Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
A Verizon commercial in heavy rotation on NFL games right now begins with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green on the verge of an image transformation. Green exits his car and strides into work until the wire on his Brand X headphones catches on the car door, causing them to be jerked into the air like Allison Williams in an elf suit. A nearby teammate does not bother to conceal his disdain. The Bengal star saves his reputation by acquiring a pair of red Beats Solo2 Wireless, a purchase that grants Green instant “boss” status, even if he’s apparently the kind of boss who wears the same suit to work every day.
It’s an effective ad because it speaks to a current reality in pro football: Headphones make the man. The NFL helped this happen, in particular its ad sales department. When the league protected its sponsor by instituting a Bose-only rule for players’ headphones this season, Beats was the benefactor. The clumsy move lent an anti-institutional edge to any player who ignored the ban, as Richard Sherman and Colin Kaepernick did, among others. Bose meanwhile became, in the words of Denver safety T.J. Ward, “old-people headphones.”
Now why would Ward say a thing like that? Perhaps because on TV, the Bose brand is featured most prominently in sideline shots of stubby, wrinkled coaches scowling at the field. But if A.J. Green’s red Beats are the most potent ear-accessory look in the NFL today, then the standard Bose coach/coordinator headset is a close runner-up—since instead of just making you look like a boss, it signifies that you actually are the boss. Although these headsets have been around since 1994, they retain a quasi-futuristic appeal, making coaches look like they’re some sort of 22nd-century fighter pilot. The photo above, after all, is pretty much what you’d expect to see if you put Giants head coach Tom Coughlin at the controls of a spaceship.
Coughlin and San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh are in the minority of NFL coaches who use double-eared headsets. Most of their peers are like the Saints’ Sean Payton…
…who goes with the single-ear model. You could argue that the singleton is a stronger look, as Harbaugh makes the double look doofy. But he makes everything look doofy. And while the stereo model says “outer-space dogfight,” the mono says “McDonald’s drive-thru.”
Both headsets are preferable to the humiliating earpiece that sideline-roaming quarterbacks are made to wear. After he was benched in Sunday’s loss to the Bills, Cleveland Browns starter Brian Hoyer had to untangle this Radio Shack discount-bin castoff for insertion into his skull. Hoyer can’t have the coach headset, certainly not. Coaches are VIPs, and a benched quarterback is dirt. His equipment lacks a microphone because he doesn’t deserve to be heard. It barely has a speaker because he barely deserves to listen. It has a black wire because that was the only color they had.
When they wear the earpiece, free with every purchase of a Nokia 2110, players act quite serious about it, Hoyer being a case in point. He ensures that his complimentary U.S. Airways earphone is secure. He projects an air of nonchalant purpose with purposeful nonchalance. It’s a painful image because even as Hoyer puts up a dutiful front, that wiry appendage betrays his weakness. In this league, only the powerful enjoy comfortable ears.
The 2014 St. Louis Rams, whose 5-7 record has them at the bottom of the brutally competitive NFC West division, are not likely to be remembered for their play, which has been forgettable, or their haircuts, which are hidden under their helmets. But they might be remembered for one practically perfect day. Sunday marked the Rams’ first game since a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown, reigniting protests in the St. Louis area. Five Rams players emerged from the tunnel in the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose to show their support for Ferguson residents. It was a well-considered gesture—moving and earnest, bold without being self-promotional.
The ensuing discussion of the Rams in the news media—fueled in part by foot-stomping by a St. Louis police association—justifiably focused on the “hands up” moment. This obscured the fact that St. Louis also played a great game that day, blanking the Raiders 52-0. Okay, the Raiders are terrible, but they’re still arguably an NFL team, and the Rams dominated them.
To recap the Rams’ Sunday:
- The wide receivers staged a tasteful protest with resonance both in their local community and nationwide.
- The offense put up 46 points.
- The defense chipped in six more points while shutting out the opponent.
- Team executives managed not to bungle the aftermath by, say, disciplining or disavowing the “hands up” players.
That’s about as good a day as a last-place football team can have this late in the season. The St. Louis Rams may soon cease to exist, as the franchise is a prime candidate for a move back to Los Angeles (where the Rams played from 1946 to 1994). This 2014 Rams bunch won’t leave much of a legacy for St. Louis, but at least this week they left a mark. The Block & Tackle “accepted as currency in many states” prediction: St. Louis 20, Washington 7.
Is it the image above, in which Cutler meekly assumes responsibility for the end-zone interception that ended the Bears’ fourth-quarter rally against the Cowboys?
Or is it this shot, in which he wonders whether he should have taken the civil service exam like his aunt told him to?
Perhaps it’s this picture of Bears teammates half-heartedly trying to cheer Cutler up.
Or the one where he tries not to cry in front of them.
Answer: They are all the saddest.
Stay away from me, Tom Brady! But actually, please come to my Christmas party. It starts at 6. You can get here whenever you want, though.
Last month, I said that the New York Jets were the most entertaining team in football, but they might not even be the most entertaining team in New York. Although the 2014 Giants have mimicked the Jets’ penchant for spectacular failure—most recently with a collapse at Jacksonville in which they gave up a 21-point lead—they don’t traffic in the same sort of slapstick buffoonery. Instead, the Giants are artists of failure. They render ineptitude with aesthetic grace, an approach that produced a breathtaking three-play sequence on Sunday.
On first down, New York quarterback Eli Manning hands off to running back Andre Williams, who is instantly pulled to the ground. The futility is crisp and austere. The Giants achieve a near-complete absence of forward progress, using negative yardage the way a fine-art photographer might use negative space.
