Tag:Green Bay Packers
Posted on: January 10, 2013 1:44 pm
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NFL '13 Divisional Picks

Aerial Artists vs. Mercury Men

Why two Conferences in the NFL? The simple answer: two places from which to draw our Super Bowl combatants.

Another might be is that they serve as good starting-point for League schedulers.

But what you may not realize it that the Conference alignment is a quaint reminder of the NFL’s tumultuous past when lucky fans in the 1960s enjoyed something called competition, i.e., AFL v NFL.

Even after the merger was complete (’70) each Conference retained its own distinct philosophy on how the game should be played, a variation that lasted well into the 1980s.

Thanks to football innovator Sid Gilman (SD ‘60-71), the AFL / AFC offered it’s fans a more wide-open game where QBs often aired-it-out and “matriculat(ed)” like nobody’s business, as opposed to the NFL / NFC who would still operate largely by the ‘3 yards & a cloud of dust’ modus operandi until Don “Air” Coryell landed in St. Louis.

I thought the homogenization process was complete but then I took a gander at this weekend’s slate of Divisional match-ups and spotted something I hadn’t seen for years, something that harkens back to those days of choice.

In this round of Division play the AFC displays a plethora of pocket-passers with Schaub & Brady, Flacco & Peyton calling the signals. No fear-flight tendency from these guys. They’ll hang tough, work their progression, read defenses, make mobile to avoid pressure, take hits on late release and avoid downfield pops by handing the ball off to rostered muscle-men who get paid to run up field.

Over in the NFC it’s a different animal where the full spectrum of mercurial quarterback play is offered up for fans to feast upon.

Matt Ryan: stand-tall, pocket passer with forward mobility but the good team-sense to slide when he gets a nice chunk (141 YDS on 34 ATT, 1-2 runs per game (RPG) );

Aaron Rodgers: pocket passer extraordinaire who likes the occasional up-field scamper to satisfy his inner Steve Young and occasionally pays the price (259 on 54, 3-4 RPG);

Russell Wilson: latest in wave of run-QBs but shows willingness to polish pass skills and curtail the fear-flight pattern in favor of air option (489 on 94, 6 RPG / 26TD-10 / 64%);

Colin Kaepernick: typical flash-QB with big arm but rabbits quick & often, seeking to carry the load like the single-wing tailback of leather helmet days (415 on 63, 9 RPG / 10TD-3 / 5RTD).

Hail Caesar!

I love history. And you can’t be a history person without developing a healthy respect for the Roman Republic (400 BC), its successor Empire (27 BC - 476 AD) and their many accomplishments, along with some serious shortcomings (See; Ben-Hur ‘59).

I’m calling for an end to the NFL’s long-running use of Roman numerals in Super Bowl classification. Clunky and dated, at first glance they’re impossible to decipher (#47 in New Orleans (XLVII)), and what little cachet they had in the 70s is long gone. Maybe a favorite of Pete Rozelle, nonetheless, it’s time the Roman numerals fell. 

Divisional Round Picks

Baltimore Ravens (4 / 1-0) @ Denver Broncos (1) (1-12 / CBS 4:30)

It’s QBs on parade come January but this is one tussle where a defender gets equal billing. Ray Lewis brought his emotions and skill (9T) in last week’s return vs Colts. Ravens run sparkled vs IND run-D (28) but Denver stuffs it (3 / 91) and the pass too (3 /199). A big test for Flacco, too bad it’s in Denver against healthy Pey-dirt. Broncos' run-by-Cmte suffices. With ESPN gig set, Ray’s comfy and won‘t return. Thanks for the memories. Denver wins.

