Melissa’s Monday Musings Week 5: Eric Reid Boldly Reignites Protest

A week ago I used this space to describe how things had normalized in the NFL in terms of the teams fitting our notions . Well, never mind because other than the Chiefs and Rams notching their “Ws” a lot of other football didn’t make sense.  The Cleveland Browns can actually win games in overtime now.  There is nothing special about Philly.  Heck, even the catch rule is hardly a thing anymore. I have plenty to say about the Week 5 action but first a note about this week’s most courageous player…

If you know a thing about Eric Reid or the history of effective protesting, you knew he would continue to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and systemic oppression. This week when giving his first presser since being signed by the Carolina Panthers, Reid was asked about whether his prior protesting was worth the delay and potential of never playing football again. Donning an “I’m with Kap” shirt, he answered with an incredibly poignant history lesson 0n the societal imbalance consistently felt by blacks in this country, including slavery, Jim Crow and lack of access to government programs. Reid simply said he “felt the need to speak out.” Reid is on a mission, and conforming to the NFL’s preferred stripping of free thought, was never going to be an option.

After the Panthers’ dramatic 33-31 win over the Giants, in which Reid played very well, he was naturally bombarded with questions about his decision to kneel. Reid said was respectful of his teammates who in turn supported his decision. As a courtesy, he also told coach Ron Rivera in advance he would be protesting, but wasn’t asking for approval. “I don’t need anyone’s permission,” Reid said.

He later added that the win was “bittersweet” because Colin Kaepernick was not on an NFL roster. Reid was never looking to broker a deal or sell his soul in any way; and no, he was never going to be quiet. Of course he would use the biggest platform possible to continue his message, even in sheer solitude, even knowing that in doing so his career may ultimately be cut short.

But Reid will be fine because his life work is far more ambitious and important than football. Ever since he first kneeled with Kaepernick, the two have become bonded like brothers in a quest to explain the inequality in our country, and combat it in any way possible. Since being banished from the league, Reid and Kaepernick have become tireless altruists. From hosting camps for kids in inner cities to teach them about their rights and heritage to spending time with kids from Boys and Girls, they are committed to laying the groundwork for a safer, more fruitful society for the next generation. They are diligently working at the grassroots level but also waving the flag on systemic oppression by not only using their megaphones but by being examples of injustice.

The fact that neither was on an NFL roster until this week is just atrocious. The crickets Reid heard for months are particularly embarrassing considering his youthful age (26) and more recent Pro Bowl status. But both unequivocally have the proven talent to enhance an NFL roster.  Now that Reid is back two things are abundantly clear. The Panthers got an absolute steal and the world didn’t implode after Reid kneeled.

New Panthers owner David Tepper never asked Reid about his intentions to protest. Neither did Rivera. Signing Reid was simply a very smart football move to replace Da’Norris Searcy who landed on IR. Perhaps the Panthers will set an example, though I doubt it.

The NFL is notoriously not keen on players who are synonymous with football and an outside interest, especially involving certain areas. Players like Reid who love football, want to play football, but don’t need football scare the bejeezus out of the league.

Rhodes Scholar/budding medical student Myron Rolle wasn’t exactly embraced for his post-football ambitions.  Cardinals QB Josh Rosen was red-flagged by some teams because of his political wokeness. Meanwhile we worship a coaches like Sean McVay for freakishly reciting any play call from any game because he admittedly has no life aside from football. But if McVay wanted to recite passages from The Autobiography of Malcolm X he’d be an outcast.

Maybe the Panthers are an anomaly and no other team would have signed Reid. But maybe they’ll serve as a model to showcase that players can have outside interests and causes, even if not aligned with the league’s business goals, and still be valuable members of an NFL roster. Maybe just maybe someone will call that Kaepernick guy next.

The Dallas Morning Blues

How many Cowboys fans would be upset if Jason Garrett were fired today?  The ultra conservative call to punt on 4thand 1 from Houston’s 42-yard-line is simply unconscionable. You invest in a top 5 running back, have Tyron Smith and Zack Martin on your line and they can’t be trusted to gain one yard? What an absolute joke.

