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Brennan Quenneville

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When a yellow flag landed it was immediately clear what the call was going to be. It was also immediately clear that it was going to be the wrong call.

Detroit Lions defensive back Quandre Diggs had just leveled Tampa Bay’s O.J. Howard, causing a fumble that was recovered by Detroit’s Glover Quin. As broadcaster Ronde Barber predicted,1 Diggs was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play, his hit deemed a shot to the head of a defenseless receiver. As Barber also noted, this was the wrong call, mainly because the receiver wasn’t defenseless (per NFL rules) and because Diggs didn’t hit him in the head.

Every Monday I play beer league hockey with a bunch of physically underwhelming and tactically inept schlubs like myself. In our darker moments, when our utter lack of coaching and ability rears its ugly, toothless head our defensive schemes devolve into little more than puck-chasing. As defensive strategies go, this one tends to be disastrous. It’s also the technique that the San Francisco 49ers utilized in pursuing Tarik Cohen, the Bears’ diminutive rookie running back, as he scored one of the more remarkable touchdowns of the year.

Cohen’s brilliance on this play is undeniable. His speed, acceleration and agility are simply off the charts. He makes a cut at the 30-yard line that leaves Aldrick Robinson – a freaky fast dude himself – flailing his arms and falling way behind the play. The whole play, in which Cohen outmaneuvers an entire professional football team, makes for a reasonable facsimile of the “Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl” technique that shouldn’t work in real life and seems borderline unfair.

After Tyrod Taylor was his predictably solid self during Buffalo’s 16-10 defeat of Kansas City on Sunday, I was tempted to give this week’s Incompetence Trophy to Bills coach Sean McDermott for the second consecutive week because, again, what the hell was he doing starting Nathan Peterman in an NFL game? But McDermott at least didn’t make the same mistake twice and kept the overmatched Peterman on the bench in Week 12. Things were not so simple on the opposite sideline.

After absolutely shredding the Patriots in the season’s Thursday night opener, the Chiefs rattled off four more wins, looking like a league superpower as they cruised to a 5-0 record. Since then they’ve only managed to win one game and that came against a Broncos team that’s currently quarterbacked by a revolving crew of what appear to be three sentient mannequins. (This throw sums up what if feels like to have Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch as your team’s quarterbacks.)

Lookin’ good, Brock.

Despite an off-season filled with moves that seemed to indicate that Buffalo’s new front office was punting on the present in the hopes of building a better future, the Bills started this year with a surprising 5-2 record. Even after a puzzling loss to the Jets and an absolute thrashing at the hands of the resurgent Saints, the Bills were 5-4 and sitting in the AFC’s last playoff spot. Considering what was expected of the team heading into this season and that – as I am contractually obligated to tell you – the Bills haven’t made the postseason since 1999, it was hard to consider Buffalo’s 5-4 start as anything but a success.

Unless, apparently, you’re Sean McDermott, Buffalo’s first year head coach. After his team was pummeled 47-10 by the Saints, McDermott decided that the steady if unspectacular play of quarterback Tyrod Taylor simply wasn’t cutting it and instead inserted rookie Nathan Peterman (a.k.a. a guy that no one had ever heard of) into the starting lineup. It, um, didn’t go very well.

Thanksgiving isn’t until next week but it already feels like Christmas because this Browns season is the gift that keeps on giving. (Keep in mind that I write about NFL incompetence on a weekly basis. For Cleveland fans this season has been a lump of coal dropped in a pile of shit.) After a deadline-day failure to acquire quarterback A.J. McCarron from the Bengals, I assumed that the Browns had reached peak incompetence. And that may well be true as it relates to off-the-field decisions. On the field, though? They still have so very, very much to give.

That was a quarterback sneak on second down, from the 2-yard line with 15 seconds to go in the half and no timeouts left. It was an unbelievably, incomprehensibly, stunningly stupid playcall, which is to say that it was just about the Brownsiest thing that the Browns have ever Browned.

Everyone in the NFL lost their damn minds this week. The game-time action was beyond bizarre and included a lot of weird shit. I mean, look at this nonsense:

  • An offensive lineman recovered a fumble and then, as he pretended he was a running back, juked his way into another (helicopter) fumble.
  • Blair Walsh damn near kicked his way off of the Seattle roster with three straight missed field goals in a game his team lost by three.
  • The Giants and Cowboys allowed insanely long touchdowns when literally the only thing they had to defend against was an insanely long play.
  • Julio Jones – one of the best receivers of his era – dropped a wide open touchdown in a one-score loss.
  • T.Y. Hilton played dead to score an 80-yard touchdown. Seriously.
  • Adrian Peterson, left for dead three weeks ago, somehow carried the ball a career high 37 times.
  • After eight weeks of magic with Deshaun Watson, we were reminded that “quarterback whisperer” Bill O’Brien actually started Tom Savage – Tom fucking Savage – ahead of Watson to start the season.

