Thursday, September 27, 2012

Was Monday's Finish the Worst Call in NFL History?

The regular refs are back, but the scars of Monday night's debacle will linger.

Like most NFL fans, I've been consumed by the aftermath of the Packers stunning loss on Monday night -- lapping up all the news and analysis I can.  It occurred to me that what the media tried to characterize as a "controversial call" was anything but.  There was no controversy over that call.  Everyone knows it was a colossal screw up.

I have never, ever, in my 42 years of watching sports, heard such universal, unanimous, un-wavering agreement by everyone that watched a game that a call was botched.  I have yet to hear a single person defend it.  Hell, I haven't heard a single person even explain it.  The refs on the field Monday night certainly couldn't explain it.  The Seahawks fans can't explain it (every Seattle fan I heard call in to NFL Radio admitted it was a travesty).  Most Seahawks players like Marshawn Lynch have agreed that Seattle didn't win that game.  Golden Tate admitted he pushed off.  Even Pete Carroll can't defend it, offering on NFL Network one of the most talking-without-saying-anything explanations that "Whether they missed the push or not, obviously they missed the push in there, in the battle for the ball.  But that stuff goes on all time.  They see it, they don’t see it.  That happens with the official officials.  And so the result is they called it, the league backed it up, game over, we win."  Nice sportsmanship.  Dick head.

The only people, evidently in the entire world, who thought that play was a Seattle touchdown are side judge Lance Easley, who I think was just confused when he called it a touchdown on the field (back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn, standing two feet away, begged to differ -- as infamously captured in this photo), replay official Howard Slavin and referee Wayne Elliott.  I'm not sure which of these guys got cut by the Lingerie Football League, but it would be hard for any of them to make it even there.  The only thing more insulting than the call, was the NFL's statement in response, which acknowledges both the offensive pass interference and the fact a "simultaneous possession" call can be reviewed (and over-turned), yet at the same time declared the result final.

With such a preposterous conclusion and the hasty resolution of the referees' strike that it precipitated, it begs the question: was that the worst call ever in the NFL?  I did a little research on other notoriously bad calls, and here are the top 5 plays that would even be contenders:

  1. The Thanksgiving Day coin-toss where Jerome Bettis called tails but the referee heard heads.
  2. Jerry Rice's fumble (that was never called) in the '99 Packers-49ers wild card game.
  3. The infamous "tuck rule" game in which Charles Woodson's strip of Tom Brady was over-turned.
  4. The Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris
  5. The Seattle Sacrifice where M.D. Jennings was robbed of a game-winning interception which finally prompted the NFL to resolve its labor dispute.

I believe #5 is your winner for several reasons:

  • No other play (except the Immaculate Reception) decided the game -- they were all pre-cursors that set up the final play.
  • No other play had such indisputable visual evidence -- there wasn't even replay in 2 of the other 4.
  • No other play was so unanimous -- fans from opposing teams in each of these plays saw it differently.
  • No other play was officiated by replacement refs.
It's no contest in my opinion.  The only hopeful news from all this is that the Packers seem to be using it as motivation.  McCarthy, to his credit, seems to have moved on.  That was his, and Charles Woodson's, message to the team.  They can't dwell on this.  They need to get ready for the Saints.  We all can only hope that a one-game difference in record won't come back to haunt them.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The NFL Should Over-rule Their Own Refs

The "Monday Night Mugging."  Like all notoriously controversial plays, this play needs a nickname.  So it won't be forgotten.  So it goes down as a black mark, as an asterisk, in the annals of NFL history.

In fact, if the NFL has any integrity, they should retroactively change the result of the Packers-Seahawks game tonight.  The job of the NFL is to ensure the game is decided by the players on the field, not by the referees.  The League has taken a huge gamble, in the face of increasingly vocal criticism and ever-mounting evidence of ineptitude, by going with substitute refs.  And now it's blown up in their face.  Roger Goodell should be ashamed.  He better damn well be on the phone as we speak with McCarthy and Thompson and Murphy, and, by proxy, every Green Bay Packer shareholder, explaining what the hell he's going to do to make this right.

