manimal wideout Ramses Barden (6’6”, 225 lbs. and promoted by head coach Tom Coughlin and TFQ in our NFC East preview) and the eight-times-cut RB Andre Brown in supporting roles off the bench made the difference on offense and serve as further examples of how well-structured New York’s depth chart is. Barden and Brown combined for 268 yards rushing and receiving in a game that never was a game.
I SAW the Panthers take a serious step backwards in their plan for division ascension by getting blown out by the G-Men. The worst parts of this loss were the two worst things that could have happened for Carolina (apart from injury).
First, both offensive and defensive lines were exposed as very weak. As noted in What I Saw, Week 1, the Panthers’ O-line continually got blown back at the line of scrimmage and on Thursday night it was more of the same – with the D-line following suit.
Second, Carolina QB Cam Newton seemed palpably mindfucked by being taken out to the woodshed by Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul & Co. (You down with JPP? The third-year rush end was all over the field.) Newton really got his mope on after the blowout loss, to a concerning degree. Getting caught up in the emotion of the moment and crying after mistakes is not ideal, but slamming yourself and the “product” you put out on the field once you’ve had (albeit brief) time to reflect is more concerning. An NFL QB is defined just as much by how he handles failure as he responds to success. In a way his response evokes some positive memories I have of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who, after losing his first career playoff series (after winning 3 NBA titles in a row) was awkwardly emotional and admirably inconsolable during the postgame press conference, saying rash things like “I will never feel like this again.” But Kobe has felt that way again – more than once – and he’s somehow learned not to let it consume him. Newton should draw from that. He has too much pressure and hits being put on him to be administering them to himself too. Let’s hope that the young wunderkind QB doesn’t overextend himself and/or burn out while trying to make up for his performances in losses. It would be sad to see him become another over-emotional Mike Vick type.
I SAW, elaborating on the point made above, Carolina has to beef up the talent on its two lines – especially the defensive line. The Giants have been scrambling to cobble up an O-line unit in front of QB Eli Manning, but the Super Bowl MVP still had time for tea in the pocket throughout the game.
I SAW Giants S Antrel Rolle hurt his knee in the fourth quarter by banging it on an end zone camera while defending Panthers TE Greg Olsen. According to ESPN on Tuesday, Rolle’s knee is “feeling better.” Let’s hope so, for New York’s sake. The eighth-year DB was their leading tackler last season and is the do-it-all glue guy that holds an already-depleted defensive backfield together.
Tennessee(1-2) wins vs. Detroit(1-2), 44-41(OT)
I SAW the most exciting regular season game I’ve seen since a Bills-Niners puntless masterpiece in 1992 that Buffalo won, 34-31….
To pause in nostalgia, what a game for the ages that ’92 classic was! (I remember being lucky enough to see it because I was at my uncle’s house in another TV area that covered the game; I would not have seen it at home back in the archaic pre-Sunday ticket days.) The best WR ever, Jerry Rice, left the game for San Fran in the first quarter and madness ensued. Bills Hall Of Fame QB Jim Kelly led Buffalo’s famed K-Gun offense up and down the field, and his counterpart, fellow Hall Of Famer 49ers Steve Young, did the same. It felt like there was a 20+yard play every few snaps, and wild turnovers and special teams plays only added to the delightful mayhem. 1,086 total yards on offensive and 51 first downs later, the game that I didn’t want to end ended.
For a synopsis of that historic gem, check out:
That was how this Lions-Titans game felt, all 1,020 combined yards of it. Niners-Bills was replete with star players on both sides of the ball, but Sunday’s game arguably tops the ’92 showdown because of a 46-point fourth quarter that had it all, including one of the best catches in recent years, a Hail Mary tip catch by Detroit WR Titus Young to force overtime – and a crazy ending to that extra session….
I SAW the Lions commit the biggest head-scratcher of the season so far that hasn’t been provided by the scab refs. The moment occurred in OT. Under the new overtime rules, if the team that receives the kickoff scores a field goal – which Tennessee did in this case – their opponent gets a chance to try and tie or win the game with a drive of their own. Detroit made it inside Tennessee’s 10-yard line and was faced with 4th-and-inches when they ran the ball and were stuffed by the Titans’ D for the loss.
Confusion and incredulity ensued. Why not take the chip-shot kick to at least continue the game instead of risking a loss? According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz offered an explanation for the seemingly inexplicable: “Miscommunication… We were trying to draw them offsides, not go for it.”
Whoops. It’s hard to understand how such a plan couldn’t be communicated to the quarterback on the field. But then again, Detroit didn’t have their usual starter out there…
I SAW, despite allowing the oopsie-doodle fourth down run to lose the game in OT, Lions backup QB Shaun Hill remind people why he’s the best second-stringer in the NFL.
Yes, one could argue that the Titans’ own Matt Hasselbeck is a more able QB but he’s more suited to the nuances of a starting job, not relief appearances. And one of the most memorable relief appearances in history is what Hill stepped in and put up against Tennessee Sunday. When starter Matt Stafford added to his early-season frustration by tweaking his hamstring while chasing after CB Alterraun Verner on a fumble-return TD (see below), in came Hill. The two-minute warning had already come and gone but that didn’t stop the backup pivot from airing it up for an eye-popping 172 yards before all was said and done. It’s not the first time Hill has pulled his team’s ass out of the fire (well, almost), but it’s arguably the most impressive one.
