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  • Also, a bad letter from the Ravens team president, a bad signing by the Seahawks keeps getting worse, a rough calendar year for Carr and Mariota, a real test for Jimmy Garoppolo, fixing the catch rule is literally the easiest thing in the world, and Santa’s gifts for your favorite NFL stars. Plus, musical guest Robert Goulet!
By Gary Gramling
December 23, 2017

1a. In September I predicted the Vikings would win the NFC, and even though a guy with a Jerry Reese parody Twitter account told me I was mad, I stuck with it. The Vikings, at the moment, are the best team in the NFC by a fairly significant margin. (Sorry, Eagles.)

1b. The Packers are going to miss the playoffs for the first time since the George W. Bush administration (for those of you who aren’t historians, he was before Obama and Trump, and after Clinton and Taft and Fillmore and a whole lot of other guys), so at least it was nice to see Brett Hundley letting it rip on Saturday night. Let’s be honest: No Davante Adams, a struggling Jordy Nelson for less than half the game . . . there was no way Hundley’s receivers could beat anyone in that Vikings secondary. (And his receivers lived up to that promise by letting pass after pass bounce off their hands even when they did get open.) But, after a slow start and then a switch to an absurdly conservative approach once he started to get comfortable, the Packers can go out Week 17 and let Hundley play with a little bit of freedom. Then they can take the next step in figuring out whether or not they have to upgrade their QB depth chart this winter.

1c. Jordy Nelson had another rough go of it on Saturday night—a couple of bad drops and then an injury cut his night short. He’s about to complete a dreadful season and turns 33 in the spring. He has one year left on his deal, carrying a big cap number ($12.5 million) and the Packers have the ability to easily get out from under it. This is shaping up to be another Clay Matthews-type decision for Ted Thompson.

1d. With geopolitical upheaval across the globe, many of us live in fear of a nuclear holocaust. Except for Brett Hundley, who lives in fear of Harrison Smith. A downright comedic Pro Bowl snub (the best safety in football must’ve missed out because of . . . like, the Vikings’ down season?), Smith dominated the two Packers games as much as any safety can dominate a game.

1e. The Vikings QB situation is going to be fascinating this winter. I know they love Teddy Bridgewater, but at this point you have to make retaining Keenum your top priority, right?

1f. Vikings tight end David Morgan did a lot of emergency long-snapping on Saturday night, and while it wasn’t pretty it got the job done. That's the true meaning of Christmas.

1g. You know what I keep thinking every time I watch the Packers? They probably should have kept Casey Hayward; $5 million per year over three years for a true No. 1 corner was probably a worthwhile investment for a team with a lot of bad cornerbacks. Probably.


2a. According to the rule book, the team that scores more points over the course of a game is awarded a victory. And that explains how this Ravens team is now 9-6. On Saturday, they let the Colts hang around before holding on for a 23-16 win. They’re now a Week-17 win over the semi-professional team from Cincinnati away from a playoff berth.

2b. Bad special teams in this game. Bad, shameful special teams. The Colts had a field goal blocked. The Ravens had a punt blocked at the worst possible time. Just a lot of special teamers embarrassing themselves in front of their god, Justin Tucker.

2c. The weather had a lot to do with this game staying close, and respect for the five drives of 10-plus plays by Baltimore. But, man, 29 completions for 237 yards. That’s some slam-dinking by Flacco right there.

2d. Chuck Pagano probably isn’t long for his job, but boy do his teams compete. The Colts have consistently fielded a bottom-five roster during Pagano’s tenure, with Andrew Luck masking the deficiencies the last couple years. This is a bad roster. And not bad like Shaft, bad like bad. Pagano’s Colts were never particularly creative or innovative on either side of the ball, but he’ll deserve to be remembered in a moderately kind light (thought he probably won’t be).

