What We Learned – by Alex Larsen

What We Learned

Welcome back to the weekly recap of the NFL games over the weekend. This blog will hit on 32 points – one for each team in the NFL. The writing is biased, of course, but not blinded. So continue to enjoy the banter, insight, or whatever you want to call this – this is What We Learned.

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If you think football is played by eleven men, you’re wrong. To say that a team is made up of 53 men is also incorrect. A team is made up of thousands of devoted, borderline psychotic men, women, and children.

The 12th man.

He’s not so much a person as he is a body. Excuse what could be seen as sacrilege, but much as the church is a body of believers rather than a building, the 12th man is a faithful group of followers. In the same way that hundreds, or even thousands, of people stroll into church services each Sunday, thousands congregate around a rectangle of green, plastic ‘grass’ to watch colossal men attempt to kill each other within the bounds of legality.

This is not a knock on football, at least not one that hasn’t been made and refuted and repeated countless times. Fans are crazy, as the word ‘fanatic’ implies. Don’t try and argue that fact – they are. You are, too… crazy enough to read this, anyway.

Now, onto the ‘moral’ section of this thing that shows up from time to time. This is your warning – the following paragraph may contain biblical comparisons, theological and philosophical analysis, and even, dare it be said, objective questioning of the virtue and nature of society. Buckle up.

In our society, football is a religion. (Don’t argue with that – you aren’t the one writing for a small, student-led, private Christian university radio website.) Think about it – religion is something that requires devotion, consistent attention and effort, and of course, some faith. Christians are devoted to God, they follow (or at least make a concentrated effort to do so) the guidelines and laws of the Bible, and obviously great amounts of faith. Muslims worship Allah with prayer, obey the Qur’an, and believe that following what they believe will end well for them. Even atheists are religious – they believe, often, in science, do work to establish causes for things, and trust in themselves and in nature. Is football so different? Fans tune in every weekend, sometimes to watch teams they don’t even like, know the rules by heart, if only to yell at the referees, and trust and hope against all odds that they believe in something that means everything. The passion displayed by football fans is unrivaled in America – few things in the world get better fan-ship. On one hand, this should worry us. A country that was founded on a belief in God and in freedom to worship has transformed into a land where ‘freedom’ means not doing what you’re told to do. On the other hand, we know that we are capable of incredible passion and fire. We can string our hearts on the ability of something beyond ourselves. We can find happiness and experience pain with a person we have never even met. We can become so enveloped with something that we think about it all the time. These are not traits to be ashamed of. We have become misdirected, yes, but we have an incredible ability to do great things – love, grow, guide, and follow.

Back to the big guys trying to knock each other’s heads off. Football is a vicious sport. As much as it is a religion, it is a battle. Every tactical advantage that can be taken is, and that’s to be expected. A roaring crowd can influence, if not change, the way a game is going. Home field advantage is exactly that – an advantage. Several stadiums are almost unwinnable locations for visiting teams, including Arrowhead Stadium, CenturyLink Field, Lucas Oil Stadium, Sports Authority Field at Mile High and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Perhaps coincidentally, these arenas are home to many of the top teams in the NFL: the Chiefs, Seahawks, Colts, Broncos, and Saints, respectively. For those teams, and any others in the hunt, home field advantage could be the difference between an early plane home and a trip to New Jersey in February.

Every week we get closer to figuring out who the top dog is – every week things change a little bit. Sometimes the best play at home and look the part, other times they hit the road and hit the canvas in the process. We just have to keep up and learn what we can. This week, this is what we learned…

