Let’s begin this week at the end: the Top Five Frenetic Finishes of Week 2.
5) Colts 23, Vikings 20. Move over, Buffalo Bills: The Vikings are now the NFL’s Most Exciting Terrible Team! After last week’s overtime comeback thriller against the Jaguars (a participial phrase you never thought you would read), the Vikings scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter this week to erase a 20-6 deficit. But with just 31 seconds left, Andrew Luck threw two 20-yard passes to set up a 53-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. Luck and Christian Ponder combined for 469 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, providing a glimpse into either the future of the NFL or at what happens when bad teams face off in early season games. Probably the latter.
4) Rams 31, Redskins 28. The Redskins led most of the game, but the Rams came back and took the lead when Matthew Mulligan blocked a punt, then caught a touchdown pass a few plays later. (Rams victories traditionally involve one man, usually Steven Jackson, doing all the work.) The Rams’ attempt to munch the clock failed when rookie running back Daryl Richardson fumbled into the arms of DeAngelo Hall. The hotheaded Hall cannot make a routine tackle without prompting an all-points bulletin, so naturally a fracas ensued, but the Redskins retained the ball.
Robert Griffin III went to work with a mix of scrambles and short passes, but after Josh Morgan caught a pass that might have set up a game-tying field goal, he angrily threw the ball at his defender’s head. Fourth-and-one became fourth-and-16, and after the Rams took a timeout to ice Griffin (or Mike Shanahan, who suddenly got cold feet and took the offense off the field), Billy Cundiff attempted a 62-yard field goal, with predictable results. In summary: bad special teams, mental lapses and questionable late-game coaching. Welcome -- for real this time -- to the Redskins, RGIII!
3) Cardinals 20, Patriots 18. Remember a few minutes ago, when Adam Vinatieri nailed a clutch game-winning field goal? So do the Patriots, except that it was in 2004.
2) Eagles 24, Ravens 23. Trailing by six points, the Eagles drove to the Ravens three-yard line before the two minute warning. Michael Vick gained two yards on a keeper, and the officials blew the whistle for … the two-minute warning. This encore presentation of the two-minute warning was a 30-second timeout, charged to neither team, just like they do it in the East Towson 40-and-Over Three-Completions-for-a-First-Down League, or wherever this group of officials worked last year.
After several two-minute warnings, an obvious incompletion by Michael Vick was ruled a fumble, because bad calls are like ugly home furnishings: One is a mistake, but a whole set of them is a bold aesthetic statement. The officials reversed the call but announced that it was fourth down. The down markers read second down. Vick punched the ball in for what becomes an Eagles victory on what was, in fact, third down.
Andy Reid attributed the clock situation to “human error” after the game, saying that the officials offered him an adequate explanation for the wrinkle in space-time: They ran the clock earlier when they shouldn’t have, and offered the Two-Minute Warningpalooza as a kind of make-up call. But what down was it when you scored, coach? “I don’t know. Go back and look at it.” That won’t help!
1) Giants 41, Buccaneers 34. It was an entire Giants season in one game, a Giants football bonsai tree. There was the listless start (a 6-3 lead in the first quarter) and the discouraging roll by the opposition (a 27-13 deficit by the third quarter). There were major injuries, including the annual loss of poor Domenik Hixon.
Then, the pebbly little, field goal-driven comeback that becomes an avalanche. The Giants tied the game, but just like one of their typical nerve-racking Decembers, they wavered after taking a late lead. Buccaneers receiver Mike Williams reminded us that he is still in the NFL with a 41-yard touchdown to re-tie the game. But the Giants scored after some Eli Manning heroics, and they won at almost the exact same moment the Patriots lost in a final example of synchronicity.
The game ended with Tom Coughlin shouting at Greg Schiano after some overzealous Buccaneers defense on the final kneel-down plays. Coughlin figured fans were worn out and did not want to have to stay up until the end of Lions-Niners to see some fiery coach-on-coach action.
“That awkward moment” gags are an Internet fad that spontaneously manifested a few months ago and now feel older than the Dead Sea Scrolls. People who share awkward moment jokes use the word “awkward” the way Alanis Morissette used “ironic:” as a synonym for “bad,” as opposed to its actual meaning. Sorry folks, but “that awkward moment when the state trooper tells you to put both hands against the car” does not really work as a joke, no matter how cute the line drawing of a 1950s housewife that accompanies it.