2e. Jacoby Brissett is going to be a good starting quarterback for someone. As this season has gone on, he’s improved as far as his quickness moving through progressions, he can run but does a nice job feeling pressure and giving his receivers a chance, and he throws a really good ball (even if he can be a bit scattershot with his accuracy and ball placement). I’m sure the Colts will go out of their way to keep him even if Luck is given a clean bill of health heading into 2018. But if I were someone like the Chargers or Giants or even the Saints (that Payton/Parcells connection), who need to find their next QB, I’d consider making an offer the Colts can’t refuse in order to secure a QB of the future who has already proven he can get it done when it’s real, live professional football.

2f. Actually, Patriots probably should have just held onto Brissett.


3. Speaking of the Ravens, I don’t run an NFL team myself, but this letter from Ravens team president Dick Cass seems a bit . . . unwise. Probably the type of letter that you write and then throw away without ever sending. Or, better yet, the kind of thing you think about and then never express in any way to anyone.

A large chunk of Cass’s letter to season-ticket holders and sponsors focused on blaming a player demonstration during the national anthem before a game in September as the reason for an increased number of no-shows at Ravens home games. “Papa John” Schnatter, in all his wisdom, taught us what happens when you try to try to explain away your own failings with a hot-button issue like these demonstrations. On one hand, it reminds people who took offense or were told to take offense to the demonstrations that, Oh yeah, that thing I was mad about. On the other hand, you infuriate those who support the demonstrations. It’s 2017 and, as you now surely know, if you’re not boycotting something you’re not a real American. And on a third hand, or a foot or some other extremity, you depict yourself as nakedly attempting to deflect responsibility for your front office’s (poor) decisions in building a poor on-field product.

Surely, some no-shows were because of the demonstrations (we at The MMQB would know; each person who stopped watching football because of the demonstrations emailed us six times apiece, then put on fake mustaches and emailed us three more times). But here’s why there were so many no-shows at Ravens games this year: For the first three months of the season the team not only stunk, but it played a brand of football so unwatchable that NFL Game Pass replays were only available in international waters.

Cass pointed to the demonstrations before the London game as a tipping point. You know what the actual tipping point was? Losing 44-7 to the Jaguars as your franchise quarterback throws for fewer yards in the entire game (28) than Blake Bortles does on two individual plays. And to prove that was no fluke, the Ravens came home a week later and were uncompetitive with the rival Steelers—the only marquee game on their 2017 home schedule—falling behind 19-0 by halftime and losing 26-9. Baltimore’s other home games included a Thursday nighter against the Dolphins, that marquee Monday night game against the Tom Savage-led (and J.J. Watt-less) Texans, Chicago and Detroit. Saturday was the Colts. Next week the deceased 2017 Cincinnati Bengals will flail around M&T Bank Stadium Weekend at Bernie’s style.

The Ravens’ MVP this year (for a second straight year) is their kicker. Their second-best player this season might have been the punter. The two most recognizable faces on the roster are Joe Flacco—who had been dreadful since tearing his ACL late in 2015 and is just turning things around now that Marty Mornhinweg discovered you are allowed to throw aggressively downfield before third down—and 35-year-old edge rusher Terrell Suggs. A 37-year-old tight end (Ben Watson) is the team’s leading receiver; third is a backup running back (Buck Allen). Quick, look to your left. Is that Alex Collins sitting in your living room? It might be, but Ravens fans would never know if it was the best offensive player on the team this year because he just showed up a couple weeks ago.

People didn’t show up to M&T Bank Stadium because of the limited appeal of Flacco-to-Nick Boyle pitch-and-catch, going up against a gauntlet of bottom-10 opponents. There were no-shows because that’s bad football and people prefer good football. To pretend otherwise is dishonest at best. At worst it’s going to land Cass and the Ravens in a conversation they don’t want to participate in.


4. And speaking of Alex Collins, did you know he is an Irish dancer? It’s true. Our Kalyn Kahler reported it first. When Alex Collins dances, he chooses to do it in an Irish manner.

He’s also a former Seattle Seahawk. Captain Hindsight has done plenty of work on Seattle’s decision to cut ties with Collins, a fairly talented back who got only limited opportunities as a rookie in 2016. The emergence of (the since-injured) Chris Carson played a role in Collins’ release. But so did the addition of Eddie Lacy, who remains the most regrettable signing of the 2017 offseason.