  1. Minnesota won their first game on American soil. On the bright side, Christian Ponder played well – until he dislocated his left shoulder. With his status uncertain, the quarterback circus continues for the Vikings.
  2. The Redskins had a monster day from Robert Griffin III, but still fell short. Even when things go well, they don’t end the way Washington expects.
  3. The Bengals tied things up in an AFC North matchup with a Hail Mary to force overtime. Why is it called a Hail Mary? You chuck it and pray. AJ Green is an answer to Cincinnati’s prayers. It didn’t end with a chorus of angels, though.
  4. Baltimore took the game’s control. They couldn’t seem to find their offense – maybe it stayed on the bus. The Raven defense of legend game to play, and that’s hard to beat – even with a Hail Mary.
  5. Matty ‘Ice’ Ryan isn’t a bad quarterback. His completion percentage isn’t really that bad – but he doesn’t have anybody to throw to. Seriously, blame the entire season on injuries. Julio, Roddy, Steven – all hurt at some point.
  6. Seattle is fighting for the top NFC spot. And Percy is coming back – officially slated to take on his former team next weekend.
  7. The Lions may be the best team in the NFC North. With Chicago floundering between quarterbacks and Green Bay starting a practice squad guy or a returning reject, Detroit has reason to be excited.
  8. Chicago had Cutler, lost him, got him, and lost him again. In and Out – just like the burgers, Cutler’s time back was quickly gone. Now it’s an ankle keeping the commander off the field.
  9. The Packers lost Rodgers to a broken clavicle, and that means at least a month of Green Bay suffering. As if that wasn’t bad enough, backup Seneca Wallace got injured, and he’s done for the immediate future. So what do the Packers do? Re-sign Matt Flynn – who they traded to Seattle a few years ago.
  10. Philadelphia is winning games – against Green Bay caliber teams – with Nick Foles under center. Chip Kelly, somehow, isn’t convinced. He has not named a starter yet, and said he won’t until Vick is healthy again.
  11. Jacksonville, you did it. That’s what winning feels like. Well done.
  12. The Titans lost a game, to the Jaguars. That stings. Losing Jake Locker for the season to a lisfranc injury may sting even more.
  13. Tavon Austin – We see you. Two receptions for two touchdowns, along with a 98-yard punt return for a touchdown, set the rookie up very nicely. The Rams rode that performance to an impressive upset over Indianapolis.
  14. The Colts, believe it or not, aren’t panicking just yet. Yes, they got blown up by St. Louis. But the yards were there, and Luck had an off day. It happens, and the greats recover. If Indy’s in the same spot next week, they can panic.
  15. The Giants are on a roll. Surprised? Don’t be. It’s Eli Manning – and somehow he does this, year after year. Even when things seem like they’re beyond repair, Eli gets the team going and starts winning later in the season. Don’t be too surprised if it ends, either.
  16. Oakland, California – home of the world’s only rollercoaster into a black hole. Sorry, Raider fans, but the ups and downs are far from over.
  17. EJ Manuel is back in the game for Buffalo, but what a rude welcome back he received. He got throttled by the Steelers, and the Bills keep falling.
  18. Pittsburg isn’t going to win their division, but they aren’t going to bow out yet. The Steelers still have some fight in them.
  19. The Carolina defense made a statement. On a five-game win streak, the Panthers edged out the reigning NFC Champion 49ers on national television. Hard to ignore that, eh Superman?
  20. San Francisco is not the same team that raced to the Superbowl last season. What changed is unclear, but something isn’t clicking.
  21. Case Keenum makes the Texans better – he had 3 TDs this weekend. But now Arian Foster is out for the season, though his absence may not be noticed much anyway. Maybe next year, Houston.
  22. The Cardinals are a solid mid-level team. That’s tough. They aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, realistically, and they aren’t bad enough to get an envious draft pick. Honey Badger might care now…
  23. Peyton Manning is known as the Sheriff. He plays more like a surgeon. He put on an absolute clinic against the Chargers, seemingly throwing the ball wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and however he wanted.
  24. The Chargers are, amazingly, still not out of the playoff hunt. If they are better than, conceivably, the Jets, Dolphins, Texans, Ravens, and Browns, they can get in with the second AFC Wildcard.
  25. Drew Brees was perfect on third down – the Saints got 40 first downs in the game. That amasses 625 total yards on offense, including 4 touchdowns from Brees. New Orleans crushed the Cowboys – not just a win, but an absolute smack-down.
  26. The Cowboys, even after giving up records to the Saints, are the best team in the NFC East. Really. Dallas hasn’t lost in the division, so they’re sitting on top.
  27. The Dolphins have a lot of off-field distractions. Somehow, it doesn’t matter. The offensive line looked bad before anything happened outside the facility, and it looks bad now. Tannehill continues to get battered in the pocket.
  28. Mike Glennon, standing at a mere 6’ 7”, is actually too tall for an elite quarterback. However, he has the Buccaneers in the win column for the first time this season, holding on at home to beat Miami.
  29. The Jets got some rest this week, and it may be worth something as New York looks to secure a wildcard spot – the only AFC spot likely open.
  30. The Patriots, coming off a very Patriot game, get some extra time to plan ahead and make sure that Brady stays Brady moving forward.
  31. The Browns got a little more pressure without doing much of anything. Baltimore pulled up alongside Cleveland in the AFC North race, and the Bengals are right up ahead.
  32. Kansas City, the lone undefeated team in the NFL, gets an extra week to prepare to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver next week. That could be a critical advantage for the Chiefs, and they plan to make use of it.

After another week of sitting wide-eyed, glued to the screen, we learned some things. It’s a religious following, and the dangers need to be understood. It’s also a prime example of what devotion, empathy, and community look like. The 12th man is the support system – and it’s crucial. The value of fans can translate into actual wins and losses. A team is only as good as their fans, because everybody needs somebody.

 

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