Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
The Baltimore Ravens lost to Washington on Sunday, and a pivotal play in the game was a strange non-turnover in the third quarter. With the Washington offense backed up on its own 3-yard line, Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley intercepted a pass and scrambled to return it for the touchdown. But in the final inches of his mad dash, the pigskin fluttered loose from Mosley’s grasp, drifting past the goal line to bound out of bounds. All was gained, then lost.
When you fumble the ball out of the opposing team’s end zone, it’s a touchback. As a result, Mosley’s interception went for naught: Washington was awarded the ball at the 20-yard line. In essence, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins gained 17 yards by throwing an interception. Cousins must like this rule very much.
Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh, a baby who pees his pants, does not like this rule. He said as much in his post-game piss conference, where he said, “I think it’s a crazy rule.” Then a Ravens PR official handed Harbaugh a plate of Zwieback teething biscuits, and he gnawed on them contentedly. But the next day he was feeling cranky again: “If you fumble it out of bounds anywhere else,” he complained, “the team that loses the ball gets the ball right there. If you fumble it though the end zone, you lose the ball, and you lose 20 yards of field position. Pretty hard one to figure out.”
Yup, that crazy end-zone-fumble rule—it’s the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle of football regulations. Here’s another baffler: If you advance the ball anywhere else on the field, you get zero points, but if you bring it into the end zone, you get six points. What gives? I mean, what the hell kind of riddle is that?
Harbaugh has plenty of sportswriters on his side. After he raised a stink, Yahoo Sports columnist Eric Edholm called the rule in question a “quietly awful,” “terrible rule.” The Ravens-haters at the New England Sports Network conceded that Harbaugh “might actually have a point.” And last year, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio said this is the “most unfair rule in the game.”
They are all incorrect. In the context of football’s underlying narrative of war and conquest, the rule makes perfect sense. The whole object of the game is to take the ball—a magical brown orb that confers power on those who possess it—through the opponent’s territory. In the gridiron battlefield, each end zone is a team’s home base. That’s why a touchdown is the highest-scoring achievement in the game: Earning one means you’ve conquered their home, the ultimate victory.
Now, if you were in a war, and you happened to lose your all-powerful orb in your enemy’s base, do you think they would simply hand it back to you? “Please, continue conquering us! Can we offer you some Zwieback?” Of course not. They would laugh at your ineptitude, seize the orb, and keep all the delicious Zwieback for themselves. That’s why Washington got the ball after Mosley’s fumble. He lobbed it over their front step!
The end zone is special, and it should be. The unforgiving nature of the fumble rule adds tension to the game. As a team nears the heart of its rival’s territory, it must strive to keep hold of its prize. That pressure is fun to watch, and the proper response to this pressure, if you’re on offense, is simply to protect the ball more carefully.
That said, I don’t blame C.J. Mosley for stretching to make the score. How many times in his life does a linebacker get a chance to score a touchdown? I’m sure if I were an NFL linebacker, I would go all-out for six points there, too, because it would quiet all the people saying, “Who’s this dork from the internet playing linebacker?”. Still, the point remains that Mosley took a risk at a particularly perilous spot, and it didn’t pay off. There are consequences.
Mike Florio is right, in a wrong sort of way: It is “unfair” that a random bounce can mean the difference between keeping the ball or losing it to the other team. But that’s true of any fumble. More to the point, it’s impossible to remove that sort of cosmic injustice from the game, just as you can’t eliminate it from life. There’s a beauty in that parallel. Football—any sport—tells good stories when athletes contend with cruel vicissitudes, because facing the unexpected is the greatest challenge of the human experience. The fumble rules, as they stand now, ensure that the specter of fate looms over a team’s drive even as the team nears their goal—especially as they near their goal. Who would want to tamper with that premise? Pretty hard one to figure out.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Buffalo Bills — Sunday, 1 p.m. Eastern, Fox
And so our culture war comes to this. Colin Kaepernick, the world’s most prominent anthem kneeler, has been named the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, a distinction he last held in Week 8 of the 2015 season. Coincident with Kaepernick’s restoration to the QB1 spot, the team renegotiated his contract. The new pact, as our corporate cousin Deadspin notes, eliminates injury guarantees that would have ensured Kaepernick’s salary if he got hurt. So the 49ers were willing to give a black guy his job back, but only after a little economic subjugation. Overheard within the halls of Levi’s Stadium: “Irony? What’s that?”
