Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sleepless About the Seattle Game

Broadcast Screen Capture by Scott Crevier, Frame 3 © Scott Crevier
Hmmm - what to discuss today about the Packers @ Seahawks game?  Here's an idea, how about the officiating on the final play of this week's game?  The Packers lost to the Seahawks, 14-12, on a disputed touchdown pass on the final play of the game.

Scott Crevier, proprietor of the South End Zone web site, and the guy who encouraged me to start the predecessor to this blog, put up some screen captures showing the final play.   Not to go all Zapruder film on this, but to me, the most conclusive frame is the third one (shown above and at the link to Flickr).  The first frame shows that Packer defensive back M.D. Jennings had possession of the ball prior to Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, so under the plain reading of the rule (see below), this is not simultaneous possession.  The second frame arguably shows both players with hands on the ball, but the third frame shows Tate's hand come off the ball before sticking his hand back in there in the 4th frame.  So if there is any doubt about the simultaneity of the possession, I think the third frame shows that this is Jennings' ball, because he had it throughout, while Tate's possession was (a) later; and (b) (at best for Tate) lost before being re-established.

The rule (Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5) says:

Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.
It is hard to see the status of Tate's left hand throughout the play, but let's assume for the sake of argument that he had his left hand on the ball throughout.  It is possible to catch a ball with one hand, obviously, as some recent high profile plays have shown - none more prominent than David Tyree's catch in the closing minutes of Super Bowl XLII.  But in the context of the play last night, I think Golden Tate still loses out because part of possession is control.  Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 requires control of the ball as a part of the concept of catching the ball.  Sure, if both players had both hands on the ball throughout the play, the fact that Jennings is holding the ball against his chest might not negate the simultaneous possession of the ball.  But where Jennings (in my view, clearly) appears to gain possession first, followed by Tate getting his right hand on the ball, then taking it off, then putting his right hand back on the ball while Jennings cradles the ball with both hands against his chest, you simply cannot say that Jennings did not have control of the ball first.

You know the call must be bad when a player for a divisional rival speaks up to say that the Packers were robbed.  I don't think I have ever heard a case where the commentators are as unanimous as they are on this one being wrong.  Take the "Instant Replay" game from 1989, for example.  The Majkowski to Sharpe touchdown pass was either the game winner, or Majkowski was over the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball, so that it was an illegal forward pass.  It was a very close call, dependent in part on exactly how you determine whether a player is over the line of scrimmage.  The Bears, I am told, put an asterisk on this game in their media guide to this very day.  A call had to be made, it was called an illegal forward pass, and then the call on the field was reversed, making it the game-winning touchdown.  There is general consensus that it was the right call (indeed, even the Bears fan in the stands with us admitted, on seeing the replay, that it was a TD).  But people still argue about the call 23 years later.

But in this week's game, the commentary is, so far as I can tell, unanimous that the call was wrong.  There were lots of other questionable calls in the game (including the phantom pass interference call on Shields, and the roughing the passer call on Erik Walden, negating an interception, both in the closing minutes), and not all of them were in favor of the home team.  But everyone seems to agree that this call was wrong.  So the call was blown.  So what?  I generally take the view that you can't complain about bad calls - it is poor form, nobody is perfect, and what is the point?

But this is different because the replacement referees brought about this travesty.  I am not close to the details of the labor dispute, but my instinct is to support the League over the referees.  But what is happening now is just not acceptable.  The referees are not up to the task, and the League needs to solve this problem.  There were problems in other games in the first three weeks, and there was a certain sense that we were heading to a disaster if this did not get resolved.  Now the disaster has happened, and a bad call by refs directly changed the outcome of the game.

As a fan, as a season ticket holder, and as an owner of the team, I am outraged by what happened last night.  There are only 16 games in the regular season.  A game like this can cost the Packers the playoffs, or at a minimum can affect playoff seeding.  Nobody else seems primed to run away with the NFC North, so I remain hopeful that this will not screw up the entire season for the Packers.  But it certainly could.

I will be contacting the league office this morning (if I can ever get anything other than a busy signal) to complain about what is happening, and to urge the league to get this thing resolved before another disaster happens.  There are more than 350,000 owners of the Green Bay Packers.  It would be great if we could all get involved in protesting this.

