Welcome to what will become a 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 enjoy the banter, insight, or whatever you want to call this – this is What We Learned.
This is football. We love it – we need it. It’s America’s version of gladiator competition. Something deep within us, engrained in our very being, is an attraction to physical combat. We enjoy watching ourselves – or those just like us – fight against others just like them… just like us. We root for the guy who gets the biggest hit, the best highlight. We loop the replay and watch in amazement as sheer strength and power is displayed in brilliant HD. Hit after hit, we watch. Sure, we watch the one-handed catches in the back of the end zone or the stutter-step cuts that leave a defender on his backside. We like those, but they don’t do the same thing to us. Impressive catches and jukes make us say “Wow…” – as they should. Big hits make us cringe, jolting to the edge of our seat and inhaling sharply, as if we are bracing for the imminent pain. The hits trigger a different response – a more thrilling response – within us. It’s addictive and it’s entertaining…
…As long as it’s on the field. When these behaviors, from these players, seep into the “real” world, we don’t like them as much. Suddenly behemoth warriors pitting themselves against one another isn’t a game, and the reality is frightening. Suddenly the thing we put on replay every Sunday we turn off when we see it. A stiff arm to the face of a would-be defender we praise. The same learned skill applied off the field we rebuke – even condemn.
To be fair, punishment is due for such actions. However, this is a slippery slope. We don’t want the NFL to punish this behavior too harshly – we might need it, but we certainly don’t want it. Harsh punishments will do one of two things. Either the NFL will ban those convicted of certain behaviors or actions or it won’t. There is no good option. If players are banned for life, the questions fly in: What offenses are included? Is it repeat offenders only? Does the status of a player change the sentence? If players are not banned for life, the public will not let up on the league. Those crying for justice will continue to cry until the NFL punishes every player caught committing socially unacceptable behaviors – criminal or not. That in itself is dangerous – not all players get caught. Not all players that get caught are high-profile players. If all the players that have been accused – again, with or without proof – are punished (as the public so demands), there may not be much of an NFL left. Worse still, the feeder system known as college football would stop feeding. The best of the best in college football are often caught in scandals that would, theoretically, keep them from ever playing in the League.
That’s not what we want. Whether we should want it or not, we don’t. Don’t lie to yourself from some high-and-mighty, righteous approach to reality; you are not that person you might want to claim. (You don’t want to be that person, really. Think about it – the model citizen you could project has nowhere near the depth you have developed.) You – me – we want football to be football. We want those 1,696 players on NFL rosters to stay there – on the roster and on the field. Practice should happen behind closed doors. The players should live in secret – only appearing to score touchdowns, make tackles, and sign autographs. That is what you want. You want the NFL to be perfect entertainment, where the guys that get pummeled only get pummeled on television… where the guys that get concussed don’t suffer after their career ends… where the owners sign checks to charities and not prostitutes… where the only guns are attached at the shoulder… where the love of the game drives competition… where people kind of like you take on other people kind of like you for the fun of it. Football is an addiction, and suddenly you are being forced to wonder if the side effects are worth the high.
But that’s not why you’re here. Sure, I’ll make you think a little bit – it’s good for you. Don’t just watch the games and pretend that’s all there is to it. This is a multi-billion dollar organization operating with some of the meanest sharks in the corporate world – it’s a business when the sun sets. Remember that, and still enjoy it. Don’t forget about all of reality – and don’t forget what you learn each week. Some of that is off the field. Some, though, is between the hashes – in the trenches. You have to keep up to stay with this game – so let’s get to it. Here’s what we learned…
- The Steelers looked old on Thursday night. Keep in mind – Thursday. Some will blame the performance on the short week… and some are wrong.
- The Ravens trampled their rivals in the biggest TNF showing ever. The Bernard Pierce / Justin Forsett backfield combo has the ability to gash defenses week after week.
- The Patriots win games. Brady threw for only 149 yards, but they won. It’s a team sport – they get that.