Meanwhile, roaming the opposite sideline will be Bills head coach Rex Ryan. He’s on a three-game winning streak, yet he lacks the full-hearted support of his locker room. Last week, Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reported on the impact of Donald Trump’s campaign within the league, and the story included anonymous quotes from African-American members of the Bills. Suffice it to say that the black Bills teammates weren’t exactly busting out the #MAGA hashtags when Ryan endorsed Trump this spring. (“Yawp yarm yawp yawp football yarm yawp,” a grateful Trump remarked after earning Ryan’s seal of approval.)
A dour flag-spurner is the face of one team, and a blustering Trumpite is the face of the other. Is this matchup a symbol of our society’s polarization? Sure, okay, probably. But I intend to ignore these political undercurrents, spitefully and with all my might, because I need not to care for an hour or two. We have to care about so much horseshit lately. This election season has been doubly exhausting—first because of its Trumpian awfulness and second because the stakes make it impossible to look away from the carnage. Democracy by way of the Ludovico technique.
The noise of the campaign has been so consuming that it has deprived us of apathy, that quintessential vice of modern America. So when these teams face off on Sunday, I’m not going to view Kaepernick and Ryan as avatars of their political cohorts. Instead, I’ll watch a once-talented QB attempt his comeback. I’ll see a goofy coach sadistically raise the hopes of the Buffalo fan base as prelude to yet another late-season collapse. For a few hours, the game will be the game, and in this bliss I’ll dare to hope that one day, the election might end, and we’ll move on with our lives. Call it fantasy football. The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: Buffalo 20, San Francisco 13.
Football, our most heterosexual pastime
Attention, straight men! Are you tired of all the ultra-hip man-on-man sex that is so “in” right now? With your RuPaul’s Drag Race and your Looking and such, the culture is filled with gayness from top to bottom to versatile. Where is a man like you—a man who definitely doesn’t want to touch a penis, maybe—supposed to turn for entertainment?
I’ll tell you where: professional football, your refuge from homoeroticism. It’s a place where a man’s man can enjoy the simple pleasures of watching men strap on shiny pants and pink shoes so they can touch butts and flop around on the ground with each other. It does not get any straighter than this, fellas!
Completely heterosexual guys (i.e., the kind that you definitely are) love pro football because the field is a place of sacred bonds—a hallowed ground where a handsome tall man can shimmy up behind a squatting man and say, “Get your butt up,” and the squatting man does as he’s told. You won’t see that kind of thing in gay pornography, that’s for pretty sure!
Here are two men who traded clothes after sweating in them for three hours, as one does. Go ahead, just try to fantasize about gazing into the smoky eyes of Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin as he feeds you strawberries, on a yacht, in the Mediterranean sun. You simply can’t do it! So cap your tip to pro football—from the Bears to the Packers, it’s a rock-hard bastion of straightness.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers — Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox
If the Dallas Cowboys are playing at home, TV is going to show you some of their stupid art. The AT&T Stadium art collection is perfect fodder for a post-commercial bumper—producers can’t resist slowly panning their cameras across this superficially high-minded and readily accessible scenery. Announcers speak of the works with reverence, displayed as they are in a stadium named after a phone company. Last weekend, CBS featured a number of the Cowboys’ artworks on its telecast, and the gallery tour included:
- Some sparkles
- A fat letter “C”
- The word “STAR”
- A star
- Additional sparkles
- Wendy’s new grilled chicken sandwich
This is the part where I make fun of the Cowboys’ art some more—except not, because the strange thing is, their collection is better than it seems. The networks almost always televise some subset of those few pieces listed above (NBC loves the sparkles in particular), and this creates the impression that the vaunted AT&T Stadium “art collection” is mere marketing disguised as pop art. The five works that CBS showcased, though, might be the five dullest examples from a collection that has its fair share of intrigue and innovation—as seen in the full listings on the Cowboys’ website. The takeaway: Producers of television football don’t have the best taste in art. Block & Tackle exists to challenge your assumptions.
