Odell Beckham Jr. was the subject of widespread consternation in the sports press this week after the New York Giants wide receiver, famous for his otherworldly fingertip catches, was seen raging and stomping along the Giants’ sideline during a loss to the Washington football squad. With adrenaline and testosterone coursing through his bloodstream as he risked life and limb for our amusement, Beckham had the temerity to exhibit a flash of unrestrained passion, and for this he came under scrutiny. “He needs to control his emotions better and become less of a distraction to himself and to his teammates,” Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said in a conference call with reporters on Monday, raising the ontological question of whether one can be a distraction to oneself. Maybe there were mirrors on the sideline?
McAdoo’s word choice was no accident: “Distraction” is one of the prime code words for “bad behavior” in NFL parlance. The idea is that if an athlete strays from the rigid norms of acceptable behavior—i.e., shut up and play ball—he is liable to unravel his entire team. Players will stagger about with cartoon spirals in their eyes, unable to process the image of their star receiver, say, beating up an innocent net—although the particular net that Beckham attacked proved quite capable of fighting back.
Old-guard sports columnists claim to abhor distraction, the same way a chocolatier might claim to abhor chocolate while he pours a warm ladle of chocolate down his throat and lets the excess chocolate run down his naked torso into a bathtub of chocolate. “There is too much drama here,” sniffed Paul Schwartz, a writer for Beckham’s hometown New York Post, in a column headlined “Giants Haven’t Solved Problem Of Odell Beckham’s Tantrums.” The column was published a day after Beckham became the fastest-ever NFL player to accumulate 200 receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So clearly he’s a man who has to be “solved.”
Over at the Post rival New York Daily News, columnist Gary Myers wrote that Beckham is “approaching Terrell Owens status.” This is a pointed slur coming from Myers, who earlier this year explained that Owens—one of the sport’s all-time great receivers—did not deserve to enter the Pro Football Hall Of Fame because “he was so disruptive” in the locker room. While Hall Of Fame voters are technically supposed to consider only on-the-field accomplishments (a guideline that is often ignored), Myers argued that the locker room “is an extension” of the field. To be specific, it’s extension 125, but honestly, you’re better off just dialing zero for the receptionist.
In an encouraging sign, other members of the media declined to echo McAdoo’s ill-considered “distraction” line. “Is Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. A Distraction?” asked ESPN’s New York Giants reporter Jordan Raanan in a piece that largely concluded the answer was “no.” As Raanan reported, Beckham’s fellow players don’t much care that he was pouting and goose-stepping like a Rockette berserker during the game.
Likewise, Gary Myers’ Daily News colleague Pat Leonard declined to pin the blame on OBJ, writing presciently that “Beckham won’t get the credit he deserves for staying mostly composed in an emotional game.” Indeed, this matchup was highly anticipated because it reunited Beckham and cornerback Josh Norman, two spirited opponents who nearly came to fisticuffs during a game last December. The antics in that contest led the league to create a rule that mandates automatic disqualification for players who commit two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and on Sunday, a Giant was indeed ejected under that rule. It wasn’t Beckham—he managed not to be pulled into scraps with Norman again, even after the Washington cornerback literally picked up Beckham and carried him over to the sideline.
I’m in favor of tantrum forgiveness because I know from experience that as human beings, we can’t reliably unleash our passions and control them at the same time. Plus, as it happens, I’m a too-frequent practitioner of the tantrum myself. Just last Friday, I was about to leave for work when I noticed that The A.V. Club’s video system (a box of garbage with a 2400-baud modem attached) had placed “preroll” ads for breakfast food on all of the clips in that morning’s Block & Tackle column, thereby rendering the videos useless to all but the most patient users. I responded by whipping my hat across the room. I may have also balled my fists and shouted a profanity. The profanity may have been “FFFFFFUUUCK!!!!!!!!!”
This outburst startled one of the cats, who skittered away to plot my eventual demise. “You scared Nipsey,” my wife complained, and I felt stupid. But that’s how you should feel after a tantrum. It’s not an especially productive expression of emotion, which is why I’m sure Beckham felt stupid, as well. After the game, he was so eager to move on that he answered reporters’ questions by claiming, dubiously, that he didn’t even remember losing his cool. Given his obvious and well-placed embarrassment, do we really need to shame Beckham further—to solve him?
Pro athletes often commit minor sins—that is, sins of decorum that don’t hurt people—that present us with an opportunity to choose between reprobation and sympathy. As a culture, we tend to lean toward the former, based on the implicit premise that top-tier players are supposed to represent the pinnacle of the species. Yet I find it healthier to favor sympathy—to say, “I’ve been there, too.” It nourishes the soul to practice forgiveness, and it costs us nothing to do so, especially when we, the spectators, have no standing on which to “forgive” a player in the first place. What harm did Beckham cause us? None at all. Yet it feels good to forgive him anyway, because on a fundamental level, we’re forgiving ourselves for our own human shortcomings. Odell, you scared the cat, and that’s okay.
