Last week, we rolled out a different format for the Morning Aftermath. And since the complaints were relatively minimal, we’re sticking with it.
(Cue the “change it back, asshole” crowd.)
So here we go, with ten specific, possibly random, always detailed observations from the day that was in the NFL.
And since plenty of you believe that the Aftermath clutters up the Rumor Mill, we’ll put No. 2 through No. 10 after the “Continue Reading” thing.
1. Renewing the call for full-time officials.
For years, arguably decades, the NFL’s approach to head injuries involved the rubbing of dirt and the adoption of a tobacco executive’s demeanor.
Then, after a single hearing on the subject before the House Judiciary Committee in October, the league has unfurled a kitchen-sink strategy, with so many new rules and procedures that the act of keeping up with them makes us feel like we’re suffering the symptoms of a concussion, too.
The message? The NFL will do whatever it must to protect the golden goose, when the league believes that the golden goose is in genuine distress.
Hopefully, that same pressure eventually will be applied to the league’s refusal to consider the hiring of full-time officials.
Apart from the fact that hiring full-time officials would create the perception that the league is doing everything in its power to reduce the error rate to zero-point-zero percent (even if that goal is not attainable), constant access to the officials likely would help prevent the mistake made during last night’s chaotic final seconds of regulation.
During a play that started with 25 seconds on a moving clock, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco fumbled at the Pittsburgh 42. Baltimore offensive lineman Ben Grubbs recovered at the 37.
The clock kept ticking.
The Ravens, with no time outs remaining, rushed their field-goal unit onto the field.
The clock kept ticking.
From the outset, it was obvious that it was going to be a close shave, and the officials rightfully tried to give the Ravens a wide berth, allowing them to beat the buzzer– or not — on their own.
In the end, the Ravens got their players aligned and kicker Billy Cundiff launched a low-flying attempt that initially looked to be long enough — and that might have made it if the holder had lined up the more customary seven yards behind the snapper, instead of nine.
Through it all, none of the part-time employees in black and white stripes noticed that the ball should have been moved back to the spot of Flacco’s fumble, which would have resulted in an attempt of 60 or more yards.
Even though the Ravens still won the game, a good kick from Cundiff would have created a major outcry from the Steelers and their fans. (On the bright side, it might have prompted those who think the officials actually wear black and gold stripes to pipe down. At least for a week.)
The outcry would have been fully justified.
The NFL pays the officials handsomely (by part-time job standards) to know and to apply all of the rules, under every circumstance. So if part-time officials aren’t good enough to make the right decisions on a full-time basis, the easiest remedy is to make them full-time employees.
By requiring the officials to devote their full professional time and attention to perfecting their craft, the league could devise offseason simulations in which officials are forced to apply the rules during times of chaos, such as the final seconds of a game where the clock is ticking and one team is trying to get off a final play.
With increased repetitions, the officials’ ability to think clearly in such circumstances necessarily would improve.
The league prefers the current system in part because it would be extremely expensive to persuade the best officials to give up the trades they ply during the offseason, and from Monday through Thursday from August through January. But as the NFL continues to grow in popularity and significance, something must be done.
That’s precisely why the NFL has so staunchly opposed efforts to legalize sports wagering. Once people are legitimately betting large sums of money on the outcome of football games, the pressure on the league to iron out all officiating errors would dramatically increase.
Eventually, one sufficiently glaring error during a game on which many millions of dollars legally was wagered could prompt someone in Congress to decide that it’s time to take a close look at the overall integrity of NFL officiating.
Especially if that someone in Congress ended up on the losing side of the bet.
And within weeks after a hearing on the issue, the memos from the league office regarding improvements to the process would be raining down like ticker tape at the parade the Steelers held after winning what many still believe was a zebra-tainted Super Bowl XL.
2. Colts need to keep the pedal to the metal.
Regardless of whether they’re chasing a 16-0 finish or whether they’re simply playing out the string, the 11-0 Indianapolis Colts need to guard zealously against a late-season letdown.
Too many times, great teams have taken a collective foot off the gas in December. Then, when facing after the bye week a wild-card winner riding the momentum of a postseason win and whatever else had to be done in order to get into the tournament in the first place, the great team finds itself the subject of the latest installment of the NFL Films “Missing Rings” series.
