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Week One Monday 10-pack

[Editor’s note: Ordinarily, I’ll have some sort of an introductory paragraph or two for the Monday 10-pack. For Week One, I went through a moment of panic after I thought I’d lost items No. 2 through No. 10, and once I recovered them I decided I’d better just get the thing published. So I guess that’s the belated introduction for this week.]

1. “Louis Murphy rule” should never have become “Calvin Johnson rule.”

The 2009 NFL season launched with a Monday night doubleheader, in which the Raiders giving the Chargers a run for their money. And the Raiders may have won the game but for a play that many believed resulted in a touchdown to Oakland receiver Louis Murphy -- and that the officials determined to be an incomplete pass.

Though Murphy got both feet down in the end zone with possession of the ball, he was falling while doing so. And when he landed the ball struck the ground. And when the ball struck the ground, it moved.

Enter Rule 8, Section 1, Article 4: ‘If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”

Complicating matters was the fact that ESPN’s former Monday night “B” team of Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic, and Steve Young didn’t know the rule, and thus each of them declared that after further review the Murphy play would be ruled a touchdown, on the same night that “A” team play-by-play man Mike Tirico instantly knew during the early game that a ball that touched the ground and moved during the act of making a reception in the Bills-Patriots game made the pass incomplete. (Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the “B” team is no longer the “B” team.)

Former NFL V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira thereafter explained on NFL Network’s Total Access that the rule had been properly applied, also calling out the ESPN “B” team: “TV didn’t do a good job of explaining it or showing the right video.”

The rule comes from the Bert Emanuel play in the 1999 NFC title game, when a key reception from the former Buccaneers receiver was called not a reception (correctly, given the rules on the books at the time) because the ball touched the ground while in Emanuel’s possession. The league decided moving forward to regard such plays as completed passes, but the convoluted and confusing rule, as applied, creates situations in which, to the average person, the outcome seems to be unfair.

After Week One of the 2009 season, we began referring to the Bert Emanuel rule as the Louis Murphy rule, and the Louis Murphy rule reared its head multiple times throughout the 2009 season, producing outcomes that appeared to be inconsistent and/or unfair. In Week Two, the league defended a pair of plays in which application of the Louis Murphy rule arguably should have resulted in a ruling that the ball had not been caught because the player lost possession at some point after hitting the ground.

In one of them, Texans receiver Jacoby Jones clearly lost possession after going to the ground against the Titans. The ruling? Touchdown. Nearly a year later, we still believe that there’s no difference between the Jacoby Jones play, the Louis Murphy play, and (more importantly) the Calvin Johnson play.

The question of whether a catch is a catch when a player hits the ground and at some point surrenders or otherwise loses possession of the ball proved to be even too complicated for the officials to handle. In October 2009, referee Alberto Riveron awarded via replay review a touchdown to the Jaguars in a game against the Titans after receiver Mike Sims-Walker failed to maintain possession while going to the ground. The league initially defended the decision.

By Wednesday of that week, Pereira was singing a different tune.

is an incomplete pass
,” Pereira said, “and [the referee] should
have stayed with the call on the field.” In a show of admirable candor, Pereira explained that he possibly contributed to the blunder via an effort to explain the rule to the officials. “I think I got the referee away from the thought of what is actually
complete or incomplete,” Pereira said at the time.

The problem arose from the “second act” exception, a provision floating somewhere in the penumbra (hey, how can we have a post that mentions Steve Young’s name without incorporate a word like “penumbra”?) of the rule. As it turns out, a catch that isn’t a catch because it strikes the ground can actually be a catch if at some point in the process of making the catch and falling to the ground and then rolling on the ground and otherwise being on the ground a “second act” is made, such as a lunging of the ball forward with the hands. That “second act” exception gave Panthers tight end Dante Rosario a touchdown catch in Week Two against the Falcons, and it also was implicated in the biggest game of the year, the Super Bowl.

With a touchdown that gave the Saints a five-point lead in the fourth quarter, New Orleans opted to go for two. Lance Moore caught a pass near the goal line, was falling while doing so, managed to push the ball over the front of the end zone while falling, and then lost possession when he finally hit the ground.

Notwithstanding the ruling way back in Week One or the plain language of the rule, Moore was awarded a catch -- and the Saints were awarded two points.

