Melissa’s Monday Musings, Wild-Card Weekend: The Good, The Bad, and The Goodbye
Well, that was both exhilarating and emotional. No, I’m talking about Oprah’s Golden Globes speech for the ages.
Wild-card weekend was wild in the sense that we witnessed several close games – three-of-four finished within a touchdown. But only one featured upper echelon, evenly matched teams who were (mostly) ready for the moment. The weekend was also in many ways a cavalcade of the ills that define today’s NFL. Typically we start this column on a more positive note and while there was plenty of goodness, starting there doesn’t feel appropriate
– Jeff Triplette is reportedly retiring and it’s hard to imagine a worse way to exit than his shoddy performance in the Tennessee-Kansas City game. His biggest botched call was negating a Marcus Mariota sack and fumble by invoking forward progress even though none existed. Not even close. The Titans kicked a field goal on that drive and ultimately won by a point, 22-21. There were many more clear mistakes like calling a penalty on the wrong player or justifying a correct call because Mariota was “in shotgun” which had zero impact. I don’t blame Triplette; he’s been a cesspool of mockery for years. But officials earn playoff assignments based on regular season performance, and if Triplette was truly an all-star ref the NFL has far more officiating issues than we know.
– On a related note, what a waste for ESPN to have Gerry Austin in the booth not calling a spade a spade on that ridiculous forward progress snafu.
– In disheartening news, the NFL’s new concussion protocol appears to be as disastrous as the previous version. After the Tom Savage sham the NFL and NFLPA sent out guidelines on an improved protocol that includes many new steps like: Require a locker room concussion evaluation for all players demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand).
Here is a stumbling Cam Newton. He was not taken to the locker room and was soon cleared to return.
This “Cam Newton’s visor poked him in the eye” is the greatest storyline in the history of sports. And I’m saying that as a former WWE wrestler. Watch the video, you don’t collapse after that him because you need ice on your face. It’s a #concussion. pic.twitter.com/fgsMiai3et
— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) January 8, 2018
– Love everything that Sean McVay did for the Rams this season but that team was not ready for the playoffs at all. Their inventiveness waned and they were simply outcoached throughout.
– Same for the Bills though their lack of readiness was less surprising. It was an emotional week after an improbable catapult into the postseason, and it felt like ending the 17-year playoff drought was their Super Bowl. The lack of misdirection plays in the first half was really disappointing.
– Tyrod Taylor’s uninspired performance is a bit more excusable given that he faced the AFC’s top defense, his receivers dropped several balls, and he still made magic in spots with his legs. Blake Bortles was also a factor on the ground, which was critical since I’m not entirely sure he knows how to throw a forward pass. This was definitely one of too many games to count this season where the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick is hard to ignore.
– Horrendous coaching by Andy Reid and Chiefs OC Matt Nagy shutting down Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s leading rusher, with a sizable second-half lead. Kareem Hunt carried the ball just fives time in the second half. Inexcusable.
– It was “Take a Picture With a Murderer Day” at this Bills-Jags watch party in Vegas.
– The Saints-Panthers tilt was a beauty that saved the weekend. The Vikings are billed as the NFC’s most complete team but the Saints are as equipped as anyone to win in the postseason. Everyone talks about the Saints emphasizing the run game over the passing attack this season, which is true, but Drew Brees showcased that his arm should still be feared. Michael Thomas (8 catches, 131 yards) may be the most underrated WR in the NFL, likely overshadowed by the run game. The Saints defense, particularly Cam Jordan, was ready for the big time. Next week’s divisional game against the Vikings is highly intriguing, and I wonder if the experience disparity gives the Saints an overall edge.
Congrats to Ted Ginn Jr. who has a penchant for signing with playoff-destined teams. This is his seventh postseason with his sixth team.
– What a phenomenal postseason debut for Jalen Ramsey. He smothered the Bills WR corps all day and drew an OPI on Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone while still knocking away the pass. Ramsey sealed it in dramatic fashion with a tipped ball that he caught for the interception. Ramsey is often described as “one of the best corners in the NFL.” I can’t think of anyone I would rather have. Bortlin’ aside, the Jags’ defense gives them a real shot against the Steelers, especially with a less-than-100% Antonio Brown.
– Atlanta’s secondary and its entire defense came to play. Their speed and aggressiveness, which greatly outmatched the Rams, was key to a win most didn’t see coming. The Falcons are not keen on talking about the Super Bowl loss but vengeance has to be fueling them at least somewhat.
– Kudos to Derrick Henry for avenging a Week 17 performance against Jacksonville he called “soft.” He was a mission against the Chiefs and ran like a rock to the tune of 6.8 yards per carry.
Sean Payton’s got moves.
Sean Payton was hype 😂
(via @A_kamara6) pic.twitter.com/tWyWqIRv3u
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 8, 2018
– Saturday was Jon Gruden’s final day in the Monday Night Football booth. We at TFG were particularly saddened given that his superlatives and quirkiness inspired our “Positively Gruden” column that had been going strong for six years. A big thank you to The Wise Guy who suddenly has his Monday nights free. TWG wrote about Gruden’s impact as an announcer and why now was the time to depart. (Aside from the mountains of cash.)
– Gruden’s finale was awkward given that his hiring was essentially official. (It became officially official just hours after the telecast. He will formally be introduced as Raiders head coach on Tuesday.)
– It was also awkward because he and McDonough had zero chemistry – and that’s putting it nicely. Despite that, McDonough game him a nice, emotional goodbye at the end, while Gruden clearly just wanted to get the hell out of there and head straight back to his AFC West film study.
– Overall I thought ESPN handled Gruden’s finale with class and professionalism. I particularly appreciated McDonough’s constant attempts to bring up Gruden’s new job. It was hands down my favorite McDonough performance. That said, I hope ESPN starts with a clean slate. People knock McDonough’s tone of voice, which I agree is dull, but my issue is simple: at no point has McDonough seemed like he particularly likes the NFL. That was never the case with Mike Tirico, who calls numerous other sports. Tirico was not only high energy but he took pride in passionate soliloquys about rules and replays.
– People loved mocking Gruden in the booth but his enthusiasm, knowledge, and quest to educate will really be missed. For all of his positivity, Gruden was a star in the booth and there is no obvious replacement. ESPN has its work cut out with the added challenge of doing so under a shift of leadership.
– Thank for the memories, coach.