Mandatory Monday gets physical this week, as we hear bodies talk all around the NFL: Bengals fans make their presence felt, the Packers celebrate touchdowns with noogies and Santonio Holmes has a lower threshold of pain than the people who watch him play. Several teams brought home the bacon for the first time this week, and just in time, because the bacon shortage is coming! Of course, nobody has body language quite as complex -- or as scrutinized -- as Cam Newton, so we kick off this week with an in-depth look at the man, the myth, the mannerisms and the mood swings.
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The Cam Newton Body Language Interpreter is a precision-tuned $12-million device assembled out of Ouija boards, dowsing rods and an old Jerry Richardson mood ring that got stuck on "enraged" during the 2011 lockout. It is the most accurate instrument ever invented to gauge the personality, emotional state and "winner-ness" of a quarterback, more precise and insightful than even the fevered imagination of a late-night sports-talk caller. Given the briefest image of Newton, the Body Language Interpreter (BLI) can peer into the dankest storage closets of his psyche.
The BLI was pressed into service after Newton's Week 3 Pout Heard 'Round the World. After Newton reacted badly to a late-game benching, teammate Steve Smith criticized him for sulking on the sidelines, and local newspapers mocked Newton in political cartoons. Newton's father even got into the act, recounting for the Charlotte Observer a story of how Newton brooded after a poor performance in a baseball game when he was 12 or 13 years old, even though his team won. Most parents are content to just show naked baby pictures to the prom date, but whatever: Newton now wears the "crybaby" label because he doesn't display the proper post-benching facial expressions, and because he didn't have the personality of Y.A. Tittle when he was in junior high.
With a promising player's reputation at stake, the Sports on Earth team cranked up the Newton BLI and pointed it at the field for the entire Falcons-Panthers game. Here are our ultra-scientific BLI readings of Newton's true feelings during key points in the game:
Pregame Introductions: Rehearsed. Newton leapt, bounced and did "the airplane" during the pregame festivities, looking so much like public perception was the furthest thing from his mind that he proved conclusively that public perception was the only thing on his mind. Newton looked loose to the naked eye, but the BLI picked up clear evidence of "trying to look loose." You cannot argue with hard science.
First touchdown to Greg Olsen: Ebullient. The BLI has a special setting for "ebullient."
Roddy White's Game-Tying Touchdown: Newton's body language could not be interpreted on this play, but the BLI got a clear message from Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura: "Yikes! What knucklehead left me isolated in deep coverage against Roddy White? I cannot cover him! I cannot even locate the football!" That exact reading was seen again in the game's final minute. As for why Nakamura was left as the lone deep safety so often against an opponent with such a fine deep passing game, hey, this is the Cam Newton Body Language Interpreter, not the Sean McDermott Electroencephalogram.
Steve Smith's Kickoff Return Fumble: Again, no reading on Newton, but the BLI captured the irony emanating from Smith, the self-proclaimed expert on sideline comportment, as he brooded silently with no teammate within 20 feet.
DeAngelo Williams' Touchdown: Mildly Enthusiastic. Newton's high-fives and sideline points lacked conviction. A true warrior would have snarled more.
Newton's Rushing Touchdown: Defiant. Newton danced like an extra from "Finian's Rainbow" in the end zone, handed the football to a kid in a Newton jersey, then got some eye drops on the sideline. Eye drops? Winners don't use eye drops! Why, Ken Stabler used to rub road gravel into his eyes after touchdowns!
Kealoha Pilares' Touchdown Gives the Panthers a Lead: Determined. There were no eye drops after this touchdown. Newton even bared his teeth on the sideline, displaying his chewing gum. You didn't want to be the gum at that moment, because it was getting grimly chewed.
Late-Game, Short-Yardage Fumble: Self-consciously Miserable. Newton held his head up, then put it down, then clapped. He put his hands on his hips, hung around the periphery of the pile, then wandered to the sideline like a toddler trying to slip away from a broken cookie jar. On the sideline, he curled his lip, set his jaw, beat his chest in an "it's on me" motion, tried to smile and lost the smile. It was the sampler platter of emotional responses, guaranteeing everyone something to dislike. Newton's awkward ambivalence left the Panthers' defense no choice but to play the final minute as if they were just woken up from a sound sleep.
After the 30-28 loss: Sullen. Newton covered his head with a towel like a sad little shepherd in a Christmas pageant.
Final Report: The Cam Newton Body Language Interpreter determined conclusively that Newton is not capable of single-handedly winning games and does not react with granite-faced stoicism to everything that happens. It also determined that judging quarterbacks by their body language is ridiculous. Quarterbacks are supposed to be judged by their haircuts, and Newton has Champion Hair.
Next week: We use a seismograph to measure Greg Schiano's teeth grinding.
