$.01--Another NFL week, another officiating controversy involving a critical play is unfortunately the lead once again. At least this time, nobody got hurt. Well, not Tom Brady anyway…
With under four minutes to play in Tampa Bay and the Buccaneers clinging to a 6-point lead against a spirited Atlanta Falcons team, the officials decided to make sure the home fans went home happy. An absolutely horrible, invalid, wrong, rancid, and critically important, outcome-altering, roughing-the-passer call against Falcons DT Grady Jarrett effectively ended the game.
refs called this roughing the passer on 3rd down and i genuinely do not know what Grady Jarrett could have done differently pic.twitter.com/VX6i0UpJiL— Christian D\\\'Andrea (@TrainIsland) October 9, 2022
“I don’t throw the flags,” Brady said after the game, and it was exactly as cheeky as it reads.
The man who did throw the flag was referee Jerome Boger. But watch the replay carefully and focus on Boger, who is in the backfield behind Brady. Boger did not reach for his flag instinctively. He took his time and thought about it before opting to penalize Grady Jarrett for doing exactly what the NFL begs defenders to do when sacking the quarterback.
Jarrett didn’t make contact with Brady above the shoulders or below the knees. He didn’t drop his weight directly on Brady. In fact, Jarrett deliberately forced Brady to land on top of him to avoid the weight-bearing penalty. Brady rolled out of that textbook tackle with Jarrett letting go just as the rulebook and the official instruction video the league itself produces demands that he do. Boger didn’t see enough to grab his flag. The umpire on the play did not throw his flag either. Yet at some point, Boger decided he saw roughing the passer.
There are three potential explanations, none of which are acceptable:
--Boger was told from afar, or by Brady, to throw the flag
--Boger changed his mind without consulting any other officials and after an inexplicable delay
--One of the NFL’s consistently worst officials decided a game with his ongoing incompetence. Remember, Boger fabricated a potentially game-altering roughing call one week earlier in the Ravens-Bills game.
In the end, the call stood and the Bucs racked up a divisional win they might not have earned. The game outcome wasn’t ultimately decided by the players, and that’s a very real problem for the NFL. When players follow the NFL’s own rules and still get penalized for the obvious benefit of a star player, that leads to some shady optics for the league.
$.02--The Green Bay Packers made their first-ever trip to England for Sunday morning’s Tottenham tipoff against the New York Giants. Based on how the game went, good luck getting the Cheeseheads back across the pond ever again.
Green Bay and New York played a tale of two halves in London. The Packers polished off a 20-10 halftime lead with strong play on both sides of the ball. It was the most comfortable Aaron Rodgers had looked all season with his passing targets, toying with the Giants defense and seeming in sync with his weaponry. Everything was a slog for New York’s offense, too. They did manage an important TD run by impressive rookie TE Daniel Bellinger, but Green Bay’s defense was doing well.
The second half was one Giant set forward for Daniel Jones and New York. The Giants ripped off two methodical, effective, inspired scoring drives encompassing 26 plays and over 15 minutes of playing time. Saquon Barkley looked fresh as a daisy, while the Packers defense wilted like an overwatered mum. It was a masterful game script design from rookie head coach Brian Daboll, and Jones & Co. executed it adeptly. Green Bay’s only points in the second half came on an intentional safety with the game in hand.
The Giants are likely the NFL’s biggest surprise 4-1 team. Daboll is pulling it off despite a receiving corps that rotates in and out of the medical tent by the half. Jones is playing with confidence behind a line that is growing together. It was the Packers making the critical mistakes and lacking cohesion, not the Giants. New York might be a bit ahead of schedule, but that doesn’t mean an imminent derailment is on the tracks.
$.03--There are no winless teams in the NFL after Week 5. Lovie Smith and his Houston Texans became the final team to put a mark in the win column, rallying to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 13-6.
Houston scored the game’s only points in the second half when rookie RB Dameon Pierce finished off a penalty-filled late drive with a TD plunge after one of the best grown-ass man runs of the season to set up 1st-and-goal.