Said Pereira at the time: “By rule, when a receiver with possession of the ball is in the act of
going to the ground and performs a second act by reaching out to break
the plane, that completes the process of the catch and the ball is dead
when it breaks the plane.”

The problem is that, although the league began the explanation with the words “by rule,” there’s nothing in the rule book that codifies the concept of the “second act,” or that attempts to provide meaning or contours to it. And so, while the Saints’ two-pointer that shouldn’t have been became moot when Saints cornerback Tracy Porter took a pass from Peyton Manning the other way, pushing the seven-point lead to 14, the Lance Moore non-catch catch became forgotten.

As Tony Dungy of NBC’s Football Night in America told me last night, the decision still had significance, since the mentality of defending a five-point lead is much different than the mentality of defending a seven-point lead. Indeed, if the Saints had been up by only five, perhaps Porter wouldn’t have made the bold decision to jump a route -- given the potential game-changing consequence of guessing wrong.

So the rule -- with its vague construction and its non-existent (at least in writing) “second act” exception cried out for change in the offseason, especially since three key members of the Competition Committee (Rich McKay of the Falcons, Jeff Fisher of the Titans and Bill Polian of the Colts) saw their teams victimized by the rule as currently written.

Amazingly, the league left it alone.

And so, in Week One of the 2010 season, the Bert Emanuel rule that became the Louis Murphy rule that became the Lance Moore has become the Calvin Johnson rule, to the chagrin of Lions fans everywhere.

Meanwhile, Pereira (now with FOX) defended Sunday’s decision -- without accounting for the possibility that Johnson’s affirmative placement of the ball on the ground (after both feet and his buttocks were on the turf) with the hand in which he possessed it could have been or may have been a Lance Moore-style “second act.”

As evidenced by this opening entry to the premiere edition of the 2010 Monday 10-pack, the rule has gotten way too complicated, and the current process has created a situation in which the visceral know-it-when-you-see-it sense that a pass is complete has taken a back seat to the application of a written rule (and an unwritten exception) that produces inconsistent results.

The league should have refined the rule in the offseason. And if the league had no desire to do so after it popped up during crunch time of the Super Bowl, we’re not sure that the rule ever will be changed.

2. What is Randy’s strategy?

Lost in the epic Randy Moss post-game rant following a 14-point win over the Bengals is a bigger question.

What is Moss trying to accomplish?

His motivation isn’t clear. One one hand, he says he doesn’t care if he’s liked. But there’s a chance that the whole thing flows from frustration with his belief that he isn’t liked.

It also could be part of a broader strategy to: (1) get a new contract; (2) get enough balls thrown his way to make him marketable when he becomes a free agent; or (3) force a trade to a team that will sign him to the long-term deal he wants.

Still, we think he’s only asking for trouble by taking a public stand. Coach Bill Belichick surely isn’t pleased with the distraction Moss provided after a satisfying Week One win over a defending division champion. More importantly, owner Robert Kraft has to be concerned about the prospect of signing to a new contract a man who seems to be inching closer and closer to the kind of open disrespect that has made it difficult if not impossible to get guard Logan Mankins under contract.

For now, we don’t believe Moss has a plan -- and that he merely allowed on Sunday his emotions to take over. He likely didn’t appreciate the reaction to his comments from last Monday regarding the lingering dissatisfaction with his contract, and it was his first chance after the first game of the season to make his feelings known.

It’s also unknown what the Patriots will do. Some think that Moss has danced dangerously close to Logan Mankins territory. If Moss has insulted Kraft and/or Belichick, the decisions ultimately made could be less about the best interests of the franchise and more about sending a message to Moss.

3. Vikings could regret draft-day intradivision trade.

With all the uproar regarding the decision of the Eagles to trade quarterback Donovan McNabb to their twice-a-year rivals in D.C., another April trade involving two teams in the same division has gotten far less scrutiny.

With the 30th pick in round one, the Vikings opted to slide down four spots, giving the selection to the Lions. And the Lions picked running back Jahvid Best. And Best is now the starting tailback. And Best scored two touchdowns in his NFL debut.

The good news for the team that allowed the Lions to land Best is that the rookie gained only 20 yards on 14 carries, which translates to an average of 1.4 yards per try.