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Cam Newton was not the only person whose body language was under scrutiny on Sunday. Here are some other individuals who let their bodies do the talking:
Brian Dawkins: The Eagles retired Dawkins' uniform on Sunday night, and the legendary safety crawled, stomped and danced onto the field during pregame introductions, racing across the field as if he were ready to play in another NFC Championship. At halftime, he delivered a long, passionate speech, danced some more, and led the crowd in a rendition of "Fly, Eagles Fly." In other words, he worked harder in retirement than many people work during a double shift. Dawkins did not play any snaps in his pinstriped suit, but the Eagles' defense played most of the victory over the Giants as if he were still in pads.
Chad Greenway: The Vikings' linebacker hit a defenseless Calvin Johnson after an incomplete pass over the middle of the field, then made an elaborate display of tapping his helmet in frustration, pointing at himself sheepishly and demanding a penalty for his own actions. Greenway would likely have gotten flagged no matter what, but his demonstration of guilt was a little like pulling over to tell a highway patrolman that you were recently speeding.
Chris Johnson: Johnson ran to the tunnel while the rest of the Titans' offense was still kneeling on the ball 15 seconds left before halftime in the blowout loss to the Texans. Well, no one said Johnson wasn't fast. Johnson did have 141 yards in the game, but most of them came in the game's extended garbage time. Most amazingly, none of the Texans' fans on either side of the tunnel entrance acknowledged Johnson during his early escape. There was no sign of jeering, taunting, reaching down for a high five, throwing cups of ice or even looking down at the former All-Pro making an early getaway. It's a sad day when a guy who once rushed for 2,000 yards in a season elicits less crowd response than the game's field judge.
Jackson DeVille: The Jaguars' mascot caught an errant pass behind the back of the end zone, spiked it and performed an elaborate dance. The Jaguars get their highlights where they can. I just hope it wasn't Keenan McCardell inside that suit.
Bengals Fans: A few hundred orange-and-black clad diehards were in Jacksonville to watch their team beat the Jaguars 27-10. The final minutes of the game were played in a downpour, and Jaguars fans left early to beat the hypothetical traffic. But the Bengals' fans stood, cheered and got soaked until the final gun. The next step will be for them to show up for some home games.
Danny Amendola: After Amendola caught a touchdown in the corner of the end zone from Johnny Hekker on a fake field goal, he acted as guilty as Chad Greenway. He clutched the ball in both arms, head darting about, wondering how what he did could possibly be legal. Yes, Danny, it is legal for the Rams to be .500.
Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings: Nelson caught the touchdown that gave the Packers a fourth-quarter lead against the Saints, then lost his footing and tumbled to the ground while spiking the football. When Nelson reached the sideline, Jennings clasped him in a headlock and gave him several loving noogies. The abortive celebration and giddy sideline behavior underscored the Packers' early season troubles: Touchdowns have been so rare that the spikes look rusty, and emotions -- many of them negative -- have run incredibly high.
Santonio Holmes: Holmes caught a pass, suffered some sort of foot injury and rolled to the ground in pain, clutching his leg with both hands after tossing the football aside. Holmes was not down yet, and Carlos Rogers scooped the football up and scored, turning a lopsided 49ers game into the kind of event that keeps the New York media over-stimulated for days. Initial X-rays on the foot proved negative; for Holmes' sake, doctors need to discover something more serious than bunions, stat. You know the type of player so committed to winning that he could get run over by a minivan and still cradle the football while lying prone on the field? The Jets don't have many of those players.
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Just as America recovers from the replacement referees, an even greater crisis looms: the bacon shortage. Drought conditions in the Midwest led to rising corn prices, causing higher feed prices, lower profit margins for worldwide hog farmers and herd culling. If the worst-case scenarios are true, your Bacon Lover's Pizza will soon be topped with chia seeds, and get ready to ask for the SGLT (Soylent Green, lettuce and tomato) at your favorite diner. The hog-per-American ratio is at a historic low, people. THE HOG-PER-AMERICAN RATIO IS AT A HISTORIC LOW!
OK, so the Aporkalypse has been overstated a bit, and one less slab of pork belly on top of the burger will probably do us more good than harm. But NFL fans have suffered their own bacon shortage in the opening weeks: Some of our favorite teams have been serving up their football without the fatty goodness. Here's a look at some of the treats we have been missing in the season's first month: Like bacon, they are mouth-watering, but can also be nutritionally dubious in large servings. Teams can trim the fat and still win, but you can eat spinach salad without bacon crumbles, too. It just tastes like the stuff you clean from the undercarriage of your lawn mower.
Packers' Offensive Shortage
With just four offensive touchdowns and 16 sacks allowed in the first three games, the Packers offense was about as much fun as a bowl of boiled broccoli. The offense picked up against the Saints, though the Saints defense looks like it could give up 24 points to a junior hockey team right now.
Delicious: The Packers averaged 35 points per game last season en route to a 15-1 record, so we know their passing game is more than just fun to watch when it is clicking. Yet prior to the Saints game, the Packers resorted to non-meat substitutes like fake field goals to add flavor to their offense.
Not-So-Nutritious: The running game is the NFL's dietary fiber, and the Packers are not getting enough of it. Wide receiver Randall Cobb has the team's two longest runs from scrimmage; Aaron Rodgers has the third-longest. Cedric Benson runs like he runs out of gas after 10 feet. With no consistent rushing attack, the Packers have become a little … irregular.
