Week Under Review: How the NFL stepped up as a perfect post-election distraction
- After the 2016 election left the author feeling rather morose, the NFL came through with several thrilling games, creating a near-ideal mental escape. Also, looking at Jay Cutler's five worst games, and more thoughts from Week 10.
Welcome to Week Under Review where we examine important happenings Jay Cutler’s history of strikingly bad performances and share some other thoughts from a Week 10 that kinda sorta felt like the NFL season had. But first about that event this week…
Count me among the 61.3 million Americans (and growing) that were quickly thrust from hope to despair last Tuesday night. Without delving deep into the politics, let’s just say that as a Jewish female mother of two with black, gay and Muslim friends, who has supported one of the candidates as early as the 2008 primary, I’ve existed in a bubble of sadness for much of the week. Most of my friends and family are in similar mindsets, fear of the future monopolizing our brain space.
While I am lucky enough not to have experienced the loss of a close family member, those who have say the immediate emotions are similar to what millions of Americans are feeling right now. A cocktail of unexpected trigger points incite spontaneous waterworks be it a particularly misogynist scene in Game of Thrones (yes, I’m still catching up), a picture of a certain Chappaqua, N.Y. resident hiking or Kate McKinnon’s chill-inducing rendition of Hallelujuh to open Saturday Night Live. Add in the weird dietary swings and—aside from the welcome distraction of work—the world has mostly felt like one gigantic clump of malaise.
At this point in the column you may already be thinking, ‘what is she doing? It’s the day after a thrilling NFL Sunday—stick to sports.’
As a media member who tends to share opinions on myriad subjects, I hear the “stick to sports” rebuke often. Unlike gender-based harassment, “stick to sports” is a commonplace reflex for social media trolls that scold folks in sports media who express any back-boned thought outside of the sport they cover.
Normally I roll my eyes and move on in a split second, but this Sunday was an exception. What better way to compartmentalize emotion than to hide behind the apolitical, alternate universe that is the NFL? While NBA coaches poignantly shared similar post-election sentiments of fear and disgust, the NFL was mostly mum. Even the league’s most notorious social activist neglected to vote. The NFL would be both a strategic and mandatory mental escape, but it wouldn’t be easy. After all, the NFL is in far too many ways a bastion of misogyny, and the product to date had been a lemon.
But what happened over eight hours on Sunday was fascinating. The NFL’s best teams produced multiple close games that were schematic gems. Players like Ezekiel Elliott, Russell Wilson and a host of others put up superstar performances. There was enough officiating controversy to produce debate, but not enough to make viewers think the game is rigged. It was like the NFL serendipitously saved its best stuff for when a sizeable chunk of its fan base needed it the most.
Aside from moments with my family, the NFL on Sunday actually brought the first genuine feelings of post-election joy. In a way I felt guilty—as if the happiness would suppress my own resolve to fight for our future and volunteer to help those facing immediate danger.
But that joy was fleeting. The election results are still too raw, the fear too real. And the NFL was unsurprisingly full of its own trigger points. Titans receiver Tajae Sharpe was penalized for pretending to sleep on the field after a touchdown—what race, religion or gender would be penalized for merely existing in this new frontier? Of course, there were gratuitous shots of scantily clad cheerleaders, the NFL’s default form of misogyny—will there be scantily clad dancers lined up as an opener at the State of the Union for the next four or eight years? Escape to Twitter, and in between game analysis and Jerry Jones memes was a constant, horrifying reminder that our next president’s senior advisor is a bona fide anti-Semite. The cherry on top? The constant promotion of the president-elect’s first major interview since the elections on 60 Minutes.
Watching the NFL wasn‘t the complete escape I was hoping for, but under the tenuous circumstances I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Party of Five: Jay Cutler’s worst games
The world may be shifting, but Jay Cutler’s propensity for horrific performances is one of life’s constants. Sunday’s performance in Tampa was vintage Cutler—a mind-boggling lack of awareness that resulted in two interceptions and two lost fumbles, one of which occurred in the end zone for a safety. The Bears lost to the Bucs 36–10, and Cutler’s future as a starting quarterback for any team has quickly shifted from probable to highly questionable. While Sunday’s pile of dung was Cutler near his worst, it narrowly missed a place among his absolute worst. Here are those five classic clunkers:
Nov. 12, 2009 at San Francisco: The Bears narrowly lost to the reeling Mike Singletary-coached 49ers thanks to five Cutler interceptions. He finished with a 33.6 passer rating, and left San Francisco with a whopping 18 interceptions in just nine games with Chicago.
Sept. 13, 2012 at Green Bay: Cutler was supposed to turn a corner with the addition of WR Brandon Marshall in the off-season, but it was more of the same against the Packers. Cutler threw four interceptions and managed just a 28.2 passer rating in the loss. His propensity for a bad attitude was on full display when he shoved his left tackle J’Marcus Webb on the sidelines.
Sept. 13, 2009 at Green Bay: Chicago was abuzz as the Bears finally had a skilled, strong-armed quarterback, but Cutler’s debut with Chicago could not have gone worse. Blitzed all afternoon by the Packers, Cutler threw four interceptions and ended the day with a 43.2 passer rating. It would be the first glimpse into a Cutler’s horrid history against the Packers.