Green Bay Packers (3 / 1-0) @ San Francisco 49ers (2) (Fox 8:00)

Since beatdown in Jersey WK12 (10-38), GB’s song of success is building to crescendo. Must take WK1 result with salt (SF-W) though it proves SF can run with the Pack. And run they do with fleet-of-foot K’nick under center. One issue of flash QB is the effect on trad’l run-game: Can Gore establish with Kaep on the move? Packers’ O-line leaky (51) but defense-minded Niners (3) quite polite (38S). GB press + cover scheme will rattle wide-eyed CK into rabbit-mode + mistakes and Packers make NFC Title game.

Seattle Seahawks (5 / 1-0) @ Atlanta Falcons (1) (1-13 / Fox 1:00)

A benefit of having top D (SEA / 4) is you can stop bleeding fast, which not only keeps your offense hopeful but secures momentum the other side may not get back (Skins). It may come in handy versus quick-strike Falcons. Hawks’ so-so QB-press (36S) can ill afford Clemons loss (12S), making Chancellor & Sherman’s jobs that much harder. Keys: guarded Ryan (69% / 28S) with bevy of top targets vs. Lynch (132 @ DC). QB League, Falcons win.

Houston Texans (3 / 1-0) @ New England Patriots (2) (CBS 4:30)

“That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger (Nietzsche).” Might tack that one above the doorway in Texans’ locker-room. Whatever helps. Out of the blocks fast (5-0), Houston never fully adapted to loss of LB stalwart Cushing. First a shellacking at home WK6 vs GB (24-42) and then 1-3 closing stretch that began with Texas-sized beating at NE (14-42). Patriots cauterized vs Niners (34-41) then grooved on cupcakes (JAC / MIA). Texans look banged-up until you see Pats' roster: quasi-MASH unit. Fool me once. New England prevails.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: January 2, 2013 10:18 am
 

NFL '13 Wild Card Picks

The Whole Nine Yards

That’s what stood between Adrian Peterson and sport immortality in Sunday’s contest vs Green Bay (MIN 37-34). Nine yards and Adrian owns the single-season rush-record (ED / 2105) and goes to head of the MVP line, besting Peyton and a closing fast Rodgers. As it stands, Pey-dirt will win his fifth AP award because voters love QBs and his team’s spiffy W-L record (13-3). Aaron may be NFL’s best, surviving a leaky O-line (51S) and gamey run fare (20), but key loses throughout ‘12 will keep AR from winning this MVP race.

As for Adrian coming up short, Eric wants the record for the son. That’s nice…and near 90% hogwash. Packers taking pride in ‘holding’ All-Day to 199 is like saving your favorite golf club from a tornado that just took your house, or like Jake LaMotta chiding Sugar Ray for not putting him down while the raging bull’s eye hangs out of its socket. Sure Jake, whatever.

“Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand ("Luke"),” Mr. Peterson. You da’ man.

Rainy Days & Mondays

Keenest coach cut: Bears’ Lovie Smith. Leaving Jay Cutler in after the wicked, violative hit he suffered vs Houston (Wk10 / Dobbins) showed this soft-spoken man had his priorities skewed.

Golden Rule coach cut: Cards’ Ken Whisenhunt. KW broke #1 rule in QB league when he failed to protect his signal-callers (58S), then had the back-up blues (Skelton / Lindley).

Best coach keeper: Rex Ryan. Unless Jets, who appear ready to move Sanchez, somehow land top-quality QB in off-season, things probably won’t improve much in NYJ come 2013. But Rex provides continuity and keeps things light. Besides, the Tebow fiasco (Tim deserved better) has Jets’ owner Woody Johnson’s finger prints all over it.

Cheese-flavored Karma

While it won’t make-up for getting the “fuzzy end of the lolly-pop (Marilyn)” in Wk-3 vs Seattle (“simultaneous catch”), the football fairies were keeping watch over GB in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Rather than having an automatic review quashed for a challenge-flag faux pas after a 3Q scoring play, a fate which befell Detroit in their T-Day loss to Houston, the Packers profit from the resulting rule change and suffer only an unsportsmanlike penalty. Feel better now, Packerland? Dumb question.

