Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
Brandon Marshall’s double life
The New York Jets have been previously honored in this space for their dedication to entertaining American sports fans. That legacy is built on a long, marvelous record of on-field miscues, foremost among them the Buttfumble, a 2012 play so buffoonish that it has its own Wikipedia entry. (With four subheadings!) The clip of Mark Sanchez’s rump-aided bobble has been replayed countless times, and as such it would be cruel to show it again:
Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall added his own chapter to doltish Jets lore on Sunday. In the second half against the Eagles, Marshall caught a nice throw from New York quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for a 17-yard gain. At least, it might have been a 17-yard gain, except at the last instant, Marshall was struck by the irresistible urge to lateral. (We’ve all been there.) He shoveled the ball toward tight end Jeff Cumberland, who was nearby, but an Eagles defender was nearer by:
The play is not as comical as the Buttfumble, but it does have the strange quality of appearing to be an intentional turnover. Marshall is an overeager kittycat presenting fresh prey to its mommy and daddy, the Philadelphia Eagles. “Look what I caught!”
But I’m not here to condemn Brandon Marshall—in fact, he’s one of my favorite players. Since last season, Marshall has moonlighted as a panelist on Inside The NFL, Showtime’s weekly highlights-and-analysis show. And while he is a good wide receiver, he’s an even better broadcaster—down-to-earth and playful on camera, with media savvy that gives his goofy commentary an intellectual edge. Also, not for nothing, I would like to give him a hug.
Since he was the Jets’ goat of the week, Marshall had to explain his flub on Inside The NFL’s top-of-show “What Did You Learn This Week?” segment. “Guys, I mean, I knew this was coming,” he said. “We have the same format pretty much every single week, and I was sitting here thinking about ‘What did I learn?’ Absolutely nothing. I spent the last 24 hours thinking about ‘Why? Why did I pitch the ball back?’” That’s not a profound answer by any stretch, but it has the ring of honesty, which sets it apart from the usual pastiche of bromides that players dispense when asked to explain their shortfalls.
Marshall stands out from his fellow broadcasters, too. In the clip above, his grounded demeanor contrasts with the hamminess of host Adam Schein and fellow panelist Boomer Esiason. They strive to be slick, packaged TV products, and Marshall doesn’t, yet he still manages a rapport with them.
The New York star’s happy-go-lucky style likewise complements the bombast of Michael Irvin, Inside The NFL’s most masterful weaver of narratives. (Irvin is also fantastic alongside another Cowboy legend, Deion Sanders, on NFL Network’s Sunday night roundup, NFL GameDay Final.) Irvin loves to draw bold arcs for players, and in this week’s picks segment, he lovingly described the brilliance of Peyton Manning’s star as it streaked across the firmament of his imagination. “You didn’t say that two weeks ago! You said he was done!” Marshall interjected as he broke into a fit of giggles. Bemused by Irvin’s proud lack of accountability, he added, “This is how the media works.”
And he’s right, but what’s more notable is how naturally Marshall sets himself up as an adversary of “the media.” He also did it during a segment about the Cam Newton officiating controversy (more on that below), capping off the discussion by shouting, “Bravo, Cam, bravo! Way to use the cameras. Way to use the media to get your calls.”
This is a convenient stance, to be sure, even if it is authentic. By casting himself as an outsider to the media world, Marshall burnishes his credentials as an insider of the football world. (That’s exactly what the producers of a show called Inside The NFL want to see.) The adversarial relationship between players and the press is taken as a given in 2015, which is what makes Marshall such a fascinating figure: On Inside The NFL, he hovers between the two camps. His approach is too guileless for a TV personality, yet he doesn’t speak in the careful platitudes of an athlete. Marshall’s dual citizenship in the studio and on the field gives him a special credibility—and watchability. So don’t quit your day job, Brandon, because it makes you even better at your side gig.
Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox
Carolina came away with a home win against the Saints on Sunday, but the big story after the game revolved around allegations made by Panthers quarterback Cam Newton against referee Ed Hochuli. In the fourth quarter, Newton scrambled toward the sideline and was brought down by New Orleans defensive tackle Tyeler Davison. Newton complained immediately to Hochuli, asking for a roughing-the-passer call. Hochuli, a veteran referee who spends off days crushing automobiles with his bare hands, then supposedly told Newton the rules don’t apply to kids like him. Newton recounted the run-in at his postgame press conference:
I was really baffled by what was said to me. I was rolling out, trying to string out the play to create some type of an opportunity to get a completion. The defensive linemen kind of hit me. It was close, right on the cusp of a late hit. I don’t know. The response that I got [from Hochuli] was, “Cam, you’re not old enough to get that call.” I was looking at him like, “Jesus, I didn’t think that you had to have seniority to get a personal foul or anything like that.”
After Newton’s remarks ignited a minor furor, Hochuli reportedly told NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino that in fact, he answered Newton’s protests by saying, “The difference is you were running.” (Hochuli also told Blandino that the allegations were so upsetting, he had to blow off steam his usual way, by sticking his arm into a tree trunk, flexing his bicep, and watching the tree explode. Blandino then ended the phone call.)
The video record favors Hochuli’s version of events, insofar as Hochuli appears to be saying exactly what he said he did. Still, the video also shows that Newton reacted with indignation at the time. I figure that when the Iron Ref said “you were running,” Cam might have heard “you’re young,” and hence this Frasier-esque misunderstanding ensued. Brandon Marshall’s theory, noted above, is that Newton trumped up the controversy to ensure more favorable calls down the road. That doesn’t quite compute—does inciting a scandal against one of the league’s most respected officials really ingratiate you to the fellows in black and white? If you swat a bumblebee, the hive does not simply show you deference in the future, and since bees also wear stripes, this analogy makes sense.
Anyway, the real shame of this tempest was that it distracted from Newton’s outstanding performance on Sunday—nobody in the league brought better fashion game than he did. The crisp bowtie knot. The insouciantly folded pocket square. The powerful camouflage print. Anyone who says Cam Newton isn’t a top-tier NFL quarterback obviously hasn’t seen that gold thing on his lapel. I don’t know what that thing is; I just know it’s elite. The Block & Tackle prediction: Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 17.
Phil Simms knows enough about stuff to not know what stuff was
NFL head coaching fundamentals: spank elevation
Typically we imagine a spank as a punishment or as an erotic pastime, but in the NFL, spanking is a way to express manly praise. To preserve the non-homoeroticism of the football spank, however, it is important to practice proper technique. Above, Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn demonstrates why he has ascended to the highest echelon of NFL strategists. To commend his quarterback, Matt Ryan, for a well-executed drive, Quinn first applies his hand to the player’s head and back to prepare him for the semi-intimate touch that will follow. Most importantly, observe how Quinn elevates his culminating spank in the upper portion of Ryan’s rump area, thus ensuring that no accidental groin contact occurs and only pure masculine admiration is conveyed.
It is possible to extend this principle too far. Here we see New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who is usually known for his attention to detail, taking a sloppy approach to his buttock-based kudos for offensive lineman Marcus Cannon. The handshake is a strong opening move, to be sure, but Belichick over-elevates on the reach-around follow-through, such that his hand touches down on an area that could arguably be described as the waist. That’s too high to count as a spank. Cannon likely left the stadium feeling hurt and confused.
You now know everything you need to become an NFL head coach. When you win the Super Bowl, don’t forget to thank me—with a platonic and dignified spanking.
Phil Simms demystifies the complex art of calling an NFL defense
Oakland Raiders vs. Chicago Bears — Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
I recommend that every fan choose a bottom-dwelling team as a secondary rooting interest. (Unless you already root for a perennial loser, in which case, I don’t know—watch soccer?) There are a couple of reasons it’s worthwhile to maintain a passing interest in the NFL’s most miserable squads.
