The Big LeadThe Big Lead

NFL Musings, Week 12: Rex Ryan is Challenged in KC, Mike Carey Invokes Charles Darwin

THE STEELERS ARE AGGRESSIVE, UNTIL THEY AREN’T, AGAINST SEATTLE

Pittsburgh lost a key game at Seattle in which they had 538 total yards and 26 first downs. They are, for now, in a tiebreaker with Kansas City, Houston, and the Jets at 6-5 and would miss the playoffs (head to head loss to the Chiefs, only 3-4 in the AFC).

At the start of the 2nd quarter, Pittsburgh went for it on 4th and 2 at the Seattle 27, up 3-0. They did so by lining up for a field goal, with Landry Jones at holder, and then shifting to a shotgun formation. No receivers were on the field. Linemen went out for a pass. Jones made a bad decision, and it was intercepted and returned deep into Steelers’ territory. If you are going to forego the field goal there, just keep the offense on the field.

The Steelers also went for 2 after a touchdown at 16-14, and got it. That, and Seattle’s missed extra point lead to a series of decisions as the game went on.

Pittsburgh faced a key decision still trailing by 5, with just over 3 minutes left, near the goal line. As a service to you the reader, here is a transcript of what Phil Simms said after the field goal unit trotted out with 3:02 remaining, trailing by 5 points, with the ball at the Seattle three-yard line after a Roethlisberger scramble on third down.

He’s going to kick the field goal. You know the thing is, if he goes for it and doesn’t make it, he needs a touchdown to win. He would probably have to use his timeouts, that’s the reason why he’s kicking this field goal. Where it only takes a field goal to win the game, instead of a touchdown. So I like the call, Jim. Just explains the way, that’s what you… how you have to think of it. Gives him a little more room for error, when you only need a field goal instead of a touchdown.

I wrote about a similar situation just a few weeks ago in this column, when Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons went with a field goal down by 4 late, right near the goal line. Going for it is strongly the better option. This became the 14th occasion going back to 1994 that a coach opted for a field goal with less than 4 minutes left, in a situation where that kick would still leave them trailing, but a touchdown would provide the lead. They are now 0-14.

Maybe the Roethlisberger injury, wherein he entered the concussion protocol and didn’t return to the game after that previous play, affected the decision. Practically speaking, though, if you fear your ability to score with Landry Jones, you would rather it come down to one play than hoping for a defensive stop and then needing several. Also, we know that Pittsburgh is good from that distance. In fact, it’s basically a two-point conversion, a spot that the Steelers have frequently converted from all season.

 MIKE CAREY, JIM NANTZ, AND PHIL SIMMS WALK INTO A BAR, TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT A CATCH IS

Because I’m a sadist, I also transcribed the conversation about Kam Chancellor’s game-sealing interception a few minutes later. You all owe me big time. Here it is, in all it’s Darwinian glory.

Nantz: Mike, what do you see on this one?

Carey: This is one that really, talk about dual possession. There was not dual possession coming in, but when the receiver hits the ground, and the defender comes in, the ball comes loose, he is out of bounds, when the ball is loose, that ball should be incomplete at that spot.

Simms: Wow. That is …

Nantz: How about that?

Simms: I honestly have never heard that. And we work hard at this.

Nantz: So Mike, look at this, the play is still alive right here.

Carey: He has to maintain control when he hits the ground …

Simms: He’s still got control …

Carey: Both players have the ball, and the ball comes loose. It’s kind of survival of the fittest. The ball comes loose, it should be an incomplete pass. If I was ruling, that’s what …

Nantz: Is this an easy one for Blandino and Walton, what do you think? Mike?

[Camera returns to field as ruling is announced]

Referee: The ruling on the field of an interception stands. First down.

Nantz: So Mike, what did they see that you didn’t see?

Carey: Well, what they went with is that they believe there wasn’t enough clear evidence. But we didn’t see clear control when he hit the ground. Both players, their hands are on it, and the receiver must maintain control when he goes out of bounds. When the ball comes loose at this point, it’s being ripped away from the defender. That should be incomplete in my opinion.

***

Hoo-boy. The Catch Rule can be confusing, but this is just Mike Carey at his finest. This was an interception. Chancellor caught the ball initially, there was no dual possession situation as Martavis Bryant reached in after Chancellor already had the ball. Chancellor hit inbounds, and still had control when he initially hit the ground. Then they continued out of bounds, and Carey invoked Charles Darwin. Darwin rolled over in his grave and said “leave me out of this controversial position.”

 REX RYAN IS CHALLENGED IN KANSAS CITY

The Buffalo Bills came out and jumped on the Kansas City Chiefs early in a key AFC wildcard chase game. Both teams entered at 5-5, so the win would provide the head-to-head tiebreaker if it comes down to that.

But after an early 10-0 lead for Buffalo, which included Sammy Watkins being targeted heavily,  the first challenge opportunity came on a deep pass from Alex Smith to Jeremy Maclin (I promise, it happened). The ball was slightly under thrown, Maclin adjusted and dove back, and replays appeared to show that the ball hit the ground. That 37-yard pass set up a touchdown run on the next play, and it looked like a decent opportunity to challenge.

The most important opportunity, though, came at the end of the game, with Buffalo trailing by 8. On 2nd and 10, Tyrod Taylor threw this pass to Chris Hogan, who caught the ball and took three steps, was hit, landed a fourth, and then went down to the ground. The ball came out when his elbow hit the turf. It was ruled incomplete.

Again, people are so gun-shy that there is a genuine “who knows” when it comes to a catch. But this should clearly be a catch. He wasn’t going to the ground to make a catch. He took four steps. He was hit after he caught it. He then went down and the ball popped out. (But because the ground can’t cause the fumble there, it should have been dead).

But given the situation, setting up a 3rd and long versus either a first down or 3rd and inches, on your final drive, how do you not challenge?

@ByTimGraham this guy? #bills pic.twitter.com/AUUTdHJnyL

— Mark Miller (@MarkMiller30) November 2

This is apparently Assistant Director of Player Development/Team Chaplain James Trapp, appearing to give Ryan a tap on the shoulder and signal him in those moments when a coach must decide.

And now, Buffalo needs some divine intervention to end their lengthy playoff drought.

 ARIZONA BENEFITS FROM WORST ROUGHING THE PASSER CALL THIS YEAR

While Patriots fans will bring up the officiating in Sunday Night’s first loss of the season to the Denver Broncos, it is San Francisco that likely took the biggest blow from poor officiating. With the game tied at 13-13, on a 2nd and 10, Carson Palmer appeared to be sacked on a hit by Quinton Dial, on a clean hit right to the chest. Palmer’s helmet popped up. It was flagged.

Last year, I ranked the ten worst roughing the passer calls, and #1 was also against the 49ers. I think we have this year’s winner. One person disagrees, though the video evidence does not support this version of events.

That wasn’t the only really bad piece of officiating on this drive. Here’s the screen grab right before Carson Palmer hit J.J. Nelson with a 34-yard pass down near the goal line, to set up the winning touchdown. The clock was incapable of going to -1, or it would have. Delay of game was not called.

END OF AN ERA IN NEW ORLEANS

The Houston Texans took down the New Orleans Saints, continuing their free fall. A bye week, and the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, did not have the desired effect. You want a stat that sums it up?

That was the post-Katrina season. That was before Drew Brees. That was before Sean Payton. Todd Bouman was the quarterback that day. It’s been a hell of a run in New Orleans.