NFC North: Roger Goodell

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Perhaps the most surprising thing about the playoffs this year was that three teams, including the Green Bay Packers, had trouble selling tickets.

The Packers’ situation was more surprising, considering they had a streak of 319 straight sellouts at Lambeau Field (excluding a 1982 playoff game in the strike-shortened season).

During his annual State of the League address on the Friday before the Super Bowl, commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the problems the Packers, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts had selling tickets to their wild-card playoff games.

“Those were mistakes that were made by us, the NFL, and our clubs,” Goodell said. “What we have to do is recognize that technology has changed and that we have to use technology more efficiently and more intelligently to make sure we don’t put our fans in that kind of position. Green Bay, as an example, sold close to 50,000 tickets over a five-day period, including New Year’s Day. We shouldn’t be in that position, and that’s on us, and we have to fix it, and we will. But that is not an indication in any way of the fans’ passion.”

While Goodell did not identify what mistakes were made, Packers president Mark Murphy did so over the weekend. In a question-and-answer piece on the team’s official website, Murphy addressed what likely was the biggest issue for season-ticket holders when it came time to buy playoff tickets late in the season.

“I would say that we made a mistake in deciding not to refund the money to fans this year for playoff games not played,” Murphy wrote. “We learned from this mistake and will have a better policy in place next year.”

The Packers told season-ticket holders than instead of their money being refunded if the playoff game did not take place, it would be credited toward their 2014 tickets.

Shortly after the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the team sent a survey to season-ticket holders and asked why they did not purchase playoff tickets.

“We had a great response to the survey, and have just started evaluating the results,” Murphy wrote. “I anticipate that we will make a number of changes and adjustments based on this feedback from our fans, including offering a “pay as we play” type of option for playoff games. With current available technology, we should be able to use this type of method as an option.”

For the playoff game, the Packers needed an extension from the league and help from corporate sponsors who purchased some of the remaining tickets to avoid a local television blackout.

On Minneapolis' Super Bowl chances

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MINNEAPOLIS -- In his annual state of the NFL address Friday, commissioner Roger Goodell largely sidestepped the issue of whether the league will award more Super Bowls to cold-weather sites.

Technically, that issue wouldn't affect the Minnesota Vikings' Super Bowl bid, anyway, since the game would be played indoors -- though it might be hard to convince people who would come to the Twin Cities in the days leading up to the game that the weather is a non-factor.

But Goodell did make one point that I thought was instructive to Minnesota's chances of hosting Super Bowl LII.

"There's such a demand for Super Bowls right now," he said when asked about the possibility of including first-time venues in the league's rotation. "The cities that are going to get multiple Super Bowls is limited."

This is largely a gut feeling, but to me, that means two things: The chances of Minnesota being awarded the 2018 Super Bowl in a couple months are good, and the chances of that Super Bowl being the only one the Vikings' new stadium hosts are also considerable.

The Vikings and the state of Minnesota were adamant about not building an open-air stadium in part so they could land major events like Super Bowls, Final Fours and NCAA college football championship games, and the new facility should have the infrastructure to bring each of those events to town, at least once. Considering the fact that four of the six Super Bowls from 2011 to 2016 are being played in new venues -- and the fact the Vikings are competing against two repeat hosts (Indianapolis and New Orleans) for Super Bowl LII -- it seems like the trend would be heading in the Vikings' direction to get the 2018 game.

But consider how many recently-built stadiums either have enclosed or retractable roofs -- and how many cities with milder winters than Minnesota's have been emboldened by this year's game being in the New York area. Would Washington, for example, be able to make a play for a Super Bowl, putting it just outside the nation's capital in a stadium that seats nearly 90,000 people? Could Philadelphia make the same kind of case? The fact that there's precedent now for the big East Coast markets to get in the Super Bowl game probably hurts Midwestern cities like Minneapolis and Detroit, because the winter weather isn't quite as harsh and the infrastructure for big corporate events before the game is already there. And the league will undoubtedly return to reliable warm-weather sites like Arizona, Houston, Tampa and New Orleans, which means the game could be spread around more than it ever has.