I SAW the winner of this week’s Thief In The Night Award:
Alterraun Verner, CB, Titans
In the closing minutes of the game the Lions had driven into Titans territory while trailing by seven points. Backup QB Shaun Hill connected with Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew, who hit Verner head-on and landed on his ass. To add insult to injury, Pettigrew didn’t have the ball when he hit the turf. Along with schooling the Detroit tight end at contact, Verner stripped the ball from Pettigrew and took it 72 yards to the house. NFL Network’s Deion Sanders said it best after the highlight played on Gameday: “How can you let a man take your ball?”
Yes, the Lions continued an improbable comeback to force OT. But let it be known that for one crucial moment passage through the Alterraun System was harder to pull off than a simple cruise on hyperdrive in the Millennium Falcon.
I SAW PROPS to Titans WR Nate Washington for making one of the best catches in recent memory in the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 27 inside of 4 minutes in regulation Tennessee QB Jake Locker underthrew Washington on a seam pattern. Poor Lions CB Jacob Lacey was running step for step with the Titans wideout but never turned around to see the ball, which was heading straight for his lower back. At top speed, Washington jumped and reached over Lacey’s shoulders, plucked the ball out of the air and took off for a 71-yard TD upon landing.
Washington displayed great hops in elevating high enough at a sprint to turn around and seemingly pull the pigskin out of Lacey’s ass while still being able to get his arms up and over Lacey on the way down so that the ball didn’t get jarred loose before landing. What a beautiful catch.
One of the lesser-appreciated moments of the play is Lions WR Calvin Johnson on the Detroit sideline in the background, throwing a towel to the ground and stomping his foot in frustration as Washington runs down the field after the grab. It was a telling moment because while the Lions’ offense is sputtering, they sure aren’t getting any help…
I SAW that the Titans become the first team in NFL history to put up up 5 TD plays of 60+ yards in a game after struggling through weeks 1 and 2.
Kudos to Tennessee, but even though two of the Titan scoring plays were on kick returns the game says measures about how much of a problem Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has on his hands with his defense. The Lions’ D doesn’t have the push at the point of attack that they have had the last two years and that exposes the flaws at the other two levels (LBs, DBs), which had been hidden until this point…
Paging Ndamukong Suh…Ndamukong Suh, your team is desperately waiting in week four….Ndamukong Suh, please report to week four…
I SAW PROPS to Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry and his new not-so-secret weapon, RB Darius Reynaud, for an unforgettable special teams performance Sunday against the Lions. Lowry was the special teams coach at Tennessee in 2000 when he was the architect of the famous Music City Miracle, during which TE Frank Wycheck drew the coverage on a kickoff and threw a long lateral pass across the field to an overlooked WR Kevin Dyson who then took it 75 yards for the winning TD in a wild card playoff game against the Bills.
On Sunday against the Lions it was future shock, deja-vu all over again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. It was an idea so crazy it just might work – and it did. Lowry called the play again – this time on a punt return near the end of the first quarter. Reynaud – a fourth-string tailback – threw the ball for the first time in his organized football career and found Tommie Campbell on the right side of the field just like Wycheck had found Dyson twelve years ago (but in reverse). It worked like a charm this time too, for a 65-yard TD and the first of many wild touchdowns in the game.
But Reynaud wasn’t done. In the fourth quarter he returned a kick 105 yards for a game-tying TD. It’s safe to say he’ll never have another day like Sunday.
I SAW Titans QB Jake Locker’s potential coming-out party. He had 378 yards, a 113 rating and no interceptions in a game that was a conduit for big plays.
In his first 300-yard game as a pro the second-year pivot showed some of the athleticism that led Tennessee to take him in the first round out of University of Washington. In the first half he took off on a scramble up the middle. Lions LB Stephen Tulloch had an angle on Locker, but the quarterback shifted into another gear and left the LB grabbing at air.
By the way, the 31-yard run was the Titans’ longest rushing play of the year…
I SAW Titans RB Chris Johnson continue to suck. CJDeuceK keeps on providing steamy stool samples with his play. On 33 rushing attempts in ’12, he has 45 yards – a corn-filled 1.4 average per carry. Johnson was critical of the offense around him last week, but there was no excuse for his poor production in this game. At times the line looked weak, but Johnson’s effort looks lacking. His cuts and field vision just aren’t vigorous.
I SAW… Just look at this game! Two PROPS and another TFQ weekly award… What a game. If you missed it, check it on NFL Replay. But they don’t have enough time to include all the great plays from this one for the ages.
Kansas City(1-2) wins @ New Orleans(0-3), 27-24(OT)
I SAW the Saints match their loss total (3) from 2011 in as few games as possible. What’s more, ’Nawlins was 9-0 at home in 2011 and they’re 0-2 there to start this season.
