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Playoffs and Layoffs: Black Monday for the NFL

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“It’s not whether you win or lose, but who gets the blame.” Blaine Nye

After 17 weeks, 256 games and 11,985 points scored the NFL regular season ended last night when Dallas Cowboys’ Quarterback Kyle Orton was intercepted by Brandon Boykin.  That pass ended the Cowboys playoff hopes and season and sent the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs as champions of the NFC East.

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It was an exciting end to the season. The season went down to the wire for the Eagles, the Green Bay Packers who came from behind to stun the Chicago Bears to take the NFC Central and the San Diego Chargers who swiped the last AFC Wild Card when Baltimore and Miami lost.

The playoffs are now set. The Wild Card round will feature the AFC South Champion Indianapolis Colts (11-5) play the number 5 Wild Card seed Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) and the AFC Central Champion Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) face off against the number six seed San Diego Chargers (9-7). In the NFC the Eagles (10-6) will square off against the number six seed New Orleans Saints (11-5) while the NFC Central Champion Green Bay Packers (9-7) will face number five seed the San Francisco 49ers (12-4). The AFC West Champion Denver Broncos (13-3)  AFC East Champion New England Patriots, NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers (12-4) NFC West Champion Seattle Seahawks have first round byes.

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Among the teams left out of the playoff picture from last season are last year’s Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons.

As good as some teams were some were very bad and with badness went pink slips. As legendary coach John McKay said of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers years ago: “We stunk. We blocked bad; we were terrible on defense and our kicking game made up for it by being absolutely horrible. I saw nothing that delighted me, we ran on the field fairly well.”

Kansas City Chiefs vs Washington Redskins

But the bigger news today are the firings of coaches. Since Sunday night five coaches had been fired. The pink slips started Sunday night with the Cleveland Browns (4-12) who fired first year head coach Rob Chudzinski, that moved surprised many observers. The firings began in earnest this morning when the Minnesota Vikings (5-10) fired Leslie Frazier, the 7-9 Detroit Lions fired 5th year coach Jim Schwartz after a late season collapse. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) fired their Head Coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominick. Lastly the controversy ridden Washington Redskins who finished a dismal season at 3-13 fired the highly paid Mike Shanahan despite still owing him another $7 million dollars. Washington owner Daniel Snyder will be looking for his 7th Head Coach since 1999.

Some player’s like Washington’s fullback Darrel Young blamed themselves for their coach’s demise. Young said “We failed a Hall of Fame coach. It was a lack of execution by the players this year.”

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Not counted among the Black Monday casualties was Houston Texan’s head coach Gary Kubiak who was fired December 6th. The Texans who had made the playoffs last year finished the season 2-14, the worst record in the league. The Texans had lost 11 games in a row after winning their first two of the season and had been pre-season favorites to get to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins and Texans were both so bad this year that John McKay’s statement on when the Buccaneers had lost their record setting 26th straight game: “Three or four plane crashes and we’re in the playoffs.”

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Other coaches could still be fired, rumors are swirling about a number of others but one who seems to be safe is Cowboy’s Head Coach Jason Garrett who still has the public backing of GM and Owner Jerry Jones. However it is expected that several assistants will be let go. Likewise Rex Ryan of the Jets has survived. Oakland Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen could be gone soon, he has not been offered any contract extensions and finished with a 4-14 record in 2013. Rumors also swirl about Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbon after a disappointing fish to the season.

So things will be interesting both on and off the field for the next month.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Another Wild “Wild Card” Weekend

Marshon Lynch runs for a spectacular touchdown with Matt Hasselbeck following

Well what can we say; it was another wild “Wild Card” weekend that defied predictions and expectations.  As my regular readers know I am not a big football fan being it is not the one true religion of the Church of Baseball, however since it is mildly interesting I do occasionally watch it just so I can converse with those that are faithful followers of that heretical sect. Despite the fact that I don’t follow it religiously I do know a lot about the sport just as I would as a Priest study other denominations.

This weekend was a wild one with a shocker, an upset, a blowout and a hard fought battle decided by crappy field goal kicking.