Philip Rivers is a national treasure. He put bolo ties on the map, he’s got a whole freakin’ troupe of children and he makes the best damn faces in all of football, Mannings be damned. Because he’s never won, well, anything really and because he plays for a vagabond franchise, he doesn’t get the credit he’s due as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. It’s a shame that the Chargers’ incompetent ownership has squandered such a bright talent, wasting the prime years of Rivers’ career chasing profit margin instead of wins.

Then again, as the losses have piled up over the years, it’s not like Rivers himself has been totally without blame. He’s got a tendency to aggressively force the ball into tight windows, resulting in a fairly prodigious number of interceptions. Even in games where his teammates are clearly to blame for a loss, Rivers manages to inject some of his own flair into the proceedings.

Behold his majesty.

In a week when a player known for doing dumb/dangerous things did a dumb/dangerous thing, when poor grounds management almost blew out some ACLs, and when it took a bizarre weather phenomenon for the NFL to learn where they should put their broadcast cameras, it seems anticlimactic to point to a single play and say, “There! That’s some incompetence, right there.” But, my God, wait until you see this play.

To fully understand what we’re about to watch, you have to understand that being open in the NFL isn’t a binary thing; it’s more of a gradient. There’s “everyday receiver” open, there’s “I’m Julio Jones and I refuse to be covered” open and then there’s “no one is within 10 yards” open. Every once in a generation, there’s one more level and I like to call it “inexplicable, abhorrent, oh my God, how the fuck does an NFL defense even allow that to happen” open. Like this O.J. Howard touchdown catch:

Howard isn’t just open, he’s practically got his own field.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: an NFL team is on its way to a huge win when a goofy rule/blown call/dumb penalty costs said team the game. Always in the most infuriating way imaginable. Sounds familiar, right? Well, if it feels like we’re talking about asinine calls having an outside impact on who wins and loses every other week in the NFL, let me assure you, we are. This week’s disaster du jour befell the beyond terrible actually somewhat competitive Jets who, if we’re being honest, don’t need the league’s help in making their fans miserable.

In the play above Jets TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins appears to score a touchdown that would bring the underdog Jets in range for a shocking upset against their archnemesis Patriots. Naturally that’s not what happened. The touchdown was reviewed, as all touchdowns are, and not only was the score taken off the board but the ball was also awarded to the Patriots.

Seriously, what? We’re going to need to watch that video again.

Okay, so as he’s approaching and/or crossing the goal line, Seferian-Jenkins clearly loses the ball. He also, just as clearly, comes up with it after completing the catch.1 It’s what happens in the middle that sent Jets fans into hysteria. Since the call on the field was a touchdown, in order to overturn the call, referee there needed to be definitive proof that Seferian-Jenkins did not have possession of the ball when he went out of bounds. Definitive proof is exactly what the league’s officials determined that they had. So the Jets’ touchdown was wiped from the scoreboard and the ball was given to the Patriots at the 25 yard line.

Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence attended an NFL national anthem performance in Indianapolis. Typically, this would imply that he watched the football game that followed but in this ridiculous stupid maddening curious instance it does not. Because, as soon as the anthem – for which several visiting 49ers players kneeled – was over, Pence exited stage left and he did so with a purpose.

How the hell does something like this even happen? Well, the official story is that Pence, the former governor of Indiana, simply happens to be a devoted Colts fan attending a game that featured a ceremony to honor Colts icon Peyton Manning; upon seeing football players kneeling during the anthem, the vice president’s delicate sensibilities were so offended that he had to abruptly leave the game in protest. Of course, it would be hard not to notice that Pence chose to attend a game featuring a 49ers team that has consistently embraced the kneeling protest that their former quarterback Colin Kaepernick started, and also that Pence was able to release a pretty polished statement almost immediately after leaving the game. Along with some other info, this seems to indicate that this was a premeditated PR stunt. None of which addresses the fact that vice president is willfully misinterpreting the players’ protest: they’re not protesting the flag or the military, they’re protesting police brutality against African Americans, a fact not lost on the significant number of veterans who have openly identified Kaepernick’s behavior as being exactly the kind of thing they serve to protect.