Oct. 24, 2010 vs. Washington: Cutler’s four interceptions, all recovered by DeAngelo Hall, single-handedly turned the Washington cornerback into a Pro Bowler. Cutler also lost a fumble en route to a 54.3 passer rating and a 17–14 loss.
Oct. 3, 2010 at New York Giants: Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half, an NFL record, and was pulled at halftime after the last sack caused a concussion. Prior to his exit, Cutler threw for just 42 yards and added an interception and lost fumble, ending with a 40.7 passer rating.
Nine thoughts about Week 10
1. The Packers are a huge mess right now. Just 1–4 in their last five games and with no “easy” matchups on their remaining schedule (minus Week 15 against Chicago), Green Bay could be poised for a major overhaul. Coach Mike McCarthy’s overly simplistic play-calling has been under fire for years now, so shouldn’t his seat be pretty heated up at this point?
Moreover, Aaron Rodgers is becoming more and more frustrating to watch. He is still perhaps the most naturally gifted quarterback in the game, and some of his accurate ropes remain jaw-dropping. But he has a noticeable disconnect with his receivers. Poor route running can easily be blamed on receiver and coach, but it’s baffling to see the future Hall-of-Famer helplessly stand by. More practice, more socializing, more film study—do something.
2. In this strange year of historically sad teams collecting championships, the Lions are currently in the driver’s seat in the NFC North and on an opposite trajectory of their divisional brethren. Detroit is 4–1 in their last five, while the aforementioned Packers, plus the Bears and Vikings are 1–4. Even in this week of great action, I missed seeing Matthew Stafford showcase his fourth-quarter magic.
3. I interviewed Barry Sanders in 2009, and back then, he contemplated whether or not the then hapless Lions should be kicked off the Thanksgiving Day slate of games. Now, we’re in a different stratosphere and Detroit headlines what is shaping up to be an awesome slate of games a week from Thursday. Minnesota at Detroit, Washington at Dallas, Pittsburgh at Indianapolis. Who needs turkey?
4. The 49ers keep losing because they just don’t have a competitive enough roster, but Colin Kaepernick is starting to progress in Chip Kelly’s offense. Both quarterback and coach acknowledged this after San Francisco narrowly fell to Arizona 23–20 on a field goal as time expired.
“He continues to grow,” Kelly said. “I think he did some good things. He started off throwing the ball pretty well. ... I thought Kap did a nice job.”
Kaepernick finished 17-of-30 for 210 passing yards and a TD. He also rushed for 55 yards and a touchdown. While that’s not exactly the Kaepernick of 2012, a few more weeks of progression and maybe we’ll be talking about San Francisco not having to draft a QB. Maybe.
5: The Patriots showcased their kryptonite in last night’s loss: the utter lack of a pass rush. Bill Belichick has curiously dismantled a group that at one point was poised to be the team’s strength. So far the Jamie Collins trade has been a lose-lose. New England can get away with this deficiency against the Browns, the Jets or any number of teams lacking a top quarterback. But against the likes of Russell Wilson? No way. They will get crushed like they did last night.
In other news, if this game featuring seven lead changes and stars galore among rivals didn’t draw a huge rating, the NFL would really be in trouble. Luckily people watched in droves—it garnered a 14.3 overnight rating, which is the highest-rated Sunday Night Football game since 2011. And just like that the NFL’s ratings woes appear to be in the rearview mirror. Maybe the election excuse was right on after all?
6. Speaking of ratings, anyone else find Roger Goodell’s comments this week about improving the NFL product by reducing in-game ads awfully strange? Isn’t that just code-speak for a decrease in advertising interest analogous with the plummeting ratings in the early season? Here’s a guess that Goodell changes his tune with the sudden uptick in viewership. If we know anything about the NFL, it’s that they don’t turn down money.
7. What a free fall for the participants in last year’s NFC Championship. Arizona is 4–4 but should be 3–5, and Carolina is 3–6, hugging the basement of the NFC South. What is particularly striking is that neither team has lost its quarterback, or suffered any kind of severe season-ending injury. Was Josh Norman really that critical to Carolina’s success?
8. About that defensive two-point conversion rule… wow, what a finish in New Orleans. To recap, with 1:22 remaining the Saints were lined up for an extra point to break a 23–23 tie when Broncos special teamer Justin Simmons perfectly timed a leap to block the kick which Denver then picked up and ran in for a defensive two-point conversion—and the win. This was the first instance of a team winning on this rule, adopted last year, and it led to mass controversy.
This rule has to be changed because of its disproportionate risk-reward calculus. Block a kick with the chance to gain two points with the only risk being that an opponent’s extra point becomes a tad bit easier. Why are teams not taking this chance every time?
9. Sunday provided so many highlights, but my personal favorite was Marcus Peters literally finagling the ball out Kelvin Benjamin’s hands with 20 seconds left, setting up Cairo Santos for the game-winning field goal.
Kansas City overcame a 17-point deficit, which is rightfully the story. But when charmed teams find themselves in the playoffs, it’s moments like Peters’s clutch play that get them there.