Archive | January, 2015

Ball-Out Fallout: The Real Issue With the Dez Bryant Ruling

13 Jan
Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers acknowledges the home fans at Lambeau Field following a 26-21 victory over the Cowboys.
Credit: bleacherreport.com

A week removed from a conspiracy theory that turned Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones into Hugh Hefner – except instead of Playboy bunnies, he had NFL officials wrapped around his finger – the Cowboys were on the receiving end of a controversial call of their own in the Divisional Round of the NFL postseason.

Most of you have probably seen Dez Bryant’s “catch-that-wasn’t” by now. It’s nearly impossible to scroll through any social media feed without stumbling upon an image, video or opinion about the topic. Some opinions are stronger than others. Just ask any sympathy-seeking Cowboys fan or even Bryant himself, who insists it was a catch.

Bryant, normally a fiery competitor, was in disbelief after his catch was overturned late in the fourth quarter. He looked like a self-pitied adolescent whose old man took away his PlayStation.

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was shocked after his catch was overturned.
Credit: cbssports.com

Hold on, let me get my violin.

Amidst the chaos, “catch” has lost all meaning.

No, literally.

Once the officials overturned the ruling, the outcome of Sunday’s clash between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers became irrelevant.

Packers win? Cowboys win?

It no longer mattered. Forget about the game.

Because this, this is what people would be talking about.

It’s a call that many believe single-handedly cost the Cowboys the game and sent the Packers to Seattle for the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks.

Wait, the stakes were that high? You wouldn’t know it based on how much media coverage has been centered around a non-catch which, at this point, has no significance. What’s done is done.

The Packers are essentially being discredited for their victory because of an accurate call based on a rule. I’m not sure what’s so difficult to understand. Bryant initially caught the ball, but as he went to the ground, the ball came loose, resulting in an incompletion. He did not complete the process of the catch. The rule was properly enforced. If you want to be upset about something, be upset about the existence of the rule, not the call itself.

It’s truly a shame that one play, one call, one rule is overshadowing what was otherwise a tremendous duel between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises. But I’m not surprised by the nation’s reaction.

We love controversy. This is the NFL edition of reality TV. It would have been too perfect, too easy for the game to be decided by the players – not sexy enough for national media coverage.

As the fallout continued, I read an opinion of a Cowboys fan who had the audacity to suggest the Packers should forfeit the game because of the call.

Come on. Let’s be real here.

Did the Cowboys forfeit after they benefited from questionable officiating in the Wild Card round against the Detroit Lions?

I didn’t think so.

Except this time, the officiating wasn’t questionable. The refs got it right.

I can understand the frustration of Cowboys fans everywhere. If Bryant would have come down with the ball and Dallas would have gone on to win the game, we all would have been blessed with witnessing another bro-mantic embrace between Jones and Governor Chris Christie in the booth. Yeah, because that’s good TV.

In all seriousness, I’m human. I sympathize with Cowboys fans that this happened the way it did at such a critical point in the game, but I simply can’t endorse not giving the Packers their due diligence.

Did the ruling of an incompletion change Dan Bailey’s missed field goal in the second quarter? What about DeMarco Murray’s fumble in the third quarter? One (right) call doesn’t decide the game, ladies and gentlemen. It didn’t cost the Cowboys anything.

It would be foolish to assume the Cowboys would have automatically won the game if the call on the field was not overturned, yet that seems to be the popular opinion. They would have had the ball at the one-yard line with a chance to retake the lead, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.

What if Tony Romo botched the snap on the next play? He’s done it in big moments before. (Seattle, anyone?) What if the Packers defense made a goal-line stand? These what-ifs are every bit as relevant as saying, “what if Bryant made the catch?”

But for the sake of conversation, I’ll entertain the thought of a Cowboys touchdown on that drive. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say the Cowboys scored and converted the two-point conversion to take a three-point lead (see, I’m even being generous with my assumptions). The Packers would have gotten the ball back with no less than three minutes remaining and a timeout, needing a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win. With the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers and a hot offense, I like those odds.

After all, in the real game, the Packers drove down the field and killed the clock after the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs.

Not only did the Packers kill the clock, they also killed the Cowboys’ Super Bowl hopes and advanced one game closer to another title. That should be the focus of the game.

Now, can we get back to football?

 

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The Great Debate: Rodgers or Watt for MVP?

