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.
Dumbest play call of the year goes to Hue Jackson. QB sneak from the 2 with 15 seconds before half and no timeouts. pic.twitter.com/3XMCetOdWG
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.
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 bestdamnfaces 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.
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:
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 ridiculousstupidmaddening 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.
A week after benefitting from the institutional incompetence of the Detroit Lions1 the Atlanta Falcons found themselves on the other side of a victory-swinging cock-up against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. When Bills defensive lineman Jerry Hughes tackled Matt Ryan from behind in the third quarter, the ball was jarred loose and returned by Bills corner Tre’Davious White for a touchdown. The Bills would ultimately prevail over the Falcons by six points so this touchdown was absolutely the difference in this game. The problem, of course, is that replays clearly show that Matty Ice has incredible finger strength: the ball may have shifted in his hand but he never lost control until his arm was moving forward. That means that this was an incomplete pass and that the Falcons absolutely got screwed. But this – the most recent example of the never-ending fumble vs. incomplete pass shitshow – is boring NFL incompetence. We can do better.
In a week where the most important NFL action was taking place on the sidelines and where seemingly every game exploded into a cacophony of madness at onepointoranother, the Detroit Lions elected to spend Sunday afternoon honoring their proud heritage of failure and losing in the most heartbreaking way possible.
That the Lions, long one of the NFL’s greatest laughing stocks, would lose to an Atlanta Falcons team that – if only temporarily – held a huge lead in the Super Bowl just last season, is not surprising. It’s the manner of Detroit’s defeat that made this loss so particularly painful. After trailing all afternoon, the Lions marched down the field and appeared to take their first lead of the game with only eight seconds left on the clock as Matthew Stafford found Golden Tate on a quick in-route at the goal line.
The play, ruled a touchdown on the field, was subject to video review, as are all touchdowns. Replays of the play made it clear that there was certainly room for debate as to whether or not Tate was down by contact just short of the goal line. That no single camera angle showed conclusive proof that Tate is both down and touched by an opposing player before crossing the goal line – the latter portion being an important aspect of “down by contact” – did not stop the officials from overturning the on-field ruling and taking Detroit’s touchdown off the board.
While Lions fans were certainly aggrieved at this first portion of the revised ruling, it was no fresh experience; after all they’ve witnessed, “long-suffering” is the default epithet for all Lions fans. Luckily for Detroit, the Tate non-touchdown was a third down play, meaning they at least had one more shot for a victory on fourth down.
Former CBS announcer Phil Simms always seemed a little overwhelmed by the idea of talking intelligently about football games. This wouldn’t have been a problem had it not been the literal definition of his job. Instead, Simms and the countless other broadcasters and ex-players who get paid thousands of dollars to talk about the football in real time have long portrayed the intricacies of NFL strategy as being not only unknowable to the average, dunderheaded football fan but also beyond the comprehension of pretty much anyone alive save the coaches actively involved in the game.
For a long time – and with only a few exceptions – this broadcaster incompetence has been the name of the NFL color commenting game. Whether it was due to stubborn network loyalty or the NFL vastly underestimating the cognitive abilities of its fans, Simms and his similarly bumbling colleagues never had to answer for their ineptitude. The NFL, a multi-billion dollar enterprise whose business model revolves around televised sporting events, seemed content with the clowns that they trotted out as announcers, refraining from upgrading the televised aspect of those all-important sporting events. In a nationally broadcast example of the Peter principle, Simms seemed likely to announce games until the end of time, infuriating fans all the while.
Then Tony Romo showed up in the booth and blew that shit up.
If you were looking for proof that the beginning of the NFL season is filled with disastrous, sloppy football then by the end of Sunday night you would’ve had a lot of material to work with: the first full day of the season included blown calls, botched punts and a handful of memorable brokenplays. None of that, though, measures up to the peak of NFL incompetence that was on display in Week 1. I am talking, of course, about review-tablet-holder-guy.
The official NFL review booth is a dude holding a tablet that looks like a miniature review booth.
This utter nonsense involved a living, breathing human being used as a replacement for, I don’t know, a fucking table? A goddamned tripod? Literally any flat surface? The whole thing is even more egregious when you realize that, in order to look at the tiny screen being held before his eyes by some poor, wayward NFL pleb, the referee is completely ignoring the massive, high definition jumbotron that’s lurking right over his shoulder.