Not much is going right for this team. It’s early, but QB Drew Brees’ completion percentage (54.7) is his lowest compared to any full season he’s had and his YPA is 6.6 – his lowest as a Saint. The offensive line is getting beaten up and down the field. And the defense… Oh, the defense. On Sunday the latest get-well beneficiary was Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles who was back to Charles In Charge after a tough knee injury last year – in a big way. Charles looked Nicole Eggert-hot en route to 233 yards rushing and 55 yards receiving…
I SAW Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles start his team’s comeback from being down 18 points late in the third quarter with a 91-yard run on which he was barely touched. (A Saints defender dove to get a hand on Charles’ knee near the line of scrimmage, but that was it.) An equivocal play: Great to see Charles back up to speed – literally – and embarrassing for New Orleans’ defense. As NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk pointed out on Gameday, going 91 yards untouched on a run to the outside is almost unheard of.
I SAW that the Chiefs coaching staff can take a break from worrying about how to get RB/WR Dexter McCluster involved in the offense after the third-year pro’s arm bent backwards in a gruesome McClusterfuck of an injury. When he planted his left hand on the turf to regain his balance, McCluster did his best impersonation of a nameless bad guy in a Steven Segal movie when his elbow turned into a painful reverse-hinge. That sort of injury can take a long time to recover from.
I SAW this game had more scab referee calls reversed upon review (5) than touchdowns (4). Just sayin’.
Minnesota(2-1) wins vs. San Francisco(2-1), 24-13
I SAW Niners QB Alex Smith do as his team did and come down to earth a bit. His franchise-record streak of 249 straight pass attempts without an interception came to an end at a crucial point in the fourth quarter when Vikings rookie CB Josh Robinson picked him off, and CB Donte Whitner dropped another one minutes earlier. However, in the Bizarro game of the week, Minnesota’s QB did just fine…
I SAW genuine need to ponder just how good Vikings QB Christian Ponder is at this point. Through week 3 the Florida State alum is bucking the perceived trend of sophomore slumps for NFL quarterbacks. He’s fifth in the NFL with a 104.9 passer rating and second with a 70.1 completion percentage. And he just played a great game against the best all-around defense in the league.
Ponder represents a good example of the shift in the pro passing game that is happening across the land: You don’t have to have a great arm, you just have to have a good arm and solid decision-making skills. (Being mobile doesn’t hurt either, but it isn’t mandatory.) While a lot of Ponder’s numbers look surprisingly good, they don’t tell the whole story. For instance, consider that the new style of offense sweeping through NFL playbooks is what can be considered the West Coast offense on steroids – even more receivers running even more short routes across the field and/or into the flats in order to stretch the defense and isolate quadrants of the field within which defenders get outnumbered and must make a decision about whom to cover and who to leave open. As such, leading an offense down the field often involves making the right reads, having patience against the pass rush and making use of one’s speedy decision-making capabilities in order to see which receivers are lost in the shuffle and get them the ball. Often the task of making a high amount of completions involves passes no longer than 7 yards and letting the receivers gain the rest of the yardage. That’s why Ponder’s 7.4 yards per pass attempt (T-11th in the NFL) gives the impression that Minnesota isn’t relying on a dink-and-dunk style when, in actuality, they could be – and are.
This gives a glimpse into how QBs like Ponder are tough to appraise because running an offense the way he has been can actually have more in common with a game manager (just make the easy throws and take care of the football) than a wunderkind pivot who is optimizing his physical talents. In other words, Ponder is playing well. But he’s also merely playing within a conservative-minded passing system. Yes, the passing game has become conservative. That’s the point. Is Ponder really an impressive QB? Or is the contemporary passing game becoming the great leveler? The debate will go on for some time.
I SAW Niners WR Randy Moss play his first game in the Metrodome as a visitor. In homage to his time there, Moss gave up on a few catchable balls. Clap…clap…clap.
I SAW…I can’t help it. I will never be able to take Vikings owner Ziggy Wilf seriously because I keep waiting for him to act out a scene from the classic film Duck Soup. Wilf’s a dead ringer for Groucho Marx.
I SAW what the 49ers can tell you: reality’s a bitch. You just can’t be the hardest hitting team every week. This week San Fran was not that team, and they have a loss to show for it.
The defense allowed 146 yds rushing – the most against San Fran since week 11 of the 2010 season. Okay, that was mostly against RB Adrian Peterson. And maybe Vikings QB Christian Ponder is turning into the latest incarnation of the successful “Plug QB.” (Translation: Give a studious quarterback a safe, read-heavy contemporary short passing game to run and watch the numbers come. See above.) But one gets the impression he wouldn’t look so good against the defending NFC finalists in a rematch…
What was particularly striking was how San Francisco gave up the game during crucial moments in the fourth quarter. RB Frank Gore fumbled the ball on the team’s first play of the 4th, QB Alex Smith was picked off in Vikings territory in the closing minutes (see above) and Minnesota All-Pro DE Jared Allen recorded his first sack of the season one series later while forcing Smith to fumble the ball away as part of three SF turnovers in the contest.
But hey – shit happens. You can’t win them all (usually). But this loss to Minny could come back to beat San Fran. The Niners have so many tough games left within their division that they didn’t have last year so any loss has more significance than they did in ’11. For what it’s worth, SF isn’t even leading the division right now…
Arizona(3-0) wins vs. Philadelphia(2-1), 27-6
I SAW that the Cardinals lead the NFC West, going 3-0 for the first time since 1974 – when they were still the St. Louis Cardinals. As mentioned above at the outset of this column, Arizona is better thought of as an upstart team, not a fluke. After all, ’Zona is 10-2 since week 9 of 2011 and no other team has a better record over that span.
