January 1, 2012

The ball has dropped, the confetti's been swept, the games have been played and as "Dandy Don" Meredith was known to say, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.” 
While this is true for 20 of the 32 NFL teams, the rest of us still have a month of football left. YEA!
As the end of the 2011 regular season came to an end, I wondered, as I always do at this time every year, what I have to look forward to for the rest of the winter. Since I outgrew wanting it to snow, I’ve been of the opinion that, much like the only reason for cake is to hold up the frosting, the only reason for winter is the NFL. There are just 12 games left. Football season goes by way too fast—
It seems like just yesterday that, here in Michigan, everyone was talking about the Lions’ shocking 4-0 pre-season. The radio buzz was filled with speculations about the probability of a playoff bound Lions team, and the Motor City went to bed with visions of Super Bowl Rings dancing in their heads. I remember my brother scoffing at all the premature talk of a winning season and a playoff berth. He just wanted a return to what he calls the “Glory days of mediocrity”.
Well my brother must have been on Santa’s nice list because he got more than he wished for. The formally hapless Lions guaranteed themselves a playoff berth in Week 16 with an uber-impressive 38-10 win over the San Diego Chargers on Christmas Eve. Now they are on their way to New Orleans for their first playoff game in 12 years. Go Lions!
In Week 15, those same San Diego Chargers upset the Baltimore Ravens 34-14 which opened the door for Pittsburgh to jump ahead of the Ravens and virtually guarantee the Steelers the AFC North division title and a number 2 seed—if they beat the 49ers in the December 19 Monday Night match-up, or what I like to call ¯…the night that the lights went out in Candlestick…¯
An aerial view of the stadium and surrounding city showed a great blue flash (later reported to be a transformer exploding) followed immediately by a black hole where Candlestick Park had been aglow with lights and filled with anticipatory fans. This occurred 10-12 minutes prior to the start of the game. Thankfully everyone remained calm and well behaved and, after a bare 30 minute delay, they were able to begin play. All was well until barely 3 minutes into the second quarter when, what, to the nations dismay, should appear? Yes, you guessed it. Black-out. Again!
This time, however, not everyone conducted themselves in a well behaved manner.
Yes, the lure of the ‘dark’ side proved too much for one overzealous fan who decided the second black-out was a good time for idiocy to reign supreme. Out onto the field he ran, Candlestick’s on-the-ball security hot on his heels.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger watched from the sidelines and lamented the absence of LB James Harrison. Forget about Waldo. Ben’s question? “Where’s James Harrison when you need him?” The answer? Suspended from the game for a hit during the game against the Browns in week 14…sigh… just when you need someone to head-butt a rogue fool.
After another short delay, the game progressed steadily onward. Big Ben tried valiantly (and sometimes comically) to protect his injured ankle (and, no, I’m not making light of his injury. My brother, with whom I watched the game, commiserated greatly with Ben as my brother was himself recovering from his own ankle injury received during the Unfortunate Hunting Camp Incident of 2011).
James Harrison tweeted from places unknown. When the last whistle blew, the 49ers, Candlestick’s pre-historic lighting system nothing new to them, ended the night triumphant, and the Steelers remained a game behind those pesky birds.
Playoff Picture
I’m not going to try to analyze the playoff picture. I know who had to do what to make it, but if I had to explain it, I’m afraid my brain would short circuit. I have enough problems with headaches, thank you very much. But while I’m on the subject… I think the NFL should revamp the determination of playoff seeds and who gets home-field advantage. To me there is something wrong when an 8-8 and 9-7 team gets the number 4 seed and home field advantage over 12-4 and 10-6 teams. I understand why it works out this way, but it makes better sense if seed order and HFA are determined by overall win/loss record. Just sayin’.
