Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football. It was gone for a while because John was busy becoming the father of a brand new baby person. And now it is back.
With Wild Card Weekend in the books, Saturday marks the beginning of the Divisional round of the playoffs. For novices unfamiliar with the nomenclature, allow me to explain. The first weekend of the NFL postseason is the “Wild Card” round because the four wild card teams played against four division champions. Meanwhile, in the “Divisional” round this weekend, the four wild card teams will play against four division champions. See? It couldn’t be more straightforward.
Wild Card Weekend was filled with vocabulary pointers for novice NFL fans, particularly the Steelers-Bengals game. Late in the third quarter, Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier leveled Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard with a brutal hit on a short passing play. CBS called in its rules analyst, Mike Carey, to tell viewers why the violent exchange didn’t result in a penalty. After all, Shazier’s helmet-to-helmet tackle looked like the type of play that the NFL is trying to purge from the game—but only to those who aren’t steeped in the terminology of pro football.
Luckily, Carey was on hand to clarify the matter: When Bernard turned his body upfield for a split second after catching the ball, he transformed himself from a defenseless “receiver” into a “runner.” According to the rules, the former is a magic crystal unicorn who warrants protection by the vaunted NFL shield, while the latter is some asshole who deserves what’s coming to him. In a bracing display of euphemism, Carey more than once deemed Shazier’s hit “unfortunate” but not illegal. “Alas, fortune has not smiled upon me at this juncture!” Bernard surely mused as his consciousness was rearranged by an angry 230-pound beast-man. If only he were struck a moment earlier, before he emerged from his receiver chrysalis to complete his metamorphosis into a runner! That would have been so very fortunate, apparently.
CBS aired slow-motion footage of the Bernard tackle many times, as it did for the other wince-inducing hits that ensued in a rough and messy fourth quarter. Unless the replays were a form of highly public self-flagellation by the broadcast’s producers, it’s safe to presume that CBS viewed the carnage as a form of entertainment. But after Cincinnati fans cheered an injury to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, play-by-play commentator Jim Nantz would go on to call their behavior “disgraceful.”
After analyst Phil Simms parroted the term, “disgraceful” became another key concept in the televisual narrative of the game. Now, applauding a player’s pain is worthy of shame, no question. Nantz works for an organization, though, that glorifies gridiron violence on a regular basis. By his calculus, it is fine for CBS to build a broadcast empire around this oft-gruesome sport, to sell ads for tortilla chips around it, and to repeatedly display its most bone-jarring moments in frame-by-frame high-definition detail. Yet when spectators give in to the bloodlust that the NFL MediaDome has stoked in them, this is evidently the moment when pro football falls from grace. The league went to the trouble of establishing all this decorum, and those rotten Cincy fans went and breached it.
It’s a classic mass media double standard: The turpitude lies not in TV’s glorification of violence but in how we, the scum of the audience, consume it. So as you enjoy the Divisional round this weekend, remember that you are the last and only line of defense against the downfall of civil society—I know it’s true because Jim Nantz told me so. The stewards of the league are counting on you to keep your base instincts in check, preferably as you consume massive quantities of light beer and also purchase a luxury automobile or two. Anything else would be unfortunate.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots — Saturday, 4:35 p.m. Eastern, CBS
Your referee. Craig Wrolstad earns his first postseason assignment as a crew chief, visiting Foxboro Stadium to maintain order in the Chiefs-Patriots matchup.
“I don’t think anybody starts off wanting to be an NFL referee,” Wrolstad told his high school alumni last year. “After all, you are one that gets yelled at often. But I love the game of football. I love the challenge that officiating brings. And after all, I got to a point where I couldn’t play anymore.” Craig Wrolstad seems kind of sad about being an NFL referee. Be sure to compliment him on Snapchat whenever he makes a good call on Saturday. Granted, Wrolstad doesn’t have a Snapchat account, and neither do you, but the important thing is to send him your positive vibes. We all think you’re just super, Craig.
Head-to-head matchup: quarterback postgame press conference fashion. Style is an expression of confidence, and confidence, as any rambling color commentator will tell you, is essential for victory. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith took the podium last weekend in a blue shirt:
A blue shirt. That’s it. For a postseason press conference! Now this is truly disgraceful. Especially since Smith does have the ability to exhibit a restrained panache. Take this ensemble from December:
A thoughtfully chosen vest can make any outfit pop.
Meanwhile, throughout the season, handsome hero quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots has brought new life to the notion of “wearing your Sunday best,” even when he didn’t play on Sunday. The highlight of Brady’s 2015 fashion year was this badass plaid coat:
NBC analyst (and former Patriot) Rodney Harrison remarked on the air that Brady’s fabulous jacket was “garbage can material,” which is nonsense. Rodney Harrison wishes he could look that good. Or this good:
Or this good:
In conclusion, Tom Brady has fantastic style, and I think if he’d like to come play Fallout 4 with me sometime, we could swap the controller back and forth, and we’d have a lot of fun. Or he could just play while I watched! Whatever he wants. Edge: New England Patriots.
Head-to-head matchup: kicking specialist tweets. The specialists in the kicking unit must work together as one, executing a crisp rhythm as they seek to propel a brown oval down the field, or between two sticks. Skillful interpersonal communications, therefore, are a must. And there is no better way to assess social savvy than observing the players’ performance on Twitter, modern society’s bastion for thoughtful exchanges of ideas.
New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona uses the medium to curry favor with national department store chains:
— Joe Cardona (@joecardona93) October 16, 2015
Meanwhile, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos watched his counterpart on the Minnesota Vikings miss a crucial chip-shot field goal over the weekend, and he was ready with this sick burn:
Oh, wait, that was actually very good and nice of Santos. But what will Kohl’s think? Edge: Kansas City Chiefs.
