The NFL preseason. A time for fans to reunite at tailgate parties, for first-round rookies to feel the intensity of the spotlight for the first time in their pro careers.
A return to football, to the sport a summer of baseball and water polo reminds us is so integral to our daily water-cooler talk. Also, as an alternative to having to watch baseball or water polo.
But not all is well in Preseason Land. As the first week of action showed, exhibition season can be ugly, from the commissioner's office down to field level and chip-shot field goals.
Let's gather 'round the Haterade cooler and find out.
1. Bill Belichick
With 9:42 remaining in the first quarter of Thursday's exhibition between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was introduced to Saints defensive end Will Smith—in the same sense that earth was introduced to an asteroid in the waning days of the Cretaceous Period.
Now, let's put on our pretend hats for a minute. Do your best to imagine yourself in the oversized hoodie of the Patriots head coach, sunny disposition and all.
Your star quarterback, who has already missed one NFL season due to injury, is obliterated in a meaningless preseason game. Said quarterback is one of the—if not the—best players in the game, and so firmly rooted in an established offense, it would take the Jaws of Life to supplant him.
- A. Hand him a cup of Gatorade and tell him to grab a seat on the bench.
- B. Tell his backup to start warming up.
- C. Put him in the next series and go re-enact scenes from The Deer Hunter while juggling chainsaws and eating raw fugu?
You need not scratch your well-worn headband. The answer is obvious.
There was zero sensibility in trotting Brady out for the next series. Absolutely none. The only part of the chapter on how to flush your season down the toilet Belichick seemed to miss there was slapping the "kick me" sign on Brady's back before marching him back out on the field.
What's the thought process there? Brady will rust without the reps? I don't think so. Brady needs to meld with the starters? Doubt he forgot how to throw to Gronk and the six million utility backs your jackass friends used to edge you out in fantasy football last year.
This was stupid. Plain and simple unnecessary risk exposure—the gridiron version of summoning Bernard Pollard with a Ouija board.
And it was arguably the dumbest coaching decision we've seen in the NFL, since, well...
2. Any Team That Kicked a Field Goal Under 30 Yards
By my count, eight teams kicked field goals of less than 30 yards in the first week of NFL action: the Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos and the Saints.
The field goals in question, in order of greatest distance in yards to least: 29, 28, 27, 26, 24, 22 (twice), 21...and a whopping 20-yarder to send us home. All of these field goals were kicked in normal game action. None passed through the uprights at the expiration of the game clock at half or final whistle.
Ah, but Collin, you say, surely these must be young kickers—camp legs in need of reps, having formed wink-nod agreements with coaches to showcase their accuracy and reliability in hopes for a gig somewhere else on this football-loving continent.
To which I counter with the offending kickers: Shayne Graham and Randy Bullock (Texans), Blair Walsh (Vikings), Ryan Succop (Chiefs), Josh Scobee (Jaguars), Kai Forbath (Bucs), Mike Nugent (Bengals), Matt Prater (Broncos) and Garrett Hartley (Saints).
How many of those guys are in serious danger of being cut? Bullock and Forbath? Do we really learn anything from confirming that Shayne Graham can, in fact, nail a 20-yard chip shot? No. No, we do not.
Let's run through a list of things that teach us more about a team and provide more accurate roster evaluation than kicking a 20-yard field goal with no clock pressure in the preseason.
(We'll use the ever-so-photogenic Phillip Rivers as our placeholder model for these activities.)
Testing for witchcraft and other related sorcery:
Ghost-riding the whip:
Whipping the ghost rider:
Winning a decisive freestyle battle on the other side of 8 Mile Road:
All of these things tell us more about a player, roster or team than some gimme field goal ever could.
Of course, the more logical play would be to—I don't know—practice going for it on fourth down! With no meaningful win or loss on the line. In a glorified practice situation. Which could prove useful when faced with a similar scenario in-season, when the stakes actually do matter.