In 2005, the Colts won their first 13 games, lost two of their next three, and then fell in the divisional round to a Steelers team that won four in a row to get into the playoffs and vanquished the AFC North champions on their own turf in Cincinnati.
Two years later, the Colts let up the final weekend of the season against the Titans, who were playing what essentially was an early playoff game. Indy lost that game, and then the Colts lost their next game — the one that mattered a whole lot more.
Other supposedly great teams have also limped into the playoffs, and then couldn’t flip the switch back to “on” when facing a hungry underdog hoping to make a statement to the football-watching world. Last year, the Titans saw their 13-3 record evaporate against the upstart Ravens, and the Giants’ 12-4 record and No. 1 seed meant nothing as the Eagles, 5-5-1 after 11 games, derailed dreams of consecutive championships.
Indeed, in every postseason since 2005, half of the teams that earned a bye said “farewell” to the playoffs in their first game.
In the AFC, the top two seeds are 3-5 in the divisional round during that span.
The Colts know this dynamic better than anyone. They have played in three division-round games in the last four years. In those contests, the road team is 3-0.
So now that Indy has become the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs, the challenge will be to ignore the fact that some of the upcoming games might be meaningless, and to keep pushing toward the playoffs, treating each game like it has great significance.
In reality, it does. Elite teams that drift off course in December often can’t get back on track.
For the teams of the AFC, the ability to do so has become the exception, not the rule.
3. Can we all stop saying that Vince Young has a nine-game winning streak?
Vince Young attributes the resurrection of his career to humility. He has uttered the word or some variation of it many times over the past month.
For the Titans sake, it’s hopefully more than a facade.
Based on Young’s most recent performance — a stirring, come-from-behind effort including 387 yards passing, an Elwayesque final drive, and a wing-and-a-prayer touchdown pass to steal the win — it might be getting hard to find a helmet big enough for Young’s head.
The best evidence? As he left the playing surface at LP Field, Young held up nine fingers.
For the Titans sake, it was hopefully a tribute to the late Steve McNair.
If, in reality, Young is buying into the sudden and widespread media hype that he has won nine straight games, the only thing that has been resurrected is the monster that was created via premature praise of Young based on his first two NFL seasons.
Let’s look at those supposed nine straight wins. No. 1 came in 2007, aganst the 4-12 Chiefs. No. 2 came the following week, by a measly four points against the 4-12 Jets.
No. 3 was a Christmas present to Jeff Fisher from Tony Dungy. The Colts, who already had nailed down a bye week (scroll up for more on that particular dynamic), went easy on the Titans, treating the game like an exhibition — and giving rise to an admission from Kerry Collins that Fisher and Dungy had some sort of an understanding that Dungy wouldn’t use his time outs late in the game, in order to get the ball back for what could have been a game-winning touchdown.
Speaking of Collins, it was the grizzled veteran who led the team to a win that day. He entered the game in the second half after Young aggravated a thigh injury, with the Titans trailing by three points. So Young was no more responsible for the decisive nine points than, well, me.
It was Collins who also entered the next regular-season game, against the Jaguars in Week One of the 2008 season, after Young suffered an injury to his leg, his pride, or both.
Sandwiched in between those two incomplete efforts from Young was a playoff loss to the Chargers, which apparently has yet to get in the way of a good angle to a story that has plenty of merit without inexplicable media manipulation.
Why don’t we simply focus on the fact that Young has won five straight games? As far as the 2009 season is concerned, that’s all that matters.
And, frankly, those five games don’t really matter much at all right now. It’s the next five games that will determine the team’s fate in 2009 — and the Titans can only hope that Young won’t lose whatever humility he managed to develop during all those games in 2008 that he didn’t win, because he didn’t play.
4. 1975, 1998 revisited for Vikings?
With Sunday’s 36-10 shredding of the Chicago Bears, a game in which the Vikings outgained the Bears by nearly 400 yards (with minus-3 allowed in the entire second half), Minnesota has made it to 10-1 for the third time in team history.
On the prior two occasions, however, things didn’t end very well.
The 1975 Vikings stormed to ten straight wins before losing two of their final four games. They then lost at home to the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs, in the Hail Mary game.