Pork Futures: Folks in Wisconsin can subsist on a pork-and-dairy diet, but the Packers need their roughage. Benson was able to plow out 84 yards against the Saints, and as long as he provides the pretense of a running game, the Packers will be able to move the ball.
Lions' Ferocity Shortage
Not only are the Lions 1-3, but they have not intercepted a pass, and their special teams act like they are a police escort for the other team's return men.
Delicious: The Lions' defense was more hype than substance last year, but their front four is usually about as good as advertised. So far this year, quarterbacks have had time to throw and running backs have found room to run. In fact, just about everything we associate with Lions football is out of kilter: Calvin Johnson is dropping passes, Matthew Stafford is overthrowing everyone and left tackle Jeff Backus was completely incapable of blocking Jared Allen. OK, so that last item was actually in kilter. The Lions still look soft.
Not-So-Nutritious: Watching the Lions rumble around committing penalties was always a guilty pleasure, like watching a pro wrestling villain smuggle a tire iron into the ring. This year, the Lions are not committing that many penalties: just 26 through four games, none of them of the "Ndamukong Suh jumped the quarterback in the parking lot" variety. You cannot commit unnecessary roughness on a return man you never catch, but last year's Lions would have found a way.
Pork Futures: The Lions' defense played well against the Vikings, allowing just 100 net passing yards. It won't be fair to evaluate the Lions' defense until the special teams stops spotting opponents 14 points. If the coverage does not improve by the time the Bears face the Lions, Devin Hester will be the first person to circumnavigate the globe on a punt return.
Giants' Sack Shortage
The Giants recorded just eight sacks through the first four weeks. They got to Michael Vick just twice on Sunday night, though they did chase him all over South Philadelphia.
Delicious: The Giants still applied pressure to quarterbacks in their early games. The results were fewer sacks but more pass deflections (see Jason Pierre-Paul against Cam Newton) and stalled drives. The Buccaneers and Panthers ran just 52 and 55 offensive plays against the Giants, well below the league average, and you cannot record a sack when you have already forced a punt. Andy Reid respected the Giants pass rush so much that he actually called running plays.
Not-So-Nutritious: There is nothing really fatty about the Giants pass rush. Even Michael Strahan still looks trim, five years removed from the fray and laughing it up with Kelly Ripa. Just think: In 10 years we might just see Justin Tuck wedged between Sara Gilbert and Kelly Osbourne on "The Talk"!
Pork Futures: The Giants could have mounted a better pass rush against the Eagles, but their biggest problem was that they were shocked by the Eagles' running game. And let's face it: When the Eagles actually use their running game, it is pretty shocking. Also, the Giants offense only scored 17 points, even though rookie return man David Wilson kept handing them the ball near midfield. Bacon is only an ingredient, not a main course.
Patriots' Dominance Shortage
The NFL's reigning kings of excess, having gorged themselves on goblets of rendered drippings for years, suffered from a major case of hardened arteries in the Cardinals game, then lacked the stamina to go toe-to-toe with the Ravens for 60 minutes. Austerity measures don't sit well with Bill Belichick, and the boom returned in the third quarter of the Bills game.
Delicious: Patriots excellence only leaves a bitter taste in the mouth because we have ingested so much of it in the past decade. They have supersized us. The second half of Sunday's game was like a 1,500-calorie meal, and non-fans are not fond of such gluttony.
Not-So-Nutritious: Just about everyone south of Hartford got a guilty kick out of watching the Patriots sizzle in their own visceral fat for a few weeks. It's fun to think that they win so many blowouts that they are unprepared to win close games like the ones the Cardinals and Ravens lured them into. But really, their biggest problem right now is that Stephen Gostkowski suddenly cannot kick straight.
Pork Futures: America may run out of bacon, but the Patriots will never run out of Bills beatings.
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We wrap this week by ranking the eight divisions in reverse order of how backward their standings look. Got that? Here goes:
8. AFC South: Every team is about where we would expect them to be. Texans playoff odds are now so good that you have to put up $500 dollars to win a complimentary bowl of corn nuts.
7. AFC North: As long as the Ravens are in first place but look horrible, everything feels normal.
6. NFC East: Everyone can beat everyone else, as usual.
5. AFC East: Three .500 teams going in three directions: the Patriots forward, the Jets backward, the Bills into their usual snowdrift.
4. AFC West: While we were all counting the revolutions per second on Peyton Manning's spiral, the Chargers somehow won three games.
3. NFC South: It's a good thing Sean Payton isn't allowed to see this.
2. NFC North: Between the Monday night catastrophe, the Lions' weird loss to the Titans last week and general Vikings competence, this is the most unpredictable division in the NFL right now. At least everyone still hates Jay Cutler.
1. NFC West: The Cardinals are undefeated. All four teams are at least .500. If these teams keep playing well, we may be forced to actually watch them play.