LAS VEGAS — Memo to the National Football League: Time to banish Thursday Night Football – except for Thanksgiving, which has always been an American tradition.
Houston and Cincinnati gave us a perfect example of why the NFL is hurting its own product. They played a game that featured 16 punts and only one touchdown. I have a good friend who told me that he fell asleep during the live broadcast – and then fell asleep a second time during the replay!
The larger issue here is the health of the players, which I believe is the bigger problem facing the NFL. A rights-holder that shall remain anonymous told me that the league always complains when the concussion issue is discussed on telecasts of its games. Therein lies the real problem.
The Texans came into the game with five of their players in concussion protocol after their season opener. To demand that this team turn around after only two days off, get on an airplane on Wednesday and then play a game on Thursday was ludicrous. If the Players Association is really behind its athletes and cares about their health, this should become a major issue when the contract is up after the 2020 season – if not sooner.
The one moment of brilliance in Thursday’s game was delivered by Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson in his first NFL start. His 49-yard scramble before halftime for the only touchdown of this snooze-fest was a brilliant piece of running. Remember, this young man was coming off a sprained ankle, and he, too, could have used a few extra days of rest.
Instead of being ridiculously greedy, this league should be trying to put its best product on the field every game. And that brings us to the Cincinnati Bengals. There is absolutely no excuse for a team playing its first two games at home being unable to score a single touchdown in eight quarters. The last time that happened was with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1939, and I remember it well – because that was the year I was born. They finished 1-9-1 for coach Bert Bell, who wound eventually become commissioner. Marvin Lewis should be so lucky.
Full disclosure. I happen to think the world of Marvin and quarterback Andy Dalton. But something has to give with this organization. Let me give you one example. The Bengals’ first-round draft choice – John Ross – flashed his speed on his first NFL touch, picking up 12 yards. Unfortunately for him, Kareem Jackson got his helmet on the football and jarred it loose for Jadeveon Clowney to recover. We did not see Ross for the remainder of the game. Are you kidding me? Look at what happened with Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt in his first game at New England. He fumbled on his first play, and coach Andy Reid brought him back into the fray. Hunt rewarded that show of confidence with 246 yards of total offense.
(Speaking of the Chiefs and the Patriots, that Thursday night game was the best game in the NFL so far. But remember, those athletes had the entire off-season to prepare for it. These short turnarounds are ridiculous.)
Oh, kudos to J.J. Watt. He closed Thursday night’s game by halting a desperation series of Bengals laterals with a textbook tackle of center Russell Bodine. Not that too many people saw it in Houston. KPRC-TV was showing the game, but it was in such a hurry to get to the local news that it did not show the final play after two seconds were put back on the clock. And what was the lead story that Channel 2 was in such a hurry to get to? The very football game that it was showing.
When the TV stations showing these games can’t wait to get away, that should be a message to the league. It has gotten so bad that the games aren’t even much fun to gamble on. Maybe my friend had the right idea falling asleep.
- - - - -
The premier game of the college-football weekend features reigning national champion and 3-point favorite Clemson traveling to Louisville to tackle (or attempt to) reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. It is only the fourth time that this sort of matchup has happened – the last was four years ago when Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M lost to Alabama 49-42.
Last year this was a fabulous game at Clemson. It came down to a final, fourth-down play in which Louisville came up a yard short at the 3. Had the Cardinals scored on that drive – assuming that Pittsburgh still would have beaten Clemson six weeks later – we would have a different defending national champion.
This game features the brilliance of Jackson against the defensive prowess of the Tigers, who sacked Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham 11 times last week. It says here that if Louisville scores the slight upset, and if Jackson is his usual brilliant self, then he is headed for the first back-to-back Heisman since Ohio State great Archie Griffin did it in 1974 and ’75.
There are two interesting conference games Saturday in the SEC East. Tennessee is a 4½-point ’dog against Florida in Gainesville, and South Carolina is a 6½-point favorite at home against Kentucky. Georgia stamped itself as the East favorite by traveling to Notre Dame and winning last week. The winner of the Tennessee-Florida game (the Gators normally prevail in this rivalry) becomes the No. 1 challenger with the Gamecocks a dark horse if they take care of business against Kentucky.
In the SEC West keep an eye on LSU giving 7½ and invading Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are an underrated team, but they have the coach – Dan Mullen – and the quarterback – Nick Fitzpatrick – fully capable of upsetting the Tigers.
Out west we will all be watching Texas at USC. The ’Horns are a 16-point underdog. If you like underdogs, this is a time to take the Longhorns. This is the first time that the two schools have met since that classic championship game at the Rose Bowl in January 2006. Or is it?
A story that brought me a good chuckle this week concerned USC claiming that it does not recognize that loss to Texas since the NCAA put those Trojans on probation because of Reggie Bush’s ineligibility. When the NCAA stripped the Trojans of their wins and the previous year’s national championship, USC cheered everybody up by saying it was stripped of its losses, too.
That has me wondering. Will my guys in the desert give me my money back on that losing USC bet that night?