Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Monday Morning Quarterback: "Obviously I made a mistake. And it cost us the game."
-- Kiwanuka, who explained after the game that he thought Young threw the ball and thus let him go, fearing that if he sacked Young he would be called for roughing-the-passer, a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down.

King earlier shredded Mathias Kiwanuka, a defensive end for the Giants, over one of the most incomprehensible displays of incompetence that I have ever seen in eleven years of watching football. Kiwanuka had Titans quarterback Vince Young wrapped up on a crucial fourth-down play (Titans down 7, on their own 24). And then he let him go. Young, as deadly a runner as he is a passer, scrambled for a first down and eventually tied the game. The Titans eventually went on to win thanks to a similarly inexplicble interception thrown by Eli Manning.

Kiwanuka's explanation above, however, makes a lot of sense. The dominant sentiment after Super Bowl XL was that the game was far too dominated by officials and penalties. Subconsciously, we had all known this for years: a quarterback throws the ball downfield and the receiver doesn't catch the ball but, making contact with a defender, looks around for a flag. Or, on a crucial play on which the game hinges, the commentator often ensures that there are no flags before making a statement about the game.

That Kiwanuka even thought that a personal foul was possible on this important play is shameful. John Madden often calls on referees to simply "let the players play" for this reason. The moment that the outcome of the game is influenced by the various permutations of penalties that can be assessed is the moment that the game becomes a farce. Granted, the referees have the job of applying the rules and as I pointed out after the Super Bowl, Titan fans would have an overwhelming case that the rules weren't applied if indeed Kiwanuka roughed Manning. All this means is that the rules need to be changed.

The rigid enforcement of roughing the passer penalties came about only to protect quarterbacks who were getting injured. Maybe I'm being coldhearted, but isn't this football? The game is supposed to be played a certain way in that players can't clothesline or punch each other and gratuitous violence is a problem in the game, but the centrality of the penalties is becoming farcical. Consider all those games where the outcomes have swung on personal fouls, offering a team another play fifteen yards downfield even with time expired.

Elsewhere in the league, how about those Ravens? Really. To sound like an analyst, I saw the kickoff against the Steelers and I said to my brother, "the Steelers are going to get eaten alive." The Steelers are definitely in a bad state right now and the Ravens are looking great. They sacked Ben Roethlisberger nine times, produced three turnovers and held the Steelers to 172 yards. With the right matchups in the playoffs, this team could do very well.

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