But hey, maybe these guys need some reassurance that they can indeed kick the ball farther than a nine-year-old.
3. Replacement Referees
There really is no other way to say it. Replacement refs are a problem. A big problem. In just the first week of preseason action, we were treated to such Keystone Cop exploits as...
Two balls on the field at once:
This was somehow ruled a touchback:
This guy confused Atlanta and Arizona, and sounded about as authoritative as Tyrann Mathieu at an elementary school drug prevention seminar while doing so:
These refs missed countless illegal blocks by Willie Beamen's offensive line (WARNING: Creed):
Granted, these all occurred in exhibition contests (and one fictional football league), but can you imagine this carrying over into the regular season? The implications? The legions of Eagles fans who will assault mall Santas and burn down orphanages in protest of that first truly terrible call?
I'm seeing the spec script here. And I have a feeling the final product adds up to something only Rob Schneider would star in:
These guys (and gal) just can't be responsible for meaningful games. There is too much at stake for some scab to miss an obvious touchback, or forget to review a critical play. This is the NFL, not field hockey, which I assume can be officiated by a drunk polar bear and still function according to the general bylaws.
We should hope for a resolution between the NFL and the NFLRA sooner rather than later. Every second without Ed Hochuli's biceps or this guy's ballsy introduction to Darnell Dockett is further evidence of a diluted product.
4. The Football Gods
They're a cruel sort, alright, what with their casual disregard for who should win, or whose knees should stay intact.
They took Bob Sanders from us too soon, rendering his body functionally incapable of withstanding more than a quarter's worth of NFL action.
They ended Jamaal Charles' season when it was just getting started, shorting the NFL of one of its true elite talents last season and crushing fantasy owners worldwide.
They even quashed the Patriots' shot at avenging their previous Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, momentarily replacing Wes Welker's hands with extremities that clearly were not Wes Welker's hands. (OK, so maybe that last one wasn't so bad.)
This year, apparently, they've set their sights on the Bengals.
Look, there's no way to be cute about it. Injuries suck. Anyone who actually roots for a player to be injured is a sadistic, heartless bastard who likely survives on a diet of kittens, puppies and a fridge full of Natural Ice purchased with stolen UNICEF funds. Or as he's known in media circles, Bill Polian.
For whatever reason, the football gods always seem to completely troll at least one fanbase per season, usually from the onset of each season. This year, it's the Bengals.
I don't understand the rush to torment Bengals fans, personally. Haven't the football gods basically been doing that for the past 42 years? Shame on those omniscient, cosmic forces for such calloused, prolonged cruelty!
Thankfully, for once, the Bengals are actually talented enough to likely overcome this early run of injuries. Between Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and a defense that is much, much better than most fans realize, Cincy should be fine, early bruises and all.
Let's just hope the trolling stops here. It would be nice for Cincinnati to have a success story besides 98 Degrees, for once.
5. Roster Scrubs, Highway Robbery and General NFL Preseason Incompetence
Sometimes, I think Bernie Madoff just scammed in the wrong industry. If he were in the NFL, for instance, he could probably still be the acting commissioner, illuminated fraud and all.
A bit harsh? Not while the NFL continues to charge full price for preseason games, it isn't. Let's look at this particularly not-worth-$115 play from Thursday's exhibition contest between the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos.
Broncos QB Adam Weber sets up to pass with roughly 4:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.
When suddenly, he spots something to his right. Something he likes. Very much. That something is Broncos receiver Gerell Robinson, who started the play running toward Bears cornerback Jeremy Ware.
Ware attempted to jam Robinson in the designated five-yard window, in the spirit of the Bears' physical DB philosophy.
Except Ware's interpretation of a jam was just about as painful and awkward as Oliver's interpretation of Snow's "Informer."
This, of course, left Robinson wide open. In Weber's line of sight. Easy touchdown. Right? Well...
No. Because it's the preseason. The full-price preseason.
Let's sift through the wreckage of this train wreck for one moment, and just pause to absorb the unfiltered toxicity that is preseason football.
