Every week, the NFL gives us something rare or unprecedented. On Sunday, the post-game altercation between 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz was unprecedented.
But now that something like that has happened, will it happen again? The league’s reaction could go a long way toward deciding that.
Before going much farther with this, let’s shift from introduction to topic No. 1 in our 10-item look at the Sunday that was.
1. Where have you gone, Tom Landry?
Not that long ago, all coaches exuded a sense of dignity toward the game and respect toward each other. From Tom Landry to Chuck Noll to Bud Grant to John Madden to Don Shula, coaches didn’t treat each other like opponents in the main event of the next pro wrestling pay-per-view. Even when Buddy Ryan was coaching, he was the lone exception — perhaps along with Jimmy Johnson, the man who succeeded Landry in Dallas.
One G.M. who requested anonymity blamed Sunday’s scrum between Harbaugh and Schwartz on Buddy’s son, Rex Ryan, who has introduced a new era of big talking NFL coaches. From Rex to Josh McDaniels to Todd Haley to Jim Harbaugh to Jim Schwartz, more and more coaches are displaying confidence — and emotion — both in their words and in their actions.
It never became truly physical until Sunday, with Harbaugh exuberantly shoving Schwartz in the back and then Schwartz bumping Harbaugh. Given that the NFL liberally metes out discipline against players who misbehave, the league shouldn’t hesitate to make an example out of Harbaugh, who unwittingly started the problem by not dialing down the celebration when shaking Schwartz’s hand, and Schwartz, who deliberately finished it by chasing Harbaugh down and bumping him. Given that the example set by the NFL trickles down to all other levels of the sport, the league needs to make a strong statement that coaches who act like overgrown kindergartners will be dealt with swiftly and severely.
We personally like Harbaugh and Schwartz. But we don’t like what they did today. And we think that the league needs to quit talking about holding coaches to a higher standard and start actually holding them to a higher standard. If the league doesn’t, the bar will keep sinking lower and lower.
2. Niners could be in line for 12 or 13 wins.
Far more amazing than the 49ers’ 5-1 record is the fact that they’ve compiled that mark against a schedule that has included only one NFC West foe — and three games in the Eastern part of the country.
When the Niners emerge from their bye, they’ll face a slate of game that includes two against the 0-5 Rams, two against the 1-4 Cardinals, one against the 2-3 Seahawks, and contests against the Browns, Redskins, Giants, Ravens, and Steelers.
A 7-3 record in those 10 games translates to a 12-4 finish. Based on how the 49ers have played so far, they could win eight or even nine of their next 10 games. Which would virtually guarantee the No. 2 seed, at a minimum, in the NFC playoff field.
3. League needs to investigate Vick’s “injury”.
In the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Redskins, Eagles quarterback Mike Vick took off running with the ball. He absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit, before his head hit the ground.
Vick was motionless for a few seconds. When he got to his feet, with clumps of sod in the top of his face mask, a la Kevin Kolb in Week One of the 2010 season, Vick seemed a little groggy and disoriented. He eventually left the playing field, and Vince Young entered the game.
After Young threw an ugly interception on his first attempt, Vick suddenly was healed.
FOX’s Laura Okmin reported the team’s official position — Vick had the dreaded football condition known as dirt on his face (even though Vick uses a visor). Eagles spokesman Derek Boyko separately told PFT via e-mail that Vick also had the wind knocked out of him.
Sorry, but we think someone is throwing something other than dirt in our faces on this one. Given that Vick would have been prevented from returning to a game that the Eagles desperately needed to win at a time when the game was still in the balance, it’s hard not to be suspicious.
The league should be suspicious, too. And the league needs to institute procedures to ensure that, whenever a player leaves a game with “dirt on his face” or the wind knocked out of him or whatever cockamamie excuse a team may offer when the video suggests a possible concussion, there will be no doubt or suspicion about the player’s condition if/when he re-enters the game.
4. League finally gets it right with Burleson call.
Too many times over the past few years, catches in the end zone that appeared to be touchdowns ultimately were ruled not to be catches due to application of a rule that initially was intended to include within the definition of a catch those situations in which the ball touches the ground. Setting aside for now the wisdom of ever treating a catch as a catch when the ball makes contact with anything other than the player, the officials and the league office have had a hard time with this rule when the catch is made — or not made — in the end zone.
From plays involving Louis Murphy to Dante Rosario to Mike Sims-Walker to Lance Moore in Super Bowl XLV to Calvin Johnson to various other examples, the application of the rule has at times defied common sense and/or the language of the rulebook. The problem arises when the receiver is going to the ground. In such situations, the receiver must maintain possession through the act of falling. But when the act of falling includes breaking the plane of the goal line, the NFL has ruled at times (mistakenly, in our view) that the play ended as soon as the ball passed into the front of the end zone.