The better news is that, when the Vikings face the Lions and Best in 13 days, they likely won’t have quarterback Matthew Stafford, which potentially will put even more pressure on Best and the running game.

Still, if Best helps pull the Lions out of their decade-long funk, the Vikings can blame themselves of helping to make it all happen.

4. Hines Ward could end up smitten with Dixon.

The Steelers, playing Steelers (go figure) football, churned out an overtime win against a Falcons team that will win its fair share of games in 2010, and possibly more. The victory, on a walk-off run from Rashard Mendenhall, gives a team that has suffered through a long offseason a much-needed shot in the arm.

Receiver Hines Ward, who racked up more than 100 yards via passes thrown by interim starter Dennis Dixon, had some strong words in the days prior to the game for Ben Roethlisberger, who has been suspended for four games under the Personal Conduct Policy.

Explaining that “we’re the ones that have to deal with” the consequences of Roethlisberger’s absence, Ward offered up this potential question Ben will have to ask himself: "[W]hat happens if they have success without me?”

Let’s expand on that for a second, not from the perspective of what Roethlisberger will ask himself, but what Ward and other players eventually may be wondering. What if they go 4-0? Should they stick with the guy who guided them through the murky early-season waters? Or should Roethlisberger automatically reclaim the job he temporarily lost not because he pulled a Wally Pipp?

That’s why coach Mike Tomlin declined last week to tell Adam Schein and Rich Gannon of Sirius NFL Radio that Roethlisberger will get his job back, no matter what. Tomlin knows that he needs to factor the mood of the locker room into his ultimate decision. And Tomlin won’t know the mood of the locker room until the first four games have been played.

Here’s the key -- with more than 100 yards gained and a win at home against a good Atlanta team, Ward at a minimum will be keeping an open mind as to which guy he prefers until after the four-game suspension has been served. If nothing else, the uncertainty will help to ensure that Roethlisberger gets the message that he truly needs to change his ways.

5. Broncos, Steelers take advantage of non-timeout timeout.

The rules regarding replay review contain a donut hole that two teams, intentionally or otherwise, exploited on Sunday.

In the Broncos-Jaguars game, a third-down attempt by Jacksonville came up short. The home team then decided to go for the conversion on fourth down. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels threw his red flag, requesting a replay review of the spot of the ball following the third-down play.

The only problem? The spot of a ball on a play that doesn’t involve a first down isn’t subject to review. But the maneuver didn’t cost McDaniels a time out or one of his challenges. Most importantly, the Denver defense got an advance look at the arrangement of the Jacksonville offense, which potentially helped the Broncos stop the Jaguars. Which the Broncos did.

In the Falcons-Steelers game, Atlanta came close to a first down on a third-down try, while trailing 9-6 late in the game. Falcons coach Mike Smith decided to eschew the field goal and go for a first down that could have delivered a win in regulation.

But Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin threw his red flag, securing a non-timeout timeout while the officials explained to Tomlin that the play can’t be reviewed.

Smith developed a case of cold feet during the break, and he decided to take the field goal. The game then went to overtime, and the Steelers won in the extra session.

The lessons are clear. Every head coach should be prepared when the opposing offense comes up short on third down and plans to go for it on fourth down to throw the red flag. Likewise, every head coach should be prepared to change the play and/or the formation after the defense has taken advantage of the non-timeout timeout trick that the rule book currently provides.

6. Solidarity isn’t solidarity without, you know, solidarity.

In theory, the union’s decision to display solidarity prior to every game makes sense. The players generally are assembled on the edge of the field for the National Anthem, and all they have to do is walk out onto the turf and raise a finger.

In practice, the gesture could be doing more harm than good. Solidarity doesn’t truly exist unless every player on every team does it, and the fact that five of the nine early games didn’t include the gesture shows that the union has a long way to go to get every player to care enough about the cause to simply walk a few steps and put a finger into the air.

If they won’t do that, would they ever stand firm in the face of a potential lockout?

The fact that fans booed the demonstration in Houston makes the effort even more problematic going forward, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the teams playing in either or both of the Monday night games will choose to copy the gesture.

7. Throw out Week One.

We say the same thing every year at this time, which we like

because it requires no original thought.

