NFL referee Jeff Triplette

Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.

The NFL referee Jeff Triplette—do not be deceived; there is only one of him—raised eyebrows around the league this week with an officiating oopsie in the Chicago-Detroit game. Midway through the second quarter, rookie Lions running back Dwayne Washington cut through the Bears defense for a 14-yard gain. But moments later, Triplette announced that Lions offensive lineman Graham Glasgow had committed an “illegal hands to the face” penalty. The play was nullified.

Yet a video replay showed that Glasgow should have gotten off scot-free. It was, in fact, Chicago defender Eddie Goldman’s illegal hands that rearranged Glasgow’s meaty countenance, not the other way around. “This is just completely wrong!” sputtered CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots as he saw the footage. ESPN later echoed that sentiment by reporting that Triplette had called the foul on the wrong team.

Advertisement

But slow down there, ESPN. Maybe Triplette knew exactly what he was doing: restoring equitability to this one-sided rule. Why does the guy with the hands always get penalized for “hands to the face”? The guy with the face is equally culpable—he put his face there, after all. Glasgow was practically asking for it. And Jeff Triplette was just restoring the cosmic balance of gridiron justice.

This isn’t the first time that the NFL community has showered scorn on Triplette for his iconoclastic interpretations of the rulebook. Simply type “Jeff Triplette” into Google and you can warm yourself with the hot waves of rage that emanate forth. But among the many huge boners that Triplette has committed over the years, his masterpiece is a little-noticed incident from last season. This multifaceted screwup so delighted me, I was surprised to realize this week that I had never written about it. So gather ’round, friends, for the tale of the invalid invalid invalid invalid fair-catch signal signal.

It was Week 1 of the 2015 season. The St. Louis Rams had fought the reigning NFC champions, the Seattle Seahawks, to a draw at the end of regulation. After St. Louis won the overtime coin toss, Seattle tried an onside kick that was deftly fielded by St. Louis wide receiver Bradley Marquez. Then Triplette stepped in. He called a rare invalid fair-catch signal penalty on Marquez, and he offered Seattle the opportunity to re-kick, nullifying a huge field-position advantage for St. Louis.

Advertisement

On kicking plays, a receiving player can wave his hand above his helmet while the ball is in the air to indicate a “fair catch”—i.e., a catch that the receiver will not try to advance—and thus protect himself from tackles by the opposing team. Like I said, this rule only applies while the ball is still airborne off the kicker’s foot. Triplette explained to a confused St. Louis crowd that because the ball bounced off the ground, the fair-catch signal was bogus. Trouble was, the ball never hit the ground. Seattle’s kicker had launched it cleanly into the air off the tee. Once Triplette realized his error—possibly with illicit help from off the field—he had to invalidate his original call, making it an invalid invalid fair-catch signal.

Triplette’s correction of the ruling restored order, but it also obscured the depths of his screwup. The truth is that Triplette had no business invoking the fair-catch rules on this play. Rule 10, Section 2, Article 2 of the NFL rulebook details the mechanics of a fair-catch signal (i.e., wave your hand from side to side above your helmet) and then describes the invalid fair-catch regulation:

Item 2: Invalid Fair-Catch Signal. If a player raises his hand(s) above his shoulder(s) in any other manner, it is an invalid fair-catch signal. If there is an invalid fair-catch signal, the ball is dead when caught or recovered by any player of the receiving team, but it is not a fair catch. […]

Penalty: For an invalid fair-catch signal: Loss of five yards from the spot of the signal.

Advertisement

Two points of interest here. First, the penalty exists to prevent a scenario where a player does some sort of halfway signal—the old Head & Shoulders dandruff brush—in an attempt to confuse the opposing team. In other words, the rule concerns the “manner” in which you signal a fair catch, and it has nothing to do with whether the ball has hit the ground. If you’re a special teams player and you wave your hand above your head after the ball touches the ground, it’s just a meaningless gesture. In essence, you’re saying hello to the other players, which is a neighborly thing to do. Peculiar, sure, but legal.