At the risk of catching the tail end of a dying Internet meme and misusing a word with a rather simple meaning, we offer these awkward moments from Week Two:
That Awkward Moment When You Aren’t Sure Whether You Should Be On The Field Or Not: Late in the Seahawks-Cowboys game, with the Cowboys desperately in need of a third down defensive stop, Anthony Spencer ran onto the field a split second before the snap. Spencer blitzed, and because no Seahawks blocker picked him as the guy who was standing next to a down marker a second earlier, he sacked Russell Wilson for an 11-yard loss. Unfortunately, he also grabbed Wilson’s facemask, giving the Seahawks a fresh set of downs. A few plays later, the Cowboys had 12 men on the field for a punt, making it even easier for the Seahawks to chew clock in their 27-7 win. Next week, Jerry Jones will assign a family member to count the players on the field, if he can find any who can be trusted with the difficult task.
That Awkward Moment When You Discover The Bad Player You Acquired Did Not Miraculously Improve: The Rams were forced to insert Wayne Hunter, the former object lesson for Jets offensive ineptitude, at tackle against the Redskins. Hunter got flagged for holding twice: once in the red zone before halftime (the Rams still managed a field goal) and once in the shadow of the Rams goalpost. The second penalty was declined because Hunter allowed a sack anyway.
The Chiefs acquired Peyton Hillis as a power runner in the offseason, ignoring the evidence from last season that Hillis couldn’t push a pile anymore if you gave him a fleet of bulldozers. Given a carry from the one-yard line during the Chiefs’ annual humiliation at the hands of the Bills, Hillis promptly fumbled into the end zone. Jamaal Charles had six carries for three yards in the game, because the Chiefs learned last year that they are capable of losing by 18 points without him.
That Awkward Moment When Chase Daniel is Warming Up: Drew Brees took a big hit from Greg Hardy in the third quarter of the Saints' loss to the Panthers and looked seriously hurt. Daniel warmed up on the sideline, but Brees came back in the next series and looked as sharp as he has all season; that is, not nearly as sharp as he looked from 2008-2011. For a few minutes, it seemed that accusations, suspensions and defenders that treat every play-fake in the backfield as if they were watching David Copperfield make a DC-10 disappear were not the worst things the Saints would have to deal with this year.
That Awkward Moment When The Game Ends And No One On Offense Has Broken A Sweat: The Jaguars’ time of possession in their 27-7 loss to the Texans was 16:43. They had only one drive of longer than four plays. The Titans held the ball for 16:21 in their 38-10 loss to the Chargers, though there may be some strategic value in making Norv Turner keep calling play after play until he runs out.
The Cowboys had a respectable 25:21 time of possession, but only nine of those minutes came in the second half, and they were dispatched by the Seahawks in a tight two hours and 57 minutes. When their game ended, there were still exactly 12 minutes left in Redskins-Rams, so the Cowboys may have had time to shower, handle press conferences and still see the Redskins lose, which might at least have made them feel a tiny bit better.
That Awkward Moment When The Microphone Is Still On: It was a bad day for officials in the Ravens-Eagles game. In addition to the “Brief History of Time” adventure and the “stop or we’ll yell ‘stop’ again” technique for breaking up fights, referee Robert Frazer left his microphone on for nearly 30 seconds after the two-minute warning of the first half. (There were so many two-minute warnings in this game that specificity is key.) The officials reviewed NFL basics among themselves while 69,000 fans eavesdropped. The good news: No one said anything inaccurate, silly or damning. Considering the news that broke before kickoff, no one would have been surprised to hear, “I cannot wait for halftime so I can update my Marques Colston Facebook timeline cover!”
The old saw in journalism goes that “once is an occurrence, twice a coincidence, three times is a trend.” The adage is meant to remind reporters and editors to keep their powder dry and wait for a developing story to grow some legs. What a 20th century concept. In the modern news cycle, once is absolute proof, twice is eternal truth and by three times we’re bored, so you better write about something else.
In the spirit of keeping up with the atom-smashing speed of modern sports coverage, let’s revisit some Week 1 storylines and see if they hold up at all:
RGIII Hype Avalanche: If the entire NFL media says “what a solid, impressive debut” about a rookie at once, it inevitably sounds like, “THIS YOUNG MAN IS SO TRANSCENDENTLY GREAT THAT HE WILL FILL THE YAWNING VOID OF EXISTENTIAL DESPAIR IN YOUR SOUL WITH BLUEBIRDS AND MARSHMALLOWS, REKINDLING YOUR CHILD-LIKE AWE ABOUT THE WONDER OF CREATION.” Still, it was a solid, impressive debut.
