If you watched the end of Sunday’s 37-37 tie between the Panthers and Bengals, I hope you kept watching long enough to catch the looks on the players’ and coaches faces as they walked off the field. They didn’t know what to think. Neither did I.
Win an NFL game and you’re jubilant. Lose and you’re devastated. But a tie? Well, a tie just feels like something that makes you shrug. (Especially if you’re Donovan McNabb.)
Soccer still has ties, and so do plenty of sports popular in other countries like rugby and field hockey, and a boxing match or a mixed martial arts fight can end in a draw if the judges say so. But when it comes to American team sports, the NFL is pretty much alone in still having ties. The NHL adopted the shootout to get rid of the tie, and college football has instituted its endless overtimes to make ties a thing of the past. The NFL is in a lonely position. The tie is an anachronism. It needs to go the way of the leather helmet and the flying wedge.
The NFL changed its overtime rules in 2012 so that a field goal on the first possession of overtime wouldn’t win the game, and as a result ties are more common now: There had only been two ties in the previous 14 seasons before the NFL adopted that rule change, but now we’re averaging a tie per season, with one tie in 2012, one in 2013 and our first tie of 2014 on Sunday.
I don’t like that trend. The whole point of playing is to declare a winner. You watch a tie and you feel like you watched a four-hour contest that accomplished nothing.
The NFL’s playoff overtime rule is the same as that of the regular season, except that you keep playing even if you’re tied after 15 minutes of overtime, until someone wins. That should be the rule in the regular season as well. Let’s get rid of ties in the NFL.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:
Lovie Smith’s players aren’t playing for him. As the head coach of the Bears, Lovie Smith was known for being beloved by his players, but in Tampa he looks like he doesn’t have the attention of his team. The Bucs just come out looking too flat, too often. If you watched their pathetic Thursday night loss to the Falcons you’d think a team couldn’t look any worse -- unless you saw the way the Bucs played on Sunday against Baltimore. The Ravens went into Tampa and took a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and a 38-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The Bucs didn’t even look like they were trying.
The Lions’ kicking problems are stunning. Detroit is now down to its third kicker of the season, and the field goal problems still haven’t been fixed. Matt Prater, signed by the Lions last week, went just 1-for-3 in his debut for the Lions on Sunday. As a team, the Lions are now 2-for-12 on field goals longer than 30 yards this season. There are high school teams that kick better than the Lions.
Teddy Bridgewater showed why the Vikings didn’t want to play him this early. Taking on a good Detroit defense on Sunday, Bridgewater got rattled. The Vikings never wanted to start their first-round rookie quarterback this early in the season exactly because they didn’t want him to go through a game like he went through Sunday, when he was sacked eight times and threw three interceptions. Unfortunately, when Matt Cassel got hurt the Vikings had no choice but to start Bridgewater or -- shudder -- turn to Christian Ponder. Playing Ponder would have been essentially giving up on the season, so the Vikings are soldiering on with Bridgewater, even though he’s going to go through some rough outings like he did on Sunday. Bridgewater is a talented young quarterback who’s going to have to struggle through a tough rookie year. The Vikings just hope he doesn’t keep struggling as much as he did on Sunday.
Adam Jones is a really, really talented football player. It’s too bad that the career of “Pacman” has been overshadowed by his frequent off-field trouble, because that guy is an amazing football player. Just when it looked like the Bengals were toast on Sunday, when they’d fallen behind the Panthers 31-24 late in the fourth quarter, Jones ripped off a 97-yard kickoff return to set up a game-tying touchdown. Jones has always been an incredibly fearless return man: When returning punts, he always wants to make a play and never fair catches -- he hasn’t fair caught a punt since 2006, despite returning 70 punts since then. He’s also been a good starting cornerback for much of his career, although at age 31 he’s not quite the contributor he used to be on defense. That 97-yard return was the first time this season that the Bengals had Jones return a kickoff, and that was a smart time to use him. They should use him on kickoff returns more frequently. It’s nice to have a reason to talk about Jones on the field.
Peyton Manning makes the extraordinary seem ordinary. I hardly heard anyone talking about Manning on Sunday, and yet all he did was complete 22 of 33 passes for 237 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, while leading the Broncos to a 31-17 win over the Jets. That’s just become what we expect of Manning at this point. Those three touchdowns gave Manning 506 for his career, which puts him just two behind Brett Favre’s all-time NFL record. I have a feeling we’ll hear plenty about Manning next week, when he’ll break Favre’s record.
DeSean Jackson is something special. Whatever issues were going on with Jackson and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, the result was that Washington got itself an outstanding football player. Jackson is dynamite with the ball in his hands, as he showed Sunday against Arizona when he scored a 64-yard touchdown and also caught a 42-yard pass. Jackson has a league-high five catches of 40 or more yards. Just think what he could do if he were in a better passing game than Washington’s.
I still don’t know what constitutes an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit. On Sunday in Atlanta, Chicago safety Ryan Mundy lowered his helmet and hit Falcons receiver Roddy White in the side of the head while White was trying to make a catch. It looked to me like a clear case of an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver, so I wasn’t surprised when an official threw a flag. But I was surprised when the referee turned on his microphone and said that there actually was no flag because Mundy led with his shoulder, not his head. That’s not how it looked to me, and apparently not how it looked to the official who threw the flag. At a time when even the league’s own officials can’t keep straight which hits are legal and which are penalties, how are the players supposed to know? The NFL needs to get this rule straightened out. And after that, maybe do something about ties.