I SAW Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb get some sweet revenge against his old team, the Eagles. But he’s going to need to stay consistent to keep his starting job once John Skelton is healthy.
I SAW the Cardinals defense conjure up memories of head coach Ken Wisenhunt’s former team – the Steelers when their defense was ruling the league. In the second quarter on Sunday ’Cards S Kerry Rhodes forced Eagles QB Michael Vick to fumble inside the Arizona red zone. S James Sanders scooped up the ball and took it 93 yards for a score. Once it was clear that Sanders had the ball, his defensive mates immediately looked for Eagles to block – particularly LB Daryl Washington who made the key block at the sideline to spring Sanders for the TD.
It’s the kind of innate camaraderie and heads-up play that the Steelers defense often shows when they’re healthy, the pinnacle of which came in the form of LB James Harrison’s famous INT return TD in the 43rd Super Bowl against – you guessed it, Wisenhunt and the Cardinals.
New York Jets(2-1) win @ Miami(1-2), 23-20(OT)
I SAW the first crushing injury to a star player this season happen when Jets CB Darrelle Revis went down with what appears to be a season-ending ACL tear after a non-contact injury in South Beach. (Apparently the All-Pro is seeking a second opinion…What that will accomplish after a torn ACL diagnosis is anybody’s guess.)
The loss of Revis is so simplistically huge for New York that it doesn’t take many words to describe. Few single defenders mean more to their team than Revis. He is the first true shutdown corner since Deion Sanders. Now Gang Green can’t assume half of the field is covered. Their defense was already teetering on the edge of a blade and now it’s all eyes on third-year CB Kyle Wilson.
I SAW the Jets escape by the skin of their teeth in this game. New York K Nick Folk missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in overtime, but Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin had called a timeout before the snap in an attempt to psyche out the kicker. Folk made his next attempt to win it for the Jets. Ice that, bitch.
I SAW NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin make a harsh but apt point following a highlight of the Jets’ throwing a short pass to Tim Tebow against the Dolphins, stating that the play says New York is “not serious about offense.”
I SAW, speaking of not being serious, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King had something else apt to say about Tebow after another topless appearance from the Second Coming:
“Tebow shirtless again. Come on, Tim. You’re on the verge of becoming the girl who wants to be respected for her brain dressing in next to nothing.”
No one likes a needy Messiah. Wait…
Oakland(1-2) wins vs. Pittsburgh(1-2), 34-31
I SAW the Raiders and Steelers go back and forth until the final whistle in a game reminiscent of Oakland’s upset in this matchup several years ago. Unfortunately the game was overshadowed by injuries…
I SAW what might have been the scariest hit on a defenseless receiver since Anquan Boldin had his jaw and sinus broken by Jets S Eric Smith in 2008. The helmet of Steelers CB Ryan Clark collided with that of Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey in the end zone at top speed. It was one of those awful see-it-the-moment-it-happened injuries where Heyward-Bey’s body was limp as a rag doll’s before it even hit the turf. It took many tense minutes just to get him on a stretcher and off the field. (Good news: Heyward-Bey was released from the hospital Tuesday, and is predicted to make a full recovery.)
Clark was clearly remorseful after the play. Of course, no flag was thrown…
I SAW another illegal play nearly cause serious injury – and again without a penalty flag. In the third quarter, Raiders LB Philip Wheeler was pushed in the back while rushing QB Ben Roethlisberger. Although Wheeler was pushed, he clearly extended his body and lunged at the legs of Big Ben. It was an obvious roughing penalty. No call. Roethlisberger was in obvious pain, limping for a time before gathering himself like he so often does and leading his team down the field for a Mike Wallace TD grab that put the Steelers ahead 24-14.
Clearly calling a penalty on either the Roethlisberger play or the Heyward-Bey play doesn’t go back in time and prevent either hit. (The same can be said of a no-call on Ravens S Ed Reed when he plastered Patriots WR Julian Edelman in the cranium Sunday Night.) But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the scab refs are missing more of these calls. These sort of safety-oriented calls are fairly new to pro players, and as such without being consistently enforced the penalties don’t do their job of increasing player safety because players will continue to fall back on old habits.
I SAW Raiders RB Darren McFadden make a man’s run to try and cut the Steelers’ lead to 3 points in the third quarter. Run DMC absorbed a big, direct hit from two Pittsburgh defenders and kept going to the outside, lunging powerfully over the goal line with the ball. However, upon review McFadden’s knee was down early, so the Silver & Black had to wait two more plays before scoring on a short pass to TE Richard Gordon.
The run was the kind of strong and imposing presence Oakland has been waiting to see from him on a consistent basis. The fifth-year back ran hard all day.
I SAW Steelers DL Ziggy Hood get his leg rolled up on from behind and bent brutally out of shape. There’s no word yet on Hood’s status, but if Pittsburgh loses him for an extended period of time it’s a very, very underrated loss for that defense.
