Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
Not so fast
Sometime last year, NFL On Fox made a tiny but irksome change to the way it presents NFL action every Sunday. Typically, networks display the down and distance a few moments after the previous play ends. The ball is snapped, the tackle is made, we all take a deep breath, and then the production crew resets the stage by fading in a “3RD & 5” graphic. There’s a reliable visual pace to all of this. But recently, Fox has marched to a different beat. Rather than waiting, the network will flash “2ND DOWN” onscreen the instant a first-down play concludes, as if it’s a time-sensitive news scoop. “BREAKING: Second down goes after first down—and you’ll never believe what comes next!”
So Fox values informational immediacy over the traditional rhythm of down-and-distance graphics. That may seem to be a trifling distinction, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. To understand why, think about the climactic scene of almost any sports movie. The receiver catches the pass, or the puck hits the net, or the ball goes in. The players react. And what’s the next shot? The scoreboard updating to reflect the play, maybe as the clock ticks to zero.
We don’t need to see that; the reactions of the athletes and the crowd should tell us whether the game was won or lost. Yet the scoreboard shot is a staple, because the editing tracks the natural gaze of the spectator. It’s a common instinct to glance at the score and watch it update after a big play. We like to see the lights on the board change because it gives us the first glimpse of history being written, and it echoes the thrill (or agony) of a game-defining twist by confirming that it was real. This holds true, in a subtler sense, for routine plays. I don’t merely want to know it’s second down; I want to watch it change from first down to second down. I want to feel those little shifts in the situation, and Fox’s jumpy graphical rhythm prevents that simple pleasure.
Still, the quick display of downs is a pretty harmless directorial choice on its own. But it’s indicative of a wider tendency at Fox, and in other sports media, to process moments as soon as they happen. If not sooner. The producers for Sunday’s Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh matchup on Fox were apparently so eager to contextualize the outcome of the game that they didn’t bother to wait for the game to end. The graphic in the screenshot above assumed Pittsburgh would win and declared the Steelers 3-1. Minutes later, Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon declared them 2-2. Fox’s crew bungled the most fundamental question of a sporting event—who won?—and all because they couldn’t wait to present this startling analysis: When teams win more often than they lose, they tend to make the playoffs.
The trend toward faster, wronger game reporting isn’t limited to football or TV. Tuesday’s American League wild-card game, with the Kansas City Royals hosting the Oakland A’s, was a dramatic 12th-inning triumph for the home team. Yet for a few minutes after the night ended in walk-off joy for the Royals, Major League Baseball’s official site touted an article that described Oakland defeating Kansas City in nine innings. The recap had been written earlier when the game was still in progress, which is a standard and reasonable practice, yet reading it after the extra-innings madness was eerie. The article was so confident in its false recollection of facts that it felt like the MLB had gone postmodern, and the actual outcome was no more significant than our perception of possible outcomes.
Someone at MLB.com screwed up. It happens. I’ve certainly had those “Crap, did I just hit the ‘Publish’ button?” moments. But this silliness only came to pass because MLB.com was fixated on speed to such an extent that reality itself became a second priority. That’s a needless error. We can wait a moment to be reminded what down it is, or to see meaningless stats, or to read the game recap online. My request for big sports media is straightforward: Not so fast. The present becomes the past with fearsome speed on its own; it doesn’t need your help. And if you give fans the chance to savor a moment in its own right, they’ll be all the more willing to listen later, when you tell them what it all meant.
St. Louis Rams vs. Philadelphia Eagles — Sunday, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, Fox
Sure, there are better matchups on the schedule this week—among them Chiefs-49ers, Cardinals-Broncos, and Texans-Cowboys. But for logo aficionados, Rams-Eagles is a real treat. This is how the game looks on NFL.com’s Week 5 schedule page:
See how the animals are facing each other, as if we’re about to see an eagle and a ram settle their eternal score once and for all? This sort of animal-on-animal tableau is uncommon on the NFL calendar, because the Eagles are the only team in the league whose logo faces left. (As a sharp-eyed Redditor pointed out last year, this arrangement allows the feathers on the Eagles’ neck to form an “E”—sort of.) In fact, there are only four such When Animals Attack clashes on the 2014 regular season calendar. The others are the Eagles’ Week 1 win against the Jaguars, a Week 10 Monday night game against the Panthers, and a Week 14 Seahawks matchup that promises to be three hours of all-out avian ferocity:
But Rams-Eagles is an even rarer, more special subset of When Animals Attack games, because this matchup also features two teams that actually dress up like the animals they purport to be. See, most teams just slap their logo on the side of their helmet and call it a day. But the Rams and Eagles play pretend. The Rams’ helmets have faux ram horns, and Philadelphia’s helmets give the players wings, in keeping with the little-known fact that eagles’ wings begin at their forehead. The Bengals are the only other animal team with costume-style helmets like this. (The Vikings’ helmets have horns, which are fun, but Vikings aren’t animals, and they probably didn’t wear horned helmets, either.)
