(as picked apart by me, The Fix Is In)
And I think the NFL attempted to capitalize on it…with mixed results.
While liberal sportswriters (thrilled to be able to forcibly inject politics into their sports coverage) reveled in the players’ “unified” display against Trump, the fact is the players were far from unified. Some didn’t take the field for the national anthem, some stood and linked arms, some sat, and some kneeled (my wife, bless her heart, honestly asked if they were kneeling because they were praying. I responded by telling her they were all “Tebow-ing.”) while the majority actually stood at attention. Ben Roethlisberger, for one, regretted not taking the field for the anthem. That’s not solidarity. That’s a fractured display, and it explains why time and again the players’ union falls apart when renegotiating its Collective Bargaining Agreement with NFL owners.
The reaction from fans was somewhat mixed. Pregame show ratings were up this week, but actual game ratings fell (again) from just a year ago. Fans, by and large, didn’t appreciate the protests (and I think most actually don’t even understand what the players are protesting and why, which to me means it’s a poorly organized protest if the message is lost and/or misunderstood). Patriots fans booed their own team. Some even reacted violently, burning jerseys and memorabilia while vowing not to watch anymore. How many actually stick to that agenda remains to be seen. I mean, how many MLB and NHL fans who vowed never to watch again after their sports’ championships were cancelled have forgiven those leagues?
So the question is what are the NFL owners thinking? In a sense, they created this mess by (a) accepting the US Army’s money to originally force players onto the field for the national anthem, and then (b) not nipping these protests in the bud prior to it becoming a hot button issue nationwide. And while many players say they are expressing their First Amendment rights in doing this, they’re wrong. It’s not a First Amendment issue when their doing this on company time and during a company event. The First Amendment isn’t applicable then. What I think is happening—and I could be wrong here—is that this is part of a longer play by owners. They allowed the protests, and even took part in them, to both show solidarity with their employees (the players) while at the same time fracturing them further so that when the next CBA comes up (and it’s coming soon), they’ll have something else to negotiate. The players will ask for this here or that there, and the owners will counter by using these incidents against the players for the owners gain. Don’t forget, Trump owned the New Jersey Generals of the defunct USFL (which he hilariously called “small potatoes” in an ESPN 30 for 30 film) and many NFL owners contributed to his campaign. I think his comments were more loaded than most assume.
It’s amazing then that when the NFL was able to generate more eyes (initially) on its product this week via the controversy, NFL games suddenly got more exciting. Scoring jumped up. No more field goal-only games. Upset followed upset. The “London” Jaguars trounced the Ravens? The Bears upset the Steelers—in overtime no less? The rudderless Jets beat the Dolphins (so much for the hurricane effect)? The Bills upended the Broncos? The Redskins pummeled the Raiders in primetime? Who saw any of this coming? Maybe Vegas as all of these results generated a good deal of profit for the desert dwelling legal bookies.
For some Las Vegas bookmakers, yesterday was one of their most lucrative NFL Sundays ever: https://t.co/j7I7PPM1h0— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) September 25, 2017
But this sudden shift in excitement started even before Trump’s “sons of bitches” comment with the unlikely Thursday nighter played between the 49ers and Rams. For a game no one but the most ardent gamblers/fantasy fans had an even remote interest in, this game was ridiculous. The Rams put up a big lead, and the 49ers somehow, some way managed a comeback, but ultimately lost 41-39. Of course, the loss wasn’t without controversy as the referees screwed the 49ers during their final drive with one of the weakest offensive pass interference calls I’ve seen (and I did happen to see it live as it occurred). It was egregious enough for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to publicly comment on it.
Speaking of this game, somehow I wound up on the NFL’s PR email list. They raved about this shockingly non-stinker of a Thursday night game, writing in part, “The Thursday, September 21 Thursday Night Football thriller between the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams averaged a 4.4 HH rating and 7.4M total viewers on TV nationally (just NFL Network – not including OTA), up +18% and +22% respectively versus 2016’s average across the 4 TNF games on NFL Network only (3.8 HH and 6.1M viewers). Through two NFL Network +OTA exclusive Thursday Night Football games, total viewers (7.8 M) are up +27% versus 2016’s average across the 4 Thursday Night Football games on NFL Network only (6.1M viewers). The game, won by the Rams 41-39, was the highest scoring game in Thursday Night Football history (80 combined points) besting the 73 points scored by the Chargers and 49ers in Week 16, 2014. (Chargers 38, 49ers 35)....Week # 3 TNF viewership peaked at 8.5M viewers during the 9:30p-9:45p quarter hour.”