The brand of the NFL is tarnished by tonight's result.  That is the judgment of Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, Jon Gruden, Adam Schecter, and countless other commentators, experts and analysts.  I have never, in all my years of watching football, seen and heard such unanimous consensus that the officiating of a game was incompetent.

The focus has, rightfully so, been on the last play of the game.  But that was merely the most visible and consequential mistake of the night.  Arguably the more egregious blown calls were Erik Walden's roughing the passer penalty that negated a Packer interception, and the positively ridiculous pass interference call on Sam Shields that kept the Seahawks drive alive and changed the field position battle dramatically in the fourth quarter.  And there were numerous other missed calls, like Browner's blatant cheap shot on Jennings, that were just flat-out missed.  (By the way, Browner better get a fine for that hit.  Player safety, my ass!)

Short of Goodell picking up the phone and doing the right thing to change the outcome of this game (something I admit will never happen, by the way), and short of the NFL actually resolving this labor dispute and getting the real refs back (something that, by most accounts, doesn't sound imminent), the League must, must, must take measures to attempt to return a shred of integrity to this game:

First, they need to insist that referees confer on the field to make the on-the-field call to the best of their ability.  On the final play, one ref called it a touchdown and the other (who had a better view, by the way) called it an interception.  There was minimal conference or discussion, which places the onus on replay to overturn the ruling on the field.  I know the refs have been criticized this season for slowing down the pace of play, but having differing opinions by the judges on the field is absolutely unacceptable.  They need to force them to take the time to get it right -- even if it means games take 6 hours to finish.

Second, I'm sick and tired of coaches, players and fans trying to intimidate these referees.  Just like John Harbaugh's antics and incessant complaining in week one, Pete Carroll, I believe, influenced how these referees called the game.  I also think the crowd influenced how these referees called the game.  By any measure, this game was completely out-of-control.  The Seahawks had 14 penalties.  Players were pushing and shoving after every play.  It's just not fun to watch.  And, frankly, when the thing becomes a bar fight, it plays to the disadvantage of the organizations with the class and self-respect to play the game by the rules.  They should start ejecting coaches who come out on the field and players who start shoving.  End of story.  They have to clean it up, before players start getting hurt.

Third, they need to give these refs more support.  I would start by adding more officials on the field.  These guys simply don't have the skills, athleticism or training to cover the game.  They should have one ref watching each receiver because the pass interference stuff has been out-of-control.   They should also add more officials on cameras and replays.  Frankly, I would almost support the entire game getting called from the booth if they had enough cameras.  Let the officials on the field focus entirely on keeping things in control, but make the calls upstairs.  At the very least, the booth judges need to be more aggressive in over-seeing the officiating that's happening on the field.

My final thought on this outcome is that it was not only unfair for the Packers, but it was unfair for the Seahawks.  The Seahawks played a damn good football game.  Their defense was relentless -- totally knocked the Packers out of their rhythm, forced nine sacks in the first half, made the Packers one-dimensional.  Russell Wilson, who every Wisconsinite has a soft spot for, had a solid performance -- put his team in position to win.  But instead, what he'll be remembered for, at least in this game, is a freebie.  A victory that was stolen.  A result he didn't fully earn (and that certainly goes for Golden Tate, whose blatant push-off of Shields was un-sportsmanlike at best).  That's not fair to Wilson.  That's not fair to the players on either team.  And, most of all, that's not fair to the fans -- many of whom I suspect are starting to regard this season with the same asterisk as the 1982 players' strike.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The ABC(J)'s of the Packers Newly Dominant Defense

After a week of trash talking fueled by Jay Cutler's message to the Packers defensive backs wishing them "Good Luck, We invite press coverage. We invite man.", the Green Bay defense put on a performance reminiscent of the 2010 Super Bowl team.  Cutler, who understandably had swagger after a week 1 victory over a Colts team that went 2-14 last year, had a miserable night -- including 7 sacks and 4 interceptions, the first quarterback to achieve those marks in the same game since Patrick Ramsey ten years ago.  Ouch.