Essentially, if Sunday's game goes off without a hitch -- and the forecast right now looks pretty seasonable -- it could serve to dilute the pool of possible Super Bowl sites. I'd be willing to bet the 2018 Super Bowl will be in Minneapolis, but I'd be much less likely to put money on the chances of the Vikings' new stadium getting the game on a semi-regular basis.

More on Jerome Felton's suspension

August, 28, 2013
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We talked yesterday about the long stretch of time between Jerome Felton's drunken driving arrest in June 2012 and the NFL's decision to suspend him three games for that incident, which was finally released on Monday. That delay might have helped Felton establish himself with the Vikings -- as we discussed yesterday, the Vikings might have been more susceptible to letting Felton go if NFL discipline had come before he had a chance to establish himself last season. But the process also provided another window into a piece of the NFL's disciplinary policy that has irked players over the past few years.

Felton
According to a source close to Felton, the NFL notified the fullback of its decision to suspend him in June. However, drunken driving charges against Felton were dropped on April 24, after Felton pled guilty to careless driving. Felton completed community service to fulfill the requirements of the sentence in late June, according to Hennepin County court records, and appealed his suspension in July. The NFL notified Felton on Monday he would be suspended for the first three games of the season, near the same time it announced the discipline to the public.

Felton was first arrested on suspicion of a third-degree DWI, but the charge became a second-degree DWI because Felton had a previous DWI conviction within the last 10 years. That's an important part of this case, because it put Felton under the purview of the NFL's rules for repeat offenders -- even though the second DWI charge against him was dropped.

A NFL spokesperson declined to discuss the case, saying the league will not provide details on the case beyond its initial statement.

Here is what the NFL's 2013 Substances of Abuse Policy says about alcohol-related offenses:
"Absent aggravating circumstances, discipline for a first offense will generally be a fine of two-seventeenths (2/17) of the amount in Paragraph 5 of the NFL Player Contract to a maximum of $50,000. If the Commissioner finds that there were aggravating circumstances, including but not limited to felonious conduct or serious injury or death of third parties, and/or the player has had prior drug or alcohol-related misconduct, increased discipline up to and including suspensions may be imposed. Discipline for a second or subsequent offense is likely to be a suspension, the duration of which may escalate for repeated offenses."

Essentially, it seems the NFL treated Felton's case as an alcohol-related offense, even as its discipline came after those charges had been dropped. The league's personal conduct policy clearly gives commissioner Roger Goodell the right to issue fines or suspensions whether or not criminal charges were filed, so there's not much recourse for Felton here. But his suspension is an example of Goodell's far-reaching power, and in this case, the running back will miss three games because of an incident that might have earned Felton stiffer punishment from the league than it did from the law.
PHOENIX -- Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte called it "absurd." Leslie Frazier worried that his MVP running back would be subjected to an increasing number of hits to his knee. The NFC North generated as much opposition to the NFL's proposed crown-to-helmet penalty as any other division, but in the end -- as we discussed Sunday -- the nebulous "player safety" tag has once again carried the day.

All four NFC North teams voted for a rule that passed overwhelmingly Wednesday. Frazier and the Vikings produced a notable about-face; Frazier had reiterated concerns as recently as an hour before the vote, during the NFC coaches breakfast here at the NFL owners meeting. After the vote, however, Frazier said: "The overriding factor regarding player safety kind of overrode [our] concerns."

Look, we all know what happened here. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made player safety a priority, both for the long-term health of players and the long-term viability of the game. Creating "safer" rules puts those efforts in writing and creates a paper trail, in both a practical and legal sense. I'm pretty sure the NFL doesn't want coaches or other employees publicly questioning its efforts to do so, regardless of the issues at play. The league is making a macro movement in spite of whatever micro issues it might cause.

The rule makes sense in the abstract -- a player shouldn't be allowed to, as the rule is worded, "deliver a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent" -- but there are practical ramifications that make you wonder how it will be enforced.

Forte noted that running backs naturally lower their shoulders to protect themselves from contact and to break tackles. As a result, the head lowers as well. Will officials recognize the difference between that and an intentional lowering of the head to initiate contact? Frazier wondered if defensive players would go low on tailback Adrian Peterson to avoid the 15-yard penalty of hitting his helmet with theirs.

