Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
The two League Championship Series kick off this weekend in Major League Baseball, starting with tonight’s ALCS Game 1, which pits the Blue Jays against the Royals in Kansas City. The semifinal round of the baseball postseason follows an all-around exciting set of division series, three of which went to a winner-take-all Game 5—and the other featured the Cubs pulling off the first home playoff series clincher in the 101-year history of Wrigley Field. Pro baseball couldn’t be more fun right now. And pro football couldn’t care less.
It’s not that football players and coaches don’t admire their counterparts on the diamond. They just can’t hide their belief that baseball is a dainty, silly game. Take former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin. The NFL Network pundit trotted out his baseball player impersonation again on NFL GameDay Final earlier this month, and it’s a simple shtick: Irvin extends his arms at his waist to grasp an invisible bat, and he waggles his ass. That’s it. Irvin’s “golfer” routine is similar, with a lower arm angle. He switches smoothly between both impersonations in the above GIF—he was discussing both retired shortstop Derek Jeter and pro golfer Jordan Spieth as they relate to football. I didn’t understand the point Irvin was making at the time, but if you’re watching Michael Irvin oratory with the expectation of discernible logic, you are not properly enjoying the man.
This isn’t the first time Irvin has played imaginary baseball on GameDay Final. I GIFed a more exaggerated version of Slugger Michael in a column last December, and I’ve re-embedded the image here, because Block & Tackle is a service-oriented feature where reader convenience is of utmost concern. I love Irvin’s baseball act because it captures the way football feels about its gentler, kinder sibling in the national sports landscape. Even though baseball is an older game, pro football types generally treat America’s supposed pastime with a mix of bemusement and gentle derision, as if the game of balls and strikes is a little brother to the gridiron, where real men go to shatter their spines and liquefy their brains.
The little-brother phenomenon isn’t always mere metaphor. When NFL Films miked up New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during a 2013 home game—a game that featured a visit from the World Series champion Red Sox—the film crew caught Belichick chatting on the sidelines about how tiny the Beantown batsmen were. “They’re so little!” Belichick marveled to quarterback Tom Brady, perhaps unaware that standing next to Brady made Belichick look about two feet tall himself. You get the sense that the Patriots personnel can hardly believe these Red Sox munchkins get to be pro sports champions. Why, they probably couldn’t even crush a person’s thigh bone with their bare hands! And here we are giving them a trophy—madness.
A more recent New England game provided a more subtle glimpse of football culture’s latent baseball prejudice. With the Patriots leading the Jacksonville Jaguars by 1,700 points in the fourth quarter of their Week 3 matchup, CBS announcers Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon noted that Brady was still playing, needlessly, while backup Jimmy Garoppolo watched from the sidelines. Gannon explained that even though victory was in the bag, Brady was probably trying to see as much real game action as possible for the sake of practice—getting his “reps,” in other words. When the director cut to a shot of Garoppolo, Gannon mocked the puny second-stringer: “You see Jimmy Garoppolo over there? Why do you have the helmet on, Jimmy? Put your baseball cap on. You’re not coming in anytime soon.” The implicit hierarchy of athletic headwear was clear. Football helmets are for modern gladiators who engage in the ultimate form of athletic combat. As for the puny assholes who linger on the periphery: Put your baseball cap on.
The season’s dumbest and most telling instance of baseball condescension arose from a mini-controversy over painted numbers. You may have noticed that the 50-yard numbers on NFL fields are colored gold this year; it’s a nifty tribute to the 50th season of the Super Bowl era. For the first few weeks of the season, though, the Oakland Raiders refused to go along with the program. ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio guessed—correctly, I suspect—that the Raiders weren’t so eager to promote Super Bowl 50, which will be played at the home stadium of Oakland’s Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco 49ers. Yet league officials said that the Raiders’ “50” markings were white because the Oakland A’s, who also play in O.co Coliseum, hadn’t yet finished their season. In other words, blame baseball. (The general manager of the Coliseum told PFT that the A’s excuse was hogwash.)