Second, note the enforcement prescribed by the rulebook, which is a simple five yards—the kicking team does not get a do-over.

So yes, it’s nice that Triplette withdrew the penalty, but he never had any basis for applying it, and he applied it incorrectly to boot. His entire premise was invalid! Therefore, it was an invalid invalid invalid fair-catch signal.

Advertisement

Congratulations for making it this far, but wait, I have more. This is my favorite part. As Triplette announced the penalty, he acted it out by raising his hand above his shoulder with a little wag, like he was an underpaid Sears-Roebuck photographer trying to get the attention of a fidgeting toddler.

The NFL rulebook diagram of a proper invalid fair-catch signal signal

Advertisement

Yet as anyone who took the Block & Tackle referee penalty signal quiz knows, the proper way to indicate an invalid fair-catch signal is to place your hand above your head. That’s right: While Triplette was penalizing Bradley Marquez’s perfectly legitimate act, the referee used a hand signal that was itself invalid! Thus the football world was blessed with the first, and surely the last, invalid invalid invalid invalid fair-catch signal signal in league history.

Calling a penalty on the wrong team is a top-notch boner, don’t get me wrong. But the I.I.I.I.F.C.S.S. was a work of elegant, recursive ineptitude—the Mandelbrot set of bad officiating. Perhaps we will see another virtuosic misapplication of the rules this weekend, from a glasses-wearing Ron Torbert, or from Ed Hochuli, who wears muscles instead of glasses.

As for Triplette, the master himself? I predict his Sunday afternoon will be error-free. He has the week off.

Advertisement

Cleveland Browns vs. Buffalo Bills — Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert (Photo: Cleveland Browns)

Guarantees of victory have a long history in pro football. The archetypal example is quarterback Joe Namath’s promise that his New York Jets would triumph over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. They did.

A funnier example is Matt Hasselbeck’s in-game guarantee during the 2003 Wild Card round. Upon winning the overtime coin toss against the Packers, Hasselbeck announced, “We’ll take the ball, and we’re gonna score.” They didn’t. Instead, Hasselbeck threw an interception that was returned by the Green Bay Packers for a game-ending touchdown. It was the fastest conversion of hubris to comeuppance since Icarus himself.

Advertisement

While they met with opposite ends, both guarantees were notable for their audacity. Oddsmakers favored the Colts by more than two touchdowns when Namath offered his famous pledge to the sports press. And Hasselbeck boasted in hostile territory, broadcasting his cockiness over the Lambeau Field public address system. That took guts.

The same cannot be said for the voucher of victory that Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus gave to a reporter for The Buffalo News this week. Amid his preparations for the 0-13 Cleveland Browns—the league’s only winless team—Dareus said it’s “just a guarantee” that the Bills are “not going to be the team” that ends the Browns’ losing streak. This prediction was not so much audacious as it was gratuitous. Dareus was basically promising that he, too, would kick the corpse that is the 2016 Cleveland Browns.

Although a Browns win is unlikely, I do hope Dareus is proven wrong. That’s not because I have anything against him or the Bills—I agree with Cleveland offensive lineman Joe Thomas that Dareus’ prideful chatter was all in good fun. No, I just want to experience the joy of a doomed team that dodges the ignominy of an 0-16 season.

Advertisement

It’s Week 15 for the Browns, so their opportunities to crack the goose egg are running out. Yet hope remains. The 2007 Miami Dolphins also entered Week 15 without a win. At the time, the Dolphins’ shame was compounded by the fact that their division rivals, the New England Patriots, had yet to lose that year—a record of perfection that provided an unwelcome contrast to Miami’s flailing. But the Dolphins managed to exorcise their demons, rallying from a halftime deficit to beat the Ravens in overtime with a 64-yard touchdown from Cleo Lemon to receiver Greg Camarillo.