The League has just released a statement on the play, in which the League acknowledges that Tate should have been flagged for offensive pass interference (which is not reviewable), but otherwise supports the decision not to overturn the call on the field.  Who has possession of the ball is reviewable on a play in the end zone (but not outside of the end zone), but the League's position is that there was no indisputable evidence to overturn the call on who had possession.  So the matter is final, as far as the League is concerned.  But it need not be final with the fans, season ticket holders, and owners of the Packers and other teams.  Please contact the League and let them know (politely) how you feel about the situation.

Here is the contact information for the League, as best I can determine it since I can't get through to the League on the phone, and since they don't list their contact information on their website.  The contact info I am most confident about is the League's main phone number, but as mentioned it is consistently busy this morning.
National Football League
345 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10017
(212) 450-2000 (phone)
(212) 681-7599 (FAX)
(212) 450-2027 (Roger Goodell, supposedly)
roger.goodell@nfl.com (supposedly)

A couple of final thoughts.  As Aaron Rodgers put it, they shouldn't have let it come down to the final play.  There is a book about elections titled "If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat."  But it should apply to football, too.  The Packers needed to get their act together in this game, and they didn't until the second half.  McCarthy and the coaching staff made some great adjustments on offense at halftime.  Why not do it earlier?  And as for M.D. Jennings, whatever happened to the idea that you just knock down a Hail Mary pass, not try to intercept it?  Plus, if he had rolled more aggressively away from Tate on the ground, he would have had sole possession by the time the late-arriving refs got there.

We fans may not readily be able to put this game behind us.  But the team must do so.  The talented but desperate 0-3 New Orleans Saints are coming to town on Sunday.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Back in First Place!

Cousin John Belzer's photo from The Fifty/50 bar in Chicago
Quotes of the week:
"We understand that Jay was excited about his new weapons, but it's the same old Jay.  We don't need luck.  We just need to be in position.  Jay will throw us the ball."  Charles Woodson, reacting after the game to Cutler's pre-game comment to the effect that he wished the Packers "good luck" in covering his receivers.
"Yeah, I dream about throwing four picks and getting sacked seven times."  Jay Cutler, giving a great sarcastic answer to a stupid question about whether he had imagined the game turning out this way.
So here is the story of the short week leading up to the Bears-Packers game last Thursday night.  The Packers had looked horrible on Sunday against what (I must reluctantly admit) is one of the best teams in the league, while the Bears looked pretty good against 2011's worst team in the league.  Fans on both sides over-reacted wildly.  Packer fans were measuring out rope to hang themselves, while the silly guys below the border were making special signs for their bars about how the Packers suck.  Jay Cutler joined in the fun, taunting the Packers about how they would not be able to cover his receivers.

But, as Chris Berman loves to say, "that's why they play the games."  Oh, the delicious irony of it!  Jay Cutler stops pouting for a few minutes so he can pop off about how great his receivers are, and then the Packers go out, knock him on his backside, intercept him repeatedly, and force him to contemplate what might have been.  The defense played in a way that was reminiscent of the 2010 season, with Matthews getting half the 7 sacks, and with Tramon Williams getting half of the 4 interceptions.  Some of the new defenders, like Nick Perry, did not overtly have a huge impact on the game.  But at the same time, I have to wonder how much his presence opposite Matthews, along with the addition of other new defenders like Jerrel Worthy, ended up deflecting just enough attention to allow Matthews to have a game as disruptive as Packer fans love to see.  The final score of 23-10 was closer than the game felt, as the Packers completely dominated the game on defense.

There were so many things that went right in this game, that it bears emphasis that a lot of improvement is still needed, especially on offense.  Yes, Cedric Benson looked much better out there on Thursday, gaining 81 yards, and even a marginal running game would be a big help.  Yes, the Packers are finding lots of ways to get Randall Cobb more involved in the game plan, and he looks like he is ready for the opportunity.  But Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 8 times in 2 games, and that is not a trend that is likely to keep him healthy all season.  And the passing game continues to be just a little off.  Too many drops, too many passes not quite in the perfect spot.  If the passing game was just a little more in sync, this game would have been a blowout.

Special kudos to the special teams, for pulling off the sweetest fake field goal I have seen in a long time.  And on 4th and 26!  It is almost enough to take away some of the awful taste of that other 4th and 26 play all those years ago.  This one was so unexpected that I could not even figure out what happened when watching it live.  Who does a fake field goal on 4th and 26, when any gain less than 26 yards just turns over the ball?