Shortly after this story broke, the Raiders caved and said they would be painting the numbers gold for their next home game. How did they explain the delay? “It’s baseball-related,” team owner Mark Davis told ESPN’s Bill Williamson—before presumably mumbling, “Yeah, baseball, that’s the ticket.” And here’s the kicker: Williamson didn’t even bother asking a follow-up question to determine how the color of yard-line numbers could possibly concern the Oakland Athletics. Is yellow paint harder to erase? Does it put a weird spin on ground balls? Are the A’s allergic?
Nobody knows because nobody gave a shit—baseball was a convenient whipping boy, and that was justification enough. After all, those rotten A’s have the temerity to play their dumb sport in the same arena as a proud football squad that won nearly 25 percent of its games last year. Their very existence is obviously the cause of this inane intra-league brouhaha. So the next time you find something amiss in the NFL, ask yourself, “Is this somehow baseball’s fault?” Because maybe it probably is baseball’s fault, definitely.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers — Sunday, 1 p.m. Eastern, Fox
The Week 5 Monday Night Football game, which featured the Steelers against the San Diego Chargers, was marred by a strange timekeeping mishap. The San Diego clock operator allowed 18 seconds to elapse on the game clock after Pittsburgh received a kickoff late in the fourth quarter. (The clock is supposed to stop after a kickoff.) While the screwup deprived Pittsburgh of precious time for its last-gasp drive, it ended up making no difference in the outcome, albeit just barely: The Steelers won on the final play with a direct snap to running back Le’Veon Bell. On Tuesday morning, the climactic call by Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin was described as “gutsy” and “ballsy.” If the play had failed, Tomlin would have been accused of “overthinking” and “outsmarting himself.” In the NFL, decisions originating from the abdomen/scrotum area are heroic, while decisions that come from one’s brain are considered deeply suspicious.
Despite the genius displayed by Mike Tomlin’s testicles in those final moments, there remains the matter of those missing 18 seconds. It’s only fair that Tomlin be granted an 18-second I.O.U. by the league. Any time this season that the Pittsburgh coach wants to add 18 seconds to the game clock, he can cash it in. Maybe he would use his golden ticket against Arizona this weekend, or perhaps he would save it for another game. He might even stash it away for the playoffs, but that would be risky—what if the Steelers fail to make the postseason, and that 18 seconds might have helped them eke out an additional victory along the way? The Pittsburgh papers would pillory Tomlin for using his brain like some kind of moron.
Now that I think of it, let’s give every team one “add 18 seconds” card at the beginning of each season. On the one hand, this is a stupid and terrible idea. On the other hand, it would give the league’s signal-callers yet another in-game decision to fret over, and watching coaches sweat and panic ranks among football’s greatest pleasures. The Block & Tackle prediction: Arizona 26, Pittsburgh 25.
NFL Announcer Cliché Glossary, Vol. 2: Momentum
First-time football viewers might assume that the quality of competition varies evenly between both sides: Team A makes a nice play, and then it is Team B’s turn to do something good, and then Team A again, until the game concludes in a 0-0 tie. Oddly enough, this is not how football works (not American football, at least). Occasionally, a team will make two good plays in a row—or even more! When this occurs, announcers refer to it as “momentum.”
The use of the term “momentum” implies that when a team has made a bunch of quality plays in a short stretch of time, it is likely to continue doing so, having built up a head of steam. And that’s how announcers want you to feel, as if the team with momentum is a freight train of yardage-gobbling dominance. They invite you to sit in awe of those momentum-possessing heroes who can do no wrong as they accelerate ever more ferociously toward victory. Yet sometimes players on the other team (the non-momentum-havers) make a big play, like an interception or a kickoff return for a touchdown. You’d think a turn of events like this would embarrass announcers by disproving the whole notion of momentum, but no. Instead, the turnabout is billed—rather ingeniously, I have to admit—as a “momentum shift.”
It’s true that football is a streaky game, and teams can get on a roll, but that happens because of talent, strategy, scheme, and execution. “Momentum” is just a way for an announcer to talk about a team’s in-game success without bothering to analyze the reasons behind it. And as a storytelling shorthand, that’s perfectly fine—broadcasters are vocalizing a sensation we all instinctively perceive when a team is locked in.