First, excessive losing creates more meaningful wins. When a team goes 6-10, say, nobody cares if they pull out a victory or two toward the end of the season. But when the Raiders headed into Week 12 with an 0-10 record last year, their fourth-quarter comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs had an extra charge. It wasn’t just another game. It was a tale of desperate men fighting off winless ignominy. That same principle—the more you lose, the more significant wins become—still applies to the 2015 Raiders. After Oakland thwarted a late Browns comeback in Cleveland this week, CBS’ announcer crowed that “the streak is over,” as the Raiders had previously lost 11 straight away games.
But the Raiders are playing with renewed fire in 2015, to the extent that it doesn’t seem impossible for the team to compete for a playoff berth. Quarterback Derek Carr is putting together some exciting drives, and the defense is shaky but adequate of late. They’re more fun to watch than they ought to be. That’s the other reason to keep tabs on lousy teams: Someday they’ll be good again, and the ascent is extra thrilling when you’ve witnessed the depths. I’ve seen the hapless Raiders flail in so many games that it’s still hard to believe when the “OAK” number in the score bar is larger than the other number. Their wins have a surreality that the blue-chip teams can’t match. Yes, the weirdness will fade if Oakland builds itself into a long-term contender again, but until then, what a trip.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to get in on the ground floor of an awful team, I present to you the 2015 Chicago Bears. The Block & Tackle prediction: Oakland 20, Chicago 17.
Helpful telestration of the week
Tiny Announcer Hall Of Fame inductee: Tiny Mike Carey
Tiny Mike Carey, a rules analyst for Tiny CBS, was once an NFL referee. He is famous for spending the entire second half of the 2007 NFC Championship Game entangled in the shoelaces of New Orleans Saints wide receiver Devery Henderson. His childhood idol was the ferrule of a pencil. In his officiating days, he never wore a cap; he simply attached a brim to his forehead.
If Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis were a Girls character, which Girls character would he be?
Phil Simms is a poet
Just watch how the football’s coming straight
and then goes dead right before it hits the ground
But, you know, listen
that’s my opinion
I’m not the head
of the officials
Even though sometimes I think I am and
don’t laugh about that
But tough call,
doesn’t matter, Bears in a big third down here
Second down, sorry
—Phillip Aloysius Simms
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 4 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.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Pittsburgh 17, Baltimore 13. After Pittsburgh kicker Josh Scobee missed two crucial field goals in this Thursday Night Football divisional showdown, many viewers likely wondered exactly how sorry this sorry-ass kicker was. Fortunately, Snoop Dogg has your answer: Scobee is sorry as fuck.
New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins (in London) (Sunday, 9:30 a.m., CBS): New York 21, Miami 10. Miami fans never let the seductive flash of golden pom-poms distract them from a good pout.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Indianapolis 30, Jacksonville 16.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Cincinnati 23, Kansas City 21.
Houston Texans vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Atlanta 38, Houston 22.
New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New York 19, Buffalo 14. A recent cover of the U.K. fitness magazine Train billed the ex-Giant Steve Weatherford as a “former NFL Super Bowl champ.” In Britain, nobody has to know you’re a punter.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Philadelphia 41, Washington 20.
Cleveland Browns vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): Cleveland 6, San Diego 4.
Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Green Bay 37, San Francisco 3.
St. Louis Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Arizona 17, St. Louis 10.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Denver Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Denver 14, Minnesota 13. Even at the age of 39, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is making it look effortless out there.
Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): New Orleans 21, Dallas 10.
Detroit Lions vs. Seattle Seahawks (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Seattle 20, Detroit 0. Sad Matthew Stafford is the cutest Matthew Stafford.
Block & Tackle prediction record for 2015 season: 48-0
Erroneous football games played last week: 1
Erroneous football games played overall in 2015: 14
Block & Tackle Week 4 Picks: Pocket Edition