The city of Tampa is now actively encouraging citizens to avoid Buccaneers home games, and on Sunday that proved to be good advice. After lightning delayed the conclusion of Tampa Bay’s contest against the Los Angeles Rams, the Bucs—having enjoyed an hour of downtime to plan their final, potentially game-winning drive—got the ball, marched down the field, and choked.
The clock ticked to zero as Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston half-heartedly pump-faked in an effort to draw the Rams’ defenders off his receivers. Alas, Winston had by then wandered well past the line of scrimmage, making a forward pass illegal. He could pump-fake all he wanted; he was already dead. As his plight dawned on him, Winston crumpled into a pile of sorrow. The Rams helped.
While Winston looked silly on that broken play, the bigger culprit in the Bucs’ collapse was Dirk Koetter, who is either the Tampa Bay head coach or a top search term on gay pornography websites; I forget which. The Buccaneers might have had more room for error if Koetter had called a timeout as the fourth quarter dwindled. He didn’t, and that decision needlessly narrowed his team’s window of opportunity.
Clumsy clock management is common in the NFL—Kansas City head coach Andy Reid has made a career of it. Last Sunday’s case was exceptional, though, because during the off-season, the Buccaneers specifically hired a guy to tell Koetter when he should call a timeout! His name is Andrew Weidinger, and his title is “assistant wide receivers coach/game management.” So where the hell was Mr. Game Management during that bungled two-minute drill on Sunday? Well, he was doing his job. Koetter explained the situation in his Monday press conference:
At that point, you know, we have a guy in the press box that’s keeping an eye on the clock management. He was doing exactly what he was supposed to do, telling me, “Timeout, timeout, timeout.” [The decision not to take a timeout was] 100 percent me. We had a play that I’d been wanting to get to the whole game in [the] no-huddle [offense] and I thought had a chance to be the game-winner.
That’s right: The Bucs went to all the trouble of creating a timeout czar, and Koetter couldn’t even make it through three game before he emasculated the poor bastard. Such is the commitment to temporal stupidity in the NFL head coaching ranks.
I’ll be keeping an eye on the Tampa Bay-Denver game on Sunday afternoon, because if the score is close in the fourth quarter, the clock is liable to come into play again. Maybe we’ll see Weidinger achieve vindication. Or maybe he will once again be a voice in the press-box wilderness crying, “Timeout, timeout, timeout,” with nobody to hear him but a head coach who couldn’t care less. The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: Denver 21, Tampa Bay 10.
Block & Tackle’s official Official Of The Week is referee Ron Torbert. He wears glasses, thereby preempting any heckler who might suggest he needs them. His jersey number is 62, which is even. And he has the power to extend football games into a void that exists beyond the realm of time as we know it. Andrew Weidinger must be jealous.
At the end of the week three contest between the San Diego Chargers and the Indianapolis Colts, the Colts punted the ball to the Chargers in what everyone presumed would be the last play. But when an Indianapolis player downed the ball, he triggered a corner case in the NFL rulebook. See, when you’re the first player to touch your own team’s punt, it’s technically an “illegal touch,” an infraction so minor that it doesn’t even count as a foul—it’s a mere “violation.” (People think the catch rule is complicated, but the kicking rules are filled with a century’s worth of arcana.)
In most cases, this violation incurs no practical consequences, but if it happens at the end of a quarter, the receiving team gets to run one more play. Knowing this, Torbert awarded San Diego a rare “untimed down” after CBS had already placed the word “FINAL” in its score box.
Untimed! The laws of cause and effect no longer applied to the Chargers, and the bounds of reality were determined solely by their force of will. CBS color commentator Rich Gannon suggested that the Chargers try to draw a pass interference penalty, which would earn them another untimed down. By that reasoning, perhaps the game could extend into an infinite series of untimed downs, with players pausing only to eat and sleep and eventually to reproduce, so that their progeny could replace them on the field.
Instead of all that, the Chargers stumbled around like dumbasses for a little bit, and the Colts won. Yet for one glorious non-moment, Torbert was the creator and lord of his own nether timeline. Congratulations to Ron Torbert, Block & Tackle’s official Official Of The Week.
Can you guys help me find my contact lens? I think I lost it around the 40-yard line.
Maybe Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller should wear his glasses on the field like that dreamy and practical Ron Torbert.
With an upset win against the Arizona Cardinals in week three, Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan hushed—at least for now—the surly masses who were calling for his ouster after the Bills started the season 0-2. At his Monday press gaggle, though, Ryan experienced a less welcome hush as he tried out some new comedy material for the assembled scribes.
Ryan trotted out what he imagined to be a crackerjack impersonation of New England head necromancer Bill Belichick, known for his terse and disdainful handling of the press. “All right, we’re gonna start with the injury report—you’ll get it on Wednesday.” Ryan grumbled in supposedly Belichickian fashion. The bafflement among the press corps created a silence so profound that if you listened closely, you could hear subatomic neutrinos zipping through the spatial fabric of the Buffalo briefing room. “Simple as that, when I’m going to turn it in,” Ryan-chick continued. Neutrinos.