Weber takes the snap. Robinson runs at Ware. Ware attempts to jam. Ware falls on face. Weber sees wide open Robinson, launches pass. Pass is out of the reach of anyone short of Optimus Prime. Ball hits turf. Somewhere, an innocent baby penguin pays the price for the football deities' displeasure.
And if we weren't so busy laughing, we would realize how bad this is for everyone who really could use that extra $115, or the difference between full price and a reduced preseason price anyway.
The NFL refuses to address the inequity between preseason product and price. Largely, outside of angry tweets and message board whining, the collective of NFL fans refuses to do much about it, because frankly, the NFL has them by the short hairs. Simple economics of demand: if Fan A won't pay for the preseason package that comes along with season tickets, Fan B will.
That still doesn't make this right, or the price tag remotely palatable. If the NFL really cared about anything but money—and hey, it's a business, I understand that—then Goodell would admit the one truth that no coach or general manager is willing to admit, and call preseason games exactly what they are: glorified practices with hyperinflated admission prices.
But don't expect that to happen any time soon, at least as long as the current economic model exists, and the NFL continues to take advantage of that.
Shame, too, because that extra $50 or $60 the fans shouldn't be paying to watch these games could come in handy for the postgame bar tab, as they attempt to drink away hellish memories of pigskin incompetence.
6. The Indianapolis Colts' Pregame Pageantry
Sure, Andrew Luck was great. Prodigal, even. As if Vince Lombardi broke off a rib, handed it to Colts GM Ryan Grigson and simply instructed "go forth and maketh him great."
There was a lot for Colts fans to enjoy in Sunday's preseason blowout, mostly at the expense of the St. Louis Rams' utter incompetence. When the final score reads 38-3, it's hard to complain about much that happened in the game.
What happened before the game, though, is another story entirely.
Let's begin with a certain flag fluttering from the rafters atop Lucas Oil Stadium, a banner surely more appropriately placed on the Wall of Gaylord (Focker) than any NFL stadium.
Yes, you are seeing that correctly. That is a Super Bowl banner. Not for winning a Super Bowl. For hosting a Super Bowl. Come on, Mr. Irsay!
A banner for hosting a Super Bowl? Seriously? What's next—a banner for hosting the last live performance of Avril Lavigne? A banner for selling Tony Siragusa's favorite loaded nachos? A banner for hanging a banner?
I didn't think anything could possibly be more embarrassing than the Patriots' 16-0 banner, but Indy somehow managed to one-up them. At least the Patriots won something to celebrate.
Of course, the Super Bowl banner wasn't the only embarrassing piece of fabric displayed in the Colts' pregame festivities. And while it's one thing to butcher the sanctity of sporting achievement, it's another to, you know, tear the American flag.
Colts game! There is a hole in the flag... instagr.am/p/OPIoC5pV-f/— Zach Cable (@zach_cable23) August 12, 2012
Now, look, I understand that proper storage and maintenance of a 100-yard piece of fabric isn't the easiest thing in the world to manage. That flag takes a lot of abuse on game days, and must be gathered, folded and stored in a matter of minutes so that kickoff can run as scheduled.
But come on, Colts. It's the American flag! Shouldn't you know if it's damaged before your first preseason game? And, you know, maybe buy a new one?
There's just something about displaying a damaged flag that will never sit well with the general population. And for good reason—it's our nation's most sacred symbol, and in any occasion involving the honoring of this country, pretty much the only thing you have to get correct besides the lyrics to the national anthem...and Christina Aguilera proved that last part is completely optional.
Thankfully for the Colts, the preseason couldn't get much worse than it already was in the half-hour leading up to kickoff. And with a little Luck—I'll be here all day, folks—they were able to provide a generous dose of eye-bleach by way of short screens and seam fly patterns.
Collin McCollough is Bleacher Report's Senior NFL Editor. Look for this weekly feature to run throughout the 2012-13 NFL season.
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