In the end, those issues won't dissipate. We'll probably have some questionable calls to discuss this season. But go ahead and book it: Anytime a rule change is attached to "player safety," its chances of passing is excellent. It's a sign of our times.
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If you caught Sunday's "Outside the Lines" episode, you saw a 30-minute discussion about the performance of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in anticipation of Don Van Natta Jr.'s profile in this week's ESPN The Magazine.

For our purposes, it's worth noting that former New Orleans Saints (and Green Bay Packers) defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove advanced a story we spent plenty of time discussing last offseason as part of the investigation into the Saints' alleged bounty program.

For the first time to my knowledge, Hargrove said the voice in a much-discussed NFL Films video used as evidence against him is that of Saints teammate Remi Ayodele. As you might recall, the NFL initially said Hargrove spoke the words, "Bobby, give me my money," and used the accusation to suggest Hargrove was seeking a bounty payment for a hit on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.

As we pointed out at the time, Hargrove wasn't involved in the play that injured Favre's ankle; Ayodele and defensive end Bobby McCray were. Hargrove said last summer that a voice recognition analysis confirmed it was not his voice, and Goodell eventually acknowledged he was "prepared to assume" it was not Hargrove. In the small-world department, Ayodele signed with the Vikings as a free agent the following year and was teammates with Favre in 2010. Last year, his agent told NFL.com that Ayodele doesn't recall hearing the statement. Via his verified Twitter account, Ayodele lashed out at Hargrove for naming him and added: "I said NOTHING nobody on the team did I'm still trying to figure out this bounty what's he talking bout?"

The incident was one of many questionable accusations against Hargrove and the other players involved in the investigation. On appeal, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue -- acting as a third-party arbitrator -- vacated their suspensions.

In the video, Hargrove implies he won't play again in the NFL but makes clear that the fight to clear his name has just begun.

Note: The Ayodele discussion is not in this clip, presumably because of online rights issues involved with the NFL Films video.
The yearlong Pro Bowl narrative traces back to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' critical comments about last year's game. So it's worth circling back with Rodgers after Sunday's game, based on early reviews, seemed to go better.

Rodgers
Speaking Tuesday on his ESPN 540 radio show, Rodgers acknowledged that he watched only part of the game, a 62-35 victory by the NFC. Of the portion he did watch, Rodgers chose his words carefully.

"I think there was a lot of talk about how hard the game was played," he said. "It seemed like that was one of the focuses for everyone involved, to talk about how hard the game was being played."

Indeed, the topic was a recurring theme during the NBC broadcast as well as in-game interviews. Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, for instance, looked into the camera and said: "Hey, commish, we're playing hard," referring to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Rodgers was then asked whether the effort level in the game matched what was being discussed. He said: "I don't know. I'm not sure. I think in this case you maybe had to watch more of the game to have a good opinion on that. I don't want to comment on how hard it was played."

Rodgers did note that New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul "looked like he was going hard on every snap" during the portion of the game he watched.

The NFL will spend some time deciding the Pro Bowl's future. My position remains unchanged. I would hate to see the game continue solely because of a perceived uptick in intensity from nonexistent to, at best, acceptable -- especially when the implicit threat of the game's cancellation appeared to be the primary motivating factor. There has to be a better way to honor the game's best players, right?
Ndamukong Suh said Wednesday that his kick to the groin of Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub happened "inadvertently." Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the same thing Monday.

So here's a fair question to ask: If the NFL believed them, why did it fine Suh $30,000 this week for the incident?

As we discussed Monday and commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday, neither the league nor anyone else can infer intent with certainty. We can all look at various angles of the play; Suh is prone and looking away from Schaub when his left leg extends twice and finally makes contact with the quarterback. Some of us saw that and recognized how difficult it would be for someone to do intentionally. Others will see the second clutch and wonder how random the act could possibly be.

It's clear to me the league took into consideration Suh's history, including his initial denial of intent when he stomped Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith last season, and couldn't fully rule out that it was an intentional act.

Wednesday was the first time Suh had addressed the incident publicly, and here is how he explained it: "I was being dragged to the ground, and my foot inadvertently hit the man."

If he was asked about the second clutch, I'm not aware of his answer. Tuesday, Schwartz said he didn't see a second clutch on the replay.