On second down, the Giants continue to eschew the hedonist excesses of opponent territory in favor of backfield minimalism. The line of scrimmage becomes a potent metaphor. As the Manning figure nears this barrier, he is laid low by a sudden onset of gravity. The line seems to resist his approach as a threat to the natural order of things, foreshadowing the climax of this three-play arc.
On third down, tight end Larry Donnell catches a pass and dares to pass the now-vaunted barrier into positive yardage. He launches forward while an unseen force pulls on the football. At the moment of separation, Donnell rotates his body in midair to allow the ball its inexorable release. It is a bouncing, oblong symbol of his lost innocence. That’s the sort of poignance you get with this year’s Giants. Many teams fail; few teams fail with such thoughtful subtext. The Block & Tackle “store it in your glove compartment instead of a flashlight” prediction: New York 14, Tennessee 10.
Due to a misconfigured DIP switch, the following Week 13 game predictions were misprinted in the November 21 Block & Tackle column: Kansas City vs. Oakland and Baltimore vs. New Orleans.
Because, when the fog cleared, there was cranberry sauce in every crevice, the following Week 14 (tweet-only) game predictions were also misprinted: Philadelphia vs. Dallas, New Orleans vs. Pittsburgh, New York Giants vs. Jacksonville, San Diego vs. Baltimore, Arizona vs. Atlanta, and New England vs. Green Bay.
Fan Forum Check-In takes the pulse of fandom, one message board at a time. Steelers Fever promises “intelligent and friendly discussions” and “very user friendly software” to fans who might want to join its community. The most active intelligent and friendly discussion on the site’s main board right now is a thread entitled “It’s Time To Shut Up About Jarvis Jones.” Started in August, the conversation now spans 42 pages’ worth of responses, suggesting that the original thesis may have been unsound.
Just in case it really is time to shut up about Jarvis Jones, let’s talk about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger instead. In a thread with the heading “What sends Ben into the tank?” Steelers Fever member Desertsteel marvels at Roethlisberger’s bizarre tendency to sometimes not be perfect:
After 10+ years I still can’t figure out what sends this guy into the tank. He goes on a roll playing like an all-time great then goes through 2-3 games stretches looking inept and disinterested.
BlaZeQuietly suggests that Roethlisberger’s recent erratic performance could have something to do with BlaZeQuietly’s own puckish Internet rabble-rousing:
i got banned from the game day thread for saying i was gonna dump the steelers fot the pats. lol
Steel Peon is also frustrated with Big Ben’s play. That may not be the only frustration in his life:
I wanna know how in the fuck does Ben get accurate and the receivers start catching that fucking late in the game? It’s like having erectile disfunction until the woman gets pissed and leaves, and then the fucker won’t get soft.
“And what about the Steelers’ inefficiency in the red zone? That, too, reminds me of my ill-timed erections.”
Elsewhere, we join a “Fire Tomlin?” thread, already in progress, as Steelers Fever administrator Tony Hipchest digs deep into his smiley repertoire to put a fellow poster in his place.
set down the crack pipe for a second and tell me which “division winners” the steelers secondary has beaten the “piss out of”.
[smiley drinking coffee and reading a newspaper] i’ll wait.
oh wait… are you talking about the colts? and andrew lucks 450 yds passing and 4 td’s? [smiley rolling on the floor laughing]
steelers are on pace for 28 sacks on the season. yeah, thats pressure! obviously tomlin and lebeau have forgot how to coach. [green smiley rolling eyes next to a disembodied green hand making a “jerking off” motion]
Why is the masturbating smiley green? Probably has something to do with Steel Peon’s soul-crushing erectile dysfunction. In any case, smileys aren’t the only way that Steelers Fever members express themselves. They also have cute mood indicators. Here’s a sampling of the moods displayed by users throughout the forum, ranging from “agressive” to drunk:
These are the symptoms of Steelers Fever. Get infected today!
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 14 slate. Holy Christ, it’s Week 14 already? Anyway, all Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Chicago 21, Dallas 20.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 17. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Steelers are 10-2 (!) against teams named after cats and 9-6 against teams named after birds. The rare two-animal threat.
New York Jets vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Minnesota 19, New York 9. Hey, Ragnar, I don’t think your gloves are spelling what you think they’re spelling.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Miami 28, Baltimore 24. John Parry is the referee for the Baltimore-Miami game, even though it seemed to have Clete Blakeman’s name written all over it.
Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Houston 17, Jacksonville 16.
Buffalo Bills vs. Denver Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): Denver 27, Buffalo 13.
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 31, Carolina 21. You know that NFL “Play 60” commercial where the kid taunts Cam Newton, talks trash about Cam’s mom and such? Don’t look now, but that kid is all grown up, and his name is New Orleans Saints Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees. Small world.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Detroit 24, Tampa Bay 10.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Indianapolis 23, Cleveland 20. Browns punter Spencer Lanning is looking for a bargain.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Arizona Cardinals (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): Arizona 24, Kansas City 20.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): Philadelphia 20, Seattle 16. This game and the Giants-Titans game are your “teams that are practically the same thing” matchups for Week 14.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): San Francisco 17, Oakland 8.
New England Patriots vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): New England 24, San Diego 21. Philip Rivers has a career record of 30-6 in games played during December, or as Rivers likes to call it, “November Jr.”
Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Green Bay 30, Atlanta 13.
B&T prediction record last two weeks: 16-0, 16-0
B&T prediction record for 2014 season: 192-0
Calamitous corrections made: 68