SLEEPING IN SEATTLE: It’s not clear where the referees’ heads were on Monday night, but it’s clear the answer is not “on top of their game”. Photo courtesy Otto Greule, Jr./Getty Images

Each week, the NFL storyline changes. If each play is a verse, each week is a chapter, and each season a book. As with any good story, the trends change and new plots develop. But, it’s important to look beyond the score box when taking a peek at each NFL week. Here are some things that stuck out this past week.

About Last Night

Let’s talk about what’s on everyone’s mind: the last play of the game last night. Or, I guess I should say SECOND to last play since the Packers were classy enough to come back out on the field for that useless extra point.

And why did they “have to” take the extra point. I mean really. It’s already so apparent the rules are being followed, no one cares about a play that won’t decide a game when the one that did was so horrible mismanaged to begin with. It’s like watching someone get away with murder and then sticking the charge of petty larceny to them. Ludicrous!

I will say this: at first glance, I thought Golden Tate got that touchdown. Now, before you come to my house with torches and pitchforks, let me make a few points. First, I said at FIRST glance. In real time, to me, it looked like a simultaneous catch which, of course, goes to the offense. But the more I saw the replay the more apparent it became to me that Tate, in terms of maintaining possession, did little more than to happen to have his hands on the ball. Second, I’m not a ref. More to the point, I should NOT be a ref. Just because we can spot a holding at home with our DVR’s doesn’t mean we should be refs. That’s like saying I should be in the NBA because I can contribute in the neighborhood pick-up game.

But that’s where the NFL is wrong. The NFL doesn’t want to concede any more money to the real referees, so they’re saying, “Yeah, you in the pick-up game. I think you DO have what it takes to be in pro sports.” Maybe D-III refereeing isn’t the same as intramurals or hobbies, but it’s darn near close.

Let’s not forget what the problem is here. This wasn’t about a replacement ref unable to make the right call in real time. The real refs do that every game. No, this is about a referee squad making a call, getting it wrong, reviewing it, getting all the time they need, watching it from every angle, conferring with people upstairs, and STILL getting it wrong. To call it a travesty doesn’t begin to describe what happened in Seattle Monday.

A lot of people point to T.J. Lang’s tweets last night as the spirit of a frustrated NFL fan base. But, to me, I don’t think you could agree with anything more than when Trent Dilfer said “the NFL is insulting our intelligence”. That’s EXACTLY what is going on here. They might’ve sold this downplayed story where the replacement referees aren’t THAT big of a deal to the point where they actually believe it. And that’s good, because someone ought to.

We sure as hell don’t.

 

Rob Carry/Getty Images

Seriously, It’s Time for the Ref Lockout to End

Al Michaels said it best on Sunday night: it would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. This referee debacle is out of control and the steps the NFL has taken since trouble started to brew has made it worse, not better.

By backing the poor performances of these referees and telling coaches and players to lay off of them, it has given these fill-ins a sense of entitlement that their performances, no matter how flawed, are somehow in the right. They’re going to demand respect even when their on-field operations don’t deserve it.

Just look at the Sunday Night Football game a couple of nights ago. John Harbaugh, like many other NFL coaches, had been frustrated with the referees since kickoff. The refs, feeling the support of the money-grubbing owners, were sure they were perpetually in the right and Harbaugh was just being a jerk. So what happened when Harbaugh tried to abide by the rules while calling one of them over? An unsportsmanlike penalty.

Like I (or Al Michaels, rather) said, it would be funny if this were some movie or sitcom, but it’s not. We need the real referees back pronto. Even if you believe the job done by the unionized referees is no better, it’s clear, at the very least, the NFL teams respect those guys much more.

And the saddest thing is it wouldn’t even take that much to get them back to work. For what the locked out zebras are asking, it would cost the owners only about $60,000 per team per year. For the heads of a nine billion-dollar industry, letting this affect the game is pretty childish.

Flood Waters Rising in New Orleans

I thought there was no WAY the New Orleans Saints were going to fall to 0-3, especially at home in the Superdome against the mediocre (at best) Chiefs. Well, I and probably hundreds of survival pool players were wrong.

Last week I talked about the Saints by posing the question ‘Is it time to panic?’ This week I’m removing the question mark. This team is in serious trouble and it could get a whole lot worse before it gets any better.

The problem is Drew Brees. Well, not Brees so much as the position he’s been put in. With Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt, and Sean Payton out of the picture, the real leader now is Drew Brees as Aaron Kromer looks like a puppet with a headset on the sidelines. The problem with that is Brees has absolutely nothing to do with the defense. Sure, he can give them a pep talk or two, but Brees can’t be the team captain and the de facto offensive coordinator and the de facto head coach AND help with the defense. He’s a future hall-of-fame quarterback, not a super hero.

The reason why I point to the defense is obvious: they are the cancer that is killing this team. 477 yards of offense and 34 points allowed. Those aren’t the high water marks in NOLA. Three weeks in, that is what the defense is AVERAGING. You remember that Redskins defense that made Danny Amendola and Lance Moore look like Hall of Famers? Yeah, they’ve allowed almost 50 fewer yards of offense per game. THAT’S how bad this defense is.

 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

House of Cards

The Arizona Cardinals are quickly becoming the story of the NFL and with good reason. However, it’s been a slow, sustainable ascension. First they beat Seattle. Okay, what looked on paper like a battle of “meh” vs. “meh” wasn’t exactly eye opening. Then they knocked off New England IN Foxborough. That turned a few heads, but upsets happen all the time. But after that drubbing they handed the 2-0 Eagles, it’s time for us to start considering that this Arizona club is for real.

So what did I mean by sustainable? I mean, when you look at the numbers, Arizona hasn’t even really played “out of their minds”, so to speak, during this hot start. Everyone wants to talk about how hot this defense has been, but they’re just inside the Top 10 with 316 yards and 13 points per game. The points per game is nice, but over 300 yards of offense allowed is rather pedestrian. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not criticizing Atlanta. I’m saying, if this is the formula to go 3-0, the Cardinals can go much, much farther.

Just look at the offense. The return of Kolb is a nice story but the offense is the second-most conservative almost a quarter of the way through the season. With the current sample size being against three stout defenses, those numbers are only going to get better as the season goes on.

So, yes, this hot start IS sustainable for Arizona. Just look at their schedule for the next month: vs. Miami, at St. Louis, vs. Buffalo, at Minnesota. Don’t look now, but a 7-0 start for this team is very much possible. And, if it does happen, they don’t need many more wins before we’re talking playoffs.

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When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure you give him a follow @bclienesch for NFL updates and other shenanigans!