The Shocker: Seahawks 41 Saints 36: I like chaos in footfall and tend to cheer for the underdogs just to see chaos happen.  I was not disappointed.  Yesterday as I continued to recuperate from the crud that has been kicking my ass I laid on the couch and watched the Seattle Seahawks beat down the heavily favored Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. I think that this was the big story of the weekend. The Seahawks who won the NFC West with a losing record were double digit underdogs at home to the reigning NFL Champs. Never before have I seen a team so disrespected and with good reason even get into the playoffs. However, I wanted them to win and was overjoyed with the hurt that they put on the Saints. The score was 41-36 but it did not seem that close despite heroic performance by Saints Quarterback Drew Brees.  The Seahawks were 10 point underdogs at home facing the defending Super Bowl Champions and they pulled the biggest post season upset that we have seen for some time. Final score Seahawks 41 Saints 36.  I love an upset.  The lowly Seahawks who have nothing to prove will travel to Chicago to play Da-Bears in the Divisional match up.

Nick Folk and the Jets celebrate after his game winning field goal against the Colts

The Upset: Jets 17 Colts 16: The Colts were favored but Rex Ryan and crew finally defeated his personal nemesis Payton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts in the closing seconds of Sunday’s game. The Colts have always dominated the Jets or had Manning steal the game in the closing minutes causing Ryan to remark that this game was “personal.” Once again it looked like Manning was following the same script and that Ryan and his Jets would go down to defeat but it was not so.  With the score 14-13 Jets Manning took the Colts into Field goal range to set up a 50 yard field goal by the future hall of fame kicker Adam Vinatieri to put the Colts up 16-14. With only 53 seconds left it was up to Mark Sanchez and crew to get the job done and Ryan trusted Sanchez and crew to get the team into position to win. Antonio Cromartie returned the kickoff 47 yards and Sanchez took the Jets to the Colt 18 in five plays to set up the winning field goal. The remarkable thing about the play to set up the field goal was that Ryan and his offensive coordinator listened to Wide Receiver Braylon Edwards for a pass play instead of a safe run which they favored. Sanchez connected with Edwards to set up Folk and win the game. It was a stunning blow to the Colts who expected to win at home.  Ryan who had talked about the game being personal was gracious in victory “We’ve been in some close ones this year, but to come out and pull this game out against a great football team, against a great quarterback, it was a Herculean effort…I mean really, I’m just thankful for the men I coach. Thankful for the two backs we got, that pounded it in there. Thankful for that coaching staff. Thankful for Nick Folk, and I’m thankful that I finally got to beat Peyton Manning.” The Jets now travel to Foxborough to play their Eastern Conference rival and nemesis the New England Patriots.

Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a 30-10 win over the Chiefs

The Blowout: Ravens 30 Chiefs 10: The Ravens went on the road as a wild card to face the AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs.  The Ravens were favored but the Chiefs did keep the game close through the first half but in the second half the Ravens’ defense strangled the Chiefs’ offense allowing only 25 yards in the final two quarters. The Ravens controlled the ball on offense for 41 minutes and 44 seconds with Joe Flacco throwing for 248 yards with 2 touchdown passes.  The Ravens’ defense held the Chiefs’ to just 8 first downs and forced 5 turnovers.  The Chiefs were simply overmatched, outgunned and outplayed.  The Ravens will now head to Pittsburgh to continue their rivalry in the AFC Divisional playoff.  For the Chiefs it was their 7th consecutive playoff lose dating to 1994.

The end of Michael Vick’s magical season

The Battle: Packers 21 Eagles 16: Michael Vick’s magical season came to an end on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers. In a game marked by tough play the Packers led 21-10 with 8:50 left in the game and Vick engineered a 13 play 4 minute 48 second 75 yard drive to make the score 21-16. The Eagles failed on a two point attempt abut managed to get the ball back with 1:45 left in the game on their 34. Vick brought them back to get the ball down the field to the Packer 27 when with 33 seconds left he threw an interception in the end zone which ended the Eagles’ season.  Aaron Rodgers ran the Packer offense well and the Pack finally produced a running game.  Vick did not have a bad game throwing for 292 yards and a touchdown while running for 33 and a second touchdown. The game was decided by two missed field goals as Pro Bowl Philadelphia kicker David Akers missed from 41 and 34 yards.  The Packers move on to Atlanta to play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome where Atlanta has dominated this season.

