If the lockout hadn’t been resolved, we all would have spent Sunday enjoying an afternoon of late-season baseball, capped by an evening with the Emmys.
And then it would have been time to find a high building and jump off it.
Instead, we enjoyed the second of 16 Sundays (and one Saturday in late December) of NFL football, with enough story lines to make us even more grateful that the powers-that-be ultimately resolved their differences.
Here are 10 things we wouldn’t have been able to talk about at the water cooler if cooler heads hadn’t eventually prevailed.
1. Replay review needs a review.
For 2011, the replay rules have changed. All scoring plays are subject to review. But the review can’t happen unless and until the replay official determines that the referee should go under the hood.
On Sunday, several scoring plays that should have been reviewed weren’t, and some that shouldn’t have been reviewed were.
As to the latter point, the biggest glitch came when the replay official called for referee Mike Carey to take a closer look at the game-ending interception made in the end zone by Bills defensive back Da’Norris Searcy, who appeared to catch the ball before finding himself in a scrum with a Raiders receiver. The teams had cleared the field, and most of the crowd had cleared the stadium, when Carey confirmed what was obvious — there was no indisputable evidence on which the interception could have been determined to be a simultaneous reception, and thus a touchdown.
In New Orleans, running back Darren Sproles appeared to step out of bounds at the one, en route to a score. But the replay official didn’t call for a review, and thus a review never happened.
The Sproles play demonstrates the power that the replay officials now possess. On scoring plays and in the final two minutes of each half, only the replay official can initiate the process. As Raiders coach Hue Jackson learned the hard way after a Bills score with which Jackson disagreed, the coach has no ability in those situations to force a review — and trying to throw the red flag will result in a yellow flag being thrown against the coach in question.
Thus, the league must shore up the process by which the replay official determines whether to call for a review. Under the Instant Replay Manual, which is distributed by the league to Instant Replay personnel prior to the season, the replay official will notify the referee that he is to stop the game and begin the review process, if the replay official cannot confirm the ruling on the field. Though there’s no precise standard for determining whether the ruling can be confirmed by the replay official, the replay official shouldn’t substitute his judgment for the judgment of the referee. When in doubt, the replay official should give the referee a chance to look at the play.
We realize that the NFL doesn’t want to bog down the game with excessive reviews, but if the replay official serves as the gatekeeper at key moments and/or key junctures of a game, the replay official must do a better job of determining what does — and doesn’t — merit a closer look by the referee. Week Two proves that, in this regard, the NFL still has a long way to go.
2. Calvin Johnson rule still causes confusion.
One play that didn’t trigger a replay review involves one of the rules that seems to periodically arise. Called the Louis Murphy rule as of Week One in 2009 and renamed the Calvin Johnson rule since the first week of the 2010 season, the provision that determines whether a reception has occurred when a player goes to the ground while making the catch continues to confound fans and media alike.
Early in Sunday’s Chargers-Patriots game, New England quarterback Tom Brady connected with tight end Aaron Hernandez on a 14-yard touchdown pass. Hernandez caught the ball in the air, hit the ground in the end zone, and then lost the ball.
Based on the manner in which the league has explained (and, for 2011, clarified) the rule, the pass appeared to be incomplete. But the officials on the field ruled it a touchdown.
And, of course, the replay official didn’t call for a review by the referee.
Though the league privately contends that the ball was knocked out by a defender after the act of making the catch was complete, it’s a play that at least required a second look by the referee, given the confusion that has emerged over the past two years regarding this rule.
3. So much for protecting quarterbacks.
Sunday’s games included at least three hits on quarterbacks that didn’t drag flags — but that undoubtedly will draw fines.
After taking a low hit to the leg that resulted in a flag, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took another low hit, but no flag was thrown.
Ditto for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who absorbed an awkward shot to the lower leg that conjured memories of the Week One season-ending injury he suffered in 2008. Again, no flag.
And in the Sunday night game, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan suffered an obvious helmet-to-helmet hit from Eagles defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. Once again, no flag.
At a time when stellar quarterback play has made NFL football more exciting than ever, referees shouldn’t be holding their flags when the men who bring home the bacon are battered in ways that clearly break the rules.
4. Marino’s record has never been in greater jeopardy.
Despite the pass-happy nature of today’s NFL, Dan Marino’s single-season yardage record has stood for 27 years. This year, it seems inevitable after one eighth of the season has been completed that someone will throw for more than 5,084 yards.
