Best of Times, Worst of Times
Week 14 was the most exciting of the season so far, with records—and snow—falling all over and a blizzard-like finish in Baltimore. Sadly, though, it wasn't all fun and games, with a series of badly blown calls in key spots casting a shadow over Sunday
The envelopes, please.
Performance of the Year by a running back: Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, who ran through eight inches of snow in the greatest fourth-quarter performance ever by an Eagle back—11 carries, 148 yards, two touchdowns. How does he not slip when everyone else does?
Performance of the Year by a return man: Detroit’s Jeremy Ross, who returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns on that same snowy field. Running 98 yards in that stuff … can’t wait to see it set to some symphony by NFL Films.
Dreads of the Year: DeSean Jackson and the dreadlocked Louis Delmas went crashing into the deep end-zone snow in the fourth quarter in Philly—and Delmas’ black dreads came up snowy white.
Kick of the Year—and the Century: Denver’s Matt Prater, who told me he’d never tried a kick of 60 yards or longer in high school, college or the NFL, said he “tried to kill it” from 64 yards in the Denver-Tennessee game, on the last play of the first half in Denver. Right down the middle. Good. Four times in NFL history men had made 63-yarders, but never from farther. Via my Sports Illustrated friend Tim Layden, the man who set the record 43 years ago, Tom Dempsey, lives in a New Orleans retirement home now, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and was told about Prater’s record-breaking field goal late Sunday afternoon. “Must have been a great kick,” Dempsey said.
Hour of the Year: From 3:45 to 4:45 Eastern. When all heck broke loose, everywhere.
Explosion of the Year: In 14 games, NFL teams scored 88 touchdowns, the most on any day in the 94-year history of the league.
Injury of the Year: New England all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, lost with an ACL tear, crippling New England’s chances to win a fourth Super Bowl in the Belichick era.
Awkward Meeting of the Year: When Dan Snyder and Mike Shanahan pass each other in the hallway at work today. After a story appeared on ESPN Sunday morning claiming that Shanahan cleaned out his office at the end of the last season, expecting to leave his job in part because of the too-cozy relationship between Washington owner Snyder and quarterback Robert Griffin III, Shanahan’s team went out and laid a church-fart performance in the desolate pews at FedEx Field. Kansas City 45, Washington 10, and it wasn’t that close. I now do not wonder whether Shanahan will get a contract extension in Washington. I now wonder whether he’ll be working for Snyder at the end of Monday. There is no question Snyder will think the ESPN story was borne of the close relationship between Shanahan and Adam Schefter of ESPN, no matter what Shanahan tells him. Won’t be long before Snyder’s looking for the eighth coach of his stormy tenure.
125 Seconds of the Year: Here. Go to Baltimore. Look at them. Minnesota led 12-7 when it all began.
|4||2:05||Dennis Pitta, 1-yard catch||15-12, Ravens|
|4||1:27||Toby Gerhart, 41-yard run||19-15, Vikings|
|4||1:16||Jacoby Jones, 77-yard kickoff return||22-19, Ravens|
|4||0:45||Cordarrelle Patterson, 79-yard catch||26-22, Vikings|
|4||0:04||Marlon Brown, 9-yard catch||29-26, Ravens|
First 57 minutes: 19 points scored. Last three minutes: 36.
But you can’t write the story of an amazing Sunday without the four calls (and I’m probably missing one or two) that materially affected three games. As you may know, I’m not one to kill the umpire. Or the head linesman. Officials have a tough job, and if you read my three-part opus last week on A Week in the Life of An Officiating Crew, you saw that I have respect for the work they do and the difficulty of the job they have. The close calls, the bang-bang calls, the helmet-to-helmet stuff they’re trying to get out of the game … I get it. All good. And it’s a tribute to the greatness of football Sunday that I’m not going to spend half of this column berating crews in Philadelphia, New England and Cincinnati for indefensible calls that swayed the outcome of all three of those games. I said “swayed,” not “determined.”
But I am going to spend a few words up here on these calls. Because they stunk. And 345 Park Avenue needs to be concerned with the hue and cry of the fan right now, because the fan, mostly, is right. The missed flag on Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in the game with the Ravens on Thanksgiving night, when he was on the field during a real live play and two officials were right there, is one play. Just one. The Jeff Triplette idiocy in the Sunday night game in Week 13, when referee Triplette refused to call time even though two officials had a different down than he did and the game descended into chaos, that’s one too. On Sunday I saw four in very big moments.
1. At Philadelphia, early fourth quarter, Lions up eight, Eagles ball, 2nd-and-10 at their 45. A millisecond after Nick Foles released an incomplete pass, Detroit’s Nick Fairley, not using his head and not hitting above the sternum, plowed into Foles. Ref Ed Hochuli flagged Fairley for roughing the passer, a blown call for which he certainly will be downgraded by the league office. So, instead of the Eagles having a 3rd-and-10 at their 45, they had 1st-and-10 at the Detroit 40 … and LeSean McCoy promptly romped to a 40-yard touchdown. That made the score Detroit 14, Philadelphia 12.
2. On the very next snap in Philadelphia, Foles, attempting a two-point conversion pass, threw the ball out of bounds. No conversion. But hold on—Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh is flagged by umpire Richard Hall for holding Eagles center Jason Kelce. FOX ran it back three times. A hold never happened. A hold was not close. Hall blew it. The ball got moved a yard closer, and Bryce Brown ran in the two-pointer from the one-yard line. Tie game. A total, absolute gift of two points.
3. At Foxboro, Cleveland up 26-21, 40 seconds left, Patriots ball at the Browns’ 30-yard line. Tom Brady throws deep down the right sideline for Josh Boyce, into the end zone, with rookie cornerback Leon McFadden in coverage. There is light contact. Incidental contact. The ball falls incomplete. McFadden is flagged for defensive pass interference. The 29-yard penalty puts the ball at the Cleveland 1, and Brady throws the winning touchdown pass to Danny Amendola on the next play. That’s not interference in second-grade flag football, and here it could well have handed New England a win. Where did the flag come from? Why? How is that call made? TV color man Steve Tasker agreed. He called the call “horrible” twice and “terrible” once. Couldn’t have said it better.
4. At Cincinnati, late in the first half, the Bengals were up 7-0 when BenJarvus Green-Ellis dove for the goal line and appeared to be stopped short. In the last two minutes of the half, replays are initiated by the replay assistant upstairs, and that’s what happened here. The ruling on the field was that Green-Ellis was down by contact, from Indy nose tackle Josh Chapman touching Green-Ellis’ leg and causing him to fall short of the goal line. Triplette went under the hood. At NBC we watched the replay three or four times. Nothing there. The play would stand. Check out the video above. Almost certainly Chapman flicked Green-Ellis’ leg, causing him to fall forward, and his knees and thighs were down before he reached the goal line. Triplette overturned the call. He ruled a touchdown, saying Green-Ellis clearly had not been touched and could then reach the ball across the plane because he had not been touched down. We gasped in the room at NBC. Incredible. Jeff Triplette, for the second week in a row, made the kind of decision that makes the American public distrust, if not altogether hate, the officials who work these games. Triplette made a mockery of the term “indisputable visual evidence.” Later in this column I’ll explain why the league may go to centralized replay review. This call should be Exhibit A for it.