Applying for Membership

It just might be the most exclusive club in America, harder to get into than even Skull & Bones, that secret fraternity W. and John Kerry are reportedly members in. Good god.

Money, fine credit rating, great wardrobe, huge Facebook following, even a call from Tony Soprano won’t cut you a key for this guild. You can only get in the “old-fashioned way, you eaaaaaarn it (Houseman).”

The heading above the door reads, ‘Elite Quarterback Club.’

You needn’t win a Super Bowl to be elite, which explains why Mr. Marino, Tarkenton, Moon and Jim Kelly have all been seen frequenting the premises. Fran practically lives there, still bending anyone’s ear who’ll listen to his rants on Brett Favre going purple.

But then triumphs like taking a title or getting a bronze bust are no golden-ticket for EQC membership, either. Super Bowls are won largely in the trenches and HOFs have become feel-good facilitators, Halls of Good n’ Plenty and no longer repositories of only the great.

So, what is the standard for an elite QB? Who can really say. Plenty try, but suffice to say, when the elite quarterback’s name is spoken, you’ll know it.

Today’s active membership includes Tom Brady, Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. McNabb & Matt Hasselbeck came close.

Three quarterbacks in this year’s NFL playoff field have applications pending: FalconsMatt Ryan, TexansMatt Schaub and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (half the field is too wet-behind-the-ears to be applying for EQC just yet). All three have shown enough to get their application fast-tracked if any of ’em happens to grab hold of that brass-ring this playoff run.

Wild Card Picks

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) @ Houston Texans (12-4) (1-5 / NBC 4:30)

Two lackluster acts to end the season (PIT / BAL), even in victory, is poor sign for Cincy who looked to be rising, while Texans are 1-3 last four. The Yawner Bowl? Nyet. Try Balance Bowl as both squads usually play both sides like it matters. TFD, TOP and sack ratios (44+ / 28-) favor Texans, and then there’s Foster, Johnson, Watt & Schaub. Houston wins.

Minnesota Vikings (10-6) @ Green Bay Packers (11-5) (NBC 8:00)

Next to health nothing matters more than momentum entering PS. Minnesota has it with 4-0 closing argument and then the whole record / MVP thing has ‘em energized. If Vikes want cake they must rock Aaron’s world in pressure (Allen), cover scheme and get clean-play from Ponder. GB won’t scare like years past but will control air space over low flying MIN (O31 / D24) and Cobb / Woodson suit up. Vikings have AP & Walsh (K), Packers have AR & Jennings. Green Bay wins.

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (1-6 / CBS 1:00)

If you believe in momentum & karma, this one’s clear. Indy takes M&T field the winners in 5 of last 6 while BAL is 1-4. That’s the energy. The bad karma, that’s John Harbaugh sitting starters in finale vs Bengals. Two schools: one likes the risk-reduction & rest (JH & McCarthy), the other likes the rhythm, practice and fans. Flacco has the experience but Luck is riding high, especially now that his alma mater (Stanford) has won the amateur college FBS D1 title, edging out Northwestern. Colts win.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) @ Washington Redskins (10-6) (Fox 4:30)

Next week AFC stars come out, this weekend the NFC has showcase match-ups with this one big on curiosity-factor. Misters Griffin & Wilson have the kids all in a tizzy with late season surges. Both QBs distribute well while Russ a bit less likely to rabbit, giving SEA more options. Stars Morris & Lynch cancel each other out, both teams field top tackle-corps but Hawks get edge in pass-D (30 vs 6) and crafty Carroll. Seattle plays into Rd-2.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 29, 2012 1:08 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-13

They Made Me a Criminal

“Illegal.” It’s a word that was popping up with odd frequency this past weekend in major media descriptions of Detroit Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz and his now infamous challenge-flag faux pas on Thanksgiving Day. I’m no legal expert but am not aware of the existence of any State of Michigan or federal criminal, regulatory or like provision that such an on-field miscue would violate.

