NFL Run & Shootaround: Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.

Chaos Is Always More Fun

(GIF via Diehard Sport.)

Andrew Sharp: The Bengals and Packers spent three hours Sunday reminding everyone that football works best when it’s a complete mess. There were eight turnovers between both teams Sunday. Two separate fumbles went for defensive touchdowns. After injuries to their top three running backs, the Packers were finishing the game playing a wide receiver in the backfield. The Bengals rode the Andy Dalton roller coaster — they looked awesome at the start, then disappeared for three quarters, and then by the end they were awesome again. It all ended with a Packers fumble that was then fumbled by the Bengals and finally recovered by Terence Newman for the game-winning touchdown.

Some might call this sloppy, but I’m pretty sure it’s the perfect regular-season game. If you’re not invested in one team or the other, we should all be rooting for wild momentum swings and games exactly like Sunday’s, when nothing makes sense. Watching Green Bay and Cincy go back and forth all second half was kind of like its own little RedZone channel. Could there be any higher compliment in 2013?

(PS: Look at the Bengals’ schedule from here on out. They still haven’t totally clicked this season, but … the Bengals are going 12-4 this year?)

The More Things Change

Robert Mays: Last night, when Lance Briggs knocked the ball from Ben Roethlisberger’s hands and into Julius Peppers’s late in the fourth quarter, I didn’t respond. There was no clapping, no exclamation. The Bears were about to score their second defensive touchdown of the game and their third in three games this season (it was almost four; Charles Tillman was barely down by contact on an interception return in the first game).

I don’t know at what point this anomaly of defensive scores stops becoming an anomaly, but I think we’re close to it. There’s something about a defense that’s not only looking to take the ball away but to score when they do it. A Bears interception or fumble recovery is the start of a play — not the end of one. When the ball landed in Major Wright’s hands in the second quarter last night, the transition from defender to ballcarrier was instant, and it was evident with everyone. Taking that ball all the way back was not an added bonus. It was an expectation.

The ability to turn a turnover into a score is, aside from maybe a blocked punt or kick return touchdown, the most exciting play in football. It’s the ultimate swing. And somehow, through familiarity, I’ve lost the ability to enjoy it. Part of my tempered reaction is probably that as much fun as this all is, I’ve seen it too many times before. Last season, the Bears jumped out to a 7-1 start, thanks in large part to a defense that seemed as prone to scoring as the offense. What happened in the second half of the season is the unsustainable rate of defensive touchdowns was not sustained, and the Bears limped to a 10-6 record and missed the playoffs.

That fear is starting to creep up again. The Bears have undoubtedly turned creating turnovers into a skill, but even if they are the most skilled team in the league in that particular category, there’s still more luck involved than they’d like to admit. Too often this season, other teams have moved the ball at will, forcing the Bears to rely on taking the ball away to end drives. They’ve managed to do that, but I don’t know how much longer that can continue. Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards last night. Andy Dalton threw for more than 200 in the first half of Week 1. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton is likely gone for the season, and Tillman, the all-world cornerback, is nursing a bum knee that kept him out for the majority of last night’s second half. The big plays were there for the Steelers, as they’ve been against Chicago all year; I just hope that this year, the defense’s ability to make big plays of its own doesn’t fade away.

0

(All GIFs by HeyBelinda)

Everyone Stop Drafting Real Tight Ends

Sharp: Wherever you stand on the Trent Richardson trade or Brian Hoyer or NFL tanking, there’s definitely one thing everyone can get excited about in Cleveland, and that thing is a wide receiver turned tight end from USC by way of BYU’s basketball team and Ventura College. Of course he’s awesome.

At this point, teams shouldn’t even bother drafting tight ends who actually played college football. Just go grab people from practice squads or college basketball or maybe even MMA, because why not. The weirder the backstory, the better the tight end. They’ll all come in, learn for a year or two, and probably be better than anyone who played the position his whole life. This is what I’ve learned watching Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates the past few years, and now Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron. The tight end position is dead.

The tight end position has never been more alive.

Surprise!

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Backing the Boys

Mays: What the Cowboys did yesterday at Jerry’s World was a three-hour exhibition of why it would be so damn hard to love that team. DeMarco Murray, who always will be undoubtedly talented when healthy, put together an encore performance of his breakout game against St. Louis two seasons ago. DeMarcus Ware was dominant — ya know, like DeMarcus Ware. Dez Bryant only caught four passes, but one of them was the touchdown from above, a play on which Bryant was the sort of physical specimen that few other wide receivers in the league are.

The Cowboys were the best version of the Cowboys yesterday, and that version is a team that can beat a good team 31-7. Dallas is now 2-1, with its only loss coming by way of a 17-16 finish on the road against Kansas City, and it’s a loss that I think will be even more impressive as the season progresses. In an NFC East that looks to be something of a mess, the Cowboys have been the most impressive team around, save for Philadelphia’s first half in Washington. We all know how quickly things can turn when we’re talking about this team and its quarterback, and the sense of impending doom is never far away. But right now, there are more reasons to be optimistic in Dallas.

