The NFL is facing some problems. TV ratings are down. There’s a general sense that this year’s slate of games has been unexciting. There’s a constant tension between concerns about player safety and concerns that tough, physical play is being legislated out of the sport. Distrust between the owners and the players is at an all-time high.
So what has the NFL decided to crack down on? Celebrations.
Specifically, players celebrating after touchdowns, which for some reason the league has decided is a great offense that must be stopped.
All season long, NFL referees have been cracking down on “excessive” celebrations, and those stupid penalties reared their ugly heads again yesterday.
The first player busted by the league’s fun police was Washington tight end Vernon Davis, who picked up a 15-yard penalty because he mimicked shooting a basketball after scoring a touchdown. He didn’t taunt anybody, didn’t do anything vulgar, didn’t put on an elaborate dance, he just pretended to shoot a basketball, and for that he was penalized 15 yards. That is stupid. And to make matters worse for Washington, that 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff led to Philadelphia returning that kickoff for a touchdown. Is that really how we want NFL games decided? On touchdowns set up by celebration penalties?
Davis’s teammate, cornerback Josh Norman, spoke out last week about the crackdown on celebrations after he was penalized for mimmicking the use of a bow and arrow.
“Why can’t we have fun within the game?” Norman said. “It don’t even make any sense. It’s stupid in a way to a point where … like, who is running the ship? And why are we allowing things to happen like that that shouldn’t be? That’s kind of how I feel.”
Washington wasn’t the only team affected by celebration penalties, however. After scoring the game-winning touchdown for the Giants, Odell Beckham got a 15-yard penalty for taking off his helmet in celebration. That penalty nearly cost the Giants the game, as the additional 15 yards gave the Ravens good field position in the final minute. Fortunately for Beckham, the Ravens came up short, and the game ended with Baltimore throwing incomplete into the end zone.
Should Beckham know better than to take his helmet off in celebration? Sure. But why is that a 15-yard penalty? Who is it hurting?
NFL V.P. of Officiating Dean Blandino said earlier this season that the league has to crack down on celebrations or else players will take them too far. “Believe me, if we let this go, it will continue to grow and certain players will continue to try to outdo each other, and then it leads to other things,” Blandino said.
The NFL’s officiating department should have better things to worry about, and the league should allow players to have a little fun and celebrate after a touchdown. The rule should be that if a celebration delays the game, the player is penalized five yards for delay of game. If it doesn’t delay the game, a player should be free to celebrate. A 15-yard penalty for a mild celebration is ridiculous. Football is supposed to be fun, and the NFL forgets that at its peril.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday’s games:
What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers? Although Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer, the facts are the facts: He just isn’t playing well. He entered Sunday’s games dead last among the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks in completion percentage, and he turned in an ugly performance yesterday against the Cowboys. There haven’t been many times in Rodgers’ career that I’ve watched one of his passes and thought, “What the hell was he looking at?” But that’s exactly what I wondered when he threw an interception directly into the hands of Cowboys linebacker Barry Church yesterday. Rodgers’ completion percentage, yards per pass and passer rating last year were all career lows, and he’s even worse in all three statistical categories this year. Rodgers is simply not the player he used to be.
You can’t bench Dak Prescott. You just can’t. The flip side of Rodgers’ disappointing performance yesterday in Green Bay is that Prescott, the Cowboys’ rookie quarterback, remains outstanding. I wrote last week that Prescott is better than Tony Romo, and if anything I feel more strongly after watching the way Prescott carved up the Packers’ defense yesterday, even without the injured receiver Dez Bryant. The Cowboys claim Romo will return to the starting lineup when he’s healthy, but I simply can’t believe that. Hall of Fame quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Brett Favre both said during the TV broadcast of Cowboys-Packers that Prescott is too good to bench, and I agree with them.
Marcus Peters can intercept a football like no one else in the NFL. Last week, as he prepared to face Peters, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr made a special point of saying he would avoid throwing in Peters’ direction. And yet Peters, the Chiefs’ second-year cornerback, managed to get an interception off Carr anyway. Peters now leads the NFL with five interceptions this year, after leading the NFL with eight interceptions as a rookie last year. Peters now has 13 career interceptions in 21 career games. That’s incredible.
Case Keenum is actually not bad. Keenum, the Rams’ starting quarterback and placeholder for No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, had the best game of his career in Sunday’s loss to the Lions. Keenum completed 27 of 32 passes for 321 yards, with three touchdowns. Keenum may never be a great starting quarterback, or even a good starting quarterback. But he’s playing fairly well. The Rams have their share of problems, but Keenum is not one of them.
The Falcons got jobbed. On fourth-and-10 with less than two minutes to play and Seattle leading 26-24, Atlanta had one last chance. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw a deep ball to Julio Jones, who had a step on cornerback Richard Sherman but had to come back for the slightly underthrown ball. As Jones went to catch the pass, Sherman grabbed his arm. Jones wasn’t able to catch the ball, but it was clear pass interference. The Falcons should have had the ball, first-and-10 at the Seahawks’ 36-yard line, already in range for what could have been a long game-winning field goal. Unfortunately, the officials missed the clear penalty, and the Seahawks won the game. That was a terrible non-call by the officials, one that has the potential to affect playoff seeding for the Falcons and Seahawks. The NFL’s officiating department should start worrying about why pass interference is called so inconsistently, and stop worrying about celebrations.