The Wonders of Justin Tucker, One More Year of Cutler in Chicago, Crackdown on Taunting? How About a Crackdown on Flopping
Plus, the ridiculousness of last week’s Ravens-Bengals finish, the understated excellence of Michael Crabtree, and why somebody has to stop that Journey song from playing every frickin’ commercial break
1. A moment of Justin Tucker appreciation, the best kicker in the NFL by, at this point, a significantly wide margin. This was after the Ravens jerked him around a bit over the offseason, eventually giving him a four-year extension after Tucker said 2016 would be his last year in Baltimore if he had to play under the franchise tag.
Let’s use some fuzzy math to project just what Tucker, 27-for-27 on field goals (including 18 from 40-plus, and seven from 50-plus) and 15-for-15 on PATs, has meant for the AFC North-leading Ravens.
The league averages: 84.1% all field goals, 79.5% on kicks 40-49 yards, 53.7% on 50-plus, and 93.8% on PATs. If the Ravens had a league-average kicker, the following games would have been in jeopardy:
Week 2 at Cleveland: Tucker hits from 52, 49 and 41 yards in a 25-20 victory. If he misses one, the Browns (who instead were playing for a TD) would have been able to try a 47-yard kick in the final seconds to win it.
Week 3 at Jacksonville: Tucker hits from 43, 42, 37 and 54 in a 19-17 win.
Week 12 vs. Cincinnati: Tucker hits from 52, 57, 54 and 36 in a 19-14 victory. The Bengals (who lost a point when Mike Nugent missed a PAT), were down 19-12 and drove into the red zone in the final two minutes, needing a touchdown.
Conservatively, they lose one of those games without Tucker. And there’s a significant chance they would have lost two, making Tucker the difference between 6-5 and a division lead and 4-7 and a virtually assured non-playoff season.
Speaking of Ravens special teams…
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2a. The NFL will have to do something in light of last week’s Bengals-Ravens ending, which, while within the current rules, was, shall we say, not exactly in the spirit of the game.
In case you missed it, with 11 seconds left, a seven-point lead, and facing a fourth-and-8 on their own 23, the Ravens lined up to punt and then proceeded to hold every Bengals player. Sam Koch hung out on the backline for what was actually much more than the 11 seconds he needed, then stepped out of bounds for a safety.
The Bengals got their two points, but the game was over since there is no untimed down available after a penalty by the offense (which, until the kick, is what the punting team is). It was nine simultaneous holds throughout the play. It looked like Wrestlemania. (Or, as my dad would call it, “Wrasslemania.”)
Backing up a few weeks: In light of a hold-fest at the end of the first half of 49ers-Saints, ol’ friend Greg Bedard had reported that the league would be handing out unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and put time back on the clock for second violations of, presumably, things like play-wide holding, deeming them “palpably unfair acts.”
Of course, the problem with that is: How many times over a course of a game would a team pull such a stunt? Plays like that rarely happen once, let alone twice. I’m not really sure why there would be a need for a warning. Surely, between seven of the most-qualified officials in the world, plus the replay official, plus the line back to New York, officials should be able to properly rule whether or not a “palpably unfair act” has occurred, and then invoke the proper punishment (15 yards, reset the game clock to wherever it was at the start of the play). And if you do that once or twice, teams will get the message that, to win football games, you have to play football.
2b. Let’s not forget the real victim here: Koch, who was credited with a rushing attempt for -23 yards. He now sits 18,255 yards away from the all time rushing record, and at age 34, I’m not sure he has enough time to catch Emmitt Smith.
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3. Did you hear? Unconvincing flops aren’t just for World Cup soccer and Duke basketball anymore. And for that, you can thank Vontaze Burfict! Don’t feel too bad about how last Sunday ended for the Bengals, as they picked up a free 15 yards on this:
Officials get fooled by floppers all the time, across sports. (Though a quick heads up for any NFL officials who might be reading this column: When hit forcefully in the stomach or chest, throwing one’s arms above one’s head is not a natural reflex of the human body. Think of a boxing match. Have you ever seen someone fall that way in a boxing match?) But this can be taken care of by the league office. For all the absurd fines the NFL hands out, it should be easy to hammer floppers in order to discourage players drawing bogus, game-changing penalties. And, unlike the overzealous crackdown on taunting, legislating flopping out of the game would actually be good for the product.