Some of you have already noted that the league often fines players for acts that aren't intentional, such as Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins' helmet-to-helmet hit on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler earlier this month. But I don't see the symmetry in the examples.

Dobbins clearly initiated the contact that resulted in the hit, even if he wasn't intentionally targeting Cutler's helmet. If Suh's contact was inadvertent, and thus uninitiated by him, there wouldn't be anything to fine him for. If the NFL has a policy of disciplining players whose flailing body parts randomly hit opponents during the course of a collision, then I'm not aware of it.

But as you can see in this week's Blogger Blitz video, I can identify where Suh is coming from. There is no doubt his history has played a role in this public discussion. In the end, though, we can't assign intent without his admission. And clearly, Suh isn't going there. What's done is done.

Final Word: NFC North

September, 28, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 4:

[+] EnlargeMike McCarthy
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenIf the Packers don't recover after Monday night's controversial loss, history suggests their playoff hopes could be in trouble.
The Goodell Bowl: That's how I'm referring to Sunday's game at Lambeau Field, which pits two teams that have felt aggrieved by the policies of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The New Orleans Saints are 0-3 after Goodell suspended coach Sean Payton for the season and interim coach Joe Vitt for six games because of their roles in an alleged bounty program, per his investigation. The Packers, meanwhile, were the team most affected by the NFL's attempt to use low-level replacement officials in its first three weeks. How much were the Packers affected by Monday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks? Even if they win Sunday to even their record at 2-2, they face this fact: Under the current playoff format, only 35.3 percent of 2-2 teams advanced to the playoffs. If they fall to 1-3? History suggests they have just a 14.7 percent chance of playing in the postseason.

Run to daylight: The Packers balanced their offense midway through the Seahawks game, giving tailback Cedric Benson 15 of his 17 carries after halftime. It was no coincidence that all three scoring drives came after that point. Will the Packers bring that approach Sunday? The Saints' defense has really struggled this season but has been particularly vulnerable to the run, giving up a stunning average of 215 rushing yards per game. The Packers' initial game plan hasn't worked well in any of their first three games, and they've gone scoreless in the first quarter each time. That hadn't happened in the first three Packers games of a season since 1991.

Tables turned: For so long, a trip to Detroit was an automatic victory for the Minnesota Vikings, who won 16 of 17 in this series before the Detroit Lions broke through in the 2010 season finale. The Lions have won three consecutive games over the Vikings, and it is the Vikings who own a dubious distinction: They've lost their past 11 NFC North games. The Lions haven't had the start they would have liked this season and are a fourth-quarter comeback in Week 1 from an 0-3 record. Meanwhile, the Vikings surprised everyone this past Sunday with a convincing victory over the San Francisco 49ers, and they'll get downfield receiver Jerome Simpson back from suspension. But it doesn't appear many people consider them legitimate contenders quite yet. The Lions are healthy six-point favorites, and 11 of 14 ESPN experts picked them to win.

The Allen factor: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen terrorized the Lions last season with six sacks, three in each game, and a forced fumble. Allen has been limited by neck spasms that started in the Week 3 game against the 49ers, and his only sack this season came on the 49ers' final offensive play that week. But Allen will be a key part of this game one way or the other. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is nursing a strained leg/hamstring/hip, and you can count on Allen testing right away whether Stafford is moving any slower in the pocket.

Another MNF affair: An NFC North team will participate in "Monday Night Football" for the second consecutive week, and the Chicago Bears' matchup at the Dallas Cowboys comes in a streak of six prime-time NFC North games in six weeks. We're popular. We get it. I'll have plenty more to say about this game this weekend and Monday, but for now, let's bring you up to date on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's tough record in prime-time road games. Cutler is 3-6 in those games as a Bears starter and 5-10 overall in his career.

BBAO: Adrian Peterson recovery ongoing

September, 28, 2012
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We're Black and Blue All Over. (We're also on Facebook and Twitter.)

Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson has noted often that he does not consider himself 100 percent recovered from major knee surgery in December. I suppose you could say he hasn't demonstrated the same burst he had before the injury, but how is Peterson measuring this recovery?