No harm, no foul? Sure, why not. But c’mon production people, get on the ball and give these guys a break.

But there is something that happened in Detroit, a misdeed I hope lawmakers address soon and pass legislation making its occurrence punishable by fine, community service and required viewings of the ‘97 version of the movie “Titanic:” the ‘prevent defense.’

Lions didn’t lose on turkey day because Schwartz’ impulsive flag toss, nor did they lose because place-kicker J. Hanson boinked a late 47-yarder off the cross-bar. They lost because they permitted the Houston Texans to run-off 15 plays and drive 97 yards for the game-tying TD by employing what seemed to be that time-honored concession to fear & doubt, the dreaded PD.

“I do not choose to run”

Those words stunned a nation in 1927 when America’s popular laissez faire President Calvin Coolidge announced he’d not seek a 2nd full-term as Chief Executive. Cal didn’t exactly brim over with personality, nor was he what you might call an economic visionary (the Depression), but his famous statement is surprisingly apropos when the subject of discussion is Redskins’ rookie QB sensation Robert Griffin.

Bob’s put together a couple of gems his last two games against woeful division rivals Philly & Dallas, tossing four TDs in both walkover wins. In a conference (and League) where top teams are in short supply in 2012, the Skins are still players for the post-season at 5-6.

With today’s flash-QB, run-attempts are a key stat. In Dallas Bob kept it down to six. If he stays around that number week in, week out, win or lose, he’ll make it in this League because it means he can take the hits while learning to read defense and find receivers. Mike Vick never got the message, or if he did, couldn’t make the adjustment.

Run-QB is the biggest thing to hit football since the 300-yard passer made RBs just so much icing on the cake. They’re reminiscent of a by-gone era when the single-wing tail-back was expected to do pretty much everything (pass, run, block) but load-up the bus.

Run-Johnny-run is all the rage on college campus where Coach knows the next Cam or Timbo is his ticket to glory. Just make sure you have a back-up plan when he goes pro (Chizik). But for now anyway, the sit-tite, stand-tall pocket passer rules the NFL roost and he has the hardware & blindside bruises to prove it.

So when you feel your mobility turning into flight, best heed Cal’s words Bob and take your lumps. It’s called the long-view, something Mr. Coolidge ($) couldn’t see.

Cherry Picks Week 13

New Orleans Saints (5-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (10-1) (11-29 / NFLN 8:20)

A must win for Falcons? Already a lock for PS, a win here goes a long way exercising demons of doubt from recent playoff flame-outs and earlier loss to their regional nemesis (11-11). On other side, still a flicker of hope for Saints as Vikes & Hawks fade fast while RG3’s got Skins believing. Kaep Krusader & the Niners gave NO a dose of reality and banged-up A-birds will hammer home the point but with “more feeling.” Atlanta wins.

Minnesota Vikings (6-5) @ Green Bay Packers (7-4) (12-2 / Fox 1:00)

There is history (Bears / GB), and there is rivalry. The later, that’s this, the Midwest’s biggest grudge match. Makes Yanks / Red Sox feud seem kinda’ quaint. And it would have been a barn-burner this year ‘cept Vikes lost their way. MIN didn’t just get beat in their two mettle games (TB / CHI), they barely showed up, Mr. Frazier. And if GB can’t protect Rodgers (37S), they won’t beat Titans WK16, but Pack beats purple pretenders.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) @ Denver Broncos (8-3) (Fox 4:05)

Difference between a win & loss can be miniscule (v ATL) but TB takes comfort knowing they’re headed in the right direction (5-2). It’s telling, about the NFL, when you stuff the run (TB 1/ 82) and still rank 30th overall (D). WTW: Both O-lines stout (16S) but Denver brings it big (37S / TB-18S) and Josh will be tested. Martin runs big but can get stuffed (SD / ATL / DEN 8R), while Peyton likes the opportunity (TB 32P). Denver prevails.

