OUR TOP STORY
So, about last night …
Monday Night Football this week was a great matchup between two division rivals that, in recent history, have played plenty of hotly contested games. It featured the best of Matt Stafford, a vintage late-game performance from Aaron Rodgers and a ton of drama. That’s the kind of game that all fans want to see.
Then modern NFL officiating took over, stole the show and pushed the spotlight back onto the league’s ugliest on-field wart.
It’s exhausting to have the referees, their bad calls and bizarre rulings come to the forefront week after week. There are numerous great storylines and games that should be grabbing all of our attention as the football-watching public. But we are constantly confronted by inept officiating that mars the quality product that the best athletes, plus the Redskins and Dolphins, are putting out on the field on a weekly basis.
You’re reading this analysis and retrospective from a Packers fan. Obviously, there’s an air of relief and joy for anyone who gets to watch their team win a division game under tough circumstances. Even the blindest homer knows the refs screwed up on Monday night, though.
There’s no easy fix for this officiating epidemic. The problem is inconsistency, which isn’t something that you can suddenly fix for dozens and dozens of referees, umpires, linesmen, etc. in the middle of a season. The rules are so complex and in some cases nonsensical that nobody, from the coaches to the players to the officials, can understand them or diagnose a play with them in mind with any kind of consistency.
That’s not a good place to be.
Bad officiating isn’t anything new, of course. Every team has horror stories of getting screwed out of a big play or a win because of bad officiating. The Packers, the beneficiaries this week, were the victims of the infamous Fail Mary, the blown call of a Jerry Rice fumble in 1998 and even a missed pass interference two weeks ago. The Chiefs were hosed just this week on a ludicrous non-call. Everyone remembers the Saints and Rams NFC Championship Game debacle. The Steelers once lost possession in overtime because Phil Luckett botched Jerome Bettis’ call of the coin toss.
We’ve all experienced bad calls against our favorite team. The problem is that they’re far too common right now.
Every week there’s something new that causes people to groan, moan and complain online. Frequently, as wild as it is to say, those complainers are correct. The NFL is a multibillion-dollar industry; there’s no excuse to have officiating this poor all across the league.
The most common penalties that have driven us insane this year have been pass interference calls, followed closely by holding penalties. This Monday, however, it was the illegal hands to the face flag, called twice on Detroit’s Trey Flowers, that changed the game.
Somehow, that almost makes it worse, that there are even more calls that officials can’t get right in key moments. Two penalties are enough, but to keep adding to the list is continued malpractice.
In some fairness, it’s not like the Lions did anything to help themselves in this particular game. They didn’t score a touchdown after the first quarter and had a meager 58 total yards in the second half. That’s not enough to stop a Rodgers-led offense.
Detroit should be upset. Really, all football fans, players and coaches should be upset about the state of officiating today. Nobody tunes into Monday Night Football to watch controversy that isn’t manufactured by players or the actual game action. Nobody likes referees and we need less of them affecting the outcome of games, not more.
One major problem with the whole situation is that there isn’t much of an impetus for the NFL to change anything. We can complain and tag head of officials Al Riveron in tweets as much as we want, but we can’t quit the sport. The NFL is king and that’s not changing any time soon. Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays are all property of the league, with millions of eyeballs glued to even terrible matchups. A league that actually wants to make a change would have planned better or taken action already, or both.
The NFL, however, is just going to issue a statement, let its referees make vague comments in the pool report after games and wait to fix things later. It has that power. Kings always do.
Football weekends should not end with referees as the top stories. They should end with excited discussion about the modern-day gladiators that we fawn over and spend tons of financial and emotional capital on. Instead, we’re left infuriated when they take a fun, exciting rivalry game and smear its good name with nonsense, bad calls and general incompetence.
Although, one fan base probably isn’t as upset as the others after Monday.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
*Football in southern California belongs in Arizona Bay. Two of the most hyped teams in the NFL reside in the second biggest city in the United States and both are shaping up to be two of the league’s biggest disappointments. The Rams, one season removed from a Super Bowl appearance, have dropped three straight games and look completely lost on both sides of the ball. This is a team that was the odds-on favorite to win its division and conference this year, and just gave its still somewhat unproven quarterback the most guaranteed money in NFL history. Jared Goff had 78 yards passing this week, by the way.
The Chargers, meanwhile, are 2-4 and just lost at home to an undrafted, third-string quarterback in a stadium filled to the brim with opposing fans. This is a team that USA Today even picked to win the division, a division with the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs in it. Instead, they are bad. It’s as simple as that. The offensive line is bad, the defense is struggling and, like always, everyone is hurt. What could have been a banner year for football in Los Angeles (or Carson or Inglewood or wherever) is quickly crumbling into a disaster. Now, instead of just having two teams that nobody cares about, L.A. has two disappointing teams that nobody cares about.
*A few weeks back, accountability was a major topic for This Week in Football. Specifically, accountability for the Patriots in the wake of signing and quickly releasing Antonio Brown. This week it was linebacker Zach Brown who needed to be held accountable, yet he failed to hold up his end of that social contract. Before his Philadelphia Eagles played the Minnesota Vikings this week, he trashed Vikings quarterback and his former teammate Kirk Cousins. Then Cousins and the Vikings lit up the Eagles to the tune of 38-20 with four touchdown passes. Then Brown refused to face the music and answer questions about Cousins after the game. Then the Eagles cut Brown. If you’re going to talk trash and be extremely pointed with it, you need to be able to accept responsibility if it backfires. Brown gets no benefit of the doubt here and has no moral high ground from where he can reject questions about the game’s biggest storyline, which he created all on his own. Someone will give Brown another shot, but it’s hard to expect he’ll be trusted after cowering in the face of responsibility at his last stop.