I thought he had an interesting response while speaking with reporters Thursday. Via Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com, Peterson said: "It's just me knowing my body. When I look in the mirror, I'm like, 'OK, my right leg is obviously bigger than my left.' I know it's not as strong as far as different things that I do. That's when I'll be able to tell, when I won't be able to tell the difference between the strength of both legs."

Fortunately for the Vikings, a less-than-100-percent Peterson is still a quite serviceable NFL running back. But the answer on when, or if, he will approach his pre-injury levels remains elusive.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams is happy to have some veterans who can problem-solve, he tells Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield is used to facing receivers who are a half-foot taller than him, or more. Mark Craig of the Star Tribune explains.
  • Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan on quarterback Matthew Stafford's day of practice Thursday, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "He got a lot of good work in. He was out there and he was feeling a lot better." Stafford (leg) is expected to start Sunday at Ford Field.
  • The Lions have given up 12.5 career sacks to Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, notes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • It's time for Lions defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill to step up, writes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the Green Bay Packers' offensive problems in Seattle: " Mike McCarthy and [offensive coordinator Tom] Clements' game plan assumed the Packers were going to be able to handle the crowd noise, bump coverage from the Seahawks' defensive backs and the speed of ends Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons. It was a very bad assumption and the two switched to a more run-oriented attack with Cedric Benson in the second half."
  • Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga was frustrated by his individual performance in that game, notes Silverstein.
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette doesn't have anything nice to say about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
  • Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy didn't comment publicly on the Monday night game "out of respect for and concern for the sensitivity of the bargaining process," he said in a statement, via the Journal Sentinel.
  • Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte "continues to get better," coach Lovie Smith said, via Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Competition has made some Bears starters better, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Bears have the NFL's worst offense on first downs, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
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Part of the job of an NFL commissioner is to factor every twist and turn into the context of the league's big-picture health, and that's what Roger Goodell did Thursday while speaking for the first time about the Green Bay Packers' controversial 14-12 loss Monday night to the Seattle Seahawks.

During a conference call to discuss the league's labor agreement with its regular officials, Goodell offered measured sympathy for the mistakes that contributed to the Packers' defeat. He classified them in the broader sense of the league's history of officiating blunders -- although he offered no caveat that Monday night's officials were far less qualified than those who contributed to previous mistakes -- and suggested that subsequent outrage over the ending represented "the beauty of sports and the beauty of officiating."

That sentiment surely won't go over well for the Packers and their fans, but if you expected Goodell to apologize suddenly to the franchise and begin discussing reparations, you haven't paid attention to the way the league conducted the two-month officiating lockout. Goodell said he viewed the replacement official era as a short-term pain for the long-term gain of setting up a better officiating structure moving forward. Among other measures, the new agreement will allow the NFL to hire some officials full-time and presumably train them more intensively, while also creating a group of reserve officials who can replace poorly performing regulars.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell
Noah K. Murray/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireNFL commissioner Roger Goodell skirted the question of whether M.D. Jennings intercepted the final pass in Monday night's game.
"To go through something like this is painful for everybody," Goodell said. "… We're sorry to have put our fans through that… For the short term, sometimes you have to do [this] to make sure you get the agreement you need to grow the game."

The conference call touched on a variety of subjects that we've discussed in recent days and weeks, including the credibility issue the league faced and whether player safety was risked. But for now we'll focus on how Goodell viewed Monday night's events.

At one point, a reporter pressed Goodell on why the league did not address the accuracy of the initial call on the final play. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was judged to have maintained simultaneous possession with Packers safety M.D. Jennings, which by NFL rule is a touchdown and not an interception. The NFL said Wednesday it agreed with the decision not to overturn the call on replay, but did not address whether it agreed that simultaneous possession occurred in the first place.

Goodell said Thursday that he hadn't viewed the play with the league's officiating department because he has been in negotiations all week. He said "I'll stand by" the league's statement.

Standing by a decision not to address a primary question isn't good enough for the commissioner of the NFL. Fortunately, he was asked a follow-up: How could you look at that play and not see it as an interception? Goodell's answer is one that might satisfy a board room but certainly won't resonate well in the locker room or a sports bar.

"You obviously have a very strong view about what you think the call was," he told the reporter. "… That's the beauty of sports and the beauty of officiating. There are controversial calls and people see them differently. I understand that. That's the beauty of sports."