But what drove this Packer defensive resurgence?  Surely it wasn't just Cutler's bulletin board fodder.  When asked about it in the post-game press conference, defensive coordinator Dom Capers had a simple explanation.  "Well, a lot of it starts with A.J.  Of course, he needs B.J. to open things up for him at the line, and sometimes C.J. will shoot the gap for an overload."

Capers went on to explain, "In the nickel and dime, we'll usually pull A.J. and just go with D.J.  Then C.J. gets a breather and B.J. slides to nose.  Unless we want to blitz, then we'll keep A.J., drop D.J. into coverage and rely on B.J. to clog up the middle.  Or, if we need to shut down the run, we'll push B.J. and C.J. to the 5 technique and bring pressure up the middle with A.J. and D.J.  The nice thing is B.J. and C.J. are somewhat interchangeable, as are A.J. and D.J."

A.J., B.J., C.J., D.J. and some other guys whose names I can't remember because they aren't acronyms.

Asked where the Packers could still improve on their impressive defensive performance, Capers was quick to offer, "We need more guys like A.J., B.J., C.J. and D.J., of course.  Obviously, Brad Jones could really step up his game if he went with BJ2.  We've also been talking with M.D. Jennings to maybe go with just M.J. instead.  We've worked with Bush as J.B. but it just doesn't seem to stick.  We'll be looking to draft an E.J. next year, and, if we're lucky, an F.J. will pop up on the waiver wire."

Whatever the reasons, I want more of the defense we saw tonight for the rest of this year.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Packer Pilgrimage Part II

The last time the West coast branch of the Trigg family made it back to Lambeau Field was two years ago.  Our second pilgrimage to the cathedral of football began yesterday with a visit to the Lambeau Atrium.  We hit Curly's Pub for an early lunch and it turned out to have a special treat on the side.  Our 11AM arrival and prime position near the window of the second-story eatery directly over the player's parking lot provided us a birds-eye view of the players leaving their morning practice.  We saw Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Jeff Saturday, B.J. Raji, A.J. Hawk and many other players.

Then we tucked into the Packer Pro Shop with reckless abandon.  If you haven't been there, the place is a bit of sensory overload.  Hard to imagine any item one could need that isn't available adorned with a Packer logo, from grill covers to pick-up trucks.  We stocked up with, among other items, a B.J. Raji jersey, Clay Matthews Fathead poster, Packer license plate holder, Packer pint glasses, a Packer football, Packer football cards, the 2012 Official Packer Yearbook, and a pair of Packer puffy socks (gift for mom).

Our attack plan for the big day: tailgate, play flag football in the parking lot, roam the perimeter to take in that Lambeau ambiance, hit the Tundra Tailgate Zone, enter Lambeau early to watch the player warm-ups, get in our seat with a brat in one hand and a beer in the other, watch fly-over, enjoy Packer beat-down of the 49ers.  It's gonna be epic!

Friday, September 7, 2012

TriggPack is Back!

After a quiet off-season, I’m finally getting a late start on my fourth season of the TriggPack blog.  I didn’t manage to get my act together to post about the draft, or the OTAs, or the pre-season.  But the start of the regular season is just too damn exciting not blog about it.  I have so much I want to say!  So let me get to it.

Every season needs to start with predictions.  And, like last year, the Packers are a popular pick to win the Super Bowl among many of the leading NFL prognosticators – with good reason.  Let’s start on offense.

The Packers return one of the most prolific offenses of all time.  Captained by the NFL MVP, the Packers put up an average of 35 points per game last year, and all the pieces are there to put up similarly gaudy stats this year.  The Packers' passing game is simply ridiculous.  With the emergence of Jordy Nelson and an incredibly deep stable of receivers, the Packers will be almost impossible to stop.  Randall Cobb should be exciting to watch from the slot this year, and the Packers’ decision to keep a 6th receiver in Jarrett Boykin is very intriguing.  I’m waiting for them to roll out the offense’s equivalent of the defense’s “Psycho package” with 6 WRs, 1 TE and only 3 offensive linemen.  Sounds crazy, but I bet it would work.