Except over the years, the broadcast-booth concept of momentum has degraded to the point that now it essentially means “magical stuff.” It can be acquired in an instant, it can change hands, and it can do all sorts of other things that momentum probably shouldn’t be able to do. During the Week 5 Denver-Oakland game, CBS play-by-play commentator Greg Gumbel conjured the most wonderfully peculiar momentum imagery I’ve heard yet after a promising Oakland drive ended in a missed field goal. “So, that momentum, momentarily out the window,” Gumbel intoned. The momentum stepped outside, you see, but just for a moment! It’s liable to momentously reappear at some point—probably the next time Gumbel runs out of things to say.
Clay Matthews makes the most vigorous delay-of-game signal I’ve ever seen
Unfortunately for Matthews, St. Louis called timeout before the play clock expired. (Fortunately for Matthews, Green Bay destroyed the Rams anyway.)
New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts — Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC
Oh Christ, it’s this game. Ever since the 2015 schedule was released, the Week 6 Pats-Colts matchup has been anticipated as the Deflating-Gate Revenge Game. The premise here—not that I need to tell you, since NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are bound to pulverize this dead horse on Sunday night—is that the Patriots will be out for revenge, since the Colts set Deflatation-Gate in motion earlier this year when they whined to the league and plunged the nation into PSI hell. And sure, New England is likely to have extra motivation. But that’s typically the case, for one reason or another, when the Patriots travel to Indianapolis. The two teams are rivals, and in recent history they have both been top-tier franchises. Incentive to win is rarely in short supply.
More to the point, the only true Deflaff-Gait grudge match would require commissioner Roger Goodell and his bumbling minions to take the field against Tom Brady and his crew. They’re the ones who tormented the Pats, not Indy. Colts executives have been bitching about the Patriots for years—it’s practically their raison d’être at this point—so it’s hardly their fault that the league office took them way too seriously this one time. Colts players, meanwhile, had little stake in the scandal. The only Colt with even tangential involvement in Durrflurb-Glurb was D’Qwell Jackson, the linebacker who intercepted the fateful football that set the madness in motion—and Jackson said he didn’t notice anything funny about the ball. It’s hardly the stuff vendettas are made of.
The Colts will probably lose Sunday night, but not because Bill Belichick wants to rub mud in the eyes of the Indianapolis front office, although he certainly does. They’ll lose because they’re not very good this year, and Andrew Luck’s shoulder isn’t right. Plus, you know, karma. The Block & Tackle prediction: New England Patriots a lot of touchdowns, Indianapolis Colts not as many.
Don’t you try to kiss Tom Brady, you naughty fish, he’s keeping an eye on you
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 6 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct. If there is a discrepancy between a prediction and an actual football game, the football game is wrong.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Atlanta 21, New Orleans 16.
Washington vs. New York Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New York 24, Washington 13.
Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Detroit 21, Chicago 17. Referee Walt Coleman’s crew is assigned to this Lions game, which means it was Coleman’s turn to spend the week inventing a new and novel way to screw over Detroit. Early word is that Coleman’s leaning toward “phantom block-in-the-back penalty.”
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Minnesota 14, Kansas City 12. The Vikings lead the league in depth of field per game.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Buffalo 23, Cincinnati 20.
Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Denver 13, Cleveland 7. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Browns are 2-4 against teams named after horses and 4-12 against teams named after birds.
Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Houston 19, Jacksonville 13.
Miami Dolphins vs. Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Miami 2, Tennessee 0.
Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): Seattle 28, Carolina 12.
San Diego Chargers vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): Green Bay 38, San Diego 21. Above left is the picture of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers that Google displays when you search for “Green Bay Packers roster.” On the right is the image of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers that appears when you search for “San Diego Chargers roster.” The Googlebot is acquiring sentience.
Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): San Francisco 27, Baltimore 20.
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Philadelphia 24, New York 14.
Block & Tackle prediction record for 2015 season: 77-0
Erroneous football games played in Weeks 4 and 5: 12
Erroneous football games played overall in 2015: 25
Block & Tackle Week 6 Picks: Pocket Edition
And, because a few people have requested it, here is an up-to-date legend for Block & Tackle emoji:
I apologize for the lack of a column last week; I was attending to a family emergency. All is well now. I very much appreciate the kind tweets and emails—everyone was so understanding. Block & Tackle people are good people.