*It’s getting harder and harder to defend either of the top picks from the 2015 NFL draft. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota looked like they were superstars ready to break out at any moment when they were selected with the first two picks that year. In the four-plus seasons since things have only gotten worse for both. Winston deserves endless flak for his off-field behavior but has descended into intense physical comedy in terms of his play. It’s hard to do anything but laugh when you watch his five-interception game from this weekend against the Panthers. Mariota, who is considered by everyone who’s ever interacted with him to be a saint walking among us, has never been able to put it together. He’ll flash and make you think he’s finally getting hot and will turn into a star, but then he’ll turn right around and play so badly that he gets benched for Ryan Tannehill. Mariota has more excuses than Winston does, most notably the fact that he’s had four offensive coordinators in five seasons, but the clock is ticking on both. Neither is going to drop out of the league entirely, but it’s fair to expect they’ll be battling for jobs at best next season.
X GON’ GIVE IT TO YA
It’s hard to believe, but the new XFL is closer and closer to actually being realized. The league’s draft will begin Tuesday morning, with eight teams filling out 71-man training camp rosters from a 1,000-player pool. The league announced the pool in groups of 200 over the course of the week, with legends such as Ryan Broyles, Connor Cook, Trevor Knight, Will Sutton and others promoted as the biggest names available.
As for coaches, the list is a who’s who of has-beens. Try Marc Trestman, Pep Hamilton and June Jones out for size. Oh, yeah, and Bob Stoops (whether it’s a coincidence or not, there are a ton of Oklahoma players available to be drafted).
We know how much players will make and we know where we’ll be able to watch. The question is if anyone will actually tune in. The Alliance of American Football (R.I.P.) showed that there is a market, albeit small, for a secondary, spring football league. If the product is good or even mediocre (Americans crave football content) there will be viewers.
The biggest thing the XFL has going for it that the AAF didn’t is money. Vince McMahon, along with being a egomaniac, has a ton of money he’s willing to spend. That willingness and smart business sense (anyone familiar with WWE knows he can be a ruthless businessman) may be the difference between another failed league and a legitimate offseason alternative for diehard football fans.
Nobody asked for the XFL when the announcement that it was being reborn was made. We’re getting closer to finding out if anyone out there is actually pleased that it’s coming to fruition.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Futility is the name of the game this week, as we have two stats that are uniquely pathetic.
First, the Dallas Cowboys, who were favored by more than a touchdown over the New York Jets and Sam Darnold’s spleen this weekend. The Jets pulled off the surprising upset despite a game that the Cowboys dominated statistically. In fact, Dallas’ statistical advantage helped contribute to historic ineptitude.
The Cowboys pounded a trio of terrible teams to open the season and were made out to be NFC favorites by plenty of entities and fans. Ever since then they have looked pedestrian at best. Coach Jason Garrett has had countless forgettable or downright embarrassing moments in his career, and his team’s Week 6 loss to the previously winless Jets is another one of the list.
Then there’s Matt Ryan, the greatest quarterback in Falcons history, whose team is utterly terrible on the field and on the sidelines. Atlanta lost by one to Arizona this week after Matt Bryant missed a late extra point, despite a sensational game by Ryan.
Between the Atlanta Braves, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Falcons it has been a gruesome week for sports in the Peach State. Ryan did everything he could to avoid adding more hurt this weekend and it still wasn’t enough.
The Seahawks aren’t just one of the most exciting (for better or for worse) teams in the league this year, but they’re also extremely fun. One example of that came from a second-quarter touchdown celebration this weekend.
We’ve seen plenty of creative team celebrations in recent years. Bowling, various types of races, even a Motown performance. Recreating the “Bye, Bye, Bye” dance took some real coordination, though. This is the leader in the clubhouse for the best celebration of the year so far.
WEEKLY TOP 5: BEST TEAMS IN THE NFL
We’re six weeks into the season and we’re seeing the contenders and pretenders start to separate themselves more and more. A lot can still change in 12-13 games, but these are the best teams in the NFL as they currently stand.
- New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees isn’t playing but the Saints keep winning. Teddy Bridgewater has done an admirable job starting in his place, making enough plays to keep the offense rolling, while the defense has been fearsome all year. That group has allowed just 16.8 points per game in the last four weeks. It’s impressive to thrive like New Orleans has despite not having a hall of famer due to injury.
- Green Bay Packers – Controversy from Monday night aside, the Packers are rolling to start the year. The defense continues to look great, with the duo of Za’Darius and Preston Smith setting the tone for that unit and, in a way, the whole team. The offense is starting to click as well, with Aaron Rodgers and his band of undrafted free agents and late draft picks (Davante Adams will return from a turf toe injury eventually) looking better by the week.
- Seattle Seahawks – Seattle plays some of the most heart-stopping games you’ll ever watch, the offense isn’t always fluid and the defense is flawed, but they keep winning. That’s largely due to Russell Wilson, the clear frontrunner for league MVP, who is elevating the play of every single player around him. As long as he’s balling out the Seahawks will continue to win, as close as all their games may be.
- New England Patriots – New England is undefeated and needs to get respect for that. Plus, its defense is better at scoring than most offenses in the league. However, their six opponents’ combined record is 10-23 so far, with four of those wins belonging to Buffalo. The Patriots haven’t played anyone. They play their toughest stretch starting in November, so we’ll learn more about them then.
- San Francisco 49ers – Another team that’s being carried by its defense right now, the Niners have shocked the world on their way to a 5-0 start. There are a lot of of deserved questions about San Francisco’s offense going forward, like whether or not Jimmy Garoppolo is the real deal and if it can get by without a real No. 1 receiver. For now, though, they’ve earned their undefeated record.
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