The playoff picture ended (or begins, depending on your point of view) this way:
AFC 1-New England  2-Baltimore  3-Houston  4-Denver  5-Pittsburgh  6-Cincinnati
NFC 1-Green Bay  2-San Francisco  3-New Orleans  4-NY Giants  5-Atlanta  6-Detroit
x-tra point HAPPY & DOPEY Awards
Mary Lou Retton HAPPY to Jerome Simpson of the Cincinnati Bengals for his impressive gymnastic forward half-tuck summersault touchdown during the Christmas Eve game against of the Arizona Cardinals. My Score: 9.8 (.2 deduction for the hand touching down). J
Atta Boy HAPPYs to Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Green Bay’s Matt Flynn for being the 1st QBs to throw for over 400 yards and 5 TDs each in the same game. Both QBs set franchise records in that game as well, including Matt Flynn’s 6 TD passes. J J
Control Freak DOPEY to the rule makers. I hate to keep harping about NFL rules, but some of them are beginning to dampen the fun of the game. Today, I’m talking about the one that makes it illegal for players to celebrate a TD. Baring actual in-your-face taunting of opponents and their fans, I don’t have a problem with players doing a little celebrating after a touchdown (Lord knows I’m out of my chair and hopping around like the Energizer Bunny on speed when my team scores). Let the players take a second and be happy for a job well done! L
Double DOPEY to all those sexist commercials that assume women don’t like football and men should hide the fact that they do just to appease their wife and/or girlfriend. So what if the man wants to check out the game on his phone while he’s at dinner? Maybe his woman should have known better than to drag the poor man out of the house on game day, eh? And guess what? Sundays are just for watching football. And Monday nights. And sometimes Thursdays and Saturdays. Deal with it! LL
x-tra point Fired Up!
Every scoring play is reviewed automatically. All well and good, but too many teams have been cheated of TDs due to erroneous calls on the field. And if it’s not ruled a score, it doesn’t get reviewed.
The players work hard enough to get into the end zone. That effort shouldn’t be negated just because the referees can’t be everywhere and see everything. We all know how a bad call can cost a team field position, yardage, first downs. That’s frustrating enough, but an acceptable risk of enjoying the game. Costing a team a touchdown is not an acceptable risk. In this technological age there is no reason these teams should have to sacrifice hard won points and games to referee errors.
The latest example of a team affected by referee error was Detroit in the final regular season game against Green Bay. Replay of a Matthew Stafford pass and subsequent catch by Titus Young in the end zone showed a solid catch and both feet in bounds—it was a touchdown but it was ruled out of bounds on the field, thus no touchdown. Unfortunately, the play was unreviewable. The announcers mentioned that the play was also unchallengeable—not sure if that’s correct of not, but it sounds hinky to me—but Coach Jim Schwartz was out of challenges regardless.
That touchdown would have won Detroit the game. Even though Detroit made the playoffs regardless of that game’s outcome, a win would have guaranteed them a number 5 seed in the playoffs, as opposed to the number 6 seed. It may not seem like much, but it makes a difference.
Many teams’ playoff chances are dependent on the final game of the regular season. When these games come down to “win and you’re in” or “lose and you go home”, the referees can’t afford to make the kind of mistake that was made against Detroit. This needs to be fixed.
So I say to the Powers That Be In Charge of when and/or what to review: Fix this! And don’t just make it challengeable. A coach should not have to waste a challenge for this. Review every end zone play automatically just as every scoring play is.



