Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Put some dirt on it

The most telling part of yesterday's football games was Jay Cutler's injury and the subsequent reaction. This wasn't the first time that a quarterback has left a playoff game, but it sure seemed like it. Analysts and players piled on to comment, largely on Twitter, that Cutler was faking, exaggerating his injury or weak. Ross Tucker noted that Philip Rivers of the Chargers had played in the 2007 AFC championship with a torn ACL.

I also piled on to criticize Cutler, though sober opinions today from writers are in his defense. The decision, Cutler said after the game, was made by medical staff. He didn't pull himself out of the game. A sprained in the ligament today made Cutler standing on the sideline seem even more reasonable.

I don't know that Cutler's injury was severe and outside observers are not correct in saying that it wasn't severe enough for him to leave the game. In the absence of evidence, it's reasonable to take the explanation given by Cutler and the Bears at face value. It's also worth remembering that Rivers himself was out in 2007 when the Chargers were playing a road playoff game against the Colts. When you're done, you're done.

This piece on CNNSI points out the meatheadedness of many of yesterday's responses, and the way reckless endangerment of personal health is closely tied to masculinity among the old guard of football players, coaches and analysts. Part of what makes the NFL exceptional is that players put forth tremendous efforts, but I think the current state of players who "couldn't even put [their] right hand on the ground" is not what we want.

I don't think anyone is advocating for the sort of dull, nauseating "listen to your body" feel-good pablum that dominates recreational running, as well as health and medical advice for the middle-aged. I hope that we won't see football games played on basketball courts or reduced to 30 minutes because of heat, snow or post-Christmas weight gain. But I do hope that we'll see players at least consider taking better care of themselves in what's a brutal sport.

The games yesterday good though not great, but worth watching for defense. BJ Raji's Leon Lett-like interception and touchdown return, along with William Gay's fumble return for a touchdown were some of the more interesting plays. Raji's return was moronic for the way he was holding the ball out in one hand well before reaching the end zone. A slight miscalculation could have cost the Packers seven points. It was, however, impressive to see a massive man drop into coverage, make an interception, and then score.

Perplexing to long-time Bills fans was the entrance of Todd Collins after Cutler left. Collins was designated to replace Jim Kelly way back in 1997. He failed. He has since been a good back-up, obvious considering that he's now 39 years old, but he's not someone you want to be playing when down 14-0. Unsurprisingly, he managed to two passes that were nearly intercepted, before being replaced by Caleb Hanie, who almost completed a fantastic comeback.

This marks the end of the fun part of the football year. From here on out, it's two hyper-corporate games in warm, neutral locations at odd times and in odd contexts. Of course, the Super Bowl could yet be fun, but it's not the normal fare that we're used to. Four great defenses playing in cold weather was a good way to finish, though if the Bears or Jets had completed their improbable comebacks, it would have been better still.

The Super Bowl might be the last game we see for a very long time, unfortunately. It's stunning considering the success of the NFL, where for the tenth straight year, a different NFC team is going to the Super Bowl. The owners see this as a chance to force a change in the current situation, with time and money on their side. Here's a good look at the details of the situation.

I am now 5-5 in my predictions, or as good as random chance.

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