It turns out centralized replay wasn't the silver bullet the NFL hoped it would be. For the second week in a row, the replay office overturned a touchdown catch scored against the Patriots. This has been met with howls of protest since it exposes a key weakness in the sport itself.
The touchdown by Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin taken off the board wasn't as consequential as the one initially scored by Jesse James in the final minute of the Pats' Week 15 game against the Steelers. It was every bit as maddening as reinforcement of the perception that the NFL still has little idea what constitutes a catch. Or, if the NFL does have a handle on the question, its definition of a catch is not what fans want.
This isn't an obscure matter that can be hidden from. Outrage might be a little higher because both of these calls have benefitted the Patriots, a team with no lack of detractors and a worn-out welcome.
Coming into 2017, the concept of centralized review done by NFL headquarters in New York was sold to the public as a means to ensure consistency in officiating. Refs would be in touch with NFL executives, and one huge governing body wasn't likely to contradict itself the way a bunch of individual officials might.
But calls are being overturned minus much definitive evidence. In both the case of James last week and Benjamin on Sunday, it was decided there was sufficient proof to overturn a touchdown call made on the field.
In #BUFvsNE, when Kelvin Benjamin gains control, his left foot is off the ground. The receiver only has one foot down in bounds with control. Therefore, it is an incomplete pass. -AL— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) December 24, 2017
Two former heads of officiating noticed a hint of contempt for the referees on site working the games.
regarding the Buffalo no touchdown, nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it. It is more and more obvious that there isn't a standard for staying with the call on the field.- Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 24, 2017
Centralized review might get the league more consistency, but if it's a line of reasoning the fans don't support, that might be even worse than reviews that are impossible to predict from official to official. And because it's coming from the league office, it carries the imprimatur of authority. The result is that fans are so fed up that many would just as soon not bother with replay at all, rather than nitpick the tiniest details and proceed with less than definitive evidence.
In cases of borderline calls such as these, the NFL would be better suited to defer to the calls on the field. Otherwise, it's making itself the target for seemingly being an unfair arbiter when any issue could be attributed to human error or the circumstances that played out as the action unfolded.
Yes, Virginia, there was a butt interception
Few things delight NFL fans like turnovers that feature a player's backside in some capacity. Mark Sanchez's butt fumble remains one of the most widely joked about plays in the history of, well, all sports. The interception by Marshon Lattimore against the Falcons might not be such an enduring punch line, likely because it doesn't carry the added oomph of humiliation. It's still good enough to be passed down through the generations as the time a got secured a interception by nestling it on his butt. And that's important.
Millennials are ruining Jeff Fisher's legacy
Jeff Fisher in the house at Nissan Stadium. pic.twitter.com/W6rCbmbuHZ- Gary Klein (@LATimesklein) December 24, 2017
In clinching the Rams' first division title since 2003, Sean McVay became not only the youngest head coach in NFL history but also the youngest to qualify for the postseason. He did it with his coaching predecessor in the house. It made a lot of sense for Jeff Fisher to be on hand, given that the Titans and the Rams were the two franchises for which he served as head coach. Having Fisher there to watch as the Rams fully exorcised the mediocrity that defined his era should be cathartic to anyone who supports the team. That likely wasn't Fisher's intent at all, but then it wasn't his intent to finish 7-9 in 2016, and the team did even worse. So take that how you will.
A moving Dick Enberg tribute from CBS
Never before has a broadcaster commanded legendary status over so many sports. Dick Enberg did just that, and created a lifetime of memories for us in the process. Jim Nantz looks back at this broadcasting legend and his legacy pic.twitter.com/O5jQmmThWy- CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 24, 2017
Broadcasting legend Dick Enberg died last week. NFL fans surely remember him as serving in the marquee broadcasting team when NBC had rights to cover the AFC back in the '90s. He career shifted to CBS after it took over those broadcasting rights. On Sunday, CBS had Jim Nantz, its top announcer, narrate a tribute to Enberg before the games got underway.
Fan of the Week
lol a Saints fan is flying this banner over the Superdome before the game against the Falcons pic.twitter.com/qFsDnsv7fC- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 24, 2017
Saints-Falcons has always been an underrated intense NFL rivalry because the South is typically best known for SEC-related rancor. Also, it's rare that both teams have been relevant at the same time. Their Week 16 meeting, a 23-13 Saints win, was full of postseason ramifications, however. To mark the occasion and get the trash talking off to a notable start, a Saints fan paid to have a 28-3 banner flown over the Superdome, obviously referencing the record-setting blown lead the Falcons surrendered in last season's Super Bowl.
And it wasn't just the New Orleans fans who went hard on the Falcons trolling. The halftime show made an unmistakable swipe at their archrivals. Being mocked through dance has to be the most painful slight of all.
Carolina struggled mightily with the Buccaneers, and the Panthers' defense didn't have a great day in terms of yardage, giving up nearly 400 yards. But they were opportunistic with the turnovers, getting three, including the fumble that Short forced in the final minute to seal the victory. He also had 1 1/2 sacks.
The 2017 transformation of Jared Goff into a quality quarterback has received the bulk of the attention when the Rams are discussed. It took a herculean effort by Gurley in Sunday's win over the Titans to get writers talking seriously about his MVP bona fides. He certainly bolstered his case in Week 16 by being the first player since Herschel Walker in 1986 to post 100 rushing yards and 150 receiving yards in one game. For good measure, he also added two scores. The second was the most impressive, as he weaved his way through the middle of the defense en route to an 80-yard touchdown off a screen pass.