Five quarterbacks currently are on pace to shatter the record. Tony Romo’s 687 yards project to 5,496. Ditto for Drew Brees, whose 689 yards translate to 5,512.
And then it gets ridiculous. With 713 yards in two games, Philip Rivers is on pace to throw for 5,704. Rookie Cam Newton has racked up 854 yards, which at that rate will become 6,832.
Then there’s Tom Brady, who has thrown for 940 yards — which becomes 7,520 if he can keep it up.
Surely, Brady eventually will see his numbers drop. But with 940 in the hopper, he needs to average only 296 yards per game over the next 14 to break Marino’s record.
5. Tarvaris Jackson should get a few more chances.
Not all quarterbacks are making assaults on the record books. Seahawks starter Tarvaris Jackson has presided over an 0-2 start, with middle-of-the-pack numbers.
But before Seattle fans start chanting for Charlie Whitehurst, keep in mind that the Seahawks have yet to play at home, where they are hard to beat. In Week One, Jackson pulled the team to within two points at San Francisco, before special-teams breakdowns spelled doom. Against the Steelers, no one expected the Seahawks to survive the onslaught of a team that had been embarrassed in Baltimore.
With the Cardinals and Falcons coming to town over the next two weeks, let’s see if Jackson can get it done. If he can’t, then it’ll be time to call for Charlie.
6. Cromartie becomes a versatile weapon.
After failing in their bid to lure cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to town, the Jets opted to bring back Antonio Cromartie. But Cromartie has become much more than a cornerback this year.
With Brad Smith gone, Cromartie is returning kicks and making cameos on offense. In Sunday’s 32-3 win over the Jaguars, Cromartie churned up 149 all-purpose yards via kickoff returns (85), interception returns (63), and a one-yard rushing attempt.
Though it remains to be seen whether and to what extent Cromartie will continue to be used on offense, his next contribution could come via yet another avenue: Cromartie can throw the ball 70 yards.
7. Chris Johnson isn’t earning his money.
Maybe the Titans shouldn’t have paid Chris Johnson, after all.
More than two weeks after he inked a four-year extension, ending a lengthy holdout, Johnson has done nothing to help the Titans win games. Held to 24 yards in Week One at Jacksonville and 53 in a stunning home win over the Baltimore, Johnson heard boos from the home crowd.
Though Johnson eventually will find his groove, he’s averaging 2.3 yards per carry, well below his three-year average of 5.0. If the Titans can find a way to hover near .500 until he wakes up, they could be a force in the AFC once Johnson plays like he did from 2008 through 2010.
8. Texans need to sit Foster until he’s healthy.
The fact that Texans running back Arian Foster aggravated his hamstring injury on Sunday proves that Foster shouldn’t have played so quickly after the last time he aggravated it.
This time, the Texans need to shut him down until he’s truly healed.
They don’t need Foster for now, given that Ben Tate has rushed for 116 and 103 yards in his first two NFL games. So let him sit and in turn get to 100 percent and take full advantage of Tate for as long as necessary.
9. Bills still have a long way to go.
We believed that the Bills could compete in 2011. But the fact that the Bills have won their first two games doesn’t mean that they’ll return to the postseason for the first time since 1999.
The Bills still have to show that they can compete with teams like the Jets and Patriots. And if the Bills can’t win the AFC East, they’ll need to box out at least one quality opponent in their own division or from the AFC North.
Besides, it can be argued that the Bills really haven’t beaten anyone. The Chiefs look worse than bad, and the Raiders can’t consistently win beyond the borders of the AFC West.
The first real test comes next Sunday, when the Patriots come to town, riding a 15-game winning streak against the Bills.
10. Dolphins have an even longer way to go.
The Jets, Patriots, and Bills have each won both of their games. The Dolphins have won neither.
And with Sunday’s loss to the Texans, the Dolphins have now won only one of their last 12 home games. Since December 27, 2009, the Patriots, Texans, and Steelers have each won twice as many games at Sun Life Stadium as the team that plays there.
The Dolphins now hit the road for five of their next six games. Which may not be a bad thing.
For coach Tony Sparano, things can’t get much worse. He said after Sunday’s loss to Houston that he has no answers. At this rate, owner Stephen Ross will eventually have only one question.
How long will it take you to pack up your things?