There’s never a bad time for a reference to a classic Christmas movie. As Bill Murray said in Scrooged, “What the hell is going on here?” We’re now three weeks into the 2013 NFL season. By all accounts, the NFC was supposed to be dominant this year. The 49ers, Packers, Falcons, Vikings, and Redskins all had Super Bowl aspirations. They are currently a combined 3 – 12. The Giants, Buccaneers and Rams, all at least playoff hopefuls, are now 1 – 8. Here’s a trivia question. How many NFC teams currently have a winnings record? You want a hint? You can count them on one hand and still have a finger left over. That works out well if, like me, you’re a fan of one of those underachieving teams. Will things get better? We can only hope. 1990 was the last time a team started 0 – 3 and still made it to the playoffs. Six teams will make it in no matter what so, at some point, something’s gotta give. For now, we can only sit back in wonderment as these teams seemingly go out of their way to find new and embarrassing ways to lose games.
The Packers hosted the Bengals on Sunday. Cincinnati scored 14 points in the first 12 seconds. Incidentally, that’s more points than the Defending NFC Champion 49ers have scored in the past two weeks. Okay, back to Green Bay. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had multiple turnovers for the first time in his last 42 starts. Yet, with time expiring in the 4th quarter, Green Bay had the ball and a 3-point lead. Facing a 4th and short in possible field goal range, the Packers decided to go for it. That’s a gutsy call but not a horribly bad one, or wouldn’t have been had Jonathan Franklin not fumbled and the Bengals defense not returned the ball 56 yards for a game-winning touchdown.
How bad have things gotten for the New York Giants? Where do you start? They’re struggling in every facet of the game. Against the Panthers on Sunday, they had 13 yards of the first half offense. THIRTEEN! That came on an Eli Manning scramble and was the Giants’ longest play of the game. Take a look at the box score. It’s not pretty. Manning was sacked seven times. That translates to nearly a third of his pass attempts. He totaled just over a hundred passing yards with an interception and no touchdowns. Victor Cruz’s 8-yard was the Giants’ biggest pass play. David Wilson, the Giants leading rusher, had just 39 yards. Big Blue was shut out 38 – 0. They’ve allowed 115 points through their first three games. Tragically, that’s the good news. How mind bogglingly bad is the Giants defense? Let me see if I can sum it up for you. My daughter just turned 11 and is playing organized football for the first time in her life. She’s the only girl on a team that… well, let’s just say they’re not very good. Through five games, they’ve been outscored 141 – 16. They recorded their first interception on Sunday and my little angel did it. Her interception total now matches the number of interceptions the entire Giants defense has recorded so far this season.
Of course, I don’t want to give the impression that all the ugliness is limited to the NFC. The Jets turned the ball over twice on Sunday and were flagged an appalling 20 times. That’s just 2 penalties shy of the NFL record. Gang Green still managed a fairly easy win over the Bills, which certainly doesn’t say much for them. The Jaguars nearly quadrupled their average weekly point total and still lost by almost 30. And the Steelers… Oh, how the mighty have fallen. They totaled 459 yards of offense and held Chicago to just over half of that. That’s pretty good. Pittsburgh also rushed for just 25 yards, that’s the team total, and turned the ball over 5 times. The 0 – 3 Steelers will face the 0 – 3 Vikings on Sunday. The game will be played in London. The loser should probably stay there.
I have long been of the opinion that the NFL’s system for reviewing plays is flawed. That’s the sugar coated version of how I really feel. The idea that a coach has to “challenge” a call he believes incorrect is ridiculous. The idea that a coach can run out of challenges, even if he’s right every time, is completely asinine. It’s almost as absurd as certain plays “not being subject to review.” Yes, I know you can’t have games dragging on forever while every little thing is checked. Here’s my proposal. Allow coaches to ask for a review anytime they want. If they’re wrong, it costs the team either time or yardage. There. Was that really that difficult? In the NFL’s defense, every year the rules are tweaked and, gradually, things have gotten a little better. It’s amazing how much still slips between the cracks. Remember the play opening weekend when Clay Matthews was flagged for a late hit out of bounds after trying to manually remove Colin Kaepernick’s head? That was a good call. Things went to hell when the 49ers were subsequently flagged for doing nothing more than trying to protect his quarterback. The penalties offset, which was nuts, and then the officials inexplicably gave San Francisco an extra down.
What happened to that officiating crew anyway? Surely they were held accountable. Actually, the Bill Leavy led crew was “downgraded” after the Week 1 mishaps. I don’t exactly know what that means because they’re still working NFL games. They showed up for work on Sunday and this time the Minnesota Vikings had to pay the price. Cleveland either muffed or fumbled a Vikings punt. It’s important to determine which because, although a recovered fumble can be advanced, a recovered muff cannot. Regardless, there was a ball on the turf and Minnesota took it to the end zone for what could have been a game-winning score. The call on the field was muff. No worries. I’ve already mentioned the improvements the NFL has made to their review system. Now, by rule, all turnovers and all scoring plays are reviewed automatically. At the very least, a turnover did take place yet no review was forthcoming. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier then attempted to challenge the call and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Even if the call was justified, which it wasn’t, the proper penalty should have been the loss of a timeout. Instead, the Vikings lost 15 yards and that effectively killed their drive. With all these changes year after year, when is a little common sense going to come into play?