It's only beautiful, I suppose, if you're not the Packers. Asked directly about the impact the play could have on the Packers' playoff hopes, Goodell said: "I understand the frustration."

He then lumped the outrage into what the league office hears after any controversial finish.

"We get that unfortunately on a regular basis throughout any season when there are controversial calls," Goodell said, "particularly [given] the importance of each game. … I understand that after 32 years [in the NFL]. It's particularly sensitive obviously because of the replacement officials. We get that and we understand that. … We want to do everything to make sure that the officiating going forward will avoid mistakes. But it's not practical. Officiating is imperfect. We're going to have mistakes. Whether it's replacement official or [not], it's going to happen.

"It's just part of sports."

I'm sorry, but hiring woefully substandard officials to replace those locked out in a labor dispute is not part of sports. This was a singular period in pro sports history, whether Goodell wants to classify it that way or not. The Packers got sacrificed for what the NFL considered the greater good, and there won't be any apologies. It's a tough world out there. So it goes.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

As it turns out, the final call ever made by the NFL's replacement officials was the one that gave the Green Bay Packers a 14-12 defeat Monday night. The league ended its two-month lockout of its regular officials late Wednesday night, by coincidence I'm sure, and they will work NFL games beginning Thursday night.

We noted Wednesday it would be instructive to note whether the league caved financially after Monday night's debacle. The details are still coming in, but I can tell you that the regular officials got to keep their current pension benefit through 2016 or until they reach 20 years of service. Beginning in 2017, a defined contribution benefit will begin.

So in plain terms, officials staved off an effort to eliminate their pensions immediately but ultimately will give them up. Prior to Monday's game, reports were that the NFL was refusing to compromise on the pension issue. Perhaps Golden Tate's "Fail Mary" catch provided the proper motivation.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The folks at ESPNChicago.com discuss the Bears' dangerously inconsistent offense.
  • Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould is approaching an NFL record for consecutive field goal conversions of 50 or more yards, notes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • There is little tolerance for failure by quarterbacks like Jay Cutler and Tony Romo, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com: "As Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley's attorney attempts to get him out of legal trouble, there is nothing that can be done to avoid NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's impending penalty."
  • Nick Harris, 34, has re-joined Jason Hanson, 42, as a Lions specialist. Chris McCosky of the Detroit News has more.
  • There was "nothing out of the ordinary" about Matthew Stafford's gait on Wednesday, reports Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the Packers' mindset: "Several players admit they'll never forget Monday's 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Those scars won't heal. The game will rot in NFL infamy. But in four days, an equally bitter New Orleans Saints team comes to Lambeau Field. Analyzing one play does zero good."
  • Packers safety M.D. Jennings on his decision to try to intercept the pass on the final play Monday night, via Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "You can second-guess yourself, thinking catch it or bat it down. But I just had to go with my instincts, and that was to go up and try to make a play on the ball."
  • Packers tight end Tom Crabtree (shoulder) has returned to practice, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Minnesota Vikings won't force things downfield despite the return of receiver Jerome Simpson. Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com explains.
  • Vikings rookie cornerback Josh Robinson on his approach if he faces the Lions' Calvin Johnson on Sunday, via Bruce Brothers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Just be physical with him. Let him know, 'Just because I'm small, I ain't going to be scared of you.' That's something we're working on this week to make sure we have down to every detail."
  • Mark Craig of the Star Tribune takes a look at decisions to go for it on fourth down.
The NFL threw Mike Sando and I the first curveball of our Inside Slant podcast careers Wednesday morning. The league reportedly had a breakthrough in negotiations with its locked-out officials, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, and the Replacement Official era could be over within days.

(In the end, the replacement refs couldn't even outlast Coy and Vance Duke. What a shame.)

Anyway, Mike and I adjusted and spent the entire podcast discussing the fallout from this two-month debacle. For me, the biggest stunner is how willingly the NFL exposed itself to outside influences -- i.e. gambling -- by weakening its first line of defense against corruption.

To be clear, we have no evidence that anything untoward has occurred. But Monday night's final play at CenturyLink Field was so obvious, and the calls were so wrong, that it was fair to at least consider all possibilities. The NFL's flawed replacement plan provided the opportunity for that discussion, an incredible risk and challenge to the integrity of the game.