2 Jan
Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt are the frontrunners for the NFL MVP award.
Credit: si.com

It was perhaps the most immediate silence following a Packers touchdown I had ever heard at Lambeau Field. Forget about the 4-yard score to Randall Cobb in the second quarter. Aaron Rodgers was hurt. And he wasn’t getting up. Nearly 80,000 Packers faithful held their breath as Rodgers collapsed to the ground clutching his left leg. They might as well have been lying on the field beside their quarterback.

It’s a special connection, this Lambeau thing. All who don green and yellow on Sundays are family – those on the field, those in the stands and those screaming frantically at the television.

Although this time there were no screams, no cheers, no rejoice.

Just silence.

I, for one, became misty-eyed as I watched the center of the Packers family get carried off the field and escorted to the locker room on a cart, as chants of “MVP” echoed throughout Green Bay.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for sentiment.

But it was the regular-season finale with a division title and first-round bye on the line. Would Rodgers be named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player at season’s end if he was forced to leave a game of this magnitude due to injury?

I tensely watched as the NFC North showdown between the Packers and Detroit Lions continued. My mind was set on the bigger picture. I knew where the path led without Rodgers.

Halftime came and went. The Packers’ 14-point lead evaporated and hope vanished.

Until a camera shot revealed someone stretching in the tunnel during the third quarter.

It was Rodgers, clad in green and yellow armor with a cape fluttering behind him. OK, it wasn’t that extreme, but you wouldn’t know it the way the crowd reacted as he emerged onto the field.

This man is Green Bay’s hero and perhaps the best quarterback to ever play in the NFL.

Hope had returned. It was showtime.

On one leg, Rodgers completed 17-of-22 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 30-20 victory.

With a performance for the ages, he may have earned himself a second MVP award.

THE DEBATE

The battle for MVP will most likely come down to Rodgers and another one of Wisconsin’s finest, Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who is seeking the first MVP by a defensive player since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. This season, Watt became the first NFL player to record 20 or more sacks in two separate seasons.

His numbers speak for themselves: 78 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 10 batted passes, four forced fumbles, five total touchdowns and one intimidating bloody nose. But here’s why Watt won’t win the MVP this season:

While Watt recorded 20.5 sacks, 14 of them came against AFC South opponents, so he did a majority of his damage during six games within the division, including six sacks alone in two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Every game in which Watt recorded two or more sacks was against the AFC South as well. Talk about feasting on your division.

When talking about Rodgers in terms of why he won’t win the MVP, people point to three losses against opponents with top-tier defenses: the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills – all road games.

Go ahead and hold those three games against Rodgers, but don’t be naïve to the fact that a majority of Watt’s success took place against mediocre opponents. He didn’t do a whole lot against elite competition either.

Rodgers’ 2014 campaign goes beyond the numbers, which aren’t anything to sneeze at: 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns, just five interceptions and a passer rating of 112.2. Of his five interceptions, four of them went off his intended receiver’s hands.

While the stats are impressive, there’s one word with far more substance in terms of Rodgers’ MVP-worthy season:

R-E-L-A-X.

Following the loss to the Lions in Week 3, Rodgers famously spelled out and repeated the word, placing additional pressure on himself and the Packers’ offense to perform, and perform quickly.

He owned it and delivered one of the best 10-game stretches in NFL history. He’s the primary reason why the Packers have won their fourth consecutive NFC North title and are one of the favorites in the playoffs.

Rodgers is the MVP this season because he plays the most important position in football and excels at it more than his counterparts. Not to mention there were a number of games this season in which Rodgers put the Packers so far ahead he didn’t have the opportunity to play in the fourth quarter and improve his stats.

Still unsure about the MVP? Consider this:

If the Texans offered Watt for Rodgers in a trade, would the Packers accept it?

Now, what if the Packers offered Rodgers for Watt? I’d be willing to bet the Texans would accept that trade faster than a New York second.

Additionally, the Packers would be in worse shape without Rodgers than the Texans would be without Watt.

Take Watt out of the Texans lineup. What happens? They go from a non-playoff team to… a non-playoff team.

Take Rodgers out of the Packers lineup. What happens? They go from the No. 2 seed to most likely missing the playoffs.

The MVP debate is so difficult this year because it’s between two players who play drastically different positions. At the end of the day, give me Rodgers.

Watt will have to settle for a consolation prize as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and a front row seat to watch the playoffs from home.