A full 23 years later, the Vikings climbed to 10-1 via a 28-14 win over Brett Favre and the Packers. The Vikings later lost to the Falcons in the NFC title game, thanks in large part to Gary Anderson’s only failed kick of the entire year, a 39-yard field goal that would have put the Vikings up by 10 points late in the game.
Now, 11 years after the last 10-1 start, the Vikings again are in position to make something very good happen. But the purple-and-gold faithful likely aren’t making their reservations for Miami just yet.
OK, so maybe radio play-by-play announcer Paul Allen is peering through his purple-colored glases and dreaming of taking an ISDN box to Radio Row. But Vikings fans who have had their souls scarred on a consistent basis over the entire 40 years of Favre’s lifetime are justified in waiting for the next monumental gaffe that kills another season of promise.
At one point, it appeared that the defense will eventually check out too early in a game that supposedly had been decided, based on pathetic late-game performances against the Ravens and the Packers. Or maybe Adrian Peterson will fail to cover up the ball and/or switch arms during a key moment in the divisional round. Then there’s the ever-present possibility that the late-season 2008 version of Favre will make a one-game cameo appearance, at the worst possible time.
On one hand, every year is different. Indeed, with Matt Birk jumping to Baltimore via free agency there’s no connection to 1998 on the roster. And the coaching staff consists exclusively of men who weren’t with the team prior to the 2006 season.
On the other hand, every year in the past 40 has featured an ending for the Vikings that did not involve winning a Super Bowl. Though plenty of o
ther teams have endured the same fate, none have been as consistently competitive, with only two or three years in which it was clear by Halloween that there was no chance of making it into January.
So the fact that the Vikings almost always have started down the path to a championship but have then found a way to not finish the journey with a championship makes those who follow the team leery that this ride will end the same way.
Possibly with a defensive collapse. Possibly with an Adrian Peterson fumble. Possibly with a six-pack of interceptions from a guy who once coughed up that many in a playoff game.
Or possibly with single coverage on a receiver who pushes off and doesn’t draw a flag.
Or possibly with a chip-shot field goal that sails just wide of the mark.
Or possibly in some new way that we’ve yet to consider — and that Vikings fans ultimately will be unable to forget.
5. Someone bears blame for Cutler.
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has been out since Week One with a badly dislocated wrist, has the benefit of distance from the day-to-day challenges his teammates currently face.
With the benefit of that distance, Urlacher realizes that the decision to add a young gunslinger to the Monsters of the Midway wasn’t the best idea.
“Look, I love Jay, and I understand he’s a great player who can take us
a long way, and I still have faith in him,” Urlacher tells Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports. “But I hate
the way our identity has changed. We used to establish the run and wear
teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we’d rely on our defense
to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win.
Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a
winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that’s
It’s hard to argue with Urlacher, given the team’s 4-7 record.
So who’s responsible for the mess? The easiest target is offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who has been unable to get the most out of Cutler’s abilities. The question becomes whether Turner’s failure to utilize Cutler properly sticks to coach Lovie Smith, who has not taken the Bears back to the playoffs in three seasons since a Super Bowl appearance.
Then there’s the question of whether G.M. Jerry Angelo bears the brunt of the blame for not realizing that Cutler didn’t fit the pre-existing identity of the franchise.
Of course, the last guy who’ll be blamed is Cutler himself. It can’t be his fault. If it’s his fault, then Angelo necessarily is responsible for sending two first-round picks and Orton to Denver, and for then signing Cutler to a long-term contract.
Regardless of who it is and when it happens, someone needs to be accountable for what has been one of the worst trades this side of the Herschel Walker deal.
6. Michael Turner had no business playing on Sunday.
With more and more teams holding out players who have suffered concussions, one team on Sunday made a very bad decision to send into action a guy with a different kind of injury.
Falcons running back Michael Turner suffered a high ankle sprain two weeks ago. Though word immediately came from Atlanta that the team was optimistic regarding Turner’s ability to recover quickly, one league source laughed at the notion that Turner or anyone else can come back in 14 days from a high ankle sprain.
But Turner sucked it up and played on Sunday. Against a 9-1 juggernaut from Tampa.
No, wait. The Bucs were 1-9. And yet the Falcons felt compelled to go with an injured Turner instead of a healthy Jerious Norwood and a surprisingly effective Jason Snelling.
We suppose that the team would call it a calculated risk. Few risks consciously taken aren’t. It doesn’t make the decision any less foolish.
