Yesterday Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was knocked unconscious from a helmet-to-helmet hit delivered by Steelers safety, Ryan Mundy. As Heyward-Bey laid on the field motionless for what seemed like an hour (play was stopped for 12 minutes) I couldn’t help but feel, if only for a few fleeting moments, like a horrible person for enjoying football as much as I do. I think everyone has that moment when they see something like that, but the moment was magnified that much more by the replacement refs not even throwing a flag on Mundy for the hit – which was clearly illegal. It seems like the two biggest storylines of the NFL this season have been player safety and the replacement refs, and the Heyward-Bey concussion was like a perfect storm for the league on a day rife with bad officiating and blows to the head.
Look. I’m sure I’m not the only one that cringes when a player goes down after a blow to the head. We all know the dangers of the game, and we are all starting to learn about the prolonged effects that blows to the head can have on a person. I accept the fact that these are grown men who are making a lot of money for taking the punishment they receive every week, but if/when I ever have kids it’s going to be hard to push football on them the same way my father pushed me to play when I was little. I loved playing football, but if I knew then what I know now I’m not sure I would have kept playing. I’m not saying that I think football needs to become something entirely different, I just hope that people become more aware of what the game actually is before they endorse the game to their children.
Now to the games.
I highly recommend anyone who wants to read about how the Vikings beat the 49ers to check out Barnwell’s recap over on Grantland. However as a 49ers fan I can’t help but add my two cents. The thing that impressed me most about the Minnesota’s win was their commitment to run the football. The Vikings ran the ball 46 times against the 49ers, which for most teams would be a losing strategy, but they were just effective enough to give Christian Ponder time to throw when they needed him to make a play. The 49ers had zero sacks yesterday, and if I’m being honest I’m starting to worry about their ability to pressure the quarterback in general. I’m starting to wonder if opposing teams are going to play the same way against Aldon Smith that teams played Clay Matthews last year in Green Bay.
On offense the 49ers turned the ball over 3 times and were 4-10 on 3rd down conversions. Frank Gore only got 12 carries, which is a shame because he was effective running the ball (he averaged 6 yards per rush), but the Vikings got an early lead and forced Alex Smith to win the game. The 49ers passing game is built off of run action, and without the threat of the run Minnesota was able to keep both safeties back and play everything underneath, much the same way the 49ers usually play defense again teams. I tip my hat to the Vikings, they had a solid game plan and executed it to perfection. Hell, the refs were even nice enough to give Jim Harbaugh two extra challenges and Frisco still couldn’t win the game.
Two teams that really impressed me last week were Atlanta and Houston, both played on the road against teams that looked to be tough opponents, and both came out with victories. The Falcons made their game against the Chargers look like child’s play. Matt Ryan threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns, one of them to the immortal Tony Gonzalez who caught 9 balls for 91 yards, and my mancrush Julio Jones caught five passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. They were able to run the ball for 4.6 yards per carry, and their defense held Phillip Rivers to 173 yards on 21 completions. San Diego doesn’t have much of a receiving corps right now, but to hold Rivers to a 4 yard average is pretty darn impressive. I’m starting to believe the hype around the Falcons, and if they can take care of business against Carolina and Washington in the next couple of weeks they will basically have the NFC South locked up.
Houston looked equally as good against the Broncos for three quarters yesterday and went into the 4th quarter with a 31-11 lead when they basically called off the dogs. The Texans got big performances out of all their usual suspects; Arian Foster ran for over 100 yards (when doesn’t he?), Andre Johnson caught a 70 yard touchdown bomb from Schaub, and JJ Watt recorded another 2.5 sacks in his bid to win this year’s defensive MVP. Who would have thought that Houston would be an even scarier pass rushing team without Mario Williams? The Texans get to play seemingly easy games against the Titans and Jets before a big time showdown at home against Green Bay in week five. That may be a game you want to circle in your NFL calendar. Just saying.
Last nights Patriots/Ravens game become the poster child for why we need to sign the real refs back. Nothing like tens of thousands of people chanting bullshit on national TV to get the attention of Roger Goodell and whoever is hiding the NFL Owners checkbook. It honestly got to a point last night when you were expecting there to be a flag or some kind of stoppage on every play, which is a shame because the game itself was lot of fun. The Patriots had a two chances to close out the Ravens in the fourth quarter and both times failed to execute, and allowed Joe Flacco to lead the Baltimore on two scoring drives in the final seven minutes. Tons of credit to Flacco who threw for 382 yards and to Torrey Smith who had 187 yards receiving with a pair of touchdowns on the day after he found out his brother had died in a motorcycle accident. I’m usually not a sentimental person when it comes to sports, but who didn’t feel good for Torrey Smith yesterday? After the game a big deal was made of Bill Belichick grabbing a referee, no doubt so he could tell the ref what a good job he and his team had done that night. I’m sure Belichick will get a hefty fine for what he did but I thought it put a tidy cap on what was a shaky week for the NFL.
Just want to remind anyone who may be reading this that I’m going to start writing about the NBA on Wednesday. It’s funny, as much as I love basketball I really haven’t written about it much on this website, I promise that will change this year. Basketball is by far and away my favorite sport, and with the move’s the Lakers have made in the offseason I am very interested to see how the first couple of months play out, especially with Dwight Howard rehabbing from his back surgery. So if you are a fan of the Association please check back here on Wednesday.