After all, it was commissioner Roger Goodell himself who said these words at the NFL owners meeting in March after speaking with a group of fans: "The one thing that really struck me from the fans' reaction was how important integrity of the game was. They put that as number one on their list. One of the fans articulated it in a very simple fashion: I want to know what I am seeing is real and that there are no outside influences. I think that resonated with people; it certainly did with me."

The context was Goodell's campaign against the New Orleans Saints' bounty program, but they ring true in the case of the replacement officials as well. Anyway, listen to the podcast to hear more blathering on the topic.
Aaron RodgersAP Photo/Ted S. WarrenAaron Rodgers and the Packers sounded off on Monday night's ending again on Tuesday.
With a few hours to sleep on it, Green Bay Packers players were still livid Tuesday over Monday night's 14-12 loss at the Seattle Seahawks, offering blunt and direct criticism of the NFL, its administration of the replacement official program and its motives for not adequately addressing the problem.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the way with a nearly-seven minute rant to start off his weekly radio show at ESPN 540 in Milwaukee. Guard Josh Sitton said he would go on strike if the NFL's collective bargaining agreement allowed it and guard T.J. Lang encouraged more players to speak out.

Rodgers began by apologizing to fans of the game -- "something the NFL is not going to do," he said. Rodgers added: "The product that is on the field is not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials. The games are getting out of control. ... The game is being tarnished by an NFL that obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished a little bit."

I know we're not that far away from the ugliness of the NFL player lockout of 2011, when players and commissioner Roger Goodell regularly exchanged labor-related public barbs. But in my career covering the NFL, I've rarely heard players speak so directly about their distrust and disregard for the league office.

Tuesday, Rodgers offered a paragraph-by-paragraph dissection of the NFL's explanation for Golden Tate's 24-yard touchdown reception on a play that Packers safety M.D. Jennings appeared to make an interception. Rodgers said "I call bull" on the NFL's claim that replacement officials communicated on the field before making a final decision and said it "was garbage" that referee Wayne Elliott didn't notice one of Tate's arms losing contact with the ball as the players crashed to the ground.

"We put so much into this," Rodgers said, "and we put our bodies and livelihood on the line, and you can't possibly tell me that the way things are going right now that player safety is being held to the same standard that it was, and the integrity of the game wasn't what it was."

Sitton, meanwhile, said on the Jim Rome radio show (via the Green Bay Press-Gazette) that "I don't think [the NFL] cares" about the repercussions of replacement officials.

"They know the type of business we have and they know fans are going to keep showing up," Sitton said. "There needs to be something done. I wish I had an answer. If I could go on strike, I … would just to end this crap. I don't know if we can. We probably can’t because of the CBA, but I wish there was an answer. I don't think they care. They flat-out don't care."

Sitton pointed to an ugly incident between Packers receiver Greg Jennings and Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner as an example of how replacement officials can't ensure player safety. Browner leveled Jennings unexpectedly at the end of a deep route and went unpenalized until the two engaged in an extended wrestling match in the end zone.

"They've been talking about player safety and clearly with the replacement refs, honestly it's really not their fault," Sitton said. "They're not experienced enough, I can't express that enough, but the safety of the players right now is out the window. You see the play last night where Greg Jennings gets … ran over, 20 yards down the field, and they don't end up throwing the flag until after he throws a punch. It's getting ridiculous, but I don’t think they’re going to do anything about it."

Lang, who started an avalanche of criticism Monday night on Twitter told reporters in Green Bay: "I think we’ve gotten to a point where if we don't take a stand, nothing's going to happen. We'd just be letting these refs ruin games. The NFL doesn't give a crap. They're still making money. People are still coming to the games. There needs to be more players who speak out to really put pressure on the NFL to try to get something done."

I'm fine with Packers players using Tuesday, their day off, to continue venting about this unprecedented situation. Wednesday, they'll need to move on and begin preparing for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. Let's put it this way: Nothing anyone could say Tuesday would make the situation any worse.

Weak NFL response suggests more of same

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
12:59
PM ET

The NFL repeatedly has played us for fools over the past two months. Did you expect that to change with Tuesday's response to the final play of the Green Bay Packers' 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks?

