Madness off the field, chaos on it. You could spend all year and next debating the tiresome, seemingly never ending nonsense which has polluted the NFL this season.
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This week alone disgraced former New England Patriots tight-end Aaron Hernandez was gearing himself up for a murder trial which could see him spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Yet the head-scratching events which stunned a nation at the end of an enthralling play-off clash between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday are equally hard to fathom.
There were four minutes left with the home side ahead by five points when Tony Romo’s propeller like pass flew towards Cowboys star Dez Bryant.
He rose majestically, caught the ball and lunged for the goal line. As he crashed to the turf, the ball appeared to squirm ever so slightly out of his grasp yet remained under control.
It looked good. It still does.
A catch was the call only for Packers coach Mike McCarthy to challenge the decision. TV replays have been used in the NFL for the past 29 years although the drama of watching it unfold is pure American grandiose.
You are suddenly whisked to the replay centre in New York which looks like a spaceship with the largest amount of screens known to man. Nothing is unseen.
The call was overturned, Dallas hearts were broken, Green Bay ran out eventual winners.
According to the fantastically unfathomable ever-changing NFL rulebook – there have been SIX regulation changes this season alone – it was an incomplete pass.
In this case, the law really is an ass. Some players understand it. Some don’t. The fans though?
“They have made the game so difficult to officiate,” said former official Jim Daopoulos.
Of course, controversy is nothing new. Ask Green Bay fans if they’re still hurting from the now infamous ‘Fail Mary’ play of September 2012 which helped end a labour lockout of regular officials.
It should be noted that of the 40,000 plays which took place in the 2014 regular season, officials were graded as correct nearly 96 per cent of the time. That’s an impressive tally of less than one incorrect call per game.
Yet for those of you with a degree in astrophysics, please devour this: Rule 8, Section 1. Article 3: A pass is completed when he secures control of the ball with his hands or arms, touches the ground with both feet or any other body part (other than his hands), and maintains control long enough to allow him to perform “any act common to the game,” which includes having the ball long enough to “pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent.”
Stay with me here.
The officials, with the weight of billion-dollar franchises weighing on their straining shoulders, also had to take Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 into account. You know, the one which stresses about maintaining control “throughout the process of contacting the ground.”
After watching the replay, the referee concluded Bryant had lost it at the very last moment. Yet to the man on the street, it was fine.
A catch which looked like a catch was ruled otherwise. Cue hysteria in Dallas and around the country.
“JUSTICE” screamed the New York Post the following morning, clearly delighted the Cowboys got payback after being on the end of a fortuitous call the weekend before.
Bryant wasn’t having it though. “I had possession of the ball coming down,” he moaned. “One, two, reach. Damn, that’s possession.”
Referee Gene Steratore, rulebook in hand, countered: “He must maintain possession of that football throughout the entire process of the catch. In our judgement he maintained possession but continued to fall and never had another act common to the game – and by the time he lands and the ball hits the ground, it comes loose.”
While soccer had long been castigated for its refusal to embrace technology, the NFL have used it for years. Replays are now part of the game. However has their intrusive nature damaged the dramatic beauty of sporting drama?
In this case, the answer has to be yes. Rules and common sense need to become friends once more.
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LeBron James comments on the departure of Steven Gerrard from Liverpool – a club the Cleveland Cavaliers star owns a minority share in.
We’re one weekend closer to the Super Bowl and only four teams remain. Here are three takeaways from the divisional round.
Brady cool in the clutch
Before the New England Patriots’ win over the Baltimore Ravens, Tom Brady didn’t have a clutch performance in the playoffs in quite some time. He of course made his name in the early 2000s during the Patriots heyday by playing his best during the biggest moments.
Since the three Super Bowls, he’s been good in the post-season, but not great. Nothing like the Brady we all became accustomed to.
That Brady returned against the Ravens, fighting back from not one, but two 14-point deficits, proves his clutch gene is still there.
To win the Super Bowl, the Patriots will certainly need their quarterback to show it again.
The end of Manning?
Peyton Manning: 9 “one-and-done” playoff appearances Tom Brady: 9 AFC Championship appearances. pic.twitter.com/flrDkosuPR
— NFL (@nfl) January 12, 2015
Before this season started, it would have been ridiculous to imagine Peyton Manning’s career being finished after this year. The idea doesn’t seem so crazy now. His arm strength has been declining for years and hasn’t been much worse this season, but his famous accuracy has surprisingly slipped.
The Denver Broncos even shifted to a heavy running offence midway through the year to take heat off Manning. The purpose behind that strategy seemed to be to keep Manning fresh for the playoffs.
As it turns out, that strategy was out of necessity because Manning doesn’t look like he can play at the same level anymore.
The reality is a hard one for Denver as their Super Bowl window appears to have closed just as quickly as it opened.
Dallas feels familiar pain
What a cruel way for the Dallas Cowboys’ season to end. Well, unless you’re one of their many detractors who felt karma caught up with them.
It looked like Dallas were set up in position to take the lead against Green Bay late thanks to a magnificent Dez Bryant catch on
fourth down, only for the call to be reversed because of a rule technicality.
You might think they deserved it after benefitting from the now infamous picked-up flag against Detroit, but consider this: the
catch most likely holds up if Bryant doesn’t reach the ball for the end zone just as he’s hitting the ground.
If he didn’t make the extra effort and just secured the ball, it might be a different story. That’s a heartbreaking way to lose.