Millennia from now, when the St. Louis-Philadelphia game is the only remaining artifact of our 21st-century existence, people will think that “football” was a thing where we dressed up as animals and fought to determine which animals are best. They won’t have any idea that it was all about being concussed and selling light beer. Future people are so dumb!
This does raise the question, though, of who would actually win in a showdown between an eagle and a ram. And I don’t know. This old clip of an eagle creating a very bad day for a mountain goat—which is kind of close to a ram—suggests that the eagle would have the upper hand (note: clip features shocking brutality of nature):
Then again, if the Rams are true to their namesake, they won’t be intimidated by the dazzling pace of Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s offense. Speed only makes rams angrier:
However, since Nick Foles is unlikely to take the field on a dirtbike (not ruling it out), I’ll call this one for Philadelphia. The Block & Tackle “top of the food chain” prediction: Philadelphia 28, St. Louis 20.
Annals of things you just can’t do
After San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an incompletion midway through the third quarter of the Eagles-49ers game on Sunday, Troy Aikman complained, “You just can’t miss those throws.” You just can’t miss them…or what, Troy? He declined to explain. One play later, Kaepernick threw one of the most spectacular touchdown passes of the season, reeled in with astonishing, toe-tapping grace by receiver Steve Johnson:
The 49ers went on to win the game, 26-21, and Kaepernick probably thinks he’s safe. But Troy Aikman said “you just can’t miss those throws,” and he never lies. Rest assured that the other shoe is going to drop on that seemingly inconsequential third-quarter miss, Kaepernick. What will happen? When? How? Which? Only Troy Aikman knows.
Cleveland Browns vs. Tennessee Titans — Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS
A.V. Club associate editor Marah Eakin is the staff’s resident Browns supporter. Earlier this year, after the LeBron-to-Cleveland announcement, she wrote a great piece about being a displaced Cleveland sports fan. I invited Marah to offer her thoughts on her 1-2 Browns, who come off a bye week to face the Titans this Sunday. Marah has the floor:
I’ve lived my entire life burdened by the disappointment that comes with loving the Cleveland Browns. And while it’s still entirely possible that this could be the year they go 14-2 (Hey, these next five or so games seem winnable!), I’m going to remain pessimistic and say that’s probably not going to happen.
This year, though, something terrible has happened: My husband has finally fallen for the Browns. It took about four years of constant chatter between me and my brother to really get him going, but during Week 3, when the Browns were beating the Ravens and making great plays, my husband Andrew was so stoked that he was literally jumping up and down on the couch. Fast forward one disastrous quarter and he’s (semi-jokingly) cursing me out, blaming me for making him fall in love with the Browns, who will only break his heart. Why couldn’t I have been raised a Patriots fan instead? (Just kidding. That’s gross.)
I’ve written a lot about loving Cleveland sports before, but what I hadn’t really thought about is passing it on. I got this disease from my parents, who took me to a neighbor’s basement party to watch the game where John Elway led the Broncos on “The Drive.” And now I’ve given it to my husband, and we’ll presumably someday give it to our kids. And while I know that loving the Browns will help them build character, is it fair to set our non-existent progeny up for such disappointment? That’s the debate I’m having now—but, hey, maybe we can still turn this whole thing around, right? Right?
(Unrelated fun fact I learned from this week’s ESPN The Magazine cover story about Cleveland sports: “Last year more people moved from Brooklyn to Cleveland than vice versa.” Eat it, Brooklyn!) The Block & Tackle “special guest star” prediction: Tennessee 28, Cleveland 27.
Because of a veterinary emergency, the winners and losers in the following game predictions were erroneously transposed in last Friday’s column: New York vs. Washington, Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh, Green Bay vs. Chicago, Carolina vs. Baltimore, Atlanta vs. Minnesota, Philadelphia vs. San Francisco, New Orleans vs. Dallas, and New England vs Kansas City. We regret the error and appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.
Fan Forum Check-In: New England Patriots
Fan Forum Check-In takes the pulse of fandom, one message board at a time. PatsFans.com is home to “The Best Fans On Earth,” despite what Marah Eakin says. And the world’s best fans are in a panic after Kansas City humiliated the Patriots on Monday Night Football this week. You only need to browse thread titles like “Anyone else just feel depressed right now?” and the helpfully capitalized “GUYS CALM DOWN” to tell that New England supporters are feeling low. But who’s to blame for the Patriots’ woes? User PATS16NO has a theory that he subtly advances in his thread entitled “BELICHICK IS TO BLAME”:
I just said [Patriots offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] should be fired tonight.
Someone replied it won’t happen because he’s “Belichick’s guy.”
