I like books. When I graduated from college my first thought was, “wow, I can read whatever I want now, not just what I have to read for a class!” I can now grab books off a student friend’s shelf, read them, and return them before they’re even missed. Other college grads out there may never read for pleasure in their lives. A few of them probably play football.
If you asked me whether “some NFL players played high on pain pills every Sunday,” I’d say no. The majority of NFL players that you watch play stoned off pain meds every Sunday. And why not? They have good reasons to. Getting hit doesn’t hurt so much, and you can push through late-game fatigue longer. Opiates are not commonly understood to be performance enhancing, so the NFL doesn’t test for them. But to certain kinds of people, they can be exactly that. Pills can can help someone focus, or they can help someone get on the level where they don’t have to think about playing but can simply act or not act, as if guided by Football Gods, subconsciously anticipating the game around him. In other words, professional football players may have discovered the Zen added to every oxycontin.
But there are two sides to this sword. The harder you lean on it, the deeper the opposite end will stab its point into you.
When somebody makes a great play, I have to wonder if it was because they were high on drugs or not. When somebody makes a glaring error, I have to wonder if it was because they were high on drugs or not, and whether the opposite answer would have made any difference.
This was a big week in the NFL schedule. Most teams have spent the last few weeks randomly winning and losing games in roughly equal proportions. But this week, entire divisions were at stake, playoff hopes were won and lost. The teams that won on Sunday are the ones most likely to keep winning and to be on top of the standings at the end.
Ten out of sixteen match-ups this week were divisional. Seven games were decided by four points or less, and six were won on 4th-quarter comebacks. The single best game I’ve seen all year was played this Sunday.
Dallas Cowboys 38 Indianapolis Colts 35
A play after Dwight Freeney beat Doug Free with a spin move for a huge sack on 3rd down, the Colts blocked a punt and recovered it for the go-ahead touchdown. The Indianapolis Dome was exploding. Fans were cheering wildly, the air could have been measured in coulombs. Fox quickly cuts to a commercial as if they hope no one saw it. I filed this away as Example #4134 of how Fox subtly but surely promotes the Cowboys above all other teams.
The Dallas Cowboys embody everything that is wrong and evil in the world. Some fans think that the Raiders are evil, but they’re more like loveable misfits. They wear their emotions on their sleeves, but the Cowboys, like Republicans, try to keep their sinister natures hidden.
Denver Broncos 6 Kansas City Chiefs 10
Let me take you back to the evening of October 3, 2010. The Broncos had just closed out a win against the Titans, despite rushing for only 19 yards on 20 carries. The team was a happy 2-2, despite having called running plays on only 33% of downs. Josh McDaniels, however, was convinced that the key to winning was running the ball more. The team committed to working on the run game, and all their hard work is starting to show results. Knowshon Moreno ran for 161 yards on 23 carries Sunday. That’s 7.0 yards a pop! Unfortunately, the team lost Sunday and was eliminated from the playoffs. They’ve gone 1-7 since that awesome decision to focus on the run after the win in Tennessee. They’ve piled up 343 rushing yards (impressive) in their three straight losses (not impressive). Maybe—just maybe—they would have been better off had they continued throwing 70% of the time? But, I’m sure Josh knows way more about that than I do.
Oakland Raiders 28 San Diego Chargers 13
In close football games, one team doesn’t outplay the other. Both teams play about the same, and the game is always decided on one or two big (and usually unpredictable) plays. Sometimes everything depends on the funny bounces of a football accidentally dropped on the turf. This, however, was not one of those games. The Raiders won this one early and often.
Like the Lions and Rams, the Raiders look like another formerly bad team that improved to average, and is about ready to follow the trend to above-average or even great next year. All three have a nice core of young talent to build around, and head coaches who have spent at least one year making smart decisions. Don’t laugh, the Raiders are playing smart, team-oriented football.
Pittsburgh Steelers 13, Baltimore Ravens 10
On one hand you’ve got 13-10 football games that are boring, ones where both teams seem to want to lose, struggling to score more than 3 points per quarter. This was not one of those games. It may be early, but this is the one that gets my vote for best game of the year. This was the kind of game that fans remember. Pad-crunching hits, epic battles, heroic efforts. It was a game that influences kids when they choose players to be their favorites for the rest of their lives.
Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata put on the show for Baltimore. Pittsburgh’s stars were James Harrison, James Farrior, and LaMarr Woodley. And did you see the plays where Michael Oher took on Harrison 1 v. 1? Wow! Talk about “best on best.” Any offense seen in Baltimore this weekend was a result of the rare offensive play executed perfectly enough to take on those defenses, or throwing to whomever Bryant McFadden was supposed to be covering (that’s a joke, Steelers fans!).
I also want to mention NBC’s standout coverage of this game. It seems like all year they’ve had beautiful slow-motion shots of every big play, capturing every detail of the impossible physical feats pulled off by these genetic-freak millionaire athletes on drugs. Chris Collinsworth has been top-notch at pointing out subtle things good players do that make themselves good, like instructing us to watch as Harrison got his center of gravity lower than anybody else on the field, and how he exploded into the Baltimore blockers. I wish every game could be covered by NBC.
Atlanta Falcons 28 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24
Bucs fans who might be angry about the fact that the Brent Grimes interception should have been incomplete, remember this: in 2005 Mike Alstott was awarded a touchdown against the Redskins where he was clearly short of the goal line. The Bucs won the game on that play, which was the difference between the ‘Skins winning a wild card and the division (and a first-round bye). Remember that luck goes both ways. It’s only a small condolence to me that the ‘Skins went on to beat the Bucs in the Wild Card round that year.
New Orleans Saints 34 Cincinnati Bengals 30
AHH it’s thanksgiving all over again for the Saints! It was just another day at the office for the Bengals, a decent team playing out a lost season. Fans in Cincy didn’t get to watch the game because it didn’t sell out; Chad Ochocinco tried to buy all the remaining tickets, because, “if I gotta play, you gotta watch.” Unfortunately, the idea didn’t occur to him until an hour after the league’s arbitrary deadline.
BREAKING NEWS: Troy Aikman has just been confirmed as the keynote speaker at this year’s Bullshit Fest!
Chicago Bears 24 Detroit Lions 20
It seems like the Lions lose by 7 points or less every week. They’ll start winning some of those close games next year and I would bet my truck that they make the playoffs in 2011. (I wouldn’t really bet my truck).
Every time a Lion has gone down with an injury this year, his replacement has proved ready for the task as well. They’re currently starting 3rd string quarterback Drew Stanton. Perhaps we’re witnessing the early years of the ones that will soon make Jim Schwartz famous like Sean Payton. Might as well brace yourself now for all the embarrassing “Schwartz” jokes you can handle.
Jacksonville Jaguars 17 Tennessee Titans 6
Despite the fact that the average NFL fan often forgets that Jacksonville has a team, the Jaguars are in first place. Also, it turns out that Kerry Collins isn’t any better than Rusty Smith. Ah!
St. Louis Rams 16 Arizona Cardinals 9
Brett Favre played one season too many; Kurt Warner quit one season too soon. In a year where no one team stands out as the better one week in and week out, Warner and the Cards may have had a serious shot to make the Super Bowl again. The Cards aren’t a bad football team, but their fans have seen the worst quarterback play in the league. I like to imagine that before the season, Arizona’s coaches held a closed-door meeting and agreed that “with Matt Leinart, we might only win 3 games this year!” So they cut him, and now the team has only won 3 games this year. It’s hard to believe Leinart wouldn’t have been better than the Derek Anderson/Max Hall Dyad of Doom.