Of course, there was controversy to go along with all of this week’s action. Most notably was seeing the Lions get screwed (yet again) by questionable officiating in their 30-26 loss to the Falcons. Lions WR Golden Tate seemingly caught the game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left in the game. The NFL saw it otherwise because, well, when a catch is officially a catch is completely open to debate.
Meanwhile, Tony Romo continued to blow my mind as an NFL commentator. Seriously, if you get a chance, listen to him work. Once again he was calling plays before they happened in the Bengals v Packers game. Granted, he has a bird’s eye view of the action from the press box, but given that he would say, “audible out of that run because there is a run blitz coming!” and then the ensuing run play would go right into the teeth of the blitz is remarkable. Also, at one point, Romo yelled “he’s wide open!” on a Bengals pass play. He was 100 percent correct in his observation, but Andy Dalton didn’t listen. Instead of hitting his open man (who he looked directly at), he scrambled away from that side of the field to where no receivers were and was promptly sacked. The Packers, at home, came back and won in overtime (another NFL nail biter). Here's another typical example--
If Romo can see all of this, it makes me wonder two things (a) why can’t seasoned QBs see this as well and (b) why don’t other former QBs-turned-commentators like Troy Aikman, Phil Simms, and Rich Gannon as well as former coaches like Jon Gruden see these things? My opinion is that they all can, but (a) the on-the-field QBs are too caught up (or complicit) to audible and (b) the other commentators do see this stuff but are instructed not to say anything. I wonder how long Romo will be allowed to broadcast in the fashion he has been because his sense of the game not only puts other broadcasters to shame, it’s revealing in ways not everyone is catching on to.
Lastly, a fan (Joseph, I believe), altered me to the following video of Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin’s post game press conference. In it, he twice asks a mystery man off camera how to answer the questions the media asked. Now, I had another fan (Ron), wonder if teams/players were using Teleprompters during these post game Q&A sessions. I didn’t believe this was so, but after seeing Baldwin’s actions, I’m not so sure anymore. If the video doesn’t start at the right moment, the first incident is at the 6:43 mark, the second it at 9:40.
If you cannot hear it, Baldwin turns to the guy off camera and asks, “Am I allowed to say?” To which the guy (I believe) responds, “Richard [Sherman] talked about it. So did Michael [Bennett].” Wait, what? What does he mean, “Am I allowed to say?” Why wouldn’t he be? What happened to those “freedom of speech” protests at the beginning of the game? How often is someone standing alongside a player ensuring what’s said is allowed to be spoken? But the kicker was when the mystery man answers for Baldwin, who parrots his “We don’t talk about injuries” answer verbatim.
Many of you probably come here to have me point out which games the NFL may have manipulated each week. And while I could talk about how this week the Packers were on the receiving end of a few "bad calls" which cost them the game (while giving the Falcons a home win in the first game played in their $1.6 billion stadium...go figure) or how the Browns were shafted (again) in their game against the Ravens, I'd like to go in a slightly different direction this week.
I have good reason to do so -- I think we may be witnessing the beginning of the NFL's decline. The league actually has quite a few things going against it for once, and even "king football" cannot overcome and/or ignore all of these growing issues. First, there's the whole Colin Kaepernick thing. I have no doubt he's been blackballed by NFL owners (which, right there, should prove to those who doubt the NFL owners can come to an agreement about rigging their own games that they can indeed collude with each other). And not to dig into this thorny issue, but I have seen on Twitter and elsewhere that fans are protesting the league because Kaepernick isn't on a team, many of whom believe this is so because of his politics. This may be true. But I have to ask of those people protesting -- where does this end? If some team breaks down and signs Kaepernick, are you then satisfied? Even if he's a third stringer? Or do you then protest he's not starting? Do you protest until he wins a game? Or until he reaches the playoffs? Or wins the Super Bowl? What makes these protesters happy? Because the league now cannot win with these people. And as other players make similar gestures as Kaepernick has (such as the Seahawks Michael Bennett), the fans that despised his actions have more players to turn into villians -- and these are not the WWE-style villians the NFL wants -- which has created another group of fans who are basically counter-protesting by not watching as well. Good luck solving this, Roger Goodell.