- The Vikings struggled to get into the end zone. The bigger issue is that the offense gave Brady and Co. four free opportunities to take shots.
- The Dolphins, ah the Dolphins. They’re back – super talented, super inconsistent. Too soon to know for sure, but it looks like déjà vu.
- The Bills, likewise, have immense talent. And they are in sole possession of the lead of the AFC East, sitting at 2-0. Couldn’t have predicted that.
- The Redskins lost RG3 to a dislocated ankle. May he have a complete recovery – I wish him the best – but the Redskins will be better without him.
- The Jaguars is in a familiar spot at 0-2. They know what it feels like. Give it a few weeks before Bortles knows what it feels like, too.
- The Cowboys have entered the zone – right at .500. They evened the schedule with a win over Titans and dominated the time of possession. Again, .500.
10. The Titans need to sustain drives – they couldn’t keep the ball in their hands long enough to do clock damage. Delanie Walker is off to a good start, though.
11. The Cardinals are in control of the NFC West – yeah, that NFC West. At 2-0, the Birdgang look ready to compete this season.
12. The Giants have two big decisions coming this season – When to fire Coughlin, and if they should bench Eli. Take note – when and if.
13. The Saints are off to a rocky start. The points are still there, but the defense is lacking the (financially incentivized) fire we’ve seen in past seasons.
14. The Browns won a game – in a big way. They won’t be satisfied until things like that aren’t considered upsets anymore, and they could get there.
15. The Falcons of last year showed up again. With only 10 points to show for a hard day of work, Matt Ryan and his troops need to click – and soon.
16. The Bengals are roaring (excuse the tiger connection) in the AFC North. Dalton is solid, AJ Green is magical, and that defense is still stingy.
17. The Panthers are 2-0 and looking just like the playoff team from last season. That’s scary for teams that have to face Carolina down the stretch.
18. The Lions, with all their talent, can’t seem to win winnable games. Three fundamental mistakes leading to turnovers don’t help much.
19. The Rams have to fight hard every week to stay relevant. In a division that is much better than they are, St. Louis will have to win every possible game.
20. The Buccaneers have some good, young talent in place. Give them time and they may still wreck some seasons.
21. The Seahawks are beatable. I said it before and I stand by it – Seattle has weaknesses and teams will figure them out.
22. The Chargers looked ready to knock off the defending champs in style. They dominated the time of possession and ripped the LOB for three TE TDs.
23. The Texans are back at 2-0… for the 5th year in a row. Don’t buy the postseason tickets just yet, but remember that Clowney will be back.
24. The Raiders turned the ball over four times. They didn’t deserve to win – plain and simple.
25. The Jets almost pulled one out. They almost stunned Rodgers. They almost… well, they didn’t. They did what they tend to do – give up.
26. The Packers don’t give up. They fought back from a substantial deficit to get a win. It was ugly, mind you, but a notch in the W column doesn’t care.
27. The Chiefs are now in trouble – they are 0-2 in a Broncos and Chargers led division. Two games may not seem like much, but nothing will be given.
28. The Broncos look surgical – and require almost no time to do it. If Peyton decides to start holding possession longer, it could get even crazier.
29. The Bears lost Charles Tillman for the season. That’s going to hurt more than people realize – he was the leader of that secondary, and had stats to boot.
30. The 49ers lost their first game in their new stadium. It’s clear that turnovers will make or break this team – on both sides of the ball.
31. The Colts are a surprising 0-2 after Monday night. The game wasn’t typical Colts football, but they should have pulled it out – something gave.
32. The Eagles were awful in the first half and spectacular in the second – and that’s the Eagles. You have to take the good with the bad and hope it works.
So there you have it – another 32 points that you may or may not care about. You care about the NFL – you love it. It’s a passionate relationship, and it provides great satisfaction. It has its problems – as do you. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. The game that has captivated us is still here – it’s still football.