October 25, 2011

Sunday October 23, 2011, I watched three football games: Atlanta @ Detroit; Pittsburgh @ Arizona; and Indianapolis @ New Orleans

Atlanta @ Detroit

It was mentioned during the game that the Atlanta Falcons prepared for the expected noise level in the Detroit Silverdome by practicing with jet engine noise in the background. It is unclear to this blogger how this was accomplished. Did the US Military do continuous fly-bys overhead? Did they use a recording? However the deed was done, it was a successful gambit.
Despite being intercepted twice and a holding call that negated a touchdown, the Falcons left Detroit with a win becoming just the second team to beat the Lions this season. This win came on the Lions’ home turf matching what the 49ers did the week before.
One may wonder where the super impressive “come from behind” Lions team has been the last two Sundays, but I hope the Lions and their fans don’t get discouraged. I implore them not to lose the confidence and the momentum of the first five games. For a team that just two years ago went 0 - 16, a 5-2 start is impressive as well as respectable! After all, other than Green Bay (still undefeated at 7-0), all the league’s top leaders have no more than five wins. The Lions have played some excellent football so far and the season is far from over. There’s plenty of time to improve as needed.
Ouch! x-tra point: Falcons QB Matt Ryan got his foot stepped on by his own teammate. Watching the replay of this brought back the gruesome images of Joe Theismann’s—Washington Redskins QB 1974-1985—career ending broken leg against the NY Giants. I was watching that game as well when it happened. Thankfully Matt Ryan and his foot didn’t suffer the same fate as Theismann. Apparently, it looked much worse than it was: he returned in the 4th quarter virtually limp-free.
I can’t finish my commentary about the Lions here without mentioning the controversy over the after-game mid-field “handshake” between the Lions head coach, Jim Schwartz, and the 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh, in week six. It has been said the media has made too much of it and the traditional postgame handshake is insincere and pointless. Well, the media always makes too much of everything, so that’s a moot point. But while the postgame handshake might be insincere, it certainly isn’t pointless. Since when is good sportsmanship pointless!? It’s all about common courtesy— something of which there is far too little in the world today.
ESPN.com reported, “…49ers coach Harbaugh gave Lions coach Schwartz a roundhouse handshake and a backslap that Schwartz took offense to.” Well, I saw it. It wasn’t a “backslap”, and it was offensive. Mr. Harbaugh put his hand to Mr. Schwartz’s shoulder and shoved him hard enough to cause him to stumble. Maybe it wasn’t intentional. Maybe the emotional high he was on for beating the previously undefeated Lions got the better of him. I don’t know. And I don’t care. While I don’t believe the incident is deserving of fines (these are already handed out way too frequently by the NFL), Jim Harbaugh does owe Jim Schwartz an apology. His “I shook his hand too hard” doesn’t cut it.  What does that even mean? Apologies aren’t just excuses. They show good manners and consideration for our fellow man. His actions were rude and dishonorable. He should be an adult and apologize!
Final Score: Atlanta 23; Detroit 16

Pittsburgh @ Arizona

Penalties abounded in this so-called rematch of Super Bowl XLIII (43 to you non-Romans). The most blatant and witless one coming from Steelers Guard Chris Kemoeatu when he delivered a late hit to the pile. Now, to those of you who follow Steelers Football, a late hit penalty by Kemoeatu isn’t ground-breaking news. We all know he has been fined more than once in the past for this very infraction. I mention this particular one because it was so unbelievably blatant, one didn’t need instant replay to see it. Here’s what happened (in real time): The play is over, all eyes are on the pile where the ball carrier is buried beneath a couple of Cardinals’ when Kemoeatu plows his 300-plus pounds into the pile. Everybody saw it! It begs the question: What were you thinking? As if that weren’t bad enough, he led with his helmet! Now I don’t expect a 300-plus pound lineman to be able to stop on a dime, but in this case I believe he had enough time to slow down, or even enough room to at least divert his trajectory and run around the pile. It is actions like that have caused the league to become penalty- and fine-crazy to the point we are on the verge of losing the very essence of the game. It’s football. Yes, it’s supposed to be tough. If it wasn’t they’d call it baseball. But be smart. Keep your brain in gear and don’t give the league any more ammunition. If it gets any worse the NFL will become the NFFL (National Flag-Football League) and the officials will start calling rain delays.
And while I’m on the subject of penalties, I have a message for the zebras. In reference to the extremely late flag for defensive pass interference against Pittsburgh: If you have to spend precious minutes discussing whether or not a penalty occurred, take a page from the NLB and let “the tie go to the runner”. In other words it’s not a penalty if you have to waste good game playing time yakking about it, it’s just good football! Let it go, and get on with the game!
Big Ben Roethlisberger threw the longest touchdown pass in Steelers history against the Cardinals. Launched from his own end zone, the deep pass was caught by Pittsburgh’s own Speedy Gonzales (dating myself with the old cartoon reference, but when the analogy fits… J), Mike Wallace, about the 40-yard line who then did what he does best: outrun everyone on the field.
Despite being injured in week six against Jacksonville, Troy Polamalu was again all over the field. Although he had no interceptions (and I feel fairly confident here in saying he’d probably like a do-over of the play where the pass from Matt Ryan smacked him in the chest dead center but bounced to the ground before he could get a grip on it) or sacks, he was as usual right where he needed to be in most instances. Undaunted by a missed tackle, he jumped back up and took the ball carrier down single handedly.
And speaking of Troy Polamalu, his fine of $10,000 for calling his wife to let her know he was all right after the aforementioned injury against the Jaguars is a crock of … well, you know. As the story goes, after leaving the field with a possible concussion, he was concerned his wife might have seen what happened and worry. The team doctor loaned Troy a phone so he could call and reassure his wife. The league has become an old lady with OCD about safety consciousness and they begrudge an injured player phoning their loved ones from the sidelines just to reassure them? It’s not like the players are sitting around calling Dial-A-Date, for crying out loud. In this day of player safety there should be a Team Phone on the sidelines for just that purpose! Commissioner Goodell needs to dig down deep into his psyche and pull up some compassion and common sense.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 32; Arizona 20