Once again the Wild Card round did not disappoint and it will be interesting to see what surprises take place in the Divisional Playoff games this week.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s Football Season…Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

“Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.”

“Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.”

George Carlin

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams (1989)

068Tranquility: Harbor Park, Norfolk VA

It’s football season again…not that there’s anything wrong with that, but my heart is elsewhere, the lush green diamonds where baseball is played.  The minor league season is over, the Norfolk Tides have gone home and baseball is only on television for me.  I don’t see how I will see a game in DC or Baltimore before the end of the season; the schedule isn’t going to work out.  Football, Hockey and Basketball will all be going soon; football of course has already begun and my winter has already started.

I have nothing against football.  I find that it is an occasionally interesting diversion during dreary fall and winter days.  Football does not hold the same fascination for me that I have for baseball.  I have played football in my sophomore year of high school.  We’ll I went to a lot of practices and got into two games for a total of about 6 plays at the end of the season.  However as a scrawny defensive lineman I did get in on two tackles and a sack.   I also had two penalties called on guys who committed personal fouls on me.  Of course they were both a lot bigger than me and somehow when I got around them one took a wing at me and another gave me a block in the back.  Now I was not very good, I worked hard but I was small and slow.  Somehow I got my sophomore letter and was named as “most inspirational player.” Now being most inspirational means that they know that you suck but appreciate the effort.   I later became one of the team trainers in my senior year.  That was a better fit, I got to fix guys rather than be clobbered by others.

So anyway, football is merely interesting to me.  I can get interested in a really good game on television. However, going to a professional game doesn’t do it for me.  Even in good seats you are pretty far from the action. For me it’s like watching 22 center fielders scrambling around the field from the upper deck.  And I’m sorry I don;t like big bucks park a half mile from the stadium.  Nor do I find that having to  watch the game on the Megatron scoreboard while I am sitting in the elements freezing my cold wet ass off to be my particular style.  Likewise drinking $10 domestic beer and eating a cold soggy hot dog is just not what I enjoy doing.  I don’t need to do that. I can actually enjoy a football game more at home, or actually the best place at Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant bar.  I actually like Biersch the best for it is the good beer and the great people that make it fun..

There are some things that make football just a game for me, versus the one true faith, the Church of Baseball.  One is the limitations of the field, I find the gridiron  to be simply confining.  It is a battlefield where the limitations of time, space, time outs and other stoppages of play break up the flow of the game.  The parity imposed by the league has in my opinion taken away from the the luster of the game, we don’t really have great dynasties now like the Raiders, Steelers, Cowboys, Broncos and 49ers.  Now we have a lot of mediocre teams mixing it up with a few really good teams.  Sure it means that the game is “more competitive” and that small markets get to see their team in the playoffs.  However the lack of dynasties and big time rivalries between dynasties has made professional football rather ordinary.  The big NCAA programs still have that but not the pros.

I find that the insufferable amount of replays does nothing for the flow of the game.  Likewise the use of the video review for almost anything seems almost to be a way remove the human element out of the officiating a football game.  In an attempt to make things “fair” the NFL has taken away much of the controversy which made the the game memorable.  Who can forget the Franco Harris catch against the Raiders in the AFC Championship, or the “immaculate deception” when the Raiders beat the Chargers.  To make mistakes is human and adds to the drama of the game.  Reply and review kill that and when I see a coach throw down the flag to request a review I want to throw up.  What I like about baseball is that bad calls are still legal because no one is perfect, especially umpires.  It is part of the game.  Sometimes I wonder if the NFL is taking humanity out of the equation.  This even comes down to silly penalties for “excessive celebration” by guys that score touchdowns.  Assessing a 15 yard penalty because a team or player is happy?

allenson arguing

“The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager…” Earl Weaver

Now I have to admit that the NFL has the best television production of any sport. They manage through an incredible amount of talk, animation, commentary and replay from every possible angle with the exception of the Center’s sphincter to show the game in all of its gory glory.  Can you imagine the sphincter cam view of the center-quarterback exchange?  I can just see and hear the John Madden commentary now “Did you see how Brady got his hands on that snap?” Or “wait a minute those fingers aren’t supposed to be there…when I was a coach….” The TV production is awesome and it  does make football on TV a pretty good deal. But for me football with all of its self imposed limitations  is not the same is baseball which is not bound by arbitrary time limits nor defined by replay. Baseball is played on a field that with just a few aspects is different in almost every stadium, how big the outfield is, how fast the infield is, how much foul territory between the foul line and the stands and even the outfield fence or wall give a stadium a personality all its own.  There is only one Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field.   A football field is a football field maybe one has better turf than another but apart from that there is little difference between one and another.

