An exciting NFL season got even more exciting on Sunday, with a bunch of very good games, including two overtime contests, a do-or-die game in Minnesota, the return of Big Ben, and the sudden proliferation of hits to helmets.
As usual, we distill it into 10 takes.
You can read them all now, or you can read them all later. Or some now and the rest later. Or one only now and none of the rest. Or any combination you choose.
But if you don’t read all of it, you really won’t be truly up to speed on what happened on Sunday.
1. League needs to beef up rules regarding helmet-to-helmet hits.
The NFL has a problem. In a span of perhaps 15 minutes on Sunday afternoon, with a string of players taking blows to the head, the problem became as clear as it’s ever been.
At a time when the league has adopted an unprecedented and aggressive stance regarding the handling of concussions, the NFL needs to go the next step and take action aimed at preventing them. And the NFL can start by aggressively enforcing the rules regarding helmet-to-helmet hits.
Rodney Harrison of NBC’s Football Night in America has first-hand experience regarding the deterrent effect of a suspension. As Harrison explained throughout the evening on the air and in online videos, he budgeted money each year to pay the fines that go along with developing the reputation of being a big hitter. It’s a simple analysis. Big hitters make big money. So defensive backs who want to make big money need to regard the fines as a cost of doing business — and a price to pay on the path to getting paid.
Being involuntarily removed from the team sends a far more potent message. And Harrison explained that, for him, it worked.
If the league is serious about getting rid of these hits — and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, whose team lost receiver DeSean Jackson for likely several weeks, has openly called for the league to indeed get rid of these hits — suspensions become a critical tool for getting the message across to the players.
But there’s another tool that the league hasn’t utilized. Three years ago, the NFL instructed officials to begin ejecting players for flagrant helmet-to-helmet hits. Since then, not a single player — not one — has been ejected for a flagrant helmet-to-helmet hit.
In 2009, Panthers cornerback Dante Wesley delivered a forearm to the head of Bucs running back Clifton Smith on a punt return. The officials ejected Wesley on the spot. So why wasn’t Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather abruptly ejected after launching his helmet into the helmet of Ravens tight end Todd Heap?
But ejections and suspensions aren’t enough. The league should police coaching staffs to ensure that they’re not teaching techniques that would lead to unnecessary hits to the head. Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, in defending a blow to the head that resulted in a $15,000 fine for rookie safety T.J. Ward, seemed to admit that Ward’s conduct was a product of coaching. “You teach to hit them properly, the young man didn’t lead with
his head, he’s hitting him the way we teach him and then there’s a big
hullabaloo about this penalty but [heck] those guys need to shut up,” Ryan said.
“This is our team, they don’t coach our team. We do.”
The league also needs to consider banning all helmet-to-helmet hits involving receivers and ball carriers, defenseless or otherwise. Browns receiver Josh Cribbs was knocked out of Sunday’s game after taking a helmet to the ear hole. Under the current rules, the hit was legal. Ditto for the hit absorbed by Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. But if the goal is to reduce and prevent concussions, the league needs to explore this issue more carefully.
We realize there’s a point at which helmet-to-helmet hits are unavoidable. As Mark Schlereth of ESPN pointed out via Twitter after I (a/k/a “this dude” a/k/a “T-bone”) made the case for getting rid of all helmet-to-helmet hits during the Sunday night postgame show with Bob Costas, offensive and defensive linemen routinely bang hats. Also, football at full speed will involve contact between helmets without intent.
We’ll defer to the league when it comes to coming up with a way to distinguish the cases when helmet involvement is incidental, and when a helmet is being used as a weapon to strike another helmet. Either way, Sunday’s action proved that, whatever the league is doing to address this problem, the league isn’t doing enough.
2. Favre doesn’t need to worry about getting suspended before Sunday.
Plenty of people are confused about the posture of the Brett Favre investigation. The fact that he’s meeting with NFL V.P. of security Milt Ahlerich on Tuesday doesn’t mean that discipline will be meted out during or upon that meeting.
Ahlerich is merely gathering facts; the decision on discipline will be made by someone else, presumably Commissioner Roger Goodell. And since suspensions imposed during the season are finalized by Tuesday of a given week, this means that Favre won’t be suspended this week.
For next Sunday, that’s good news for the Vikings, because it means that Favre will be available for the prime-time showdown in Lambeau Field between Minnesota and Green Bay.
The fact that other steps may be involved in the investigation and that Favre has appeal rights means that the process will continue to linger for several more weeks, perhaps even longer.
3. Jerry Jones should hire a G.M.
Many NFL fans assume that Jerry Jones is a meddling owner. In reality, he’s the General Manager of the team.
Of course, he got that title because he bought the team and appointed himself to the job. At the time, he had zero credentials for the job. Since then, he has developed 21 years of experience.
But that doesn’t mean he’s a good General Manager. Or that he should continue to be the G.M.
Jones won three Super Bowls with teams influenced heavily by the efforts of former coach Jimmy Johnson. After Johnson left and the roster he built dissipated, the team struggled until Bill Parcells turned things around. But Jones apparently prefers not to have to deal with a strong-willed head coach who aspires to run the show. As a result, Jones is content to stick with Wade Phillips, if it means that Wade Phillips will let Jones run the team the way he sees fit.
