Published September 27, 2012
Philadelphia, PA – Defiance turned to pragmatism early Thursday morning when the NFL tapped out to public opinion and reached an eight-year collective bargaining agreement with the NFLRA.
The agreement came almost exactly 48 hours after the highly controversial ruling that decided Monday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, and was at least partially fueled by a growing public relations problem.
The league, accustomed to its position as an omnipotent giant atop America's sports landscape, found itself the butt of late-night talk show jokes after its ill-prepared replacement referees botched the Golden Tate-M.D. Jennings "simultaneous catch" during the final play of the Packers-Seahawks game.
Perhaps worse than the call itself, however, was the way the NFL handled the aftermath in an effort to defend the indefensible. In case you missed it, the league issued a statement Tuesday that supported its replacement officials.
"That's the NFL, they're not going to admit guilt," current ESPN analyst and former Pro bowl quarterback Ron Jaworski told The Sports Network in a phone interview. "I use the 'bar test.' If 99 guys in a bar thinks it's an interception, it probably is."
Yet the league ties itself into knots with its own rule book, perhaps for instances exactly like Monday night when it can use plausible deniability and trot out the ridiculous standard of "undisputable video evidence."
Trust me, 99 of every 100 people at the bar with Jaws believed Jennings intercepted that ball on Monday, but one yahoo knocks "undisputable" down to a preponderance and that's enough for the NFL.
"Absolutely (the NFL) uses (undisputable video evidence) as a crutch," Jaworski claimed.
The rule of the simultaneous catch states that it is not considered simultaneous if one player "gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control." Replays clearly showed, at least to the lucid of us, that Jennings got control first and Tate followed.
It was not ruled that way on the field, however, and could have been fixed, something Gerry Austin, Jaworski's colleague at ESPN, didn't even understand.
While working the game, Austin, who spent 27 years in the league as an official and was the referee in two Super Bowls, said the play wasn't reviewable for possession because the rule pertaining to simultaneous possession (as it was erroneously called on the field) is that the offensive player wins all ties.
"The NFL's rules are very complex," Jaworski continued. "There are always going to be blown calls, but to me the bigger problem (with the replacement referees) was the administration of the game. It's up to the referee to understand the situation."
But if Austin can't understand it, why was the guy who may have fixed my washing machine last week expected to navigate the minefield that is an NFL game?
"We shouldn't be picking on the replacement officials. These guys were put in an untenable situation," Jaworski said. "They were getting ready for Rowan- Trenton State and now they are put in front of 80,000 people with all the camera angles and the slow motion. The speed of the game was just too much."
A bigger problem may be the fact that the NFL may be a tad-bit over legislated these days, especially when a vet like Austin doesn't immediately default to the rule.
And in a broader sense, why in the heck is a simultaneous catch reviewable only in the end zone?
In an effort to force a tipping point over the replacement officials issue, the NFLPA came out with its own self-serving statement questioning player safety.
"The decision by the NFL owners to lock out the referees jeopardizes your health and safety," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wrote when addressing his players. "This decision to remove more than 1,500 years of collective experience has simply made the workplace less safe."
That may have held some water if the players didn't act like petulant school children taking advantage of a substitute teacher over the past few weeks. If you're so concerned with workplace safety, how about acting in a professional manner no matter the circumstance?
"The players were absolutely taking advantage of the situation," Jaworski said. "The next step was a flat out brawl ala hockey. I looked at eight games on tape yesterday and I saw more chippy play than I have ever seen before. The control of the game was lacking."
In the end, Monday's bizarre conclusion, along with numerous other gaffes that could make Joe Biden blush, was a good thing -- unless you're a Packers fan.
But even the Cheeseheads, who have been the recipient of a number of more than questionable calls from the real refs during the Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers regimes, have to understand their pain forced the NFL's hand.
When phrases like the "Immaculate Deception," the "Fail Mary" and "Golden Taint" were finding their way toward Letterman and Team Coco, the NFL's spin machine quickly faded and commissioner Roger Goodell temporarily lifted the lockout so that the real zebras can work Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
To Jaworski, the real answer going forward is full-time officials, something which could happen in 2013. Under the new agreed upon CBA, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year- round.
"I've always been a strong advocate of full-time officials, " Jaworski said. "The fact that a billion-dollar industry is being run by part-time officials doesn't make sense. Officials should be at practice, be around the speed of the game to get better prepared."
But that's for another day.
For now, it's back to football -- finally.