Cincinnati(2-1) wins @ Washington(1-2), 38-31
I SAW if you took your time getting a coffee down the street or rushed out to place a last-minute Pro-Line bet you missed one of the biggest plays of the weekend. On the first play from scrimmage in the contest, the Bengals line up in the wildcat formation, with rookie WR Mohamed Sanu lined up at QB. After a play fake to the RB that was passable at best, Sanu aired it up for WR A.J. Green who caught the bomb for a 73yd TD and a 7-0 Cincy lead. Washington DB DeJon Gomes looked like a gomer, frozen by the fake handoff like a deer in headlights while Green ran uncovered down the field. How Gomes could let a wideout of Green’s stature waltz past him is anybody’s guess. But with some thorough coaching the trick play shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. Sanu threw for 4 TDs at Rutgers in similar situations so this sort of play should have been something Cincy defenders were ready for.
I SAW Robert Griffin III’s NFL home debut go poorly. Yes, RG3 did end up with a 90.4 rating and nearly pulled out a win, but for the first time this season he looked like he was pressing. Being sacked six times surely contributed to Griffin’s stress but that may have been largely due to LT Trent Williams having left the game early with what has turned out to be a bone bruise. Those are tricky injuries, but at least RG3’s blind side blocker isn’t lost for the season. That would have been a tough pill to swallow after losing defenders Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo for the year last week.
I SAW Redskins CB Josh Wilson embarrass himself by allowing Bengals WR Armon Binns to score up the sideline from 48 yards out to make it 14-7 for Cincy in the first quarter. Wilson lazily blew his coverage on Binns and proceeded to flop pathetically at the wideout’s feet. To be sure, players will give up on plays without explanation, but whenever I see missed tackles this season and onward, I’ll wonder if the elimination of so many padded practices during training camp and the regular season is having an effect on the quality of tackling.
I SAW seven straight home losses for the Redskins. Notoriously uptight owner Daniel Snyder must love that.
Houston (3-0) wins @ Denver(1-2), 31-25
I SAW the Texans win their first game against a respectable opponent this season. They looked impressive in doing so, too. It will be easier to get a sense of what this team is capable of as the weeks go by because even though Houston gets to feast on soft division rivals for six of their games their next month and a half is no cakewalk: Titans, Jets, Packers, Ravens, bye, Bills and Bears.
I SAW serious cause for concern with regards to concussion safety in this game. Broncos LB Joe Mays administered a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Texans QB Matt Schaub that sent Schaub and his helmet flying, tore off a part of the quarterback’s ear, and left him on the ground for a few moments. (On Tuesday Mays was suspended for 1 game and fined $50,000 for the hit.)
The play itself was dangerous, but what happened next was not right. Schaub stayed out of the game for just one play. It immediately brought to mind last year when Browns QB Colt McCoy got smoked by Steelers LB James Harrison and McCoy was cleared to play with what later turned out to be a concussion. That incident alone should have been enough to scare training staffs across all of football to be ever-vigilant and thorough with sideline concussion tests. Apparently not.
Maybe Schaub immediately said he was fine and felt no symptoms of head trauma. But the point of the new sideline safety requirements is to leave that diagnosis up to someone other than the player himself, and there’s just no way that the Texans’ medical staff had enough time to conduct sufficient testing. What did they do, employ the Snickers test?
Trainer (to Schaub): Are you Batman?
Schaub (to trainer): No. Schaub.
Trainer: Okay. Get back out there, tiger!
At this point it’s worth noting that the 2012 season was supposed to mark the introduction of an increased role for on-field officials in helping to determine concussion symptoms. Something tells me the scabs aren’t up to that added task.
Buffalo(2-1) wins @ Cleveland(0-3), 24-14
I SAW Bills RB savior C.J. Spiller (the first back to have 300 yds rushing and 100 yds passing through his team’s first 3 games since Thomas Jones did it with the Jets in 2004) leave the game in the first quarter with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Similar to a collarbone injury, the timetable for return from that injury really depends on the specific case. But even if RB Fred Jackson can’t make it back from his own injury next week, the Bills might not miss a step…
I SAW that the Bills’ offensive line is experiencing a renaissance. Spiller came into the game leading the league in rushing, and even while missing the majority of Sunday’s contest he still ranks 3rd in the NFL in rushing with 308 yards. The whole rushing offense has the same ranking (178 yds/gm). Replacing Spiller against the Chiefs was as simple as plugging in the oft-disappointing former Cowboy tailback Tashard Choice and watching him rip off 91 yards on 20 carries.
Add to their ground dominance the fact that the hogs allowed their first and only sack of the season in this game, and the Bills’ O-line is riding high. Sure, they allowed the fewest sacks of any team in 2011 (23) but they’re averaging almost 60 more rushing yards per game than last year’s rate of 120.1 – and they’re doing it with whoever is willing to try and tote the rock behind them.
Chicago(2-1) wins vs. St. Louis(1-2), 23-6
I SAW the Bears win in traditional fashion – crap offense and stifling defense – which isn’t the best news for the Chicago faithful holding out hope that QB Jay Cutler can be their first true franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman. Cutler will be fine as long as he is protected like he was Sunday against St. Louis. But it’s not reassuring to see WR Brandon Marshall continue to have issues hanging onto the ball. At least this week Cutler was able to throw his way – 11 times. But he had only 5 catches to show for it, and that has to improve.