The running game should also be improved this year.  I believe Cedric Benson is probably an upgrade over Ryan Grant (although I always thought Grant was a real class act).  People are down on James Starks and his turf toe will keep him out a while, but he’ll hit a game this year where he shows the pop he did in the 2010 playoff run.  Kuhn will provide the bulldozer when all they need is a yard, and Alex Green is showing great promise as well as a third-down back.  Once all healthy, this could be a dynamic group.

Really the only question mark on the offensive side of the ball is the O-line.  Bummer we lost Scotty Wells, but Jeff Saturday seems to have stepped in pretty seamlessly – as long as the 37-year old can hold up.  Marshall Newhouse at left tackle is a bit of a concern, but he’s showing signs of gaining the confidence and swagger that seems to be there on the right side with Sitton and Bulaga.  With only 2 other offensive linemen on the roster though, any injuries among the starters could be a real problem.  Hoping Ted is paying close attention to the waiver wire to see if there are any other veteran guys they can pick up, just in case.  But barring injury (always a big thing to “bar”), the offense should be outstanding.

The concern of every Packer fan is really on defense, which stank it up last year.  It’s easy to dwell on their 32nd ranking in yards allowed – a startling stat for sure, but that’s partly symptomatic of the fact that every team the Packers played had to pull out every crazy play they could dream of in a mostly (15/17ths) futile attempt to keep pace with the Packer offense.  To counter the kitchen sink that teams will throw at them, the Packers’ defense needs two major improvements over last year: a better pass rush and a deeper secondary.

First, the pass rush.  I’m not sold yet.  Nick Perry could be a perfect complement to Clay Matthews, but it’s an awful lot to expect a rookie moving from DE to OLB to make a big impact right away.  Matthews didn’t really emerge till about half way through his rookie season.  The defensive line also has a promising new prospect with the addition of Jerel Worthy.  But, he'll have to work his way into the rotation before we can expect much from him.  I would have liked to see a veteran signed to augment and help develop this bunch.  But with no obvious upgrades, we'll just need to hope Perry or Worthy can be this year's Matthews or Raji.

Second, the secondary.  Moving Woodson to safety is probably a good move, although that leaves Jarrett Bush or Sam Shields as the opposite corner – both of whom continue to have frequent missed tackles and disconcerting mental lapses.  Shields has been the defensive equivalent of James Starks – both incredibly gifted athletes who had a set of break-out performances during the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl run, only to have their confidence shaken the following year sending them into a sophomore slump.  The further additions Thompson made via the draft with Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian should help us a couple years from now, but, again, I worry it may be optimistic to really rely on these guys this season.

Bottom line: while the personnel focus is clearly, and appropriately, on the defensive side, Thompson’s “build-through-the-draft” approach may mean we have to wait a few years for these moves to pay off.  If Ted had made one high-impact free-agent signing on the defensive side, a la his very uncharacteristic Jeff Saturday pick-up, it could have made a big difference both this year and in developing the younger players.  Oh, well.  Not his way.  Thompson has always bet on youth, and his bets usually pay off.  So I remain hopeful these young guys can step up.

As for the season, the Packers have a fairly favorable schedule.  It’s hard to see them finishing worse than 10-6.  The Seahawks, Colts, Rams, Jaguars, Cardinals, Vikings (twice) and Titans all should be easy games – that gets them to 8 wins.  If they just go 50/50 against the tougher teams on their schedule (Bears and Lions twice, plus 49ers, Saints, Texans, and Giants) they’d be 12-4.

Winning the NFC North may be more difficult this year with the Lions and Bears both making improvements.  But after entering as the 6th seed and winning it all in 2010 followed by a 1st seed last year which resulted in a one-and-done playoff appearance, I almost wonder if securing home field is a dis-advantage.   The Packers are built for a fast track – not exactly Lambeau in January.  So just getting into the dance with a healthy team feels like a good place to end the regular season.  The first step happens Sunday against the 49ers – a game that I will have the pleasure of viewing in-person at Lambeau.  Can’t wait!  More to come on that soon.