The Tuesday Stew: Replacement Refs, Packers, Seahawks, Drew Brees and More
Welcome everybody to the newly revived NFL Soup Tuesday Stew, where I’ll include a little bit of everything in pro football on a weekly basis. Though the overall format may change on a week-to-week basis, I’ll generally review the NFL week that was and its biggest games and stories, include some absurdly awesome stats, and end with a thought-provoking rant.
Week 3 in the NFL brought perhaps the craziest football action we will ever see in a two-day span. There were upsets galore, miraculous plays, mistakes abound, rain storms of penalty flags, a courageous performance and the most controversial call since the Immaculate Reception.
With all that being said, here’s what I’m serving up in this week’s stew:
Ten Takes On Week Three
1. Torrey Smith
Not enough can be said about his character and resiliency, playing for the Ravens on Sunday night against the Patriots with the heaviest of hearts, less than 24 hours after his younger brother Tevin was killed in a motorcycle accident. The emotions he displayed were understandable given the circumstances, but the way the rest of the team supported him and rallied around him was a memorable moment.
Smith’s performance was one to remember, catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, both coming on spectacular catches in the end zone. This was perhaps the greatest performance of his young and promising career. As I was watching him play Sunday night, it reminded me of when I watched Brett Favre play on Monday Night Football the day after his father died. How both of them were just able to play, let alone the way they did, were performances both courageous and truly transcendent.
Smith is an exceptional young man, and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as he goes through this difficult time. I look forward to watching what appears to be a great career ahead of him.
2. Justin Tucker’s Field Goal
The winning play of the Ravens 31-30 win over the Patriots Sunday night has been met with controversy on whether or not it was actually good. Patriots players and coaches protested the ruling of a good field goal right away, demanding it at least be reviewed by replay. First off, field goals are not subject to review. According to former vice president of officiating Mike Pereira on FoxSports.com, “There isn’t any technology at this point that can show precisely when the ball is directly over the upright.”
There shouldn’t have to be; there’s an official standing directly under the upright looking up to see if the ball goes through. Plus, as play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said during the game’s broadcast, “the uprights extend through the heavens.” The ball going over the upright is the same as the ball crossing the goal line–it has to break the plane.
Justin Tucker’s game-winning 27-yard field goal was good and correctly called so on the field.
3. Bill Belichick’s Post-Game Grab
Following Tucker’s game-winning field goal and the Patriots subsequent protest, Belichick chased down one of the replacement referees and yelled to get his attention. When that failed, Belichick went as far as to grab the replacement referee. He claims it was to get clarification of the call on the field goal and he meant no disrespect by it. Regardless, he will likely be fined for his actions, especially since Broncos head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio were fined for verbal comments about the replacement referees.
4. Vikings Upset 49ers
The Vikings shocked the 49ers in the Metrodome, winning by an impressive score of 24-13, and solidifying their decision to draft quarterback Christian Ponder in the first round of last year’s draft. Against a defense that gave his two more-recognized division rivals, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, four quarters of trouble, Ponder held his poise and turned in perhaps the best performance of his young career. He was 21-of-35 passing for 198 yards and two touchdowns, but more importantly, no interceptions. Additionally, Ponder ran seven times for 33 yards, including a 23-yard score, and his offensive line never allowed a sack. What helped the Vikings do what the Packers and Lions couldn’t was the utilization of a ground attack, early and often. Adrian Peterson’s 25 carries for 86 yards may not be numbers that jump out at you, but his running gave the Vikings offense balance, and didn’t allow the 49ers defense to strictly play the pass.
5. Lions-Titans Instant Classic
Lost in the NFL’s major headlines of Week 3 was the shootout between the Lions and Titans. This game featured multiple streaks of unanswered points by both teams, with touchdowns both memorable and miraculous highlighting the craziness of this game.
The Titans led 20-9 at halftime before the Lions scored 18 straight points to take a 27-20 lead. But the Titans responded with three long touchdowns in less than six minutes to hold a 41-27 lead with just over a minute left.
Then, things got ridiculous. Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill–taking over for an injured Matthew Stafford–connected with Calvin Johnson to cut the Titans lead to 41-34 with 18 seconds on the game clock. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Lions, which gave Hill one final prayer to heave. The Hail Mary throw into the end zone was tipped and caught by Titus Young, and a Jason Hanson PAT forced overtime. There were a total of 46 points scored in the 4th quarter alone between both teams.
Rob Bironas’ 26-yard field goal in the extra period gave the Titans the lead. Then, the defense stuffed the Lions on a fourth-and-short in the red zone to win a game that should go down as an instant classic.
6. Jamaal Charles
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles put on an amazing show for the Chiefs offense, sparking their comeback over the Saints after being down 24-6 in the 3rd quarter. They called on him 33 times, and he answered with 233 rushing yards, including a 91-yard touchdown. He also caught six receptions for an additional 55 yards. Charles was the catalyst of the Chiefs comeback, carrying the team to victory. To show exactly how great he was on Sunday, his 288 combined yards matched the total yardage output of the entire Saints offense. Simply amazing.