NFL POWER POLL
The Sports Network's updated NFL Power Poll, which ranks all 32 league teams, can be found at: http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page= nfl/misc/nfl-poll.htm
THE GAMES (All Times Eastern)
Cleveland (0-3) at Baltimore (2-1), Thursday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Ravens by 12.5
THE SKINNY: Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 20 of their last 21 regular-season home games and are 29-5 in games played in Baltimore, ranking as the NFL's best home team since 2008. The Ravens also have won eight straight against Cleveland (all under Harbaugh) and have outscored the Browns by a gaudy 203-91 margin while averaging 351.3 yards of offense in those contests and holding Cleveland to 232.8 ypg.
PREDICTION: Ravens 27, Browns 10
Carolina (1-2) at Atlanta (3-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Falcons by 7
THE SKINNY: It's all about quarterback Matt Ryan in Atlanta right now. The Falcons certainly look like one of the strongest teams in the NFL this season with a solid chance to keep things rolling this week. Ryan is a perfect 4-0 at home versus Carolina with an impressive 107.7 passer rating. The former Boston College star has been playing at an even higher level than that early in 2012 and leads the NFL with 114.0 passer rating. The Falcons, meanwhile, are 26-0 when Ryan has a 100-plus rating.
PREDICTION: Falcons 34, Panthers 20
New England (1-2) at Buffalo (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Patriots by 4
THE SKINNY: New England comes in angry after a last-second loss in Baltimore last week. The Pats have won 10 of their past 12 visits to Western New York and Tom Brady generally dominates the Bills, compiling an 18-2 career mark vs. Buffalo with 46 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions. Bills signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick will aim to join Joe Ferguson (1975) and Hall of Famer Jim Kelly (1992) as the only players in team history to throw multiple TDs in each of the club's first four games of season.
PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Bills 24
Minnesota (2-1) at Detroit (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Lions by 4.5
THE SKINNY: The Lions lost starting QB Matthew Stafford to injury last Sunday, and are trying to keep his status in doubt for this week's divisional game with the surprising Vikings. The difference between Stafford and backup Shaun Hill, who entered the league with Minnesota, is immense. Stafford has completed 52-of-75 passes for 605 yards with four TDs with no interceptions in his last two starts against the Vikings. For Minnesota, Jared Allen, who led the NFL with 22 sacks last season, will be shooting for his third game in a row with three-plus sacks against the Lions.
PREDICTION: Lions 30, Vikings 21
San Francisco (2-1) at New York Jets (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 4
THE SKINNY: The Jets suffered a catastrophic blow when they lost All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to a torn ACL versus the Dolphins, but it doesn't figure to show up this week against a 49ers team which has no outside threats in the passing game. San Francisco's Alex Smith has won 16 of his past 20 starts and has an impressive 102.7 passer rating. For New York, keep an eye on running back Shonn Green, who has five rushing TDs in his last eight games versus NFC opponents.
PREDICTION: Jets 20, 49ers 14
San Diego (2-1) at Kansas City (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Chiefs by 1
THE SKINNY: Jamaal Charles will try to build upon his 233-yard rushing performance against New Orleans last week. The speedy back, who is back after missing most of last season with a torn ACL, has two career games with at least 230 rushing yards (259 yards on Jan. 3, 2010), one behind Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the only player with three. In his career, Charles has averaged 5.9 yards per carry versus San Diego (46 attempts, 273 yards). Chargers QB Philip Rivers will aim to improve on an impressive 27-10 mark as a starter vs. AFC West teams.
PREDICTION: Chiefs 21, Chargers 20
Tennessee (1-2) at Houston (3-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Texans by 12
THE SKINNY: The Titans are in search of a second straight win, while the Texans attempt to extend their franchise-best start to 4-0. Last week, Tennessee became the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns of at least 60 yards in a game during a 44-41 overtime win over Detroit. Houston, meanwhile, is cruising behind quarterback Matt Schaub, who is third in the AFC with a 102.4 passer rating after throwing for 290 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-25 triumph over Denver.
PREDICTION: Texans 34, Titans 21
Seattle (2-1) at St. Louis (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Seahawks by 2.5
THE SKINNY: After their controversial last-second win over the Packers, Seattle will take its act to St. Louis this week. Defense is carrying the Seahawks right now while rookie Russell Wilson feels his way at QB. Seattle had eight sacks in the first half versus Aaron Rodgers last week, including a career-high four by defensive end Chris Clemons. Rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin added two sacks against the Pack and leads all NFL freshman with 2 1/2 overall. The Rams will try to get the passing game going with Sam Bradford to Danny Amendola as well as Brandon Gibson. Amendola is second in the NFL with 25 receptions, while Gibson aims for a third game in his past four with a TD reception.