The NFL has other issues as well. As I'm sure you're aware, the league is concerned with concussions and head injuries in general. They cannot and will not ever be able to prevent these. It is part of the sport. No helmet design or drug breakthrough is coming to save the league from this growing concern. And when fearful parents see what happened with Broncos WR Bennie Fowler on Sunday, more will push/pull their kids away from football for something perceived to be safer. Plus, players themselves cannot remain naive about this. The more these types of injuries infiltrate the sport, the more the talent level is going to drop, and the worse the NFL product is going to become.
And it's already bad. The Bengals have played two home games, yet haven't scored a TD. The Seahawks have scored only one TD this season which came against the lowly 49ers. The Panthers beat the Bills 9-3 (not a touchdown scored). Scoring in general is down, and the high-octane action the NFL desires is sorely lacking. Why? The biggest reason is quarterback play, and the NFL's prime stars are getting old. There's only so many games left in the likes of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Phil Rivers, Drew Brees and Eli Manning. When they leave, what QBs are the league going to fall back on? Cam Newton? Jameis Winston? Derrick Carr? They are not household names, and it will take some doing to make them such. Remember, the league's TV ratings are driven by quarterbacks. Without them, what are you left with? Running backs? When you see "star" Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliot quit mid-game, it has to make fans wonder -- especially when that player is appealing a 6-game suspension for domestic abuse (another problem the NFL cannot seem to avoid).
Does it help anything when the league tells its fans time and again it doesn't care about them? If they did, why are the Rams and Chargers playing games in LA? Why are the Raiders heading to Las Vegas? At least the fans in Los Angeles have been wise enough not to watch their "home" teams in person. But in Oakland, fans can't stay away. They seem to have forgotten the Raiders are leaving. If they wanted to send a message, Raider Nation would stay home as well. But winning seems to heal all fans' wounds...or at least postpone the inevitable hard feelings.
The television show that is the NFL cares not for these attendance issues. In fact, it cares little for anything. It doesn't need to. NFL owners make money hand over fist regardless of the quality of product it offers because fans are hooked on this drug. However, the NFL's reality programing is suffering from falling ratings. That is a small, but growing concern, even if it's not being acknowledged. All of these listed factors are in play. None can really be effectively solved. What trick can the league pull out of it's hat to not just lure fans back, but grow? International expansion will not do the trick. Faster games won't solve the issue. Perhaps legalized sports gambling would help, yet embracing that (as I'm sure the league will) would reveal more of the league's growing hypocrisy as it fought for years to prevent fans from openly gambling on its games.
The only remaining trick in the NFL's bag is the one discussed here -- game manipulation. Yet how often can the league have games being decided in the final two minutes or how many miracle comebacks like the Patriots in Super Bowl LI(e) can take place before even hardcore fans start to question game play?
Does it help when one of its newest broadcasters -- former Cowboys QB Tony Romo -- is calling plays before they happen? In both games Romo has been the color man for CBS, he has repeatedly told viewers the play coming before the snap. And he's right. Every time. It should make viewers wonder, "Well, if Romo can figure out what's coming, why can't anyone else?" Ask yourself that. Perhaps the NFL isn't that hard to figure out. And perhaps some of the players do know what's coming before a play starts. And if they do, then what's that mean about games being manipulated?
I'm going to try a little something different with this post this year. The format is going to change with the latest week being the first posted, and I'm going to skip the pictures, gifs, and videos (unless necessary to make a point). Feel free to let me know what you think -- good or bad.
Now let's get down to business...
I've said this in numerous interviews and podcasts, yet few show hosts seem to agree with me -- you can see NFL games fixed right in front of your eyes on your 60" HDTV screen, and the NFL will swear you didn't see what you just saw. Case in point? The end of the Eagles-Redskins game. Losing 22-17 with less than two minutes to play, the Redskins had the ball with the chance to win. On second-and-three, Redskins QB Kirk Cousins faded back to pass, and was hit as he released the ball. The refs on the field ruled it a fumble which was scooped up by the Eagles and returned for a touchdown. The play was automatically reviewed (as are all turnovers and scoring plays). Upon further review -- for those watching at home -- Cousins' "fumble" was clearly a forward pass and should have been ruled incomplete. Even the Eagles thought so as their defense remained on the field. Ah, but what did NFL HQ rule (because, remember, all instant replays are handled by the NFL in the New York City headquarters)? The call on the field stands -- fumble, touchdown, and game, Eagles.