William Jackson III
The Bengals' season is going nowhere, though they did get to play spoiler for another longtime woebegone franchise. Cincinnati denied Detroit a shot at the postseason and likely spelled the end of the Jim Caldwell era with the Lions. Jackson was instrumental in that effort, not allowing a catch for the second straight week. The second-year corner has impressed since taking over as a starter a few weeks ago. He looks like a promising contributor for whomever ends up coaching the Bengals next season.
A victory over the Jaguars being a statement game seems like a weird thing to say, but such is 2017. Jimmy G remains undefeated as a starter. His win over a dominant Jaguars defense is his greatest feat yet. He passed for two touchdowns, including a crisp sideline flick at the start of the fourth quarter, and he ran another in himself. The 49ers are bound to be a buzzed-about playoff contender going into the 2018 season, and that's even before seeing what pieces they could add through free agency and the draft.
The Giants offense flirted with competence for a week in a loss to Philly, only to follow that up with a shutout loss in Arizona. Bethea's two interceptions of Eli Manning were a big reason for that, and the Cardinals safety was critical in run support, as well.
There was plenty of offensive ineptitude to go around in the Cowboys' playoff-squandering home loss to the Seahawks. It's reason to argue that Bryant had the worst day of all in a game in which the Cowboys were supposed to round back into shape with the return of Ezekiel Elliott. In the first half, Bryant called for the ball and had only one catch, which he fumbled. Bryant had a pass in the second half carom off his hands to a Seahawks defender for an interception. The ball was thrown a little behind Bryant, though it was the type of catch one would assume a star receiver would make. In fact, it drew a bit of a catty comment from Dak Prescott after the game.
Dak Prescott on his INT that went through hands of Dez Bryant: "I think I have to throw him a better ball. Just put it right there on his face mask and don't give him a chance to drop it, I guess."- David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) December 25, 2017
A few weeks of Surprisingly Decent Bortles had people questioning whether the often-maligned quarterback had turned the corner. Maybe not quite yet. Bortles wasn't totally hapless in the loss to the 49ers, but there was enough to rekindle concerns that he could drag down an otherwise contending roster. Bortles threw three interceptions after going three straight games without a pick. The Jags likely blew their outside shot at a first-round bye. There's still time to regroup before the playoffs, but they'll be entering through the wild-card round.
The Falcons tailback had a disastrous game in the red zone. In the second half alone, he was twice unable to get into the end zone from the one-yard line. He ended the first drive of the third quarter with a red-zone fumble, his fourth fumble overall in the past three weeks. On the first play of the fourth quarter, with Atlanta trailing 20-3, Freeman was stoned on a fourth-and-one.
The Dolphins corner gave up nine catches on 12 targets for 99 yards, according to PFF, and two of those incompletions were the result of drops. McCain has at times looked like he could be a fixture on a young, improving defense, but Sunday was neither an encouraging outing in terms of coverage or tackling ability. Miami has a lot to figure out on offense before next season, so it needs its defense to be as reliable as possible.
Replacing Greg Zuerlein is no easy task, what with Greg the Leg being the NFL points leader before going on injured reserve. Other than delighting Twitter with joke opportunities regarding his last name, it wasn't a great first outing for Ficken. He missed a 36-yard field goal and an extra point in the first half. The Rams' faith in Ficken was questionable from the outset Sunday, as they opted to attempt a fake punt instead of a 49-yard field goal on their opening drive of the game.
The week in celebrations
It's nice to focus on the NFL celebration renaissance going on in 2017, but that doesn't mean we should neglect the contributions that happened in a more oppressive state. Most of them may not have been entirely legal when he did them. Nevertheless, Chad Johnson had some of the most memorable celebrations in football history. OK, maybe not memorable to him, since apparently he doesn't recall passing out gifts on the sideline. That doesn't mean we forgot.
I forgot i passed out presents after a touchdown, my celebrations will NEVER be topped 🎅 https://t.co/Y9nYAnxqhj- Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) December 24, 2017
No one on Sunday quite rose to that holiday challenge. There were a couple standouts. It may not be touching on a certain holy birthday, but Cam Newton did have a good birthday-related celebration upon scoring the go-ahead touchdown in a win over the Bucs. After fumbling the snap and taking the ball in himself, Cam mimicked lighting a birthday cupcake. Though Sunday was his son's birthday, he presented the ball to another young fan in the stands.
Cam Newton with the birthday candle celebration pic.twitter.com/T3Nh3V8Lq1- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 24, 2017
The holiday season, of course, means a return of the Salvation Army kettle behind the end zone in AT&T Stadium. Last season, Ezekiel Elliott made headlines by leaping into it following a touchdown.
*Mario warp sound* pic.twitter.com/711JoQyKyi- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 24, 2017
On the day of Elliott's return from suspension, it was Seahawks corner Justin Coleman who bounded into the kettle following a pick-six. No coincidence, either, since after the game Coleman noted it was planned. It's a fine way to show up an opponent while also doing something that looks incredibly fun. Perhaps it was inspirational to all of the Seahawks secondary. How else to explain why Earl Thomas was in the locker room after the game asking Dallas coaches to bring him on if the Seahawks release him?