Indianapolis @ New Orleans

The outcome of this game was not of major import to me, but I like New Orleans and there wasn’t anything else on I wanted to watch so I left it on—more for background noise than anything else. I admit I didn’t pay close attention to it and just before halftime, I switched channels. I didn’t even check the score at that time. Then around 11:30pm, I tuned back in to check the progress of the game. The camera just happened to be panning the Colts’ bench, and I must say I hadn’t seen such a group of sad, forlorn faces since the Steelers’ bench at the end of last year’s Super Bowl. After checking out the score, I understood those sad expressions. Though I’m unable to deliver any first-hand knowledge on actual game play, the final score itself and the Colts’ progress so far this season begs commentary.
On a peripheral level, I had been aware that Indy was winless coming into New Orleans. After all, how could anyone who follows the NFL not be aware of it when one of the biggest stories of the season has been Payton Manning’s surgery, possible “out for the season” status, and whether or not the Colts can possibly win without him? (And, seriously, this blogger has been sick of hearing how great PM is for a long time. He’s not the only great one, and he’s far from the greatest that ever played the game. It’s my opinion that there are, and have been, too many greats to pin down any one as the GREATEST.)
The Indianapolis Colts seem to be suffering a complete breakdown at the loss of their starting quarterback. Are the Colts really that much better with Payton Manning on the field? I don’t believe so, no. No one person is that integral to a team. I heard they were hopeful that Payton Manning would be able to return yet this season. I’d think that should have rallied the team to step up their performance level to assure that if Manning does return, he returns to a team with at least a solid shot at the playoffs. By this far into the season, even a 3-4 record would accomplish that much.
[I can’t help but make a slight comparison here to last season’s Pittsburgh Steelers when their starting QB was suspended for the first four games (yes, I know the situations are not precisely the same-this is why I said “slight comparison”.) The Steelers knew Ben Roethlisberger would be back for game five, but even so, the rest of the team busted butt and supported the back-up QB’s 110% to make sure Ben returned with a win-loss record he could work with.]
Instead they just seem to be proving that they can barely function without him on the field. And how sad is that? An 0-7 start is pretty much a kiss of death for the season. Payton Manning might as well sit the season out and make sure he’s strong for 2012.
In the end, all that matters is that final score and major kudos to New Orleans for a record-setting game Saints fans will remember and talk about for generations. Well done!!
special x-tra point - For many teams leading at the half, complacency has been their downfall and caused them to lose the game. Special kudos to the Saints for not falling into this trap and continuing to rack up the points—even after it became apparent the Colts could never catch up.  That’s football!!
Final Score: Indianapolis 7; New Orleans 62 (yes, that is correct: SIXTY-TWO!)