Not only were the odds statistically in the Cowboys’ favor to get the first down – this has been studied often after Bill Belichick famously went for on 4th and 2 it against the Colts in 2009 –  but this particular first down puts your 20 yards from a possible win.  Imagine being speedster LB Jaylon Smith or disruptive DE DeMarcus Lawrence who masterfully helped hold the Texans to just one score in nine attempts inside the 5-yard-line. Or Zeke or the line or, well, every member of the roster. Those guys deserved a win.

A (Minor) Defense of Odell

Odell Beckham Jr. was largely blasted for his truth serum comments to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, namely with his widely shared response when asked if Eli Manning was to blame for the Giants’ offensive woes.  Beckham’s, “I don’t know,” is the part that went viral but his subsequent words are important for context.

“Like I said, I feel like he’s not going to get out the pocket. He’s not — we know Eli’s not running it. But is it a matter of time issue? Can he still throw it, yeah, but it’s been pretty safe and it’s been, you know … cool catching shallow [routes] and trying to take it to the house. But I’m, you know, I want to go over the top of somebody.”

The lack of canned answer in defense of Eli isn’t a great look for Beckham but he’s basically am ambitious receiver who had been living on a desert this season. He’s certainly not the first.

Beckham was a star at an early age. His jersey was THE jersey to own for multiple years. But his marketing value has slightly  dipped as his numbers have waned in a conservative offense. Meanwhile there are explosive offenses helmed by young gunslingers popping up all over the league that have to be the ultimate tease. Remember Beckham is just 25, a kid. I get his frustration; then again I never viewed Beckham as a leader. Of course, Beckham had his best statistical game, including his first touchdown this season, hours after the interview aired so we’ll see how his attitude shifts.

Roughing the Passer Hell

Somehow, someway the NFL’s roughing the passer clusterf*** got worse in Week 5. There have been 11 roughing the passer flags this week, none of them consistent. Two were particularly atrocious. Steelers LB T.J. Watt was flagged for barely grazing the ankle of Matt Ryan. Even Watt’s brother expressed his frustration. Then there was the call on Eagles DE Michael Bennett who tackled Kirk Cousins starting with his thigh and his hands naturally moved down, a seemingly legal tackle.  Both sparked mass outrage.

This is a crisis and truly impacting the quality of the game, both from a fairness and enjoyment perspective.  Roughing the passer has became the new catch rule. The league over tinkered to add nuance and too much subjectivity to something that should simply an eye test. The catch rule finally reverted to “you know it when you see it.” How much damage will be done before roughing the passer follows suit?

Just as we wince when there’s a holding call on a long run or a block in the back on any sizable kickoff return, we now have to expect a roughing the passer call literally any time a quarterback is touched.  Except unlike the other two penalties which are pretty straightforward, roughing the passer is a jumbled mess and at times unavoidable as the NFL now defines it.

Other quick musings….

– What NFL team is going to be able to defend against the Chiefs?

– Relatedly, this isn’t your old Andy Reid start fading in midseason roster, especially if the defense is going to step it up as it did against the Rams.

– Jalen Ramsey played a decent amount of zone against the Chiefs but he specifically got burned by WIDE RECEIVER Tyreek Hill on a 36-yard-pass. Overall, advantage Hill.

– 5 games. 5 TDs. Yes, it’s safe to say that James Conner is a legitimate starting running back in this league.

– The 49ers are very sad and it’s going to be a loooooong year. No one to blame, they simply don’t have the roster talent minus Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon.

– Add the Panthers to the list of NFC teams who could possibly challenge the Rams. As of now that list is remarkably short and only includes the Bears.

– I don’t understand the Bills at all.

– Hue Jackson is now 1-5-1 in OT games as head coach in Cleveland.

– The way Baker Mayfield moved in the pocket and kept his eyes downfield on that 39-yard 3rd down pass to Derrick Willies in OT was remarkable.

– Anyone want some jet sweep to go with their modern 80’s wear, charcoal toothpaste and Fortnite dances?

– If you’re one yard away from the goal line  and you don’t hand it off to Marshawn Lynch, you deserve to go to football hell.

– This post from the Carolina Panthers is a masterclass in social mediaing.