7. Cardinals Now 3-0
Don’t look now, but the Cardinals are 3-0 and have a one game lead in the NFC West. Dating back to last season, they have emerged victorious in 10 of their last 12 games, relying on a relentless defense and mistake-free offense. And they’re 3-0 after playing some pretty solid competition, beating the Seahawks, Patriots and Eagles. Their next four games are against the Dolphins, Rams, Bills and Vikings, and it’s very possible that they could be 7-0 by then. If the Cardinals are going to be a serious contender this season, how they fare against the 49ers, Packers and Falcons in Week 8, 9 and 11, respectively (they have a bye Week 10), will give us real indication. Speaking of the Falcons, they are 3-0, as are the Texans.
8. 4th Downs vs. Field Goals
I mentioned above that the Lions were stuffed in overtime on a fourth down in the red zone, giving the Titans the win. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz claims they were trying to draw the Titans offsides, but that was not the case. They were in a perfect position to tie the game in overtime (due to the new overtime rules) at 44 apiece, which then would have made it true sudden-death overtime. When the Titans defense saw the Lions lining up to go for it, they likely knew they were going to try to draw them offsides. The Lions should have just taken the points.
Another example of this was in Sunday night’s Patriots-Ravens game. The Ravens were in field goal range in the fourth quarter down 30-21 and failed to convert a first down when they went for it on fourth-and-short. They did this rather than taking the three points and narrowing the deficit to within one position. Also, why Ray Rice wasn’t on the field during that play is something to wonder. But, in that situation, going for it and not getting the first down are the decisions and mistakes that come back to haunt you. Granted, the Ravens pulled off the win, but for awhile it looked like the decision to not attempt the field goal was going to come back and haunt them.
I understand wanting to be aggressive by going for it on fourth down, but in situations like these two, where the game is, or could be, potentially on the line, you have to take the points. Those three points could end up being the difference between winning and losing.
9. Final Play Of Packers-Seahawks
Well, the replacement referees finally decided who won and lost a football game.
Now, though I am upset (read: livid as all hell) as a Packers fan for the way Monday Night Football ended, it is my job and responsibility to deliver an objective, unbiased analysis of the play and the ruling on who had possession of the football in the end zone when the clock expired. And the tape does not lie.
Video of the final play is here. I will reference what happens in the following paragraphs.
Down 12-7, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a final desperation pass into the end zone, where receiver Golden Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings fell to the ground, fighting for possession of the ball. As they lay on the turf, still wrestling over the ball, one replacement referee calls it a Seahawks touchdown, while the other replacement referee gives a signal that would indicate a Packers interception (picture here).
The call on the field was ruled a touchdown. After official review, it was still ruled a touchdown. However, it is clearly, and indisputably, an interception.
After Tate blatantly pushed off with two hands on Packers cornerback Sam Shields (an offensive pass interference that was never called), Jennings caught the ball, cradled it against his body with both arms, while Tate got only an arm in on it (picture here). The rule of simultaneous possession would not even apply here, because Jennings was clearly the only one with true possession of the football (picture here). Tate, by rule, is unable to achieve simultaneous possession with Jennings because Jennings had clearly established positive control and possession of the ball.
Yet, even after reviewing the play multiple times to confirm or reverse the call, the replacement referees ruled it a touchdown for the Seahawks, giving them a victory, albeit a controversial one, over the Packers, 14-12.
10. Week 3 Replacement Referees
After last Monday night’s debacle with the replacement referees during the Broncos-Falcons game, I went off on Roger Goodell and the owners in a strongly-worded rant, declaring that the NFL had lost its legitimacy. After Monday night’s Packers-Seahawks controversy, it would appear that I was a week too soon.
Luckily, my NFL Soup colleague Kevin Roberts also criticizes the NFL, breaks down the game’s last play, which is, to just about everybody in the country who is not on the Seahawks or a Seahawks fan, “the worst call ever” due to the replacement referees’ horrible gaffe (both on-field call and official review) on who had possession of the ball. The article is definitely worth a read.
However, Week 3 of the 2012 NFL season and its replacement officials featured many more bad calls, mistakes and lack of knowledge of the rules than the headlining Packers-Seahawks ending. Here are some of the bigger errors from this week’s games:
-On the Seahawks second to last drive, a defensive pass interference was called on Shields, who was defending Sidney Rice. However, though there was pass interference, it was Rice, not Shields, who committed the foul.
-Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner leveled Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings to the ground for no reason and was never flagged. It was once Jennings retaliated to the uncalled for and unsportsmanlike move by Browner that they were both penalized.
-Russell Wilson threw an interception deep in his own territory late in the fourth quarter, but the turnover for the Packers was negated by a very questionable roughing the passer penalty. Wilson smiled when asked about the penalty after the game.
-Aaron Rodgers claims that during the Packers two-point conversion attempt following their go-ahead touchdown, the replacement referees did not replace the usual kicking ball for the PAT with a regular football.