New York Giants (7-4) @ Washington Redskins (5-6) (12-3 / ESPN 8:30)

In talking of GB’s woes this week, Hoge & Jaworski (ESPN) hit on this: QBs need time to work their “progression.” No matter the skill-set (Rodgers), if rushed, mistakes follow. Giants D (30S) plans same press on RG3. But as the young lad has no progression as yet, Rob’s make-it-up-on-the-go approach just might thwart the blitz. Better still, Skins have a real run game in Mr. Morris (4.7 / 982). Eli & Company are back in rhythm, having found that self-confidence that seems to energize late-season runs. Giants win at FedEx.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: October 12, 2012 10:01 pm
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-6

Stock Slide in Packerland

Life can turn on a dime. One day you’re on top a’ the world, feeling “eight-feet tall (J. Garfield)” the next day you’re flat on your back, staring-up & hoping someone got the license of the truck that just ran you over.

That’s how the Green Bay Packers must be feeling about now. This time last year they’re reigning champs, working on perfection and making mince-meat out of opponents. The dynasty word is being bantered about, their nemesis to the West is a mess and Favre’s ghost seems pretty well exercised. Then along come the Chiefs.

KC looked harmless enough on the schedule but when it was over, the stunned & beaten Packers were…different. First came the early playoff exit (Giants), then the stumble to start 2012 (49ers) and shockers in both Seattle & Indy. This isn’t just personnel & play-calling, though, another ball-carrier, pair of hands and some O-line help couldn’t hurt.

Packers lost something at Arrowhead that afternoon and haven’t gotten it back. They still own the Bears but, c‘mon. If you know what it is, give Mike a call. It’ll mean season-tickets for life. They’ll have to ‘remove’ somebody to get ‘em, but hey, gotta’ take one for the team, right? I jest, but maybe a good chuckle is just what these guys need.

Everyone gripes now & then but elite teams don’t whine (“I think the refs are out to get us this year” / anonymous Packer / MJSO / “Flags” / Nickel / 10-9). GB won’t get swagger back pouting on the referees. But not to worry Packer-backers, remember, this is the NFC North. Vikes are a year off, Bears tooth-long and the Lions are Mr. Suh’s team. Ouch. So buy Green Bay stock now as that next Packers’ win puts their ship back on course for a division they still own.

Luck Looking Pro, RG3 Not So

It’s been a wild & crazy NFL 2012 so far, with the referee thing, game-outcomes you might just as well use a dart-board to predict and no clear front-runner for MVP. As such, these two cats are still plenty topical.

If you took a poll today Rob would win going away. But polls are popularity contests. Casual fans, marketers & media just adore the ‘athletic’ or run-QB. He’s in vogue and RG3 rules the runway with run mechanics (42 / 241 yd / 4 RTD) and fine QB rating (101). Yawn. Like Andy, the Skins’ QB was thrown into the fire and gets big points for composure. Road wins (NO / TB) are no small matter, even in today’s wacky NFL.

But Luck’s clearly adapting quicker to his new surroundings, exhibiting more the mind-set needed to develop a comfort-level and management skills within the pocket (v GB), where the NFL QB directs the action. And now is exactly the time to take those on-field gambles and throw some caution to the wind in the maturation process, making Luck’s Comp % (54) and INTs (5) of low relevancy at this early stage in his NFL career.

Nothing I’ve seen so far indicates mentor Mike Shanahan has taken an active hand in molding RG3’s development and progression towards the changeover from college runner to pocket professional. Too bad for Rob, too bad for Mike and too bad for the Redskins.

Cherry Picks Wk-6

Dallas Cowboys (2-2) @ Baltimore Ravens (4-1) (10-14 / Fox 1:00)

Cowboys are rested and will get their 9-10 wins this season but none will come in Maryland. Ravens’ Joe Flacco & Ray Lewis were feeling superior until they watched the Browns' game film.  Gulp.  But they're not about to let Tony Romo rebound in crab-cake country. Baltimore wins.