CURTIS PAINTER’S READ PROGRESSION ON THIS INTERCEPTION


Bill Barnwell:

1. Victor Cruz.
2. Jerrel Jernigan? LOL, come on bro.
3. Curtis Painter, 37-time MVP of the Painter Backyard Football League, first quarterback and wide receiver in football history who throws 50-yard lasers and plucks them out of the air with diving catches like nobody’s business.
4. Since I doodled a naked lady in the margin next to this play in the playbook, look for a pretty lady in the crowd to impress with my throwing arm by throwing the ball as far as I possibly can.
5. Back to Cruz.
6. Do you think Michael Vick’s Powerade commercial was real?
7. Austin Collie? Somehow this checks out.
8. Is my high school LiveJournal still private? I really hope so.
9. Oh jeez, I hope Cruz is open by now.
10. Apply Painter’s patented finishing maneuver by overthrowing the tight end by five yards.

Undefeated

Real Sacrifice

Chris Ryan: Yesterday, I was driving around during the late-afternoon games, and I was listening to a game on the radio, because apparently I live in 1964. Someone on the broadcast team was talking about Maurice Jones-Drew playing for the Jags even though he was injured. I’m not sure who was commentating, but it doesn’t really matter, because the gist of what this person was saying is heard over and over in the clichés you hear every Sunday: MJD wasn’t healthy by any means, and injured players aren’t supposed to play, but he was out there anyway, because head coach Gus Bradley needed his leaders out on the field.

I wouldn’t have really thought twice about this if it weren’t for Aldon Smith. If you’ve been paying attention to 49ers news, you probably saw that Smith was in some kind of trouble. He was arrested last January for driving under the influence in Miami; in June 2012, he was stabbed at a party at his house. Earlier this month he was named in a lawsuit brought by two men who allege they were injured at that same party, and that Smith and former teammate Delanie Walker shot off guns while drunk.

Early Friday morning, Smith was involved in another incident, this time crashing his pickup truck into a tree. He was arrested for DUI, again. All of these incidents, as NBC legal analyst Steve Clark pointed out on Friday, involve alcohol. To anyone paying attention, Aldon Smith had a problem.

And then he played football on Sunday.

When I first saw that Smith was lining up for the Niners, I felt sick. It’s a feeling I’m pretty familiar with when watching the NFL. I know every sport has its problems — don’t even get me started on the racism seen in my favorite sport, European football — but no game, no league, makes me feel as gross for watching as the NFL. These guys are literally risking their lives for our entertainment every single week, and we dress that up with language about leadership and sacrifice and warriors so that we feel like we are participating in something greater than just watching The Running Man. If Maurice Jones-Drew is going out there for the Jags with a bum foot, he’s sacrificing himself for his team; he’s a sports soldier, putting it all on the line.

Guys playing on bum ankles you can rationalize. For some reason, I couldn’t do that with Smith. They say one of the hardest parts about battling addiction is admitting that you have a problem. And that is true. But I think the bigger part is admitting that you are the problem. That you are no longer fooling anyone, that you have hurt too many people, and that whether you believe it about yourself or not, your issues have become too much to handle for those around you. People use drugs and alcohol to hide. They usually go to rehab when there’s nowhere else to do that.

So I can see why Smith played on Sunday. I can see why he might have wanted one more Sunday on the field with his friends before his life gets put on blast in front of a nation of headline-hungry fans, before he abandons one life as one of the best football players on the planet and starts another in which he is a recovering alcoholic. Maybe he wanted to be strong enough to help his team.

But his team needed to be strong enough to keep him off the field.

I can’t really parse Jed York’s bewildering postgame statement, given with Smith on hand, after the Niners lost to the Colts. I can tell you that one line — “Our opinion was, sitting somebody down and paying them to sit down when they’re going to seek treatment in the future, that didn’t seem like an appropriate punishment” — made my stomach turn. I can tell you it sounds like the trinity of leadership — York, GM Trent Baalke, and coach Jim Harbaugh — screwed up the handling of this situation eight ways to Sunday. There’s so much talk in football about not making excuses, about bottom lines. There’s one bottom line here: Whether Smith had to dress or not, Harbaugh did not need to send him out on the field on Sunday. He just didn’t.

Here’s more from York: “I know it might not sound reasonable, but for Aldon to be able to face the media, face his teammates, and take full responsibility for what he’s doing, we felt that was the best situation for Aldon himself, and for the team, and ultimately the community at large.” I don’t really understand what he’s saying there. I think he’s saying that for Aldon Smith, who will now enter a rehabilitation facility to deal with his issues, playing was what was best for the player, the team, and the city.

I think this is bullshit. When I read this statement, I thought about Bradley needing Jones-Drew to go out and be a leader. It’s up to the players to sacrifice; the game comes first. Long-term health? That’s what the money is for. Just once, I’d like to see one of these front-office guys, one of these coaches who sell their General Patton–with-a-headset-and-a-Sharpie personas to credit card companies … I’d like to see one of them make a sacrifice. Maybe give up a goddamn win every once in a while if it means a person can be just a little healthier. I’d actually feel a lot better about supporting the league if they did.

Filed Under: Andrew Sharp, Bill Barnwell, Chris Ryan, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Jay Cutler, NFL, Tony Romo