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4a. We bounced this idea around on the podcast last week, but are the Chicago Bears really going to sever ties with Jay Cutler this offseason? Because it doesn’t seem like a very good idea.
Earlier this season, I wrote about the madness of a Cutler/Brian Hoyer manufactured QB controversy. And my point stands: Hoyer is the kind of guy who will get you 17 points every week, along with a bunch of empty-calorie passing yard totals. That’s fine if you have the Broncos defense, or Seattle’s or the ’85 Bears’. While the current Bears are getting better defensively, they’re not there.
Cutler is very bad at times. He’s also very good at times, like he was for most of the 2015 season (between injuries). But, most importantly, he’s on a team-friendly deal for 2017. The Bears can drop him and save $14 million. Or they can retain him for $16 million. Currently, that would make him the 19th-most expensive quarterback in 2017. And consider that the starters making less than him include a bunch of guys still on their rookie deals (Carr, Jameis, Mariota, Goff, Wentz, Dak, Siemian, Bortles), Kirk Cousins technically doesn’t have a deal in place (but he’ll demand far more than Cutler’s $16 million number), and Tom Brady is married to a supermodel with a net worth measured in nine figures and therefore plays for $14 million and all the free tube socks he can fit into the trunk of his Saturn. The veteran starters with smaller cap numbers than Cutler would have in 2017: Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton and (if he’s a starter) Robert Griffin III.
The Bears will surely draft a quarterback early next year. And it will surely be someone who needs development time, because it’s just not a very good group coming in. So Chicago’s options for 2017 are:
• Bring back Hoyer (at the risk of editorializing, ugh)
• Trade a king’s ransom in draft picks for Jimmy Garoppolo (EIU connection with Ryan Pace!)
• Pay a king’s ransom in money for Kirk Cousins
• Trade a draft pick for Tony Romo (another EIU connection… who probably isn’t interested in being part of a rebuild)
• Trade a draft pick for Colin Kaepernick?
• Try to pry either Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater (health pending) from a division rival?
• Roll the dice on Mike Glennon?
• Free-agent dumpster dive (Geno Smith? Case Keenum? Ryan Fitzpatrick?)
I get it, Cutler comes with plenty of baggage. He’s not the long-term answer. He can be wildly erratic on the field. He’s the real-life inspiration for Surly Duff.
Will they cut ties with Cutler this offseason? Maybe. But it doesn’t change the fact that he is the Bears’ most logical choice under center for 2017.
4b. Mike Glennon is going to be a fascinating free-agent case study. And I think Brock Osweiler is costing him a lot of money. Still, a front-loaded deal with a new regime in Jacksonville? A front-loaded deal with the Jets while they wait for Christian Hackenberg? Broncos while they wait for Paxton Lynch?
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5. Michael Crabtree is a tremendous player. He’s not in the Brown/Beckham/Dez/Green class, but among the second-tier guys I’ll take him for his sharp routes and, when he’s not able to create separation, ability to make contested catches. And I wonder if more people would appreciate him if he wasn’t branded as a “sorry” receiver. It’s another win for Reggie McKenzie. Crabtree’s deal is currently year-to-year (no guaranteed money left) in case he falls off in his early 30s. And if he doesn’t, he’s a tremendous value at $7 million, $7.75 million, and $8.25 million over the next three seasons. That’s Sanu/Cruz/Torrey Smith-type money.