One Week Later: Griffin played well, again, though the Redskins could not pull out a win. Griffin’s game plans are still long on run options and screen passes, and he once again got some breaks when easy interceptions bounced off defenders’ hands. These aren’t criticisms, just reality checks; so when Griffin has his first three-interception game, don’t be shocked. Oh, sorry, we went off message. “RGIII IS A BEACON OF HOPE AND FULFILLMENT IN AN OTHERWISE-BARREN COSMOS WHO IS DESTINED TO HAVE MORE HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE THAN MICHAEL JORDAN, BABE RUTH AND CHARLEMAGNE COMBINED …”
Long-Snappers Blues: In the wake of Jon Condo’s concussion and Travis Goethel’s “unholy roller” punt snaps on Monday night, the Raiders worked out six long snappers on Tuesday morning, settling on rookie Nick Guess. Other coaches around the league stated that they keep a list of free agent long snappers handy just in case; with so few people qualified for the job, those lists probably contain many of the same names. You can picture these poor guys waking up each morning, heading to the gym, knocking tin cans off picket fences with long snaps, then racing to the airport the moment they see some poor press-ganged linebacker launch a gutter ball toward a punter.
One Week Later: Condo played and snapped many times without incident in a 35-13 loss to the Dolphins. The Raiders now only have to worry about their rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense, third-down conversion rate and about a dozen other problems that cannot be solved by combing the waiver wire for one guy.
The Giants Need Humble Pie: Yes, those strutting, preening Giants, whose offseason visibility barely measured 0.75 Gradkowskis, whose kickoff ceremony last week was about as bombastic as opening day for the Pocono City Fudge Sox, needed to rein it in a little bit. The “Super Bowl hangover” was one of those prefab storylines that went from stale to rancid after 10 days, but we kept on serving. Sure, Tom Coughlin said the team needed “humble pie,” but Coughlin is kind of guy who finds Amish country a little showy.
One Week Later: If the Giants had a Super Bowl hangover in the season opener, they must have had Super Bowl alcohol poisoning at the start of this week’s game. But in the third quarter, they took some Super Bowl ibuprofen, had a Super Bowl nap and fixed themselves some Super Bowl bacon, eggs and coffee. As with most hangovers, most of the effects of this one were gone by 4 p.m. Sunday.
The Jets Have An Offense: For best results, beat your chest with a fist when saying this, then walk away grumbling under your breath about disrespect.
One Week Later: No, they don’t. They just have periodic games against the Bills.
Status Update: It’s Complicated
In my previous life as a high school teacher, I constantly warned my students about their behavior on the Internet. “Don’t post pictures of yourself doing a headstand with a funnel in your mouth on Myspace,” I would say (this was a few years ago). Or, “Don’t ‘friend’ that mysterious stranger from Singapore.”
Of course, email addresses like WhoDatSaintsFan93 and “Go Saints!” status updates were never in the danger zone, because I was not preparing young people for careers as replacement officials.
The NFL relieved side judge Brian Stropolo of his duties for the Saints-Panthers game just hours before kickoff because of Stropolo’s not-so-secret life as a Saints fan. It was yet another “Matrix”-style bullet dodge for the NFL during the officials’ lockout; see the Eagles game or the uncalled hits on quarterbacks in the Lions-49ers game for other examples. It was also ammunition for educators everywhere who are trying to teach young people that employers will read and react to what they see about you on social networks. Eventually.
Like a local liquor store owner compiling a list of check-bouncing patrons, the NFL is no doubt hastily assembling a master list of individuals too devoted to their favorite teams to serve as impartial referees. Among those to be blackballed: Fireman Ed (Jets games), Boss Hoggette (Redskins), Sean Payton (Saints), Clay Morrow (Raiders), and anyone with the suspicious ability to identify three Jaguars players other than Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars). The NFL will also no doubt intensify its background checks for replacement officials by doing things the average 15-year-old knows to do before accepting a movie date.
As for Stropolo, he should have mentioned his rooting interests to the NFL, but beyond that blunder, he is just another overmatched guy doing the best he can. He probably does not need the kind of attention he has received. Nor does the NFL, which won’t realize the error of its ways until one of these replacement incidents leads to a DEFCON-1 level scandal that decides a game or injures a player.
Facebook, though, is happy for all the attention it can get.