Indianapolis Colts (2-2) @ New York Jets (2-3) ( CBS / 1:00)

“Surf’s Up.” Pacific players meet on the big stage, one feeling the heat with not much wiggle room, the other feeling love (this week) with room to spare. Jets nearly pull off the Wk-5 upset against everybody’s darling Houston, so they can‘t be that far off, right? Right. Ryan gets his boys up, Sanchez matriculates like a USC QB should and Tebow’s talent agencies (WME / CAA) keep turning the screws. Jets win.

Buffalo Bills (2-3) @ Arizona Cardinals (4-1) (CBS / 4:05)

Sleeper GOTW. Everyone’s bailing on AZ, having already bailed on Bills, but both have potential and a win here is big boost. Cards’ D still stout (11) but low O-production (31). Big mysteries: how Arizona managed this long with no run game as Kolb is more a manager than matriculator, and why Bills’ Spiller is ball-poor. Both QBs played it safe in Wk 5 (0 / 1 INT) and got a FG, so expect more risk-taking. Team who establishes run-game wins the day. That's the Bills.

New York Giants (3-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (4-1) (Fox / 4:25)

Juggernaut Central. Forget prior loses & better records (ATL), whoever comes out on top in this one is NFC’s top-dog. 49ers should be defending NFC Champs but you’ve gotta’ give the G-Men their props as they did their Conference proud. Both franchises operate on similar principle: measured & balanced attack with respect for the art of tackling, most DBs excepted. Who wins? It’s a coin-flipper. Wife’s hunch (and mine) is Giants. Guess it‘s NYG.

Green Bay Packers (2-3) @ Houston Texans (5-0) (8:20 / NBC)

The book likes Houston. Me too, before they nearly lost it to an off-kilter Jets team. GB is better than their record but needs a complimentary run game, less reliance on big-play D and better protection (OL) for Rodgers. Most data says pick Texans but I don’t see Green Bay going 2-4. Packers find a way to win, keeping things topsy AND turvy in NFL 2012.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: September 28, 2012 1:55 pm
 

NFL Barometer Wk-4

Not So Fast, football America. The regular referees are back in business but there are grades to be handed out in wake of ‘Replacement-Ref Whine-fest 2012.’

Roger & The Regulars: B

Denying anyone who’s not employed in public safety the right to use all leverage in negotiating a contract (strike) would be un-American. Unfortunately, the regulars have now been vested with special status of indispensability by the same cry-babies who ragged on ‘em before their strike, bitched about the replacements during, and will piss & moan again in Wk-4.

When the firestorm over Monday night’s controversial “simultaneous catch” call flared-up this week, both the Commissioner and strikers contained the blaze by acting with due speed. And if you think the new referee deal was a result of poor job performance by the replacement referees, you need to pull your head out of…the sand. Most likely it was serious concern over the safety of the replacements that proved primary motivation for compelling both parties back to the bargaining table to hammer-out an agreement.

Fresh in their minds may’ve been recent tragic events in Libya and the Middle East, triggered by parties using YouTube to fuel the fires of ignorance & violence. With anger over the disputed Hail Mary call that ended the Packers v. Seahawks MNF contest rising rapidly during the week and becoming a national embarrassment, coupled with knowledge that more touchy-calls would result in Wk-4 games, those professionals in security who monitor such situations must’ve been speculating about dangerous acts that nut-jobs might undertake.

Replacement Referees: B+

These guys head home wondering why they ever took such a thankless job. It couldn‘t be the pay. Roger Goodell’s apology-in-appeasement notwithstanding, the replacements, as imperfect as they were, deserve commendations just for taking the field.