The Block & Tackle prediction: New England 34, Kansas City 22.
Phil Simms is a poet, Vol. 2
Narwhal, let’s see,
let me make an observation here
The night—gotta stay in there
The rain—’ell, he’s under there
Just a little off center
But the defenses, Jim,
And boats warp fast, fresh
—Phillip Ruttiger Simms
Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals — Saturday, 8:15 p.m., NBC
Your referee. Clete Blakeman, who has the best football-referee name in the NFL officiating ranks, will ensure that the Packers and Cardinals maintain the integrity of the game.
In 2014, Blakeman was featured in an Omaha Magazine profile, the first sentence of which reads, “Picture a drop of water balancing on a leaf, or a Zen master poised on one foot—mid-air—for what seems an eternity.” So remember to picture one of those things whenever Blakeman announces a penalty on Saturday. (It will also be acceptable to envision a dragonfly perched on a frond.)
Head-to-head matchup: quarterback press conference fashion. Like Alex Smith, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a blue shirt man:
Yup, he enjoys a blue shirt as much as the next guy:
Is this shirt blue? It’s close enough for Aaron Rodgers:
Sometimes he mixes it up with a blue sweater:
It’s a good look, Brady-approved:
But let’s see what Arizona’s QB, Carson Palmer, likes to wear:
On second thought, let’s not. Edge: Green Bay Packers.
The Block & Tackle prediction: Arizona 28, Green Bay 23.
LaDainian Tomlinson rehearsed this question in his dressing room all afternoon
Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers — Sunday, 1:05 p.m., Fox
Your referee. Tony Corrente, who will personify the NFL’s sense of honor and fair play in Charlotte this Sunday, is the coolest goddamn referee in the business. This son of a bitch loves to fucking swear, and he doesn’t care how many hot mics are around to hear it. In fact, Corrente wants only your hottest microphones—preferably with the “off” switch removed or disabled—so he can fill them with profanities. Corrente’s penchant for working blue was last seen at the tail end of a Panthers-Falcons game this season.
With Carolina leading 38-0 in the fourth quarter shortly before the two-minute warning, Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson lunged forward with a sneak, attempting to convert a fourth down. Rather than just give the first down to Anderson so the Panthers could run out the clock on the blowout, one of the officials marked Anderson about four inches short of the line to gain, which meant that Atlanta’s offense would retake the field to rack up some garbage time points. This bothered Corrente, who broadcast his desire to end the dull affair already:
Now that’s efficient refereeing: Corrente managed to squeeze a profanity and a small-penis joke into the same breath. (Or perhaps Tony said “Let’s give him some ‘shot’ for that”—Ed Hardin’s thoughtfully censored reporting has prevented America’s youth from knowing for certain, thank heavens.)
Corrente has a history with this sort of transgression. During a 2012 Colts-Dolphins game, the off-color official mistakenly left his microphone on as he conversed with a member of his crew. “Watch, goddamn it!” Corrente suggested to his colleague. CBS announcer Kevin Harlan reacted as if he had been punched in the stomach by Corrente’s blasphemy.
But Harlan’s alarm was nothing compared to the announcers on the Indianapolis Colts radio team, who sprinted for the fainting couch when they heard Corrente inquire, “What in the fuck are you doing?” As Corrente works his way down George Carlin’s famous list, listen closely for the latest foul oaths that are likely to spill from his sailor mouth this Sunday.
Head-to-head matchup: helmet animal angriness. When an NFL team is named after an animal, it is important for that animal to appear very angry in the helmet logo, as this frightens the players on the other side (who do not wish animals to be angry with them). Over time, an arms race of angriness has played out across the league, with each franchise vying to place the most dyspeptic beast on its players’ headgear. For instance, this is what the Seahawks’ helmet looked like before 2002:
And here’s what it looks like now:
I guess the original hawk looked somewhat irritable, in the way that raptors do, but the overall effect is more of a “that bird had too much to drink last night” feel. The new hawk, on the other hand, is pissed! And still a little irritable! NuHawk has had it up to here with your shit, as Tony Corrente might say if the P.A. system were turned on. Is it really a coincidence that Seattle won its only Super Bowl title with this new, scarier hawk? Yes, it is.
On the Carolina side, here’s what the old Panther looked like:
And the cat that has been in use since 2012:
Honestly, the original panther might have been slightly more enraged than the present-day model. Sure, the newer one has a cockeyed expression that suggests the animal’s disbelief at the scale of its own fury. But that lazy, drooping jaw is less “ferocious predator” and more “Brak from Space Ghost: Coast To Coast.” Edge: Seattle Seahawks.
The Block & Tackle prediction: Seattle 19, Carolina 17.
Phil Simms is a poet, Vol. 3
Everybody involved with this football:
You know, Jim,
it’s raining now, so I don’t care
How much you’ve rubbed those footballs up!
How good they feel!
This type of rain, it’s gonna cause
—Phillip Montagnon Simms
NBC football graphic, or “level clear” screen from a crappy circa-2009 browser game?
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos — Sunday, 4:40 p.m., CBS
Your referee. It’s Terry McAulay. There are no interesting facts about Terry McAulay, which is the most interesting thing about him.
Head-to-head: kicking specialist tweets. I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop on Pittsburgh kicker Chris Boswell’s Twitter feed for some time now:
Meanwhile, Denver placekicker Brandon McManus offers up this adorable and amusing self-portrait:
He dares mock the Manning media bubble! Block & Tackle salutes this brave act. Edge: Denver Broncos, unless Chris Boswell’s “wait on it” thing turns out to be even funnier, like a picture of himself giving Ben Roethlisberger a hot foot or some such. Please, Chris, just end the waiting. I implore you.
The Block & Tackle prediction: Denver 21, Pittsburgh 8.