Dameon Pierce just gave the world the most Marshawn Lynch-run we’ve seen since Lynch himself pic.twitter.com/P4SgY8ssDo— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) October 9, 2022
The Texans defense sealed the victory by picking off Trevor Lawrence in desperation mode, a Hail Mary that crashed to Earth about 20 yards shy of any prayer of being answered. It was the Texans second INT of the game, and the first is emblematic of why there’s some hope in Houston.
First-round pick Derek Stingley Jr. made a great read and jumped in front of a Lawrence throw into the end zone. While Stingley foolishly tried to run it out, Lovie will live with the impressive big play from his impressive rookie. Stingley registered seven tackles and two PDs, including the great pick. Second-round rookie DB Jalen Pitre led the Texans with nine tackles, another strong game from the versatile Pitre. Second-year LB Garrett Wallow played his best game, showing better awareness in coverage and swift anticipation skills.
Those are pieces the Texans can build around. They need a lot more, but Smith has his defense playing fairly well. Pierce looks like a home run as a mid-round pick on an offense that was led in receptions by lithe rookie Nico Collins (4 receptions, 65 yards). The progress of second-year QB Davis Mills has yet to reassure anyone yet, but at least there’s a visible path for Houston. Getting that first win this year helps shed some more positive light on that path.
$.04--Houston’s win shakes up the top of the current 2023 NFL draft order. In fact, the Texans aren’t even picking in the top five if the season ended today.
The No. 1 overall pick now belongs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yeah, those Steelers. Mike Tomlin’s undertalented Pittsburgh team sits at the current pinnacle of failure after getting bombarded 38-3 by the Buffalo Bills. Based on how bad things were on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to pin down where Pittsburgh might look if it keeps the No. 1 pick.
The Bills exposed everything. Josh Allen led the Buffalo offense to 554 yards on just 52 offensive snaps. That’s an absurd 10.2 yards per play. Think about that; every single time the Bills took a snap on offense, they averaged gaining a first down. Granted that figure was fluffed by Gabriel Davis and his 98-yard catch-and-run to kick off the scoring barely a minute into the game, but it’s still amazing.
The Steelers managed just three FG attempts in the game. Chris Boswell missed two of those. Pittsburgh’s RBs gained 44 yards on 16 carries. First-round rookie QB Kenny Pickett did about the best he could with the weirdly limited offensive scheme. Pittsburgh’s offense under OC Matt Canada is as reliably stale as last week’s bagel buffet. It’s too early to pass judgment on Pickett, but he doesn’t strike me as someone who can transcend a middling scheme or an underwhelming supporting cast. Pickett at least offers hope and fire in the belly, something the rest of the Steelers are weirdly lacking en route to the NFL’s worst mark (via tiebreaker) through five games.
Pittsburgh clearly misses defensive catalyst and reigning Defensive Player of the year T.J. Watt. His ability to create pressure and reliably make big plays covered up a lot of other defensive sins. Watt should be back later this year, and that might lift them out of the top spot. But assuming Pickett stays on at QB, the most obvious No. 1 pick is Alabama pass rusher extraordinaire Will Anderson. Figuring out how to get him and Watt to work together would be wildly entertaining, though they both play the exact same position in largely the same way. The Steelers probably need more variety than that to escape the first pick blues.
$.05--One of the other hats I wear is the managing editor of USA TODAY’s Lions Wire. Sunday’s game wound up being a very difficult game to cover, but not for any of the obvious Detroit football reasons.
On the opening Patriots drive, Lions CB Saivion Smith tumbled to the Foxboro turf in a heap after trying to jam Patriots TE Hunter Henry. It wasn’t initially clear what happened to Smith, who was making his first start of the season as a practice squad call-up. After FOX returned from an agonizingly long commercial break, we saw Smith being loaded into an ambulance on the field. Security spirited his family members onto the field to ride in the ambulance with Smith. It was heart-wrenching and incredibly rare to see that level of concern on a football field.
I know Saivion Smith a little. I got to spend about 15 minutes with him at a press conference and then a couple of private questions afterward this summer. He’s an ebullient guy, someone always smiling and dancing, trying to keep guys loose. He can ratchet up the intensity when needed though. I am not shy about rooting for Saivion Smith, he’s an easy guy to champion as a fringe roster player.