NFL teams obviously dive deeper than your average fan or average media member when it comes to finding players. But Lacy was a head-scratcher from the start, an increasingly plodding runner between injuries in Green Bay, with a history of questionable conditioning.

I wonder if the front office just became enamored at the cuteness of the contract they signed him to. And it was an adorable contract! There were the bonuses linked to a series of Biggest Loser-style weigh-ins throughout the offseason (it turns out the biggest loser was the Seahawks). And now there are the gameday bonuses, paying Lacy any time he’s on the active roster. Ultimately, the Seahawks seemed to be interested in finding some kind of efficiency shopping for off-brand goods. They ended up not only stuck with a player devoid of any value, but they had to let a better, younger player go in order to keep him.

As for the dimension in the multiverse in which Collins was kept in Seattle and, after the Carson injury, took over as their lead back: His success in Seattle would have been similar to his success in Baltimore. The Seahawks’ O-line is not good, but the Ravens’ post-Marshal Yanda injury isn’t much better. And Seattle’s backs get the benefit of the Russell Wilson factor, keeping backside defenders at home for fear of Wilson keeping it. Collins would have come in very useful.

Seattle has a must-win with the once-Ezekiel Elliott-less but now Ezekiel Elliott-full Cowboys in Dallas. With all the injuries they have on the back seven of that defense, it would be nice if they could come up with something of a ball-control attack as they try to keep their season alive.


5. Sometimes, when I lie back and stare up at the stars, I wonder about the vast emptiness of the universe and the insignificance myself, my friends and family, and the world I live in. And other times I wonder if 2016 will be the outlier in Matt Ryan’s career, and not the other way around like many of us have assumed.

The real Matt Ryan probably lives somewhere between this year and last. Everything clicked a year ago. This year, even once they got to the other side of new OC Steve Sarkisian’s early-season growing pains, it’s been a lot of bad breaks (he’s been the king of deflected interceptions, and the earl of dropped passes). But Ryan is also missing a ton of throws, and especially disturbing has been his inability to connect with Julio Jones. (They’ve both been there for awhile!) Early on it was a couple missed opportunities on designer deep shots (including that devastating drop in Charlotte). But lately their problems have seemed to fester. Julio had that monster 253-yard game against the Bucs one month ago (in that one, it was Mohamed Sanu connecting with Julio on the deep shot), and in the three games since then Jones has been targeted 25 times, for just 10 catches and 176 yards.

The worst game of Ryan’s disappointing MVP encore season was the Thursday nighter against the Saints, in which Julio had five catches for 98 yards but was also the target on two interceptions (getting outmuscled by Marshon Lattimore on one). Ryan’s throws ranged from questionable to awful on both of those picks, and he was shaky throughout the night. Somehow, Atlanta managed to win that game (it probably had to do with the fact that Thursday Night Football is inherently crappy).

On Sunday, they go to New Orleans for what is a must-win game, and easily their biggest since Super Bowl LI. Ryan might never have a season of sustained MVP play like he did in 2016, but he needs to find that form on Sunday if Atlanta is going to have another shot at the postseason.


6. Twitter was originally meant to be a “social utility,” a way to tell your friends you’re going to see Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties for a fourth time (largely because of the delicious play on words in the title—cats have tails, you know!). Since then, it’s become primarily a cesspool of internet comments that make people more misinformed, meaner, close-minded and all-around dumber.

The latest example is the still of Jesse James’ non-catch that’s being passed around. (Surely, we, as the most intelligent species on the planet can tell the difference between a specific moment captured in a snapshot and a sequence of events in its entirety, right?)

The Jesse James non-catch was ruled correctly, in that it was ruled the way it’s currently supposed to be ruled. The NFL has been striving for consistency. The problem is that the rule is dumb. So the rulings on plays like this are, therefore, consistently dumb.