-The Patriots-Ravens and Packers-Seahawks games each had a total of 24 penalties between the opposing teams. Now, roughly half of these flags were thrown correctly, but the other ones, especially for pass interference, were just flat-out wrong and inconsistent.
-The helmet-to-helmet hit that Steelers safety Ryan Mundy laid on Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey sent Bey straight to the turf where he had to regain consciousness before being carted off the field. There was no flag thrown for the helmet-to-helmet hit.
-The replacement referees for the Chiefs-Saints game caused a delay of game on their own while calling a delay of game penalty against the Saints for taking consecutive timeouts. A team is not allowed to take back-to-back timeouts, and it took an extortionate about of time for the replacement referees to figure that out.
-Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree slipped on a replacement referee’s hat in the end zone that he threw to mark that a player had stepped out of bounds. Though Ogletree was not hurt, the potential for a serious injury was there, and one has to wonder why the replacement referee couldn’t have thrown the hat in a different area.
-The replacement referees in the 49ers-Vikings game wrongly gave the 49ers two extra challenges when they were out of challenges and timeouts. Although this didn’t end up costing the Vikings their win, the worst part about it is the replacement referees admitting the mistake after the game ended.
-The replacement referees in the Bills-Browns game originally were going to let the Browns challenge a ruling of a runner being down by contact. However, moments later, the replacement referees announced that challenging the ruling of down by contact was non-reviewable due to the on-field call. But, Pereira said on his Twitter account that challenging a play that was ruled down by contact is actually reviewable.
-In the Lions-Titans game, the replacement referees helped put the Titans in a better position for their overtime field goal that would end up being the difference. The replacement referees were assessing a helmet-to-helmet penalty on an overturned catch by official replay review. The ball was suppose to be marked from the line of scrimmage, which was the Titans 44-yard line. But, the replacement referees confused 44-yard lines and marked the penalty from the Lions 44-yard line, giving the Titans 12 extra yards of field position in addition to the 15-yard penalty.
Aside from the frequency of penalties and their inconsistency, especially on pass interference calls, the replacement referees are causing games to drag on longer, due to the fact that they have to consult the rules on penalties, reviews, etc. It’s slowing down the game, especially when everything the replacement referees don’t know, the regular referees already know, thus not resulting in huge delays to determine the rules. That, and the regular referees know how to deal with the coaches and players and keep control of the game, an attribute the replacement referees visibly lack.
The evidence of the replacement referees incompetence was beginning to stack more and more against them, but Sunday’s games as a whole gave enough reasons to prove that the NFL needs the regular referees back. Now, after Monday night’s fiasco on primetime national television that robbed the Packers of a win, there’s no defense Goodell and the owners can use for the replacement referees. Though they may still lock-out the regular referees, the backlash is going to increase, especially with former players (and has already began to do so) to a degree that may force the NFL to make a change.
It may be wishful thinking and it may take more time, but after Monday night, America has seen the mess the NFL has become with the replacement referees. There is no possibly way for Goodell and the owners to justify their actions that are ruining football.
Three Absurdly Awesome Stats
1. Saints quarterback Drew Brees extended his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 46 against the Chiefs. He is now one game short of tying Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas’ record of 47 games (more on this below). The Saints next two games are against the Packers and Chargers.
2. Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbled for the first time in his career during Sunday’s game against the Redskins. Until then, he had touched the ball a total of 590 times without putting it on the ground.
3. The Titans became the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns of 60+ yards in a single game. Tommie Campbell channeled his inner Kevin Dyson and returned a punt 65 yards for six points, Jake Locker and Jared Cook connected for a 61-yard score, Darius Reynaud took a kickoff return 105 yards to the house, Locker hooked up with Nate Washington for a 71-yard touchdown, and Alterraun Verner returned a fumble 72 yards all the way to the end zone.
I tip my hat off to Drew Brees and his accomplishment of being one more game and touchdown pass shy of tying Johnny Unitas’ record of 47 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass. With the way the Saints offense operates, Brees has a very good chance of setting a new record, possibly one that will be out of the reach of Tom Brady’s current streak of 35 games.
However, I want to put this all into perspective, and truly acknowledge the greatness of Unitas. His streak began December 9, 1956 and ended nearly four years later, on December 4, 1960. In that era of football, offenses and the passing game were not nearly as sophisticated as they are now in today’s NFL. Unitas helped change that, being the model for today’s quarterbacks, and is still considered one of the greatest of all time to play the position.
Yet, as offenses evolved and began relying more and more on the arms of their quarterbacks, Unitas’ record continued to stand. Some of the other all-time greats didn’t even come close to matching Unitas, until Brees now, over 50 years later. Guys like Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning didn’t even break 40 straight games.
So as impressive as it is that Brees has gotten this close to Unitas, and as impressive as it will be when Brees likely breaks that record, what Unitas did should never be forgotten. To have a touchdown pass in 47 straight games back when the NFL wasn’t a quarterback driven, pass first league, and have it stand for over 50 years, is a feat that should truly be commended.