PREDICTION: Seahawks 17, Rams 14
Miami (1-2) at Arizona (3-0), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Cardinals by 6
THE SKINNY: An impressive Cardinals defense takes aim at Miami rookie QB Ryan Tannehill in the desert. Arizona currently has two-plus sacks in nine consecutive games, the longest active streak in NFL. Safety Kerry Rhodes had a sack and forced fumble last week against Philadelphia which led to James Sanders' 93-yard TD return last week. Linebacker Daryl Washington continues to break out and has two sacks last week and has four sacks in his past three games in Glendale. The Dolphins got a big scare last week when Reggie Bush went down with a knee injury, but the USC product should be ready to go in this one.
PREDICTION: Cardinals 23, Dolphins 10
Oakland (1-2) at Denver (1-2), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 6.5
THE SKINNY: The Raiders will be searching for their fifth straight win in the Rocky Mountains as Dennis Allen returns to Denver. The new Oakland head coach spent the 2011 season in Denver as the Broncos' defensive coordinator. Raiders QB Carson Palmer is 2-0 on road as starter versus AFC West teams and comes in hot after tossing three TD passes last week. For Denver, Peyton Manning surpassed Dan Marino last week for the most 300-yard passing games in NFL history, but he hasn't looked like his old MVP self after multiple neck surgeries sidelined him for the entire 2011 campaign.
PREDICTION: Broncos 27, Raiders 21
Cincinnati (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 2
THE SKINNY: Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton aims for his third consecutive game with over 300 passing yards when Cincinnati visits Jacksonville. The presence of star receiver A.J. Green, who is coming off a career-high 183 receiving yards last week, figures to make that easier for Dalton. The Jaguars are 7-2 all- time vs, the Bengals at home and come in on a high note after second-year QB Blaine Gabbert connected with Cecil Shorts on an 80-yard game-winning TD pass with 45 seconds remaining versus Indy last week.
PREDICTION: Bengals 21, Jaguars 17
New Orleans (0-3) at Green Bay (1-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 8
THE SKINNY: Fresh off their heartbreaking controversial loss in Seattle, the Packers return home to face the winless Saints. What figured to be a battle of NFC heavyweights has instead turned out to be a competition between two last- place teams although there is still plenty of time to turn things around for each. Saints QB Drew Brees has thrown for a TD in 46 consecutive games and can match the longest streak in NFL history (Johnny Unitas, 47). In four career starts versus Green Bay, Brees have averaged over 360 passing yards per game.
PREDICTION: Packers 34, Saints 27
Washington (1-2) at Tampa Bay (1-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Buccaneers by 3
THE SKINNY: Robert Griffin III has been as advertised. He leads all NFL rookies and is sixth in the NFL with a 103.5 passer rating. He also leads all QBs with 209 rush yards and three rushing TDs, but the Heisman Trophy winner has taken a beating during the Redskins' 1-2 start. Tampa Bay is also off at 1-2 under new head coach Greg Schiano, who is trying to change the culture in Central Florida. Quarterback Josh Freeman has struggled, but rookie running back Doug Martin has been a nice surprise with 214 rushing yards.
PREDICTION: Buccaneers 24, Redskins 21
New York Giants (2-1) at Philadelphia (2-1), Sunday, 8:25 p.m.
LINE: Eagles by 2
THE SKINNY: The Giants and Eagles will both enter Week 4 at 2-1 and tied with Dallas atop the NFC East. The reigning Super Bowl champs come in with extra preparation time after routing Carolina, 36-7, on Thursday of last week, while Philadelphia will try to rebound from the team's first loss of the year, a 27-6 shellacking at the hands of Arizona. Keep an eye on Birds running back LeSean McCoy, who has scored 11 touchdowns (10 rushing, one receiving) in his past eight home games and will aim for his ninth consecutive game at Lincoln Financial Field with a TD.
PREDICTION: Eagles 24, Giants 21
Chicago (2-1) at Dallas (2-1), Monday, 8:35 p.m.
LINE: Cowboys by 4
THE SKINNY: Bears QB Jay Cutler was brilliant in his only previous start versus Dallas (Sept. 19, 2010), completing 21-of-29 passes for 277 yards with three TDs and no picks. Cutler had a 136.7 rating in that game and his teams are 24-0 when he cracks the 100 barrier. For Cutler to succeed this time, Chicago's suspect offensive line must find a way to stop Cowboys All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, who has an amazing 29 1/2 sacks in his last 22 games.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 20, Bears 14