But with 15 years and counting since the team’s last Super Bowl appearance (and a 13-year gap between playoff wins that ended last year), Jones should seriously consider turning the personnel function over to someone who worked his way up through the ranks performing the various thankless jobs and honing his skills to a high level. Jones can still be a meddling owner if he wants; the team would be better off over the long run if it had a true G.M.
4. Trade deadline should be moved.
Every year at this time, we’re amazed by the fact that the trade deadline comes so quickly. And, invariably, we argue that the trade deadline should be moved deeper into the year.
And, inevitably, no one listens.
Though the league likely wants to avoid baseball-style fire sales that could kill attendance and ratings for a downtrodden team over the rest of the season, the team will continue to be downtrodden with or without a fire sale. Why not give a bad team a chance to get better down the road by selling a key player in exchange for draft picks or other value?
Currently, a deadline falling one day after the completion of Week Six prevents many teams from leveraging a rare good player into some help for the future. Most teams are still alive, and it would be ludicrous to throw in the towel now.
As it now stands, it’s likely that a trade or two will pop up between now and Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET. Chris Mortensen of ESPN suggested on Sunday that the Cowboys could move running back Marion Barber, who rushed for 31 yards in 10 carries against the Vikings. (If traded to the Packers, he’d face the Vikings in two straight weeks.) The Redskins could still try to trade defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who was deactivated Sunday night even though he believed he was ready to play.
If the deadline came four or five weeks from now, there would be more possible moves. Unless this crazy season of parity continues to keep a bunch of the teams packed together.
5. Cowboys get burned by celebration rule, again.
Last week, the Cowboys absorbed a 15-yard penalty when tackle Marc Colombo tumbled to the ground after bumping chests with tight Jason Witten after a game-tying touchdown late in an eventual loss to the Titans. The eventual loss was fueled by the return that came after the 15 yards were applied to the ensuing kickoff.
NFL V.P. of officiating Carl Johnson defended the decision by explaining that it’s a bright-line prohibition. “The rule is pretty clear and explicit,” Johnson told NFL Network’s Rich Eisen. “Going to the
ground as part of a celebration, it’s pretty black and white — it’s
clear, we don’t allow a player to go to the ground as part of a
So, of course, the officials allowed Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to go to the ground after scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. No flag was thrown.
It’s possible that Peterson’s gesture was intended to be a prayer, which as we pointed out in the Week Five mailbag may or may not be OK. Given Johnson’s explanation regarding the situation from the Titans-Cowboys game, it sounds like it’s not OK, especially since Johnson said that the officials “can’t judge intent.”
If that’s the case, Peterson should have been flagged. Cowboys fans therefore have a legitimate beef.
6. Niners take their name literally.
The fact that the San Francisco 49ers finally won a game this year should be good for the ongoing employment of coach Mike Singletary.
Undermining his status? In the second quarter, the Niners lined up for a field goal. With only nine men on the field.
Once the problem was spotted, a time was out called. Then, Singletary opted not to try a 51-yard field goal. So the 49ers punted from the Oakland 34, and the ball went into the end zone for a net gain of 14 yards.
7. Vikings suddenly are back in the thick of things.
In addition to avoiding a plunge to 1-4, the Vikings’ victory over the Cowboys thrust Minnesota into the thick of things in the NFC North.
With the Bears losing at home to the Seahawks and the Packers losing at home to the Dolphins, the Vikings have now tied the Packers in the loss column — and the Vikings are only one game behind the Bears in the loss column. (The Lions lost, too.) With two games to play against each team, the Vikings firmly control their destiny.
Their first crack comes next week against the Packers on Sunday Night Football.
8. Does anyone want to win the AFC West?
As the Chargers continue their annual early-season struggles, there’s good news.
They’re not alone.
Every other team in the AFC West lost on Sunday, dropping the Chiefs to 3-2 and the Chargers, Raiders, and Broncos to 2-4.
And yet one of these teams will go to the playoffs — and also will host a playoff game.
Meanwhile, the Colts and the Texans each won in Week Six, moving them to 4-2. Barring a tie on Monday night, either the Jaguars or the Titans will join the other two AFC South teams in a three-way tie with a better record than any team in the AFC West.
9. Eagles need to stick with Kolb.
It’s fitting, we suppose, that Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb has performed well in Mike Vick’s absence, delivering two wins and two triple-digit passer ratings (103.3 against the 49ers and 133.6 against the Falcons). Kolb’s numbers as good as if not better than the numbers generated in Vick’s two starts after Kolb’s Week One concussion, and this would all be a bigger deal if Kolb were a fallen star who had been imprisoned and then spent a year in football purgatory while searching for skills that by all appearances weren’t coming back, until they suddenly did.
It was Kolb’s job and he lost it to a hot quarterback while injured. Vick got injured, and Kolb got hot. So now Kolb should get his job back.
The fact that coach Andy Reid has said that Donovan McNabb would be the 2010 starter and he wasn’t and then said that Kolb would be the starter and he isn’t only reinforces the possibility that the guy who’s now supposed to be the starter may not be.
10. Bucs aren’t ready to contend.
Despite a gaudy (for them) 3-1 record entering Sunday’s game against the Saints, the Buccaneers aren’t legitimate contenders.
The 25-point loss to the Saints confirmed what the team’s 25-point loss three weeks ago to the Steelers plainly established. Though capable of beating teams that aren’t very good, the Bucs aren’t ready to compete with the NFL’s elite.
Tampa’s team is much better than it was a year ago, but there’s a long way to go before this team will return to a consistently elite level.