So now with the Eagles and Saints coming to town on consecutive Sundays, the Falcons likely will be without Turner. If they’d opted to give him another week to heal, they might have had him for both games.
Of course, the Falcons now have bigger problems as they get ready for the two games that likely will decide their playoff fortunes. Quarterback Matt Ryan is injured — and the backup is Chris Redman.
Sure, Redman played well in place of Ryan on Sunday.
Against that 9-1 juggernaut from Tampa.
7. Maybe Los Angeles really doesn’t want a team.
The good news for folks in Southern California came on Saturday afternoon. After two 24-hour extensions, the Chargers had sold out their game against the Chiefs, meaning it would be televised on CBS affiliates in San Diego and Los Angeles.
So it really was good news, right?
Many folks in Los Angeles (we know this because we heard from plenty of them) would have preferred watching the Colts-Texans game, which started three hours earlier than Chiefs-Chargers. But since FOX had the double-header for the weekend, only one game could be aired by each CBS affiliate.
In Los Angeles, Chiefs-Chargers got the nod.
Colts-Texans? Nowhere to be seen.
So for many viewers in L.A., a Chargers blackout would have been preferred. And it makes us wonder whether the bulk of the citizens in Los Angeles would prefer not to be forced to follow any local team.
We’ve heard that sentiment for years, but we’ve never really believed it until Sunday. And it serves only to reinforce our thinking that the Los Angeles void should be filled with a multiple neutral-site games involving teams from other cities.
Like the Colts and the Texans.
8. Ravens got it right on fourth-down call.
Yours truly and Rosenthal engaged in a brief Twitter debate last night regarding the Ravens’ decision not to punt while facing a fourth down in their own territory.
Rosenthal said that “[e]veryone that killed [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick for going for it should kill [Ravens coach John] Harbaugh tomorrow.”
But we (I) don’t see it that way. Belichick opted not to punt from his own 28 while holding a six-point lead arguably because he didn’t trust his defense to keep Peyton Manning and the Colts from moving 70 yards for the game-winning score. Harbaugh opted not to punt from his own 46 while trailing by three points arguably because he believed his defense would be able to stop the Steelers if got the ball back at that spot.
And the Ravens were contending not with Peyton Manning, but Dennis Dixon.
So the Ravens did the right thing. And not just because it worked.
But that helped.
9. NFL didn’t need Roethlisberger, Warner.
Though the Steelers and the Cardinals might have benefited dramatically from the presence of their starting quarterbacks on Sunday, the absence of Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner did nothing to make the games in which they would have played boring or uninteresting.
Really, how can Pittsburgh or Arizona fans complain? The Steelers and the Cardinals led their games late — unless Roethlisberer and Warner would have been playing defense, they would have had no role in the loss of their teams’ late-game leads.
Though this hardly means that fans will happily tolerate a sensitivity to concussions that results in key players missing key games, the fact that these two games were still competitive might help the NFL persuade the football-watching public to reluctantly swallow a pill that’s shaped and tastes like a rusty screw because, in the minds of many fans, it is.
10. Under Fewell, the Bills are dangerous.
Two weeks ago, the remaining teams on the Bills’ schedule likely assumed that a “W” could be written in pencil next to the “Buffalo” line.
But while a “W” still might come, it won’t be easy.
Under interim coach Perry Fewell, the Bills are dangerous. Fewell is a long shot to secure the head-coaching job. To even get into the discussion, he needs to win as many games as possible.
So Fewell will coach with no pressure or expectations. “Our thing this week was to be aggressive and attack
and dictate,” Fewell said Sunday, confirming the existence of a nothing-to-lose mindset.
As a result of that mindset, the Bills nearly beat the Jaguars eight days ago. And they shocked the Dolphins on Sunday.
Fewell’s boldest moves have come from a decision to go with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and Fred Jackson at starting tailback. And Fewell praised Fitzpatrick on Sunday for audibling to a deep pass when he saw receiver Terrell Owens in single coverage.
“Oh, I love it,” Fewell said after the 31-14 win. “I told him, “You have some big gonads.’ And I told him as
long as he keeps hitting them, keep throwing them.”
Fitzpatrick has “big gonads” because his coach has “big gonads.” And it’s easy to have big gonads when there’s no real danger of getting them cut off.