This weekend, the Cowboys will leave their artsy confines to visit Lambeau Field, which recently added its own upper-middle-class refinements. For instance, the stadium restaurant Curly’s Pub was replaced last year by a self-proclaimed “gastropub” called 1919 Kitchen & Tap. The new name connotes upscale tradition, whereas the old one evoked urinal pubes. You might consider that an improvement. The 1919 menu includes items like “Venison Sloppy Joe” and “Pad Thai Pizza.” You might consider eating somewhere else.
In a foolhardy flourish, the Packers’ website provides a link to the Yelp reviews for 1919 Kitchen & Tap, and I eagerly perused these listings so that I could conclude this game preview with the following Tales Of 1919 Sorrow:
- “I ordered the BBQ bloody mary because everyone has raved about it online. I don’t know what I was thinking.” [1 star]
- “My brothers sandwich had paper in it. … They didn’t even offer us a discount upon finding the paper.” [1 star]
- “I’m not a fan of sauerkraut, but you don’t notice it at all.” [4 stars]
- “He was sick the whole night vomiting and all the rest that goes with that.” [1 star]
- “The menu does not disclose the type of cheese. One would assume probably a Goat or Blue cheese. This is important information to know about a flatbread.” [2 stars]
- “I definitely recommend the elk stroganoff.” [2 stars]
- “But if you are like me and love a good Coke you will be disappointed. Lambeau Field on game day has the best Coke. This restaurant however had no good soda.” [2 stars]
- “I had the Chicken salad sandwich which sounds boring but it was awesome, with a unique basaltic sauce!” [5 stars]
The Block & Tackle “yum, basalt!” prediction: Dallas 28, Green Bay 21.
Phil Simms is a poet, Vol. 5
Turned upfield, made a football move
Time elapsed, got all the phrases
It’s called a completion, Jim Nantz,
I do know what a completion is
I love that
I don’t know what a complete
The rules are there
Sometimes they’re close, but they’re pretty
—Phillip Yonder Simms
I like my choices
I could always find what to eat,
It’s one of my strong suits in life,
I’m a-tryin’ to keep that 300-pound man from
comin’ out of my body one day
—Phillip Squimnimbulus Simms
Here are Block & Tackle’s “never wrong” final score predictions for the rest of the Week 6 slate. The predictions must not be doubted. They are truth. They are the only truth. If a game differs from the prediction listed here, it is simply being untruthful—shamefully so.
Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Denver 24, San Diego 23.
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 21, Carolina 18. The pressure of going for an undefeated season weighed on the Panthers for much of the 2015 season, so they’re just making extra, extra sure that doesn’t happen again.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Philadelphia 35, Washington 24. Do you have Wentz-mania? No, it looks more like a fungal infection to me.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Los Angeles 23, Detroit 20.
Cleveland Browns vs. Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Tennessee 4, Cleveland 0.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): New England 31, Cincinnati 21. New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has only tweeted seven times in his life, but his feed still manages to weave a tale of anguished lows and euphoric highs.
Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): New York 19, Baltimore 18. New York will win on a safety when the Ravens fumble the ball out of their own end zone.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Chicago Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Chicago 22, Jacksonville 17.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Pittsburgh 33, Miami 7. After the Dolphins opened the season with two straight close losses, Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry told reporters, “I hate to say it, but we can’t be an almost team. We can’t be a team—‘We almost won. Let’s build off this.’” The good news for Landry is that the Dolphins haven’t almost won anything lately.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): Kansas City 23, Oakland 20.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Seattle 20, Atlanta 17. The Seahawks are one of five NFL teams that are not legal Scrabble words. Can you guess the other four? Answer below.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Houston 23, Indianapolis 20. Reminder: The official Colts emoji is now the unicorn emoji because Apple broke the “Colt” gun emoji. Oh, and my iPhone always tries to connect to wi-fi when I’m leaving the house in the morning, but I’m too far away by then for the wi-fi to work, you stupid iPhone! So Apple broke that too.
New York Jets vs. Arizona Cardinals (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Arizona 21, New York 14.
Register Of Truth
Block & Tackle prediction record for 2016 season: 77-0
Untruthful games last week: 5
Untruthful games overall in 2016: 34
Is Phillip McKinnonton Simms besting Block & Tackle in the quest for truth?
Block & Tackle Week 6 Picks: Pocket Edition
The other four Scrabble-unfriendly teams, as promised
49ers, Bengals, Steelers, and Texans.