Alas, my job is to cover the football game. A completely miserable effort by the Lions didn’t make that any easier, but that’s nothing unusual for Detroit. The pall hanging over the game with Smith made that very difficult. I cannot, nor will not ignore the humanity of the players involved. Just as it was sickening to see how Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa got his brain injuries, burying the very real potential that someone suffered a potentially life-altering injury to focus on an otherwise dog of a game makes this job really damn hard.
Prayers up for Saivion Smith.
$.06--Two games on Sunday ended with the home team missing a critical field goal as time expired. Arizona’s Matt Ammendola was wide right from 43 yards, failing to tie up the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles. In Cleveland, rookie Cade York also pushed the ball wide right from 54 yards, cementing the Chargers’ 30-28 win.
The missed kicks will get the attention, and deservedly so. York was a fourth-round pick and instant cult figure in Cleveland with his booming range in training camp. In Week 2, York missed an extra point in a one-point loss. On Sunday, he missed two field goals in a two-point loss. That’s unacceptable, period. But neither kicker should have been in the position they were thrust into by mistakes from their quarterbacks.
In Cleveland, Jacoby Brissett threw a horrible red zone interception late in the game, an uncharacteristic aggressive mistake from the veteran. In Arizona, Kyler Murray slid a little too prematurely and cost the Cardinals a chance at either an easier FG or a game-winning touchdown. The lack of attention to detail plagued both teams as much as the faulty kicking. It’s the difference for both Arizona and Cleveland between having winning records and unsatisfactory 2-3 marks after five weeks.
$.07--Almost exactly 10 years ago, I went to my first--and so far only--Red River Rivalry game. I drove to the Cotton Bowl to check out Texas vs. Oklahoma in the historic rivalry game.
It was an underwhelming contest amidst the state fair atmosphere. As most Sooner fans can quickly rattle off, 2012 was “The Belldozer” game. QB-turned-superback Blake Bell rumbled for four TDs in a too-easy Oklahoma 63-21 win. What a difference a decade makes.
On Saturday, Texas got some pretty impressive payback. The Longhorns devastated the Sooners 49-0 behind freshman QB Quinn Ewers and a defense that quickly suffocated Oklahoma’s improvisational QB situation. With Dillon Gabriel out with a brain injury, Oklahoma opted to try backup Davis Beville and a lot of trickeration at quarterback.
Texas would have none of it. The Longhorns defense forced five straight 3-and-outs in the second half. On those five drives, Oklahoma netted minus-13 total yards of offense. It was akin to watching Alabama toying with its annual FCS tuneup fodder before the Auburn game. Complete domination.
The Longhorns looked good, no doubt about it. They were the physically superior team at every position, the inverse of a decade ago when Oklahoma was rising up and Texas was entering the thick of a poorly-coached period of overhyped malaise. The Sooners own descent into Red River sediment has been spectacularly rapid. Losing coach Lincoln Riley and QB Caleb Williams to USC has proven more catastrophic than expected. Oklahoma is 0-3 in the Big 12 and has allowed 145 points in those three games (Texas, TCU, Kansas State). Oklahoma looking like Murray State isn’t something anyone expected, but here we are…
--Many happy returns for Washington RB Brian Robinson Jr. The Commanders rookie made his debut on Sunday after missing time due to being shot in a carjacking attempt over the summer. This is pretty darn cool by the Commanders:
Video : pic.twitter.com/nq8AJs0yGK— Tré’Jan Vinson (@TreJan_) October 9, 2022
--During the first quarter of Sunday Night Football, I learned from Mike Tirico that the Bengals had not attempted a single kickoff return all season until Week 5. A quick check proved it’s true. Cincinnati, perhaps unwittingly, showing the kickoff-free future the NFL so desperately wants in the name of player safety.
--Justin Tucker’s game-winner on Sunday night was not even in question as soon as the Ravens got the ball back late. That’s how amazing Tucker is.
--Cowboys backup QB Cooper Rush keeps on winning, though Dallas’ triumph over the Rams in Week 5 is an excellent refutation of the notion of the “QB win”. Rush completed 10 passes for 102 yards, fumbled twice and missed a couple of key throws. It was Dallas’ dominant defense and special teams that ran over the Rams, 22-10. I suspect neither Jerry Jones nor Rush himself will complain…
--A lot of times there are complaints about broadcast teams. I’m as guilty of whining there as anyone, but I will proudly recognize good work when I hear it. Kudos to the FOX broadcast team of Kenny Albert, Jonathan Vilma and sideline reporter Shannon Spake. Their production truck let them down a few times, but their call of the Lions-Patriots game was insightful, objectively informative and cleanly communicated. It’s the second time I’ve been impressed with this crew this season.