Neither Lemon nor Camarillo went on to achieve much of note, but at least they will always have the memories of that week’s last play. As Camarillo crossed the goal line, the stadium exploded in ecstasy. I still get giggly and misty when I watch the final moments of that game and see a Miami player, dazed by his glee, rejoice by leaping on the back of a Baltimore defender. He just needed to hug somebody, and the guy from the other team happened to be the nearest warm body.

Few football spectacles are more enjoyable than a squad of serious football players instantly transforming into a bunch of giddy kids. I’d like to see the Cleveland Browns rediscover their youth with a win this Sunday—or the next, or the next.

Advertisement

The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: Buffalo 26, Cleveland 9.

A Block & Tackle open discussion: Is this a doink or a clank?

There may be situations in which the work “doink” isn’t sufficient. Feel free to debate in the comments: Is this a doink or a clank? Or a doink that clanked? Or a clank that doinked?

Advertisement

So, you like jinxes, eh? Well, have all the jinxes in the world!

I’ve never seen a more concerted effort to jinx the ever-loving bejesus out of a kicker than the jinxing campaign that played out during ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecast of the Baltimore-New England game. As Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker lined up for a 34-yard field goal attempt, I counted five separate jinxes in 15 seconds:

  • A graphic at the bottom of the screen emphasized that Tucker was the “ONLY PERFECT KICKER IN THE NFL.”
  • Analyst Jon Gruden remarked, with characteristic hyperbole, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss.”
  • Play-by-play commentator Sean McDonough said that Tucker “hasn’t missed on Monday Night Football.”
  • McDonough re-emphasized that Tucker is “the only kicker who hasn’t missed at least one kick this year.”
  • Then, in case we couldn’t do the math at home, McDonough further elaborated that Tucker “made every field goal and every extra point this season.”

Advertisement

Tucker’s ensuing attempt was promptly blocked by the Patriots’ Shea McClellin. So now, thanks in large part to the cruel voodoo masters at ESPN, there’s one miss blemishing Tucker’s record for the season.

That miss wasn’t really his fault, though, and Tucker remains, as I said two weeks ago, a kicking badass. Case in point: Look at this innovative Tucker field goal that clips one of the wind indicators at the top of the goalposts. This is neither a clank nor a doink—it is some other creature altogether. A floink?

Advertisement

Detroit Lions vs. New York Giants — Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (Photo: New York Giants)

On Sunday, Fox’s Jay Glazer reported a strange scoop about a grievance lodged by the New York Giants against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It seems the Giants tested a couple of the footballs used by the Steelers during their game against New York earlier this month, and the results showed that the ball pressure was under the limit described in the rulebook. For whatever reason, the whiny Giants thought this was worthy of the league’s attention, as if anybody could possibly give a shit about the air pressure inside a football. Hey, Giants, this isn’t a middle school science fair. It’s the goddamn National Football League, where men are men, and men settle their differences like men, and every ball is inflated to at least 12.5 men per square inch.

Advertisement

The league moved quickly to shame Giants management for raising this non-issue, publishing a statement Sunday to explain that the team had filed “no formal complaint” about the matter—a serious breach of decorum because, as everyone knows, NFL complaints are black-tie-only affairs.

The recalcitrant press still wouldn’t let the issue drop. So on Wednesday, because he is such a patient and thoughtful man, league commissioner Roger Goodell was gracious enough to explain the situation, as reported by ProFootballTalk:

“We went back to look to make sure the protocols were followed properly. They were,” Goodell said. “The Giants had asked us about it during the game. We went back, we checked that. They were properly followed. All of the league protocols being properly followed, there’s no further followup on that. The teams didn’t follow up, we didn’t follow up any further because we were comfortable that the protocols were followed.”

Advertisement

Did you follow all of that? Of course you did—each thought follows naturally from the last.