Meanwhile, the Packers are back in 1st place in the NFC North tonight.  After spending the entire 2011 season in 1st place, they dropped into last place on the first week of this season.  But the Vikings and Lions both lost on Sunday, so every team in the division is now 1-1.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pressure is On: Here Come the Bears

On this short week, I have almost run out of time to say anything about the 49ers beating the Packers, 30-22, before turning my attention to Bears week.  The Packers, in losing their second straight game that counts with their second straight stinker of a performance, have left many Packer fans tearing their hair out.  My predictions for the game were about as wrong as they could be.  The Packers' offense was not fine, although there were a couple of bright spots - Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley.  Cedric Benson not only did not rejuvenate the running game, he made it look worse than last year.

The Packers' defense was not significantly improved.  They still can't seem to manage much pressure without blitzing, and there were times in this game when (a) the loss of Desmond Bishop in the middle really hurt; and (b) the weaknesses of the defensive backs were evident.  Tackling was atrocious, never more so than on the Gore touchdown run.

The 49ers defense, meanwhile, was better than I gave it credit for, while the offense, and even Alex Smith and Randy Moss, played better than I expected.

There were questionable decisions by the coaches, and (at times) horrible clock management, such as at the end of the first half, when poor clock management helped to set up Akers' record-tying 63 yard field goal.  There were also plenty of questionable decisions by the referees, although the latter did not have an impact on the outcome, and in fact the Packers probably benefited from bad calls more than they suffered from them.

As for the Bears, they now come to town in a position to put the Packers in a deep, but not quite insurmountable, hole.  Lovie Smith perceives his job as Bears coach being to beat the Packers, so nothing would be sweeter for him than to go two games up on the Packers with two games played in the season.  I don't see it happening.  The Bears' traditional strength may be on defense, but they are not on the same level as a defensive squad as the 49ers, and so I think the Packers will not sputter on offense as much as they did on Sunday.  Heck, Cedric Benson might even gain a few yards here and there.  The Bears only gave up 63 rushing yards last week, but it was in a blowout win, so the Colts had to abandon the run early on.  The Bears do look improved on offense, with the addition of Brandon Marshall, and I am sure they will score some points and maybe keep it close for awhile, before the Packers put the game away.  But I have to admit, it is hard to feel a lot of confidence after re-watching last week's Packers game tonight.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

It is Time!

The title of the post of course refers to Kevin Greene's second half exhortation to Clay Matthews in Super Bowl XLV.  Matthews proceeded to force the fumble that did a lot to secure the Packers' victory over the Steelers.

"It is Time" also seems apt to me as we approach the week one matchup with the 49ers.  As a person who really doesn't follow any other sport, the off-season seems to go on forever, and I almost can't believe that the season has started with the opening night matchup of the defending champion Giants against the Cowboys.  (I think I read that, in the 8 or 9 years since the league started the opening Thursday night game featuring the defending champions, the Giants are the first defending champion to lose.)  So the season is off to a good start, from the standpoint of playoff positioning.

What will the Packers do this season?  There is no reason to expect the offense to be anything other than excellent.  Aaron Rodgers said something to the effect that the law of averages suggests that his stats will not be quite as impressive as last year, there might be more interceptions bouncing off of shoulder pads, etc.  Cedric Benson as the starting running back (at least for now) tells me that our running game should be improved, even if he is fumble prone based on his history.  So the offense should be fine.

The defense was the question mark last year, and the Packers have already lost two starters from opening day last year - Nick Collins (released due to his injury) and Desmond Bishop (on injured reserve).  But the Packers first six draft picks were on defense, so it is hard for me to see how the defense will not be improved.  I am counting most on Nick Perry, starting at Outside Linebacker, and Jerel Worthy, at defensive end, to provide some more of the pressure that the Packers were missing last year.

Here in the SF Bay Area, they seem to think that the 49ers will be contenders for the Super Bowl this year.  I will believe it when I see it.  I know they played very well last year, but I am not a believer until I see a better passing game.  I'm not sure how much the loathsome Randy Moss has left, and my primary issue with the 49ers is Alex Smith.  Aaron Rodgers, he ain't, and I have it on good information that Jim Harbaugh keeps him on a very short leash.

My week one prediction: Packers 31, 49ers 20.