Golden Tate of the Seattle Seahawks: “The Man with the Golden Arm.” The left one, to be exact. It’s pretty well hidden from view in the film-replay of the infamous Hail Mary, but either his left arm and / or hand are initially on that football, simultaneously with Mr. Jennings (Packers), or it disappeared into the 4th dimension like “Tina” did in that classic Twilight Zone (“Little Girl Lost” / 1962). It’s one, or the other. Take your pick.

As for Mr. Tate shoving a Packers’ defender just before the ball arrived, don’t forget the first rule of end-game drama: never let a referee’s call decide the outcome. Before Thursday night’s Browns / Ravens contest, where the just-back regulars were extra cautious and playing-it-safe with Cleveland’s game-ending Hail Mary (flag), the regulars would’ve followed precedent on MNF, just like the replacements: no-call on the shove.

The precedent here is on point: Dallas Cowboys v. Minnesota Vikings, Metropolitan Stadium, 1975 NFC playoffs. This is the original game-winning Hail Mary. It came from Cowboys’ QB Roger Staubach and involved another decisive push-down by receiver Drew Pearson of a Vikings’ defender. Difference is, this one sent the winner to the Super Bowl and one of the referees to the hospital after getting hit in the head with a whiskey bottle thrown by an idiot in the stands. Roger & the regulars may remember.

NFL Players & Coaches: D+

The jocks and gurus must share blame for the hostility heaped upon the replacements. A few choice words, spoken at the right time could’ve quelled much of the outrage. Instead, the behavior of men like Bill Belichick (ref-grabber) and Aaron Rodgers’ (whine-pro) was typical. But in the Age of Enablement there are no grievances so small, so selfish, as to go unheard & un-redressed. I guess 'suck-it-up’ and ‘take the pain’ are old school.

The Ravens’ Anquan Boldin stated the prevailing view in post-game interview when pressed on the referee issue after Thursday night‘s Browns v. Ravens game: “I think the guys respect the regular referees.” And that was the crux of it, these past four weeks. Most of the players & coaches, it seemed, had no respect for the replacements.  A prejudice, you could say. When prejudice is the mind-set, rational thought cannot happen.

Politics makes strange bedfellows. Had the players wanted to show solidarity with the regulars, the same guys they regularly berated on & off the field before their departure, they could’ve gone on strike with the zebras. But then nobody, not the owners, not the fans, not the players nor the media wanted the games cancelled, right? Right.

Sport Media & Entertainment: F

Lucky for these guys the NFL / referee contract was resolved when it was, otherwise all hell may’ve broken loose. I cringe to think.

ESPN, self-anointed “leader” in sport coverage, set a match to a highly-flammable situation. Normally neutral anchors freely weighed-in on the MNF controversy, making it clear to viewers that the field call (“simultaneous catch / Seattle TD) was pure buffoonery, while ex-jock analysts did their part to fan the flames of discontent. Post-game comments by Steve Young (“It’s an emergent situation and I pray that an emergent doesn‘t result”) and Trent Dilfer (“You get so frustrated with incompetence that it turns to anger“) are noteworthy in their poor judgment and apparent invite to fan-rage.

Because it’s unlikely ESPN acts in such manner solely on behalf of regulars refs, the best explanation might be the favored status of the Green Bay Packers’ organization. The same inexplicable hostility emerged shortly after Brett Favre’s jet hit the Twin Cities tarmac in 2009. The message here: When Packers’ fans get angry, ESPN listens.

And if ESPN’s bigwigs think “Sport Science” guy John Brenkus is a persuasive voice in photo-finish analysis, they’ll never graduate to the next grade. John’s head-spinning, sales-pitch is like that fast talking carnival barker. Before you can spot the con-job, he’s got you by the arm and going for your wallet. You could lose the smirk, too, JB.

But the regulars are back. And with the glowing comments I’ve read from players, coaches, fans and media, football America is pleased as punch. Maybe this signals a new beginning, a greater respect between players, coaches and the officials. Less on-field rage and fewer post-game crying-jags? Stranger things have happened. If this is a by-product, it’s another reason to thank the subs.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com