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6a. I’d love to see the NFL take the same approach that the College Football Playoff committee does. Play a full season, then after the AFC and NFC title games finish, have a bunch of C. Montgomery Burns-types get together and award Super Bowl berths based in large part on preseason rankings. Here we are at Super Bowl LI, where the Carolina Panthers will square off against the Cincinnati Bengals. (And, of course, move the game to 4 a.m. on New Year’s Eve as to not interfere with the Rose Bowl. Because, y’know, those Rose Bowl folks have been awfully good to administrators over the years.)
I don’t know why college football conferences hold championship games. I mean, I do know why. But logically, from a competition standpoint, how can you have Ohio State, a team that didn’t earn one of the two spots in its own conference title game, be a lock for one of the four College Football Playoff spots? And if that’s the case, why should anyone, anywhere, care about conference championship games?
6b. I hate using rhetorical questions.
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7a. Every once in a while I address something very dumb in this column. And this is one of those times.
I dug deep on this with the help of my colleague Jeeves (I can ask him anything), and it seems that, no I don’t know if Derek Carr wears eyeliner or not. Carr told Dan Patrick “no” two years ago when he was asked point-blank.
My gut says I believe Carr. I’m sure he just uses mascara to add length to his lashes and a little bit of bronzer to bring out his cheekbones, just like the rest of us do.
7b. In all seriousness (because this is a very serious topic), I don’t believe Derek Carr puts on eyeliner for this reason: Putting on makeup is painful and uncomfortable and altogether horrifying, especially around the eyes. I used to do a regular spot on Pro Football Now, and they used to make me sit in makeup first in order to, in their words, “make you less difficult to look at.”
It was awful, and then I’d spend the rest of the morning trying to wipe it all off in the men’s room, but despite scraping my face with paper towels for 15 minutes uninterrupted, I could just never get all of it off. (So I started getting into the habit of running into the studio moments before my segment so I wouldn’t have time to sit for makeup. Soon after they went in a different direction.)
So anyway, no, I don’t think Derek Carr wears eyeliner.
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8. 2008 was a much different time. The Macarena dance craze was reaching a peak that, to this day, has not subsided. A postage stamp cost a severed human finger. Unlike today, when people were asked, “What year is it currently?” the answer was rarely “2016.”
But to me, 2008 will always been defined by Toyota’s “Saved By Zero” ad campaign.
I’m pretty sure that ad played during literally every commercial break during the 2008 NFL season. And I’m fairly certain the federal government installed speakers in the earth’s core, playing the song on a loop. The world begged Toyota to pull the ads. The New York Times wrote about it. So did some sports blogger from Boston.
So what’s the point of resurrecting our long-dead national nightmare? Because, unlike what Split Enz would have us believe, history is indeed repeating. Let me explain...
I’m a bit of an unusual NFL viewer. Because of our Sunday night podcast recording, I try to take everything in at once, Ozymandias-style, during the 1:00 and 4:00 windows. Between TV, laptop, iPad and phone, I get every game going at once, and I play the sound on all of them just in case I’m looking elsewhere when something big happens. (Fortunately, Gus Johnson doesn’t do NFL games. “And he SIGNALS FOR A FAIR CATCH AND HAS IT AT THE 43!”)
As such, I have now heard “Any Way You Want It” approximately 53 billion times this season. I enjoy a good mullet wig as much as the next guy, but enough is enough, Southwest Airlines. I get viscerally upset when I hear the words “So can I redeem my Rapid Rewards points at any time?” More importantly, it’s past time that we accept that Journey is a trash band whose saccharin pop rock has polluted our ear holes for far too long. (That’s right, I said it. And I will not be taking any follow-up questions.) So pull the ad, Southwest. Or just remake it with Dire Straits or Thin Lizzy or something. I really enjoy “Sultans of Swing.” It doesn’t matter whether or not the lyrics fit.
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9. “Nick,” Belichick said, “if I hire this kid and it doesn’t work out, I’m going to kill you.”
Your MMQB Read of the Week: Tim Rohan profiles Partiots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. (Or, as he’s known to most, “Beardo.”) How an aeronautical engineering grad from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute became Bill Belichick’s right-hand man.
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10. I think, at 12:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…
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