This year, the league has emphasized the element of time, treating such plays as valid receptions if the receiver who, while going to the ground, had enough time to make a football move, regardless of whether a football move is actually made. Fittingly, the NFL got it right not once but twice for the Lions on Sunday, via touchdown receptions made by tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who lost the ball only after clearly being on the ground, and by receiver Nate Burleson, who caught the ball and stumbled toward the turf and, in eerie similarity to the Calvin Johnson play from a year ago, lost possession of the ball when the ball struck the ground while in his hand.
During Football Night in America, the Johnson play from 2010 and the Burleson play from 2011 were shown side by side. Both looked like touchdowns. The fact that the more recent one was correctly ruled to be a touchdown shows that there’s hope that the league has finally figured out how to make the ruling mesh with the expectations of the average fan watching a game.
5. It’s Beck time in D.C.
The Shanahans supposedly love John Beck. Now that the guy who beat out Beck has landed on the bench during Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, it’s time to see what Beck can do.
Coach Mike Shanahan said he’ll make a decision on Wednesday. It would be shocking if the decision is anything other than Beck starting.
Grossman has had his chance. He played better than anyone thought he would play. But as we said back in early September, the guy who wins that job merely wins the right to lose it first. Grossman has lost it, and now we’ll see whether Beck can keep it.
If he’s as good as the Shanahans say he is, he will.
6. The trade deadline comes too early.
The NFL’s trade deadline falls roughly one third of the way into the regular season, far earlier than the corresponding date for the other major league sports. As a result, not many trades happen.
They don’t happen because teams aren’t ready to fold their tents after only six weeks, which for a dozen teams this year means only five games. There’s simply too much time left in the season to justify a fire sale, if the team hopes to keep its fan base engaged (i.e., paying for tickets and/or watching on TV).
And that’s precisely why the trade deadline comes when it does. If it landed a month from now, some teams would dump salaries and/or unload looming free agents they have no hope of keeping, sending a clear message to the fan base not to bother with rooting — and giving contending teams a chance to fatten up their rosters in the hopes of partially mortgaging their futures for a Super Bowl run.
7. It’s the Packers, a gap, and everyone else.
One thing we know through six weeks of the season is that the Packers are, without question, the best team in the league. They continue to look like the team that found its groove in the 2010 postseason, and it now seems highly likely that, barring an injury to Aaron Rodgers, they’ll be the top seed in the NFC.
Which mean that the road to Indy will wind through Lambeau Field.
Which means that the Packers could end up doing what no Packers team has done since the first two Super Bowls — winning back-to-back titles.
Given the way this team is playing, it’s not too early to start wondering whether the Packers could be the first team to win three straight Super Bowls.
8. Unlucky Texans still have a lucky draw in their division.
In coach Gary Kubiak’s make-or-break season, the Texans can’t catch a break. Linebacker Mario Williams is gone for the year. Receiver Andre Johnson is gone until further notice. They drew the Saints on the fifth anniversary of the reopening of the Superdome, the Raiders the day after Al Davis died.
On Sunday, Houston had to go to Baltimore to face a rested Ravens teams.
Next Sunday, the Texans go to Tennessee, to play a Titans team that is also coming off a bye week. Still, the Texans have to contend only with the Titans in the AFC South; the Jaguars and the Colts have a combined record of 1-11.
Though it would be ironic if the team that used to be in Houston keeps the team currently in Houston out of the postseason, the 3-3 Texans remain in great shape to win their first division title.
If they can take care of the Titans.
9. We’ll learn a lot about the Bengals soon.
Through six games, the Bengals have beaten the 2-3 Browns, the 4-2 Bills, the 1-5 Jaguars, and the 0-6 Colts. Cincinnati has lost to the 5-1 49ers and the 1-4 Broncos.
It’s still too early to tell whether the Bengals are for real. After their bye, we’ll get an idea.
The Bengals go to Seattle and Tennessee before facing in consecutive weeks the Steelers and Ravens. Then, the Bengals play the Browns, the Steelers again, and the Texans.
Those seven games will let us all know whether the first six games were a fluke.
10. Pryor suspension hurts the Raiders.
They possibly wouldn’t need Palmer, or any other veteran quarterback, if the league hadn’t suspended rookie Terrelle Pryor five games to start the season.
If Pryor, who arrived late in the preseason after the league dragged its feet on the scheduling of the supplemental draft, had been able to practice for the first five weeks of the season, Pryor could be ready to play. Given what Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have been able to accomplish as rookies, there’s no reason to think Pryor isn’t the real thing — or that he wouldn’t be ready if he had been able to prepare during weeks that he otherwise was frozen out.
If the Raiders can’t get Palmer or sign another veteran, they should try to get Pryor ready sooner. If, as Jon Gruden supposedly believes, Pryor has a higher upside than Cam Newton, it makes sense to start finding out what that upside is.