Then there are parts of the game itself that make me wonder.  The “extra point” or as it is officially known as the “Point After Touchdown”  is something that makes little sense to me. A team that scores a touchdown gets 6 points.  If they kick an abysmally short kick they get an extra point.  Of course they can do a 2 point conversion where they try to run or pass the ball into the end zone to get two points from like the 2 ½ yard line.  Now if there was something similar in Baseball it would get weird.  Think about it.  A guy hits a home run and scores. The play stops, the pitcher turns around and the guy who hit the home run goes to second base with his bat and faces home plate.  Once they are set up the pitcher pitches off the back side of the mound and the hitter gets another run by hitting the ball into the grandstand behind home plate.

Then there are “special teams.”  Are these guys really that special, unlike Jerry’s kids, and if they were why aren’t they getting more than the league minimum?  I mean really people hit on the American League for the designated hitter.  In football everyone is a designated hitter, everyone is a specialist and there are coaches for everything, Head Coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, quarterback coach, running back coach, offensive line coach, special teams coach, receivers coach, defensive line coach, linebacker coach, defensive secondary coach, strength and conditioning coach,and probably more that I am not counting. That’s like 12 coaches, maybe with all the legal problems of the players they should have a court and jail coach?  Now I’m sure in many cases having all these specialized coaches  makes the players better but once again I think it takes some of the life out of the game.  There was a time there were just a few coaches and when were not so specialized. There was a time when some football players played both offense and defense and the majority of special team’s players had roles on the offense or the defense.

The time limit that allows teams to simply run out the clock when they get a big lead takes the excitement out of the game.  How many times have you turned from a game because the game got really boring about the middle of the second quarter because one team has a huge lead and the other team is sucking like a Hoover?  In baseball you can’t run the time out, you have to pitch to each batter until you get the 27 outs.

Now I don’t take anything away from the players. There are a lot of tremendous athletes playing football and the rate of injuries and normally short career of a player that you have to respect them for the efforts that they make and the risks they take to play the game.   However, I think that the way the pros get their players is somewhat detrimental to the game and to education. Football gets almost all of its players through college football programs and invests little in player development.  Major League Baseball teams invest a huge amount of resources into layered minor league systems taking the time to develop their players.  Even the Yankees do this.

Now football, despite all the delays, replays and other stoppages can be exciting when big plays are made or when a quarterback methodically leads his team back in the final minutes of a game to win the game. At the same time there are plenty of times that the game devolves into a scrum of short gains and losses, the “three and out” that many games turn into series after series.

But most of all the games represent two distinctly different views of life and sport.  Football has become the technological gem of professional sports, but in my opinion has lost a lot of its humanity in doing so. It has become a high tech battlefield of speed and violence.  Baseball on the other hand as George Carlin said is more pastoral game from a bygone era.  A game that calls us back to more timeless American values exist.  A game which like life is played over a long season filled with ups and downs, great plays and errors.  Bad calls and weather delays keep the game real to what people experience at work or int their family.  Baseball is a game where people still matter and the public has higher expectations of the players and organizations.  I think his is why the steroids and performance enhancing drug scandals that have rocked Baseball for more than similar allegations in any other sport.

For the record my dad was a Raider and 49er fanatic who really got into the game.  He taught me baseball, but he could get very spun up about football.  He always talked about how he saw the first Oakland Raider game against the “Dallas Texans” which became the Kansas City Chiefs in the old American Football League.   I do have my favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers and my favorite player of all time is Joe Montana.

Anyway, my game is baseball, as George Carlin once remarked:

“In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!”

moon over harbor parkMoon Over Harbor Park

Having gone to war and having studied it for years, I can say that I need the peace of baseball, may April 8th come quickly.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, football, philosophy