The obvious fix in all this is to do away with all the “surviving the ground” nonsense, which is at the heart of all these frustratingly bad moments when football gives way to lawyering. (It is a condition for a catch that makes even less sense when you consider the ground can’t cause a fumble, but it can cause an incompletion.) It’s fairly amazing that “surviving the ground” even came up as a possible solution at any point. Someone had to think of it, but you’d assume it would be the kind of thing where that person’s internal filter would prevent him from actually speaking it aloud, especially in the company of other people. But not only did he speak it out loud, other people actually agreed with him! And thus, here we are.

Then there’s the requirement of a “football move” to complete a catch that doesn’t involve going to the ground. The paranoia was that it would lead to defenders intentionally allowing catches then immediately trying to separate the ball from the receiver (that’s a very specific fear!). But, now that we have defenseless receiver rules being called aggressively, defenders can’t do the heat-seeking missile thing anyway. And every defender in football now prioritizes punching the ball out and causing fumbles, so changing the catch rule isn’t going to change the way anyone plays.

The obvious fix for the catch rule, which could go in tomorrow and make the world a more harmonious place: Control + two feet + one more body part. The two feet (or one shin, knee, thigh equals two feet) have to be in bounds. To finish the catch, you must maintain control once a third step or body part hits the ground (in bounds or out of bounds). The moment that third step or body part touches the turf, the catch is complete. So if you’re going to the ground, the only way it’s not a catch is if you lose control before the moment your knee/thigh/hand/shoulder/head hits the ground. No more having to maintain control as you steamroll into the guy holding the parabolic mic. If you control the ball, then you’re going to the ground, then your two feet hit, then your shin hits, then the ball hits the ground and pops out, it doesn’t matter. The catch was over as soon as your shin hit the ground.

As an added bonus, you can go to the more logical and safer rule that a player is down once his knee or the ball he is carrying hits the ground, erasing the need for a defensive player’s touch (honestly, a guy does something significant after going down on his own volition once every two years or so; most of the time it creates a situation where defenders get to tee off on a player prone on the ground, or confusion about whether or not a play is dead or not). That’s 470 words, and football just became more watchable and more safe.

I’d also be all for simply making catch/no-catch a pure judgment call. I wouldn’t like it as much as what I just laid out, but (1) I think in a league where we trust officials to use their judgment on game-changing penalties (55-yard pass interference calls!), we can also trust them on catch/no-catch and live with a certain degree of inconsistency, and (2) More importantly, as a judgment call it would eliminate all reviews, shaving 40 minutes off the average NFL telecast. The only thing reviewable would be feet in bounds or not, or if the ball clearly bounced off the ground before it was first touched by the receiver.


7. Christmas Eve will mark the one-year anniversary of Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota breaking their respective legs in a show of Quarterback Club brotherhood. At the time, fans of both teams could take solace in the fact that both field generals were young and on the rise, and therefore their teams were as well.

One year later, it’s a much different story. Carr’s 2017 season has been bizarre; many of us were downright giddy at the thought of Todd Downing taking over as offensive coordinator, streamlining the playbook and the Carr/Amari Cooper connection taking off in Year 3. Instead, the offense looks oddly segmented and stagnant. They play the power run game with Marshawn Lynch. Or they spread it out and seemingly run a system similar to what I was doing in Madden 15 years ago (call four verts, change one to a hitch and one to a crosser at the line, repeat for the next four hours while you drink alone). Carr has regressed. Cooper, even when healthy, has slid way back, to the point where they can’t pick up his fifth-year option this offseason. And, with the defense its same crummy self again despite Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, a once-promising team has reached an interesting crossroad. Though, it’s not really a crossroad since they’re locked into a lot of big contracts and can’t really do anything about it at the moment. So I guess a more apt metaphor would be that the road they were driving down just turned into an unpaved marshland so they might as well just gun it.