--The Davante Adams-Taco Bell ads are fantastic. Good concept and Adams is a natural on camera.
--The more I watch Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker, the more I like his NFL prospects. He threw a couple of big-time NFL passes in the Vols’ weirdly easy romp over Kentucky. The arm strength and ability to operate on the move and off-script are growing more impressive by the week. Hooker has two primary drawbacks: he’ll be 25 as a rookie and he still gets wonky footwork from time to time that leads to mistakes. The improvement arc is still rolling despite his advanced age, and that’s a good sign.
--TCU held off Kansas 38-31 in a game that lived up to the College Gameday hype. One big reason was the play of Horned Frogs WR Quentin Johnston and his 14 receptions for 236 yards and the game-winning TD. Johnston is the early front-runner to be the first WR drafted and I have yet to find any reason not to make him the No. 1 receiver in the draft class as of yet. I’ll keep looking, but I don’t think I’ll find much not to like.
--Alabama barely survived Texas A&M in the battle of backup quarterbacks. Nick Saban extracts payback on Jimbo Fisher, but it wasn’t an inspiring win for the Crimson Tide. The Aggies\\\' final play is one that’ll generate angry fist shakes at clouds in College Station for a long time. And deservedly so.
--Incarnate Word is a real college. The FCS-level school in San Antonio is scorching its way through the Southland Conference on the wings of performances like this:
It was a record first half, yesterday, for UIW QB Lindsey Scott Jr.— NCAA FCS Football (@NCAA_FCS) October 9, 2022
🏈 7 passing touchdowns (ties FCS record)
🏈 401 yards#FCS x 📸 @UIWFootball pic.twitter.com/hkRT3upGU6
$.10--Aaron Judge and the HR record
Disclaimer before we even start here: I had no idea baseball’s regular season was ending. I watched more Big Ten women’s volleyball last Friday night than I’ve watched baseball cumulatively in the last five years. I was aware of who Aaron Judge is, but can honestly say I was unaware of his statistical feats until this week.
New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the year during the final days of the regular season. It’s an impressive accomplishment. Anyone who tops Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and the litany of hitters who have topped the 50-HR mark is worthy of acclaim.
Hitting 62 is amazing. But it’s not more than 73, and that’s the MLB record set by Barry Bonds. I know that because I am capable of math. Yet the baseball establishment and a fair portion of fans vehemently disagree with simple math, however.
Judge did not set the record, period. He didn’t even crack the top-five HR totals in a season. Just because baseball has a collective dislike for Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, or pretty much anything else that was entertaining about the sport in the 1990s doesn’t mean their accomplishments and records didn’t happen. Alas, some very loud pronouncements to the contrary try to ignore and whitewash the history we all watched with our own eyes.
The sanctimony with which so many baseball fans and analysts try to sell Judge as the record-holder is even more repugnant than the repudiation of what we all witnessed in the “steroid” era. Are we supposed to conveniently ignore that the pitchers were also juicing? Did we strip McGwire’s Cardinals or Sosa’s Cubs of any wins in games they played in, the way we took back Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy or vacated Final Four appearances for a few college basketball teams? Because if those games still count in the books, what happens in them must still count, too.
It goes beyond that. The purveyors of baseball purity bristle at the notion that Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in 1968 should not count because the mound was lowered and the strike zone changed the following year. Hogwash! Gibson used his natural talents and thrived even with the artificial advantage given to him--and all other pitchers. Do war-time records not count because stars like Ted Williams and Bob Feller were fighting Nazis instead of curveballs? Why not just project his stats had Williams been playing for the Red Sox instead of flying against the Red Baron of his time? That’s in effect what baseball has become.
And that’s why I’ll never intentionally watch another inning. I made it through this entire season without one iota of baseball in my life. Based on the unctuous distortion of reality of what constitutes baseball fans and media today, consider it a lifetime ban on baseball in my house.