SALT LAKE CITY — Want one big dose of (almost) everything that’s wrong with the (evolving) game of professional football? Presenting Exhibit A:
Minnesota at Green Bay, last Sunday.
It was a good, hotly contested game that went to the wire. Too bad the NFL rules and the officials’ poor interpretation of those rules played such a big role in its outcome. One game was a showcase for three big issues.
Issue 1) How do you tackle a quarterback these days?
You don’t. With the Packers nursing a seven-point lead late in the game, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews tackled Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins as he released a pass. The pass was intercepted. Game over.
No, wait. The official flagged Matthews for roughing the passer.
To any observer except the referee, this penalty was wrong. It was a mystery call. Did Matthews hit the quarterback late? No. He made contact just as the ball was leaving the quarterback’s hand. Did he lead with the helmet? No. Matthews’ head was clearly to the side of the quarterback and never touched him. Did he hit him high? No. Did he hit him low? No. He hit him in his right side, with his right shoulder.
Did he pick him up and drive him into the ground? No. But the official later explained that that was his reason for throwing the flag. “When he hit the quarterback, he lifted him and drove him into the ground,” referee Tony Corrente explained. Replays showed this clearly was not the case. It wasn’t even arguable.
The Vikings used their second chance to drive down the field for a tying touchdown with 30 seconds left in the game.
Afterward, Matthews was as befuddled as the rest of us. By flagging Matthews for hitting Cousins with his shoulder in the middle of his side, we are left to conclude the following: Do not tackle quarterbacks high; do not tackle them low; do not tackle them in the mid-section; do not tackle them leading with the helmet; do not tackle them with the shoulder.
Do not tackle them.
“I don't know what else to do,” said Matthews. “I mean, I don't know. You let me know.”
Just put flags on the QB and get it over with.
Issue II) Freezing the kicker
Can we be done with this already? It's silly and boring and drags the game out unnecessarily. You know the deal. The opposing coach calls a timeout a split second before the kicker kicks the ball. It’s like Lucy pulling the ball as Charlie Brown starts to kick. The idea of course is to let the kicker stew in his own sweat, waiting more agonizing seconds to make this pressure-packed kick.
With the score tied at 29, the Packers’ Mason Crosby, who had already kicked five field goals, made a 52-yarder on the final play of regulation to win the game. Except, wait, the Vikings called a timeout just before he kicked it. Crosby had to kick again. This time he missed, sending the game into overtime.
Let’s end this nonsense. A new rule: No calling a timeout before field-goal attempts, period.
Issue III) Overtime rules
The Packers and Vikings finished in a 29-29 tie, a week after the Browns and Steelers finished in a 21-21 tie. Isn’t this what overtime was supposed to prevent?
Maybe it’s a point of pride, but the NFL will not concede that the college overtime rules are vastly superior to the NFL’s version of overtime in every way. Yet the league stubbornly clings to its clunky format. It’s not as if the league has to reinvent the wheel; it’s been done for them. Just copy the format right out of the college rulebook and plug it into the NFL game.
In the college format, the teams play until there is a winner. Each team is given possession of the ball at the 25-yard line and each team gets an equal number of possessions. Simple. Fair. Fun.
The NFL plays one 10-minute overtime period. There’s a coin toss and a kickoff. A team can win the game on the first possession by scoring a touchdown (as opposed to a field goal), so one team might not ever get a chance to score. The NFL didn’t learn a thing from the 2017 Super Bowl, when the Patriots scored on the first possession and the Falcons never touched the ball.8 comments on this story
If the score is still tied after each team has had one possession, it’s a sudden-death format — first team that scores, wins. If the game is still tied when the 10-minute period is finished, it’s a tie.
Even aside from the tie issue, it’s just a lousy way to decide a game. It’s unfair. It’s convoluted. It relies too much on the luck of a coin toss to determine first possession. It’s the worst overtime format this side of soccer’s shootout format.
This is an easy problem to fix. So fix it, NFL.