Goodell’s cogent analysis put the matter to rest, thus ending a long, weird nightmare in which we somehow spent four days—more than half a week!—fretting over puffs of air in footballs. Shame on the Giants for wasting the commissioner’s time with such nonsense, and thank you, Roger, for protecting the integrity of our game.

The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: New York 27, Detroit 24.

If only Alan Thicke were here to nod approvingly at this hair

Advertisement

Above you see a shot of third-year referee Brad Allen announcing a penalty during the second quarter of last night’s Los Angeles-Seattle game. And I know what you’re thinking: Nerd City.

Later, in the fourth quarter, Allen needed to mark a penalty after he had already tossed his yellow flag, which required him to throw his hat.

Advertisement

Suddenly, the full splendor of Allen’s coiffure was on display. I know what you’re thinking now: Heartthrob Heights (a tony suburb of Nerd City). If the NFL is serious about combatting its decline in viewership, Brad Allen should never be required to wear a hat again.

Let it snow

Advertisement

Football is played in all kinds of weather, which is one of the sport’s most appealing qualities. Over the course of a season, we see games played in the sweltering heat of a Miami September and the swirling chill of a Wisconsin December. Once in a while, we get the visual treat of a snow game. The flurries of white that dance and streak across the screen aren’t just pretty; they also bring us closer to the player’s experience. We can’t feel extreme heat or cold when we’re watching at home, but with snow, our view of the action from the couch is obscured in much the same way as it is for the players. So paradoxically, even though we can’t see as well when it snows, we feel closer to the experience on the field.

CBS’ producers don’t understand this ineffable appeal of a snow day. When wintry weather hit Buffalo on Sunday, the network mucked up the screen with a hot mess of augmented-reality gewgaws that crudely replicated the yardage markers hidden under the accumulated powder. For long stretches of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh contest, CBS’ picture was blighted with giant, dark numerals. A messy snowfall typically lends a fun ragtag feel to football, but with the network’s gimmickry superimposed on the field, it felt more like we were watching the game through the eyes of a person whose Adderall prescription had lapsed—and whose Adobe After Effects subscription had not. My plea to broadcasters: Ease off the graphical tricks and let it snow.

Quick-Hit Picks

Here are Block & Tackle’s “never wrong” final score predictions for the remainder of the Week 15 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.

Advertisement

Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks (last night, 8:25 p.m., NBC/NFL Network): Seattle 24, Los Angeles 10.

Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets (Saturday, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Miami 28, New York 21.

Advertisement

Indianapolis Colts vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Minnesota 17, Indianapolis 15. While Minnesota’s players and coaches are focused on the Colts, the Vikings’ social marketing team is already stoking hype for the least anticipated game of the 2017 season.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Pittsburgh 33, Cincinnati 8.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Houston 2, Jacksonville 0.

Advertisement

Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Kansas City 27, Tennessee 21.

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Green Bay 14, Chicago 7√2. The Packers will score a pair of touchdowns, and Bears head coach John “Pythagoras” Fox—his playoff aspirations now a distant dream—will content himself by constructing a right triangle from those touchdowns and challenging his team to score the hypotenuse.

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Baltimore 23, Philadelphia 13.

Advertisement

San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): Atlanta 38, San Francisco 16.

New Orleans Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 29, Arizona 20. The New Orleans Saints are 42-25-1 all-time against teams named after cats and 80-95 against teams named after birds.

Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): Oakland 31, San Diego 22.

Advertisement

New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): New England 25, Denver 24.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Dallas 20, Tampa Bay 17.

Carolina Panthers vs. Washington (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Washington 21, Carolina 8.

Advertisement

Register Of Truth

Block & Tackle prediction record for 2016 season: 208-0

Untruthful games in Week 14: 8

Overall truth-untruth ratio in 2016: 131-77

Is Phillip Pecorino Simms besting Block & Tackle in the quest for truth?

Advertisement

No, but he’s gaining ground.

Block & Tackle Week 15 Picks: Pocket Edition

Advertisement