View Full Version : On the Steelers: These are low days for the NFL

12-26-2010, 08:23 AM
On the Steelers: These are low days for the NFL
Sunday, December 26, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The NFL is about to be embarrassed by sending one team into the playoffs with a losing record, and it will give that team its first game at home, too.

In the name of the National Hockey League, what's going on here? Unlike winter sports, the NFL does not send waves of teams into the playoffs -- just 12 of 32, six from each conference.

This, however, was bound to happen sooner or later when the league went to four-team divisions, and, while 8-8 teams have made the playoffs as recently as San Diego in 2008, no team has made it with a losing record. And the winner of the NFC West may have more than just a losing record, it could be 7-9. St. Louis and Seattle are tied for what has been dubbed the NFC Worst at 6-8.

Naturally, this has revived the playoff re-seeding voices -- those who would prefer to seed the playoffs based on record and not automatically give division winners preference -- reminiscent of the outcries when wild-card Jacksonville (11-5) of the AFC South visited Heinz Field to play the AFC North champion Steelers (10-6). Many believe the Steelers should have played at Jacksonville to open the playoffs that year.

That does not take into account that the Steelers or any other division winner with a record not quite as good as a wild-card team might have had a tougher time piling up victories in a tougher division.

Reseeding is not a good idea, but here is another way where the NFL can avoid the embarrassment of a team that goes 7-9 having a chance to win the Super Bowl: Make it a requirement that teams must have at least a winning record to make the playoffs. The old WPIAL used to require teams to be unbeaten to advance to the playoffs. It is not too much to ask the NFL to keep teams out with losing records or even .500.

Take that San Diego team that won the AFC West at 8-8 in 2008. Because the Chargers were in the playoffs, the New England Patriots were left out, even though they tied with Miami at 11-5 atop the AFC East.

San Diego then had a home playoff game against the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts, and the Chargers beat them in overtime. Thankfully for all involved, the Steelers took care of the Chargers in the next game, 35-24. Had San Diego won that game, Baltimore at 11-5 would have played at 8-8 San Diego for the AFC championship game and the right for a .500 team to advance to the Super Bowl.

The league, of course, would have spun that all kinds of ways to have everyone believe the Chargers peaked at the right time and were among the best teams in football by the time the playoffs rolled around. Doesn't matter.

The NFL needs a new motto when it comes to teams advancing to its post-season: You snooze, you lose.

Jets-Steelers: Dumb & dumber

The Steelers have seen their share of questionable decisions -- calls, non-calls, flags, non-flags and the like -- this season, but perhaps no team has been part of 1) the worst-officiated game of the year in the NFL, and 2) the dumbest.

Start with the dumbest, since that occurred last Sunday at Heinz Field with the New York Jets.

The referee was Pete Morelli, the same ref who overturned via instant replay Troy Polamalu's interception against Indianapolis late in their 2005 playoff game, and was later reprimanded for it after the NFL said it was a legal interception.

Morelli lost his flag three times Sunday. No penalty, just lost the flag. That's a first. There have been officials who inadvertently lose a flag on occasion, but it's rare. Has anyone ever seen one lose his twice in one game, never mind three times? These weren't flags he dropped on purpose and then waved off because another official saw the play better and convinced him it wasn't a penalty. He merely had trouble keeping the flag in his pocket or belt as if it contained Mexican jumping beans.

A man from the NFL told me that Morelli is from Southern California where he is a high school principal and not used to working while wearing gloves and had trouble handling the flag. Hey, Pete, get some Velcro. Maybe the NFL should send him to a few more games in Green Bay in December to get used to wearing gloves.

Then, there was the 9-yard first down. Rashard Mendenhall ran 9 yards on first down to set up a second-and-1, a full one yard so clear everyone could see it but Morelli and his crew. Confusion reigned. The chain gang moved toward a first down, and the officials could not figure it out and just gave the Steelers a first down. Neither coach complained, probably because Mike Tomlin was happy to get the first down and Rex Ryan was happy the Steelers did not have a second-and-1.

There also was the blatant holding penalty on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who had broken out in the open and was yanked by the back of his shirt by a Jets defender so hard it's a wonder it did not tear.

None of that may have made a difference in the outcome, but it had to be embarrassing to the NFL.

The worst-officiated game also occurred in Heinz Field against Oakland, when the Steelers racked up 14 penalties for a team-record 163 yards. It was a chippy game that referee Tony Corrente and crew lost control of early and later resulted in Oakland's Richard Seymour sucker-punching Ben Roethlisberger long after he threw a touchdown pass.

An early fight broke out, and an official got knocked down, but no penalty was called, and that set the tone for the circus. Corrente threatened punishment on that play, and everyone heard it. Somehow, his microphone turned on and everyone in the place could hear Corrente threaten No. 99, defensive end Lamarr Houston of Oakland.

"Get out of here or I'll throw you out!"

Corrente, comically, then turned to another official and said, "I lost my whistle. You have an extra?"

Oh, that the officiating crew had collectively lost their whistles that day. The officials ejected the wrong player after Seymour hit Roethlisberger in the chops -- at first it was No. 93 of the Raiders, fellow defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. Mike Tomlin ran out onto the field to tell them they got the wrong man as the scoreboard kept showing Seymour hitting Roethlisberger. The officials then "huddled" and changed their minds.

All the way from cyberspace to you

Some items, a few gleaned from my PG-Plus blog:

Hines Ward ranks third among the NFL's active receivers with 47 touchdown catches in the red zone and not once did they look his way on the final two passes against the Jets into the end zone. In fact, he was not even among the first few options on those play calls. He had three passes thrown to him Sunday. He caught two for 34 yards.

In the first quarter Sunday, the Steelers punted from New York's 34 on fourth and five. Apparently, the old swashbuckling Tomlin, who once went for a two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter from the 12, has disappeared. The field-goal try would have been from 52 yards. Shaun Suisham later made one from 42 that was at least 10 yards long, although the other way with the wind. But punting from the 34? Maybe MT doesn't have all that much confidence in his defense. After the punt, the Jets took over at the 22, a 12-yard difference. Tomlin might have gotten a better result had he ordered Rashard Mendenhall to fumble the ball forward on fourth down.

Antwaan Randle El caught no passes Thursday. He now has three catches in the past six games.

Mike Wallace has a chance to become only the third receiver in the history of either the NFL or AFL to lead the league in average per catch in his first two seasons. Wallace led the NFL with a 19.4 average as a rookie. His average of 20.2 yards today ranks second in the league among qualifiers. Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson averages 22.8 yards. Wallace has nearly a yard-average lead in the AFC. The only ones to do it their first two seasons were Bill Groman in 1960 and 1961 and Wesley Walker in 1977 and 1978. Wallace, with 1,152 yards, has a chance to hit 1,250 for the season, which would be the seventh-most in club history.

Steelers: Win AFC North if the Ravens lose in Cleveland.

Division titles: Teams the can clinch divisions by winning: Atlanta, Philadelphia and New England.

Playoff berths: Teams that can lock up a spot in the postseason by winning: New Orleans, Baltimore, and the New York Giants and Jets.

Of note: Kansas City needs a win and a loss by San Diego to win the AFC West.
Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

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