Dallas(2-1) wins vs. Tampa Bay(1-2), 16-10
I SAW the Cowboys win their home opener thanks to a revamped and imposing defense. But this team doesn’t quite yet have the ingredients to install a grind-it-out style. Case in point: Dallas RB “Don Juan” DeMarco Murray’s 11-yd TD run that tied the game at 7 in the first quarter was the ’Boys’ first rushing TD in 10 games. That has to improve.
I SAW the Buccaneers are in dire need of their offense to put up some yardage before their overachieving defense burns out. Having QB Josh Freeman complete at least 17 passes in a game would be a great start.
Jacksonville(1-2) wins @ Indianapolis(1-2), 22-17
I SAW Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew show how good a job he did of staying in playing shape on his own while holding out. On Sunday Pocket Hercules racked up 177 yards on 28 carries (a 6.4 average) – including a 58-yard TD run on the first play of the second half.
Holdout? What holdout? There’s only two other holdout cases involving star players when I can remember those guys coming back and not missing a beat: Hall Of Fame WR Jerry Rice, when he held out for 37 days in 1992, and HOF RB Emmitt Smith, when he held out in 1993 as his Cowboys went 0-2 before he signed a deal (forever asterisk-ing the ’93 champs as the first Super Bowl winners to start a season 0-2).
Forget my usual mantra, pray for MoJo. PAY for MoJo. Come on, Jags owner Shad Khan.
I SAW Cecil “Jorts” Shorts bail the Jaguars out of a last-minute loss to the Colts when he turned a slant pattern into an 80-yard TD with under a minute left in the game. If Shorts keep this up, I say pants should be banned in Jacksonville. Don’t you hate pants?
With that in mind, let’s not give much credit to Jags QB Blaine Gabbert yet. More than half of his 155 passing yards on Sunday were on that play.
Atlanta(3-0) wins @ San Diego(2-1), 27-3
I SAW that the Falcons look good. Real good. On top of their impressive start out of the gates this season, they are now 6-0 in the West Coast under head coach Mike Smith.
But the problem with Atlanta is that they could go 15-1 in the regular season and that gorilla on their back will just keep getting more and more unruly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s a harsh league. Whatever they do along the way, the dirty birds won’t be fully legit until they can break their 0-3 playoff slump since Smith came on board and they drafted franchise QB Matt Ryan in ’08.
I SAW Chargers RB Ryan Mathews fumble for the 11th time in 27 career games. This is the bellcow you want to rely on, Norv Turner? Seriously? That’s not just a problem to fix anymore; it’s a disease. Mad Bellcow disease.
SNF-Baltimore(2-1) wins vs. New England(1-2), 31-30
I SAW it was business as usual for the Ravens Sunday night. They’ve now won 14 straight games after a loss.
This one was bigger than the rest. To anyone who wants to believe that Baltimore players didn’t have last January’s frustrating AFC Championship loss to New England on their minds, consider that they played James Brown’s The Big Payback during practice all week leading up to Sunday.
And for the Patriots, payback was a bitch – big time. Not only did they lose on an eerily similar missed field goal on the final play of the game. (Recall the shank by then-Raven Billy Cundiff in the postseason game last season. After Sunday night’s contest BAL RB Ray Rice remarked that the two games were “practically identical.”) To add insult to injury it’s not even clear that the kick was actually good. There was no head-on camera angle to tell for sure as the ball passed over the uprights, and – get this – a missed field goal below the uprights is reviewable but one that goes above them is not. There’s talk about putting sensors in helmets, cameras in the end zone pylons, but no plans to have cameras that give a reviewable perspective on the uprights? Come on.
The ending effectively proved to be a breaking point for Pats head coach Bill Belichick, who grabbed one scab referee in the arm as he tried to leave the field. (Belichick has yet to be fined, and, frankly, I don’t think he should be.)
Belichick wasn’t the only one fed up with the officials during this game. His counterpart John Harbaugh drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the game. It was at that point when NBC commentator Chris Collinsworth declared that the scab refs are “not qualified enough to do this job. They’re really not. I mean, that’s become painfully obvious…”
I SAW another streak Sunday night, but this one was snapped. It’s damn impressive though. From 2003-12 the Patriots had gone 145 consecutive games without a losing record – the longest such streak in NFL history. Doesn’t sound that impressive? Well, the Cowboys from 1965-75 are second, with 115 straight games at or above .500. That’s over two seasons’ worth of games.
Is it a sign of things to come for New England?…
I SAW that the Patriots are leaving more plays out on the field than they have in a long time.
Offensively, the passing game is sputtering to put it mildly. After 3 games last season Pats QB Tom Brady led the NFL with 1,327 passing yards and 11 TDs. At the same point this year he has 887 yards (11th in the NFL) and 4 TDs (T-14th). The reason is simple: New England’s offensive line is awful thus far. They’re not allowing many sacks, but that’s to Brady’s credit for getting rid of the ball quick enough. Remember the old video game Tecmo Bowl? The playbook for both offense and defense was simply 4 offensive plays. Each player would pick one and if the defending player picked the same play as his opponent the defense would run over the whole offense and cause immediate disaster. New England’s O-line is blocking as though their opponents have picked the same play as them in Tecmo Bowl. It’s hard to see the Patriots turning their season around without fixing that problem.
And though the defensive is improved, they didn’t have a single QB hit on Flacco Sunday night.