The results of the first week should be ignored.

Though the outcomes may be very relevant when the time comes to apply tiebreakers, a loss means only that the team will be no better than 15-1, and a win means that 1-15 is the worst-case scenario. Teams don’t know how much stock to put in a win or how much to fret about a loss because the victory may have come against one of the worst teams in the league -- and the defeat may have occurred at the hands of a juggernaut, bitch.

Last year, for example, the Vikings got rolling with a win in Cleveland, against a Browns team that plunged to a 1-11 start. This year, a five-point loss in the Superdome on the night the Saints raised the banner could end up being a rare blemish on an otherwise strong season for Minnesota.

Even for a team like the 49ers, losing to a division rival on the road doesn’t mean that all is lost. Eight years ago, the Patriots went to Buffalo in Week One, and New England ended up on the wrong side of a 31-point shutout. Five months later, the Patriots held high another Lombardi Trophy.

Though San Fran’s 31-6 loss to the Seahawks doesn’t put the Niners on track for Dallas, it’s not the end of the world. Instead, it’s merely the beginning of a 16-game marathon in which there will be highs, and there will be lows.

8. Alex Barron did the right thing.

It’s easy (and fun) to criticize Cowboys right tackle Alex Barron for the play that turned what appeared to be a last-second Dallas win into an 0-1 record against a team and a quarterback against whom the Cowboys went 5-0 in 2009. But here’s the reality.

Barron did the right thing.

Once it was clear that Brian Orakpo of the Redskins was going to beat Barron and then prevent Tony Romo from having a chance to throw a touchdown pass that would have (with the extra point) delivered a victory, Barron decided that it made more sense to hold Orakpo and take a chance on getting flagged than to let Orakpo wipe out Romo before he had a chance to throw the ball.

Then again, there’s also a chance that Orakpo mistakenly believed that the Cowboys would have merely been pushed back 10 yards and that they would have had another crack at the end zone, a proposition far less erroneous than believing regular-season games can’t end in ties.

Either way, if the referee had either not seen the holding or had decided in that split second not to throw a flag that proved to be the difference between a win or a loss for both teams, the Cowboys would have won. If Barron hadn’t held Orakpo, the Cowboys would have lost, anyway.

9. Titans should forget about Haynesworth.

Now that the Redskins have completed Week One, they can revisit the question of whether defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth will be traded. Last week, the Titans emerged as the favorite to bring the big fella back home to the place where he played college football and where he spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career.

Last night, Haynesworth appeared to be miffed (even after the win) during and after a game in which he participated in 16 plays.

Before the Titans continue their pursuit of Haynesworth, they need to ask themselves whether they really want him. After a 38-13 thumping of the Raiders in a game that many believed would be much closer than that (in fact, some of us thought that the Raiders would even win), the Titans may decide that seven years of the mercurial defender who tends to play much better when chasing money and not so well once he has it are more than enough.

10. Eagles need guidance when it comes to concussions.

On Sunday, Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley suffered an obvious concussion, which left him as woozy and unstable as the fictional Philly boxed after 15 rounds with Apollo Creed. The video is disturbing; the team’s decision to allow Bradley to return to the game is shocking.

In the same game, new Eagles starting quarterback Kevin Kolb suffered what the team initially described as a “jaw” injury. He returned to the game. Later, the team decided he had a concussion.

Only after the two players failed to come out of the locker room at halftime did the Eagles use the dreaded “C” word.

Following the game, coach Andy Reid defended the Nick Riviera-inspired decision to let the men play after suffering head injuries.

“They were fine,” Reid said, per Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “All the questions that they answered and the things they did with the docs registered well.”

(Little did we know that the correct answer to the age-old question of “how many fingers?” is in fact “Tuesday.”)

I’m no doctor (and the patients I consequently don’t have should consider themselves blessed), but concussion symptoms typically don’t manifest themselves with a time lag. When the bell is rung, the bell immediately rings. And it was obvious from the images of Bradley stumbling to the ground that something was wrong.

The Eagles and their doctors should consider themselves blessed -- and lucky -- that Bradley and Kolb didn’t suffer another head injury after Dr. Nick dubbed the condition “happy face” and sent them back in.