I said all the more reason to sh#tcan him, so Belichick can see how it feels for a change.
It’s time to redirect this conversation where it belongs. Through out this entire nightmare, the Rutger JAG’s, the Welker breakdown in relations, not resigning Blount, questionable drafting, putting the GOAT behind a peewee offensive line, fielding Amendola over Thompkins in Arrowhead, and TRADING MANKINS right before the season starts, I have one question:
How the hell has Lord Belichick escaped this conversation while the whole world dumps on the guy who has been covering up his BS for the last 6 seasons?
Let me see if I have this straight. The whole word dumps on Josh McDaniels, who in turn has been covering up Bill Belichick’s bullshit. So if the Patriots were a seven-layer dip, it would go, from top to bottom: the whole world, a large quantity of shit, Josh McDaniels, some sort of cover (provided by McDaniels), six years’ worth of Bill Belichick’s shit, Belichick himself, and finally the Patriots players on the bottom. This is a sorry state of affairs; you can understand why PATS16NO is upset.
The first reply to PATS16NO’s spirited argument comes from james87654, who would like everyone to know what his favorite key on the keyboard is:
im not sure how i feel about mcdaniels……….but BB will be here long after Brady…..i can tell you that much……..he just got a contract extension a year ago
And further down in the threat, DaBronxPats14 helpfully compresses a week’s worth of sports talk radio callers into one pithy stream-of-consciousness post:
Brady on a decline isn’t as bad as it sounds. He can still hang with best of’m but BB has NEVER addressed an urgency after AHern was arrested and 2 TE Hurry Up Offense was done. When you Have Tom Brady BB MUST do EVERYTHING to get him Top Shelf Receivers through FA, Trades PROVEN VETS whatever it takes. BB has cost us a couple of more SB Wins with our Atrocious Defense and now he’s managed to do it to our Offense and last nite was a dose of both of them Suckin It Up! I dunno where Kraft is in all of this if he’s too cheap to pull’da trigger but Brady should sue for lack of support but he won’t ‘cuz he’s a good soldier, BB should be held Accountable for ALL THIS!
Elsewhere, a fellowed named Mauro drops in to tell his fellow Best Fans On Earth that he recently traveled from his home in Italy to visit the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. While he was in Foxborough, he had the opportunity to visit one of his favorite Patriots legends, and he’d like help figuring out who the hell it was. He begins the thread, “Help me, who is the man in the photo with me?” by making an apology that is probably unnecessary on PatsFans.com:
Hi from Italy, sorry for the bad English
I’m a Pats fan from Spello, Italy.
For my birthday I was in Boston for the match vs Patriot Jets.
Help me, who is the man in the photo with me?
Other users jump in to investigate the identity of the old white guy in the photo, mainly by suggesting other old white guys they’ve heard of. Is it former AFC champion Pats coach Raymond Berry? Is it 1960s Patriots quarterback Vito “Babe” Parilli? No, as it turns out, the mystery man was a guy who works at the stadium. Another magical NFL fan moment!
If Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were a Girls character, which Girls character would he be?
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 5 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers (last night, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN): Green Bay 24, Minnesota 14.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Giants (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): New York 21, Atlanta 16.
Chicago Bears vs. Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): Chicago 23, Carolina 17. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Bears are 10-3 against teams named after cats and 6-4 against teams named after birds—the rare two-animal threat.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 30, Tampa Bay 19.
Buffalo Bills vs. Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): Detroit 28, Buffalo 12. Everyone knows that the weird sentence “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” is a valid sentence in the English language. But did you know that “Detroit Detroit Detroit Detroit Detroit Detroit Detroit Detroit” is also a fun thing you can say? Don’t limit yourself!
Houston Texans vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Dallas 19, Houston 18.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Baltimore 23, Indianapolis 21. Colts punter Pat McAfee was named the AFC Special Teams Player Of The Month despite having no right foot. Indianapolis is just one inspiring story after another.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Pittsburgh 28, Jacksonville 9. Which would you rather own: the Jacksonville Jaguars, a Jaguar car, or an actual jaguar? Probably the car, right? Because a real jaguar would bite you.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Denver Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): Denver 34, Arizona 27. Oh, right, Denver was on a bye last week, so they missed the staff meeting. Denver, we changed the wi-fi password. It’s “East Right Flop, V Right outside, Y Left, Fake 396 Bag, Z Go” now.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): San Francisco 25, Kansas City 12.
New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): San Diego 19, New York 17. Did you know that Philip Rivers is underrated? It’s true. Try to rate him some more.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Cincinnati 21, New England 14.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Seattle 20, Washington 1. Washington will score the first conversion safety in the NFL since the pre-war era, which is a cool way to lose.
B&T prediction record last week: 16-0
B&T prediction record for 2014 season: 65-0
Disquieting corrections made: 30