Mariota has been equally disappointing, but has something of an excuse due to the hamstring problems this season. However, I thought by this time of year we might be looking back and saying, That hamstring injury was a blessing in disguise because he learned how to survive without using his mobility as a crutch. But, alas, he’s been exceedingly shaky over the past month. It might have been a matter of expecting too much too soon. Mariota was going to have a learning curve coming out of Oregon—this is Year 3 and he just turned 24 in October, almost a year younger than Carson Wentz—and would-be No. 1 receiver Corey Davis has battled injuries of his own all season. Plus, the Titans offensive line and the run game overall have underachieved, and at this point in his career Mariota is more of an important cog in the machine as opposed to the guy who runs it. It will be a sizable disappointment if the Titans miss the playoffs considering the schedule they played, but, unlike the Raiders’ regression, Tennessee’s is a little bit easier to stomach.


8. It’s all gravy for Jimmy Garoppolo at this point. He’s already looking sharp in a difficult offense to learn while surrounded by limited talent. It’s clear that, before he replaces Henry Cavill as Superman in the next Justice League reboot, he’ll have a lengthy run as the 49ers franchise QB.

Sunday very well could be a rough one though. As good as he’s been, Garoppolo indisputably got away with a couple dicey throws in that win over Tennessee. The Jaguars’ secondary of studs should lock down what the Niners are running out at receiver these days, and will take full advantage of the opportunities for takeaways.


9a. This is one of my favorite Gameday 10 Things holiday traditions, one that dates all the way back to a time when this column was only read by a select few while being delivered exclusively via fax: 2016. It’s the annual wacky gift list for your favorite NFL personalities:

Sean McVay: What to get for the hottest rookie coach in the NFL? How about $27 cash, in honor of his 10 wins so far this season, plus 17 more dollars.

Russell Wilson: A VHS of the second season of Frasier, which, ironically, takes place in Seattle, the very city in which Russell Wilson plays football professionally.

Tony Romo: He has taken the broadcasting world by storm; what could be better than a chance to put those vocal skills to work with an expired $15 gift card to Kohl’s, which will require him to haggle with a store manager in order to utilize.

Roger Goodell: He’s gotten a ton of heat over the past couple years, but I think there’s one thing critics and supporters agree on when it comes to the NFL commissioner: He often wears a tie. Sometimes more than one. (I haven’t confirmed that, but I suspect it.) So how about a motorized tie rack, which is also an excuse to watch this clip:

Le’Veon Bell: I understand he’s an aspiring musician, so I’m getting the Steelers do-it-all back two blank cassette tapes so he can record whatever songs he wants to, right on his stereo. (Blank except for back-to-back-to-back renditions of Gary Numan’s “Cars”—it was The MMQB Super Bowl 50 road trip mix tape—but he can tape over it with little detriment to the overall quality.)

Jimmy Garoppolo: For the 49ers new franchise QB, a way to pay homage to the greatest 49ers QB: An index card with the full URL for the YouTube link of the Joe Montana/Kat Dennings Mastercard commercial (“http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50P71XDMPnE”) neatly printed on it, so now he can watch it any time he wants.

Ndamukong Suh: Something from Yankee Candle probably.

Jalen Ramsey: The boisterous cornerback is one of the league’s breakout superstars, so I’ll give him 60 seconds to rummage through my basement, Supermarket Sweep-style. He can keep whatever he grabs. (But not my ham radio. That’s my window to the world.)

Tom Brady: As you might have heard, the GOAT is very particular when it comes to what he puts into his body, and is therefore a man who demands the utmost in refreshment. So I’m sending him the special collector’s edition five-liter bottle of Shasta-brand Cola’s Dr. Shasta’s Reserve. It’s next-level beveraging meant to be enjoyed in one sitting. Shasta Cola: The official non-paying sponsor of Gameday 10 Things. There’s a reason they call is the soft drink of the gods. Well, I call it that.

9b. Even I sometimes shake my head at how dumb this column can be. With that, a Merry Christmas to those of you who will be celebrating on Monday. A belated Happy Hanukkah to those of you who celebrated last week. A premature Happy Kwanza to those of you who will celebrate next week. A happy holiday if you are celebrating one that was not mentioned above. And if you’re not celebrating anything, just have a neat couple of days.


10. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Robert Goulet!

 

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