I don't make this stuff up.
Elsewhere, the referees interfered with "America's Game of the Week," the Seahawks-Packers contest.Two calls cost the Seahawks 11 points, and considering they lost 17-9. those were important scores. In the first quarter, the Seahawks returned an interception for a touchdown. Except the points were taken off the board by two highly questionable penalties against the Seahawks -- an illegal block in the back (which was a block made against Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers), and more bizarre, an unnecessary roughness flag against Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane who was consequently ejected from the game. Why? Because he threw a punch. Against who? No one knows because despite FOX Sports having cameras everywhere, they could not produce a single image of this alleged punch. But they did capture Packers WR Davante Adams facemasking the-soon-to-be-ejected Lane -- a penalty which went unassessed on the play. Then in the third quarter, a clear pass interference penalty in the endzone by a pair of Packers DBs wasn't called. It should've given the Seahawks first-and-goal from the Packers one-yard line. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal, making the score Packers 7, Seahawks 6, instead of 10-7 Seahawks (or 17-7 Seahawks if the earlier interception return was properly officiated).Two plays, two subjective rulings, one altered outcome.
It's that easy.
Other notable games -- The Patriots lost their home opener during which they raised the banner on their (tainted) Super Bowl LIe victory. Could the wheels finally be coming off Tom Brady, his "diet," and the Patriots dynasty? The Steelers squeaked by the Browns (of all teams), thanks to some questionable officiating. If Ben Roethlisberger is serious about his retirement talk, perhaps the Steelers have a fast-track to the Super Bowl and the NFL can send another "legendary" QB off into the sunset with a championship. Despite Hurricane Harvey trashing the city Houston (and elsewhere), the NFL and the Jaguars (!) gave the Texans no quarter as they were thrashed 29-7. I said the Texans would need legitimate QB play to get the "help" they needed to profit off such tragedy. On Sunday, that did not happen.
And my favorite tidbit of this week came courtesy of Colts head coach Chuck Pagano (remember when the Colts were "Chuck Strong?") who said in his postgame press conference that they got their "ass" kicked by the 49ers. Only the Colts lost 46-9 to the Rams.
And even though I said "no pictures" above, I have to point out something. Check out the attendance at the home opener for the Rams in Los Angeles, followed by the 49ers in San Francisco. You don't think the NFL is more TV show than sporting event? If it truly was the latter, these tweets would be setting off alarm bells. Do you hear any?
The burning question on everyone's mind seems to be, "With Hurricane Harvey trashing Houston, will the NFL give the Texans a Super Bowl victory as they did the New Orleans Saints post-Katrina?" To that, I will say, "I don't know...at this point."
The NFL capitalized on the Katrina situation very quickly, using the rebuilding of the Superdome -- which was a focal point for the news media both during and after the storm -- as a basis to create its own "The Saints rebuilt New Orleans!" narrative. This, of course, was 99 percent hype with little basis on reality, but it sold well and somehow brainwashed NFL fans to root for the Saints whether they liked the team or not. After the emotional Super Bowl victory (handed to them by New Orleans native Peyton Manning), the Saints were trashed by the same league that made them via the Bountygate "scandal," and haven't been a credible threat since.
The Texans and Harvey do have a chance to be the sequel to that "true" story. Already, Texans star player JJ Watt has done a remarkable job of raising over $16 million (now $30+ million) in relief funds, however, his personal story has not became the NFL's story...yet. If it does (and if the Texans can get some legitimate QB play), then yes, perhaps the Texans will make an inspirational run towards the Super Bowl. This year may be too soon for that to happen (recall it took the Saints four years to get theirs), but aren't sequels supposed to repeat the original while amplifying its themes?
More to come...especially if Hurricane Irma trashes Miami in the next few days. Maybe Jay Cutler can have a redemptive arc in his story as well....