At last count, 849,398,387 words have been written and spoken about the NFL’s safety crisis. Many of those words have centered on protecting quarterbacks, the league’s cash cows and creative/inspirational forces. No matter the game situation, a defensive player cannot hit a QB late or when he’s out of bounds, even if the linebacker simply is playing at his usual high speed and doesn’t mean harm.
On a day when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers often looked in total disarray, from dissension on their sideline to audio problems inside their helmets, Lavonte David delivered the fatal final act of symbolic stupidity. All he had to do, with a two-point lead and less than a half-minute left, was allow Jets rookie Geno Smith to finish running out of bounds without touching him at the Bucs’ 45-yard line. David not only touched Smith, he made contact via an unnecessary shove.
Personal foul. Fifteen yards, ball placed on the Tampa Bay 30. In comes kicker Nick Folk, and next thing you know, the embattled Rex Ryan is grinning like a thief and giving headline advice to New York media copy editors advice. “Folk Hero,” he said after the Jets’ astounding 18-17 victory.
“David and Goliath” might work, too, if you’re into similar hack headlines. Lavonte, what in the hell were you thinking? “To me, he was inbounds,” an inconsolable David said afterward, per USA Today. “I wouldn’t have hit him if I didn’t think he was going to stay in bounds. I was surprised about the flag. But, hey, you have to learn from it and move on. You may not feel like that’s the right call.
“Everybody told to me to keep my head up. All the guys in here were very supportive.”
Said Bucs coach Greg Schiano: “It was a good job by (Smith), walking the tightrope and getting hit. It’s smart, a good play. Lavonte plays at a high speed and plays all out. Unfortunately, that got him that time.”
“Geno was already out, and David gave him a shot,” Jets guard Willie Colon told USA Today. “You can’t do that nowadays in the NFL.”
Clearly, all is not well in the sinking world of Schiano. His famously erratic quarterback, Josh Freeman, had early trouble with audio transmission in his helmet and often seemed fortunate just to get off a snap. The Bucs were penalized 13 times for 102 yards, including five flags in the first quarter — two while trying to call timeout. If Mike Glennon hadn’t played shakily in his last preseason look-see, there would be a full-blown QB controversy, not that Bucs fans already aren’t looking at next April’s draft. It speaks volumes about Freeman’s career limbo that he wasn’t elected a captain for the first time in four seasons.
“It’s about communicating, getting to the line,” Freeman said.
You know, Football 101.
“It’s frustrating for everyone. We have good players,” Schiano said.
Then there was new safety Dashon Goldson, who also is reading and hearing the voluminous talk about head injuries and still went helmet-to-helmet on tight end Jeff Cumberland. The league is reviewing.
Before the game, ESPN reported that the players’ union is investigating whether the Bucs’ front office tried to cover up the MRSA outbreak that infected the team’s practice facility last month. Not only does a staph-infection crisis cause concern among players about the quality control of an organization, it could have a direct impact on this team’s record this season. High-priced offensive lineman Carl Nicks continues to be sidelined because of his MRSA infection, while kicker Lawrence Tynes, who was hospitalized with the infection, is expected to sue the Bucs, who have offered a financial settlement while trying to release him.
Needless to say, it wasn’t how Darrelle Revis wanted to return to the Meadowlands. He played much of the game, deflected two Smith passes, and showed sportsmanship in congratulating his former mates. In the end, all the preseason buffoonery of Ryan and the Jets was history after the Bucs — and one of their star defensive players — were the bigger clown act on opening day.
You will look at the score — Seattle 12, Carolina 7 — and draw two conclusions. The first will be correct: Pete Carroll continues to have trouble preparing the Seattle Seahawks for 3,000-mile flights and 1 p.m. starts on the East Coast, which means less yoga in the team facility and more Starbucks espresso shots.
The second will be incorrect: Russell Wilson played poorly. In truth, Wilson won a game that his team tried very hard to lose, including an offensive line that didn’t protect our favorite little 5-foot-10 quarterback and left him smashed up and battered like a spinning race car at Charlotte Motor Speedway. On one memorable play, he was chased relentlessly and heaved a desperation throw downfield that, miraculously, found the only blue jersey within a sea of Carolina white.
But Wilson’s biggest moment — an example of why he’ll be the league’s MVP this season and lead Seattle to a Super Bowl championship — was when he returned to the same pass route after missing on it a play earlier. Finding his second read in Jermaine Kearse, who was blurring past cornerback Josh Thomas, Wilson completed a 43-yard scoring pass that was enough to support a stingy Seahawks defense.
It helped that DeAngelo Williams fumbled inside the Seattle 10 in the fourth quarter, just as it helped that Mike Shula, the wrong offensive coordinator for Cam Newton, was too cautious in his playcalling and too conservative with Newton, who accounted for only 163 yards of offense, a career low. “It was my mistake that cost my team the game,” Williams said. Yes, but it was Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas who knocked the ball out of his hands.
“When a running back feels like he’s getting open, he’ll start swinging his arms,” said Thomas, per the Associated Press. “I got in a good punch. We always work on that, getting the ball to come out.”
Which made Wilson a happy man, bruises and all. He passed for 320 yards, completing five of seven passes for 127 yards and a score on attempts of at least 15 yards, according to ESPN.com. “That shows what our football team is all about, that relentless nature to keep going after the ball,” said Wilson, raving about Thomas.
Yes, I’m sticking with the Seahawks. And yes, I’m definitely sticking with Russell Wilson.
The bounty scandal happened on his watch, remember. Sean Payton may not have been paying money for the hits that knocked opponents out of games, but as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, he was rightly held accountable and suspended all last season by the NFL. Somehow, the city thinks he was wronged, and the most popular t-shirt as he returns to the sideline has the slogan “RedempSean.”
But make no mistake, this wild victory over the rival Atlanta Falcons was about the defensive coordinator. Rob Ryan is the other Ryan, Rex’s crazy brother, the one with the biker-gang hair straight out of a French Quarter dive bar. Last season, the Saints allowed a league-season-record 7,042 yards — or 4.001136 miles of offense. Sunday, they sacked Matt Ryan three times, forced two turnovers and came up with a huge goal-line stop in the final seconds of a 23-17 win inside a rocking Superdome.
“I was hoping our defense would pull one out, and man, did they ever,” said Drew Brees, who hasn’t been able to say much that since the Super Bowl season.
Payton understands the way inside the heart of a broken city. First, he joined former Saint Steve Gleason, who is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, in the “Who dat!” pregame chant with the crowd. Then, after winning the coin toss, he chose to kick off in a vote-of-confidence gesture for the defense. “Sean sent the defense out first, which you would never have seen in the past,” said safety Roman Harper, per the Associated Press. “So just a whole different feel and the things that we’re trying to accomplish, this is just one step in the right direction.”
The NFL is more fun when the Saints are contenders. If they keep pressuring quarterbacks and taking less pressure off their own QB, they’ll be playing in January.