It soon became clear that a week of gut-busting Rex Ryan monkeyshines was afoot. On Wednesday, Ryan took a break from what must be a grueling preparation regimen to screw around on a media conference call with Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. “Julian, this is Walt Patulski from the Buffalo News. Are you playing quarterback this week?” Ryan asked. “Huh?” Edelman replied. Nearby reporters tried to dry heave their way to some semblance of laughter.
The appeal of Ryan’s big-lunk shtick is wearing thin, which is as much a sign of trouble for him as the Bills’ mediocre play. Ryan has long recognized that diligent feeding of the NFL entertainment beast can have a salutary side effect on his career, as football is show business at its heart. Once members of the media stop laughing, they’ll have time to wipe the tears from their eyes and notice that Ryan hasn’t mustered a winning record since 2010. By the same token, the pressure on Ryan might explain why he isn’t slaying his audiences like he used to. He’s feeling the heat—he fired his offensive coordinator under pressure from Bills management in week two—and audiences can always sense desperation in a comic. They don’t care for it.
The upshot is that Ryan could really use a win on Sunday against New England, his bête noire. And with handsome hero quarterback Tom Brady of the Patriots still serving a four-game suspension, Ryan would be justified in thinking he has a good chance to prevail. Of course, that’s what the Patriots’ last three opponents thought, too. The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: New England 28, Buffalo 14.
The networks rarely revise their graphics packages in the middle of the regular season, but this week Fox unveiled a new addition to its score box that is sure to have viewers saying “Why?” and “No, seriously, why?” It’s visible in the screenshot above. Can you spot it?
The answer: Sandwiched between the score and the team abbreviations, there’s now a dark strip that displays each team’s record. Here’s a closer look:
And for comparison, here’s what the Fox score display looked like in week one of the season:
To its credit, the win-loss readout does eliminate the weird ridge of shininess that existed in the old design. It would have served Fox better, though, to cut out that dead space altogether. This revision adds clutter for the sake of a statistic that isn’t going to change for the duration of the game. I guess it’s convenient for the casual fan to have the teams’ records handy, but Christ, pull out your phone and look it up if you need to know that badly. You can even ask Siri.
The win-loss records are a tiny, inoffensive change, though. Fox can and has done worse—like the on-field play clock that they introduced this season. As you can see above, the clock’s hovering 3-D perspective, complete with drop shadow, makes no visual sense next to the down-and-distance marker that’s drawn to appear as if it’s flat on the field. But I think Fox’s producers find this embellishment as ugly as I do, because it rarely shows up on the broadcast. Some production crews seem to avoid using the new play clock at all—which is fine, since the score box already has one—while others grudgingly flash it on the screen for only a brief glimpse. During one down in Sunday’s Minnesota-Carolina game, for instance, the graphic only appeared after the play clock had already hit zero anyway, as if to parody its own uselessness.
Here are Block & Tackle’s “never wrong” final score predictions for the rest of the week four slate. The predictions must not be doubted. They are truth. They are the only truth.
Miami Dolphins vs. Cincinnati Bengals (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Cincinnati 23, Miami 16.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 9:30 a.m., CBS): Jacksonville 20, Indianapolis 18. Afflicted with a Memento-like memory deficiency, Jacksonville long snapper Carson Tinker uses his Twitter feed to remind himself where he plays football. An inspirational story.
Cleveland Browns vs. Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Washington 17, Cleveland 3.
Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Houston 10, Tennessee 9. Some matchups contain hidden messages. Of the six letters in the Texans’ and Titans’ team names, four are the same. The differing letters spell out “exit,” which is what you should do if this game appears on your TV screen.
Oakland Raiders vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Baltimore 23, Oakland, 20. As a self-motivation technique, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco watches the entire four-season run of That’s So Raven before every game. His favorite episode is “Extreme Cory.”
Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New York 20, Seattle 14. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Jets are 5-4 against teams named after cats and 2-6 against teams named after birds.
Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Chicago 19, Detroit 17.
Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Carolina 26, Atlanta 23. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was mocked by his teammates for the ridiculous glasses he wore to his post-game press conference last weekend. “Who do you think you are, some kind of Ron Torbert?” tight end Greg Olsen was heard to say. The sad thing is Newton really does think he is Ron Torbert. The sadder thing is Newton thinks Ron Torbert is a gumdrop warlock from Cupcake Land.
Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Dallas 27, San Francisco 20.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Arizona 4, Los Angeles 0.
New Orleans Saints vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): San Diego 28, New Orleans 24.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Pittsburgh 35, Kansas City 23. Pittsburgh quarterback “Big” Ben Roethlisberger is so tough, he poops helmets. #blessed
New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Minnesota 21, New York 20.
Block & Tackle prediction record for 2016 season: 48-0
Untruthful games last week: 9
Untruthful games overall in 2016: 23