I SAW PROPS to Patriots LB Brandon Spikes who, after yet another brutally officiated game by the scabs tweeted:
“Can someone please tell these f—— zebras foot locker called and they’re needed Back at work !!!! #BreakingPoint”
I SAW that Ravens WR Torrey Smith’s 2-TD performance less than 24 hours after the death of his younger brother in a motorcycle accident speaks for itself. Wow.
MNF-Seattle(2-1) wins vs. Green Bay, 13-12…..wait….
I SAW everyone’s worst fears realized Monday night when the scab referees cost an NFL team a game in the most obvious manner to date during the referee work stoppage.
In today’s media climate there is no shortage of opinions and analysis of what happened at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game. Let’s start with the words form the horse’s mouth – the league’s official statement on the matter, released early Tuesday afternoon:
“In Monday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, Seattle faced a 4th-and-10 from the Green Bay 24 with eight seconds remaining in the game.
“Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the end zone. Several players, including Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, jumped into the air in an attempt to catch the ball.
“While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay.
“When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown.
“Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone.
“Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.
“The result of the game is final.”
Okay…let’s have at it.
First and foremost, note that the statement is very careful to in no way state explicitly whether the league office agrees or disagrees with the verdict. (I’ve supported someone before without thinking they were right.)
The NFL office admitted that the referees missed an offensive pass interference call. That’s hardly helpful, since offensive PI is commonplace even with the regular officials and the league knows this, which is likely why they acquiesced to that specific criticism. Case in point: According to the league’s own TV network, the last 87 such plays (Hail Mary passes with a crowd of players involved near the ball) have garnered ZERO offensive pass interference calls.
In other words, thanks for nothin’, NFL.
What is more harrowing – and a bad sign for any chance of the league giving up ground in negotiations – is that the NFL pointed out that the rule pertaining to a simultaneous catch is indeed reviewable in the end zone and that they stand by the call. It’s harrowing because a misunderstanding of the rule that had assumed the simultaneous nature of the catch couldn’t be reviewed had been about the only way to even weakly defend the scab refs in this case and now that’s gone too.
One inexcusable aspect of the botched game-deciding call was the impromptu block party – TV cameras, team officials and other players, oh my! – that was allowed to open up around the fighting pileup of the ball at the end of the play while only one scab made an effort to sort out the confusion and see who really had the ball. What were the other scabs doing? Sharing the player autographs they’d collected during pregame?
Seriously, though – not making a better effort to maintain order on the field has been a consistent point of criticism against the scabs but in this case a consideration of the need to establish which player maintained possession sheds light on what could be an overlap and/or loophole in the rules governing a play like Seattle’s Hail Mary.
Make no mistake – this call is a hard call. There seems to be widespread agreement that the regular officials would not botch such a play, but that’s hypothetical (more on that below). Anyone watching the replay can see that Jennings had much more control of the ball than Tate at the outset of the “reception,” and that Tate also took his arm/hand off of the ball for a moment on the way down, thus ceding (two-handed) possession of the ball. Cue the pileup mayhem.
Here’s where another part of the rulebook comes in and shows the need to sort out the pileup. There is what has become to be known as The Calvin Johnson Rule that took a game-winning TD catch away from the Lions in 2010, clarifying what is expected of a player who makes a tough midair catch. Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 states:
“Player Going to the Ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”
Now, the ball never really touched the ground, so the water is even murkier. It gets borderline opaque when considering that the action immediately following Jennings and Tate coming to the ground is basically lost in the confusion that the scab refs failed to control. Who really retained possession in the chaos? Maybe no one knows.
Would the regular officials have been on top of all of this? I don’t know. There is potential in this scandal to deify the regular refs but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that the scabs feel less like gods and more like minions of some commissioner-devil who has little to no sense of the sanctity of the game he continues to tinker with. (Coming soon: Officially Lost: How Roger Goodell Couldn’t Leave Rich-Enough Alone And Usurped the NFL.)
Aligning the scabs with Legion is an exaggeration, but it hints at the core of the issue: Trust. It’s sadly ironic that during a week of reading a multitude of accounts about how much the late great Steve Sabol engendered trust from the league and its members that those in position to help determine games – the officials – are not trusted. It’s already started to show itself when truly difficult calls – ones that any experienced referee could have also erred on – immediately serve as cause to berate the scabs. They have no credibility. That means the league’s integrity is sullied until the regular officials are back. After all, the primary definition of integrity is : “The quality of being honest.” Sure, fans and media never supported the locked out refs wholeheartedly while they were on the job, but at least the true zebras hadn’t lost all trust.
I digress. Either way, by the time the Tate had fallen to the end zone turf with both hands on the ball again, he was behind Jennings, his arms around him to reach the pigskin – a situation that is never ruled in favor of the player performing the reach-around.
But in the end Green Bay didn’t even get a reach-around from the league and its scab refs. They just got screwed.
In the mother of all embarrassments, no one was allowed to go home yet. While scab referee Wayne Elliott discussed the play via headset with the booth the Packers left the field without the PAT kick happening that was needed in order to end the game. Was that why Elliott looked so surprised at one point while talking with the booth? “What? We have to do WHAT before the game can end? No way! In all of my years of refereeing lingerie football I’ve never had to do that.”
