The chickens came home to roost Sunday night in full view of millions of American football fans when Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie linebacker Breeland Speaks was afraid to tackle Tom Brady for fear of the NFL’s whistle-packing vigilantes’ response.
Speaks had Brady wrapped up and in his grasp for a sure sack when he suddenly took a hands off policy, hearing the NFL”s true anthem – “PLEASE RELEASE ME LET ME GO’’ – running through his mind.
Speaks mistakenly thought Brady had released a desperation pass while under duress and feared he’d be flagged for roughing the passer so he dropped him not onto the ground but like a hot potato. Freed at last, Brady ran headlong for a four-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter what would become a 43-40 Patriots victory.
This was revealing of many things, not the least of which being how perverted the game has become because of the wild-eyed efforts of a few to make points the only measuring stick in pro football.
Once there was a time when a great defense was a revered as a potent offense. When the Colts and Giants played the most important game in NFL history – the 1958 NFL Championship game won in overtime by Baltimore – it pitted the league’s No. 1 defense (Giants) vs. the No. 1 offense (Colts). No one complained that 80 points were put up.
Today the absurdity of the lengths the league is going to to keep its quarterbacks not only upright but pain free and flinging footballs finally was exposed for the farce it has become on Speaks’ play because their efforts had now completely changed the very nature of a play essential to the game of football, which is to say the right to harass the quarterback.
All those points, all those passing yards, all those record that are being set almost weekly are as phony as poor Speaks’ notion that Brady had thrown the ball and the reason was exposed by Speaks’ mistaken reaction. He chose to not play football for fear of a referee’s retribution for, of all things, playing football.
“It was definitely on my mind, Speaks said of fear of being flagged for roughing the passer “It sucks.” Speaks excuse was not bogus. It was eloquent.
Through six weeks NFL officials have called roughing the passer 51 times. That compares with only 36 times a year ago. There has been a precipitous rise in penalties like roughing the passer and illegal contact (which when it comes to a receiver these days seems to be any contact) and what has become a record-breaking season of offense.
Through six weeks NFL teams have posted a record number of points (4,489), touchdowns (504) and touchdown passes (328). If you don’t find this kind of offense offensive, you don’t really like football. At least not real football, which is a game no longer being played.
Speaks says he’ll “finish the play next time” and take the opposing quarterback to the ground when he has the chance, risking both a penalty and a fine. Truth is he won’t because old men in business suits (or wearing loud Hawaiian shirts in Palm Beach in some cases) have taken the game away from young men in shoulder pads to the point where they are afraid to do their job because they no longer even know what it is.
Al Davis once famously said, “The quarterback must go down and he must go down haard!” Today NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says “The quarterback must go untouched or I’ll come down on you haard!’’
“I don’t think as a committee we’ve ever apologized for trying to protect players that we think are in the most vulnerable state,’’ Competition Committee head Rich McKay said this week at the annual fall owners meeting in New York.
Well, if that’s their concern stop filling players full of pain killers and so many drugs they’d be banned from running in the Kentucky Derby just so you can send them out on the field. Now that change would actually truly protect players. If you think that’s going to happen however you must also think what you’re seeing today is actually the way this great game was intended to be played.
All that the decision to put quarterbacks in the protective custody of officials has done to the game of football was exposed Sunday night by Breeland Speaks. It’s made the quarterback’s job easy and those trying to defend against him neigh impossible. Football was always supposed to be a struggle. A struggle to gain yardage and a struggle to prevent those gains. Now it is only a struggle to see who can get the ball last.
Pile up all the stats you want. Break all the records you’d like. But understand this. Baseball had its steroid-fueled home run era and paid a steep price for the joke it turned its game into.
Now football is having its “home run’’ era fueled by a stand down policy that has handcuffed defenses to the point a guy would now just let the quarterback run free rather than take him to the ground. If this persists, numbers will grow but fans will eventually wise up. If someone as pedestrian as Matt Schaub could pass for over 4,000 yards three times in his less than illustrious career numbers really don’t mean anything anymore.
Baseball succeeded in accomplishing only one thing when it let offense run roughshod over pitching. It made its records meaningless and its game unrecognizable from what it was supposed to be. If pro football doesn’t stop juicing its game by juicing the quarterbacks while putting defenders on ice, it will soon enough suffer the same fate.