Instead of fully owning up to an inexcusable series of events, the league admitted one mistake and took an end-around to avoid the other. Its response comes nowhere close to suggesting the league has been chastened, humbled or deeply concerned by a game decided on two bad calls by substandard officials. Instead, it reads more like an explanation for any other run-of-the-mill controversy we've seen over the years.

We posted the entire statement in the previous post. It notes that Seahawks receiver Golden Tate "can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground" while Russell Wilson's Hail Mary pass was in the air. The NFL acknowledged this "should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game." Conveniently, however, it "was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay."

OK, that's a fair admission. But on the more-discussed issue of whether Tate or Packers safety M.D. Jennings had earned possession of the ball, the NFL offered a blatantly passive response that never addressed the question. Instead, the NFL merely stated: "When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown."

But were the officials correct in determining there was, in fact, simultaneous possession of the ball? As we noted earlier, one official near the play ruled a touchdown and the other touchback. The NFL weakly avoided that issue entirely. Instead, it merely supported the decision to uphold the original call via replay.

Overturning a call on replay requires "irrefutable" evidence of a mistake. I guess there is enough gray area in the video to fall somewhere short of that standard. However, the overwhelming sense from the Packers and most other observers is that Jennings caught the ball, had possession when his feet hit the ground. Tate fought for the ball, but did he have simultaneous possession? That's highly debatable, at best, and totally unaddressed by a league that has done nothing Tuesday to quell overwhelming scrutiny about the integrity of its officiating.

The NFL affirmed the game's result is final. I didn't expect commissioner Roger Goodell to invoke his authority to overturn it based on the "Extraordinarily Unfair Acts" clause of the rule book, and I suppose this muted response shouldn't be that surprising, either. I guess there's no turning back when your strategy is to fool people into accepting that a charade is somehow legitimate.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Good morning, everyone. And really, it is a good one. The NFL has been exposed for the fraud it tried to pull over its players, coaches, executives, fans, advertisers and partners. The tipping point has arrived, I have to think.

Now, in the aftermath of the Green Bay Packers losing Monday night's game in Seattle on a botched call by replacement officials on the final play, we wait. We wait for an NFL response, presumably via statement later Tuesday. I don't think commissioner Roger Goodell will overturn the outcome, as we discussed earlier Tuesday morning, but you have to think we're on the way toward officiating order being restored.

Otherwise, we're headed toward scary territory. As ESPN.com's Darren Rovell noted, between $150 million and $250 million in bets changed hands as a result of that final play. Those are some pretty big numbers and should rightfully draw scrutiny from those concerned about the integrity of the game.

While we have a second, let's catch up on local coverage in the NFC North. I'll warn you in advance this will be a Packers-heavy day.
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette isn't letting the Packers' offense off the hook for a 14-12 defeat.
  • Packers coach Mike McCarthy on the first-half offense, via Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The offense didn't do our part in the first half," McCarthy said. "I should have adjusted plans earlier. I'll take responsibility for that."
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com on the scene in the Packers' post-game locker room: "'You guys suck, bro!' veteran center Jeff Saturday yelled upward at the TV, throwing a towel at it for emphasis. Fullback John Kuhn opted for a one-word expletive. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers shook his head, speechless. By the time he'd reached the podium for his traditional post-game news conference, the reigning NFL MVP had found some words, but not many."
  • Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola took the blame for his team's botched final play Sunday, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch accused Tennessee Titans guard Leroy Harris of a cheap shot in Sunday's game, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com has a transcription of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford's interview with a Detroit radio station about his leg injury. (He doesn't give up much.)
  • Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith is hopeful of getting tailback Matt Forte (ankle) back in time for Monday night's game at the Dallas Cowboys, notes ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Bears defense has been in mid-season form all year, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • In charting Sunday's Bears victory over the St. Louis Rams, Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune noted 14 inaccurate throws for quarterback Jay Cutler.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com breaks down the tape of the Minnesota Vikings' victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Vikings players are praising the game plan installed to beat the 49ers by offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
  • Receiver Jerome Simpson is excited to rejoin the Vikings after a three-game NFL suspension, writes Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

 

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