To be fair, Elliott may not be one of the scab refs who have experience in said league. But at least some scabs are – and were fired from the Lingerie League for poor officiating!! Witness this mind-boggling release from the Lingerie Football League in the NY Daily news (originally reported by Deadspin):
The biggest kick in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s arse has to be this statement from the, ahem, LFL:
“Lingerie league officials said the refs were fired for shoddy game calling. ‘Because of the LFL’s perception it is much more critical for us to hire officiating crews that are competent…to keep our athletes safer,’ the league said.
Dear god. Even a bra-and-panty league appears to have higher standards for player safety than the NFL.
If only M.D. Jennings had been decked out in LaSenza instead of pads…
At any rate, eventually Green Bay got enough players back out of their locker room and onto the field to help carry out the final play of the game…
….Aaaand, NOW it’s:
MNF-Seattle(2-1) wins vs. Green Bay, 14-12
I SAW that Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s defense is finally rounding into form in his third season with the franchise. After Carroll’s success while pumping out high-scoring Heisman candidates as a head coach at USC it’s easy to forget that he made his name as a defensive-minded head coach in the NFL in the mid-1990s (he won the AFC East with a defense-focused Patriots team in ’97). Seattle is now living up to the hallmark of Carroll teams: Speedy defenders that fly all over the field hunting for the ball. The defense ranks 4th overall (272.3 ypg), 2nd against the run (58.7ypg), and 1st in scoring (13.0 pts/gm). They held the Cowboys and Packers to one TD apiece in the last two weeks. Look out, NFL. The NFC West is now a hotbed of very tough defenses.
As an aside, I feel like I’ve always liked Carroll because his boyish face and demeanor make him look like he just stepped off a sailboat, handed his scarf to someone and energetically coaches up football players. Normally I don’t go for that sort of stereotype but it’s refreshing in pro football, where head coaching is a brutal crucible of a job. And Carroll is no country-clubber. His charity work in inner city Los Angeles is well-documented and often carried out in person by the coach – even while having since moved to Seattle.
Seattle’s defense plays like its coach – with relentless energy. That precociousness was on full display in the first half, as the Seahawks sacked Packers QB Aaron Rodgers 8 times in the first half. Four of them were by DE Chris Clemons, tying the NFL record for sacks in the first half set by the late great Chief Derrick Thomas against the Chargers in 1992…
I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:
Paper Wall Blocking Award
(You know when college teams come out of the tunnel and burst through a paper banner? Often offensive linemen or whole O-lines end up barely sufficing as such while getting torn apart by defensive fronts. This dubious distinction is given for the paper-thinnest protection offered for an NFL QB in 2012)
The Packers O-line
On Monday night against the Seahawks, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked 3 times in the first quarter for the first time in his career. Make that 5 sacks in the game’s first 20 minutes. Make that 8 sacks in the first half – equaling Rodger’s career high for a whole game. Pair this collective turnstile job with how often the Bears ran free in their backfield last week, and GB has a very serious problem to address.
I SAW that the Packers have only scored 4 offensive touchdowns all season. Last year Green Bay was the second-most productive offense in league history (to the 2007 Patriots). As noted above, the Paper Wall O-line has a lot to do with this slump they’re in. But another issue is that the Packer receivers don’t seem to be winning nearly as many battles downfield this year, as compared to ’11. Their patterns aren’t being run with as much of an edge and they look a step slower than defenders – especially last year’s burner, WR Jordy Nelson. It’s too early to write them off yet, but the Packers offense looks legitimately problematic instead of merely catching bad breaks.
I SAW another crazy foul-up by the scab refs near the end of the game. After Packers RB Cedric Benson scored a 1-yard TD to give Green Bay a 12-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Pack tried to throw for a 2-point conversion that would ultimately have tied the game once ’Hawks WR Golden Tate scored his controversial Hail Mary grab. The throw from GB QB Aaron Rodgers sailed high over WR James Jones. No good.
Rodgers is adamant that a K ball was used on the conversion. To explain, several balls in each game are stamped with a “K” and designated for kicking use. Kickers have numerous tricks they employ in order to make their balls slippery and misshapen so that they can travel farther in the air. They are separated from other game balls because quarterbacks want nothing to do with a ball that isn’t sticky enough to grip well.
Sure, there are “ball boys” that bring balls out to the line judges for use but when the Packers decided to go for 2 instead of kicking the PAT the scab ref didn’t think to change the ball. Assuming Rodgers is correct in his accusation, that’s a pretty bad oversight on yet another game-deciding play.
I SAW PROPS for Packers G T. J. Lang when he tweeted a superb proposal to the NFL:
“F—k it NFL. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.”
I SAW need for many to echo ESPN’s Mike Tirico (see: Away from the game(s)): Please, NFL owners. It’s your league, your product. Make this lockout of the officials end. Mark my words: Whatever the players, coaches, media and the fans say about how far it’s gone the league won’t budge until you step in. Please do it before someone really gets hurt.
*UPDATE/NOTE: As of Wednesday, a source for nfl.com has reported that the owners indeed became more active in the prior night’s negotiations and that some concessions have already been reached. Fingers crossed.
Let’s end this week with a comment made by NFL Network analyst and Hall Of Famer Deion Sanders about the referee lockout:
“You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 4, HERE AT TFQ