Football fans, the good news is that the Divisional playoff games will deliver more exciting action than we saw in the Wild Card round. The bad news is that last weekend happened. The closest margin of victory in the 2017 Wild Card round was 13 points, and that was the Raiders-Texans matchup, an affair even duller than the Texans’ two-touchdown margin of victory would suggest. Houston’s defeat of a crippled Oakland squad featured 19 punts, plus two more that were negated by penalties. And hey, I like punts okay, but I also like the chocolate wafers in an Oreo. I just like them better when there’s something else in between.
In fairness, most observers expected Raiders-Texans to be boring. We didn’t realize that the doldrums of the Houston game would spread to the rest of the weekend. A miasma of uncompetitive football enveloped the league. This spell was broken only in the first half of Sunday afternoon’s Giants-Packers showdown, which felt like a close-fought battle before Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers unleashed a pre-halftime Hail Mary, burnishing his legend and stifling the Giants’ spirit. It’s one of just a few moments anyone will remember from last weekend.
As Fox’s Troy Aikman noted, even Aaron Rodgers was happy to see Aaron Rodgers.
I had at least hoped that ESPN’s Wild Card coverage would delight us with televisual razzle-dazzle, as the network has used past playoff games to showcase its graphical prowess. ESPN’s flashiest display this year was a CGI diorama of a hazardous construction site blocking one of the field’s end zones. Because this is how bad the Houston Texans are at scoring touchdowns, you see. It is as if the end zone were obstructed by a great quantity of caution tape, multiple rolls. I believe that is the metaphor at work here. Days later, I remain unsure.
Bad games are going to happen. They’re the necessary evil that makes the great games special. Even an underwhelming stretch of playoff football, though, offers moments of beauty. The Seahawks rolled over a Detroit Lions team that staggered into the postseason and out of it. But that didn’t take anything away from the emergence of Paul Richardson, a Seattle wide receiver who pulled down one sensational circus catch after another last Saturday.
Richardson’s most important reception, a touchdown catch that put Seattle on the board in the second quarter, was also his most astonishing. He rearranged himself in midair to reach around a defender and pull in the ball with one hand. NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth would later make noise about Richardson pulling the Detroit player’s facemask. The foul wasn’t called at the time, because of course it wasn’t. Everyone in the stadium, officials included, had their eyes on the ball to see if a human being was actually going to do what Paul Richardson was trying to do. How do you look away from that catch? Misdirection is part of the game. With the effectiveness of a magician, Richardson drew our eyes to the spectacle and away from the sleight-of-hand on his opponent’s grille.
If you’re stuck watching a lousy game, you can still seek out those moments of beauty—and moments of comedy like the buttocks-aided catch made by Richardson’s teammate Doug Baldwin in the fourth quarter. Baldwin played a complete game of Twister with the football in just a second or two, somehow cradling it against his haunches without letting it touch the ground. This catch nearly extinguished the last hope for the Lions, and it made me more optimistic about the Seahawks’ chances as the postseason proceeds. Watch out for a team like the Seahawks that successfully juxtaposes grace with buffoonery, because a team like that is in touch with football’s soul.
NFC Divisional Playoff: Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons — Saturday, 4:35 p.m. Eastern, Fox
As I noted in last week’s column, the Detroit Lions had a chance to strike a blow for feline glory in the eternal battle of cats vs. birds, and they failed. Thus the birds rule the land, and we get a bird-vs.-bird matchup to kick off the weekend. Which avian juggernaut should you root for? Let’s assess the most important birds of all: the mascots.
The Seahawks’ mascot is Blitz. His page on the official Seahawks site says that his birthplace was the old Seattle Kingdome, which conjures a sadder image than the team probably intended. The brief bio goes on to explain:
As the Seahawks mascot, Blitz does his part to make sure CenturyLink Field is the loudest, most exciting stadium in the NFL. Always the entertainer, Blitz has been known to jump off the roof of CenturyLink Field, fly with the Blue Angels and skydive with Red Bull.
That’s all standard mascot pablum. Farther down the page, though, there’s a passage about a second Seattle mascot named Boom. I wasn’t even aware that Seattle had two mascots. Here’s what the Seahawks have to say about Boom:
BOOM hitched a ride in Blitz’s time machine. BOOM has requested to serve as the “official sidekick” of Blitz.
In case you were wondering: There’s no mention of a time machine elsewhere on the mascot page. The Seahawks drop in that morsel of backstory and proceed apace, as if we didn’t just matter-of-factly jump from bland PR copy to a Rick And Morty episode synopsis. Don’t get me wrong, Blitz’s adventures with the Blue Angels are noteworthy, but it does seem that the Seahawks are burying the lead here. Their football bird apparently built a time machine (or at least has assumed ownership of such), and their other football bird is a refugee from the future.
I wanted to believe that the time machine story was a non sequitur, a random fiction invented by a bored web intern. I kept poking around, though, and I found this video from a hokey 2014 halftime event in which the team introduced a revised Blitz along with his new buddy, Boom, by having the old Blitz mascot step into a homespun time machine. So this explains the origins of the time machine remark. Rest assured, though, that all of this still makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, it only raises more questions, like, what happened to old Blitz? Is he dead? And did new Blitz kill him?
But enough Blitz; back to Boom. The blurb for Boom insists that he “will be very visible in the community,” perhaps protesting too much. I can’t find any evidence that Boom has been seen lately. Maybe he was retired (read: sent back to the dystopian future whence he came) because the Seahawks realized that Boom is permanently stoned. Blitz, the alpha mascot, has an appealing and wholesome mascot face, with eyes that capture the glowering dyspepsia of the team’s logo but a mouth that turns up in a kind smile. Boom, on the other hand, has the glassy stare of a marine raptor who blasted a bowl before the game and tucked a one-hitter in his back pocket for halftime. Plus, he stowed away on a time machine. He doesn’t make great life choices.
Meanwhile, Freddie Falcon’s tastes, by the looks of it, skew more toward amphetamines.
The allure of speed is hard to resist when you lead the harried life of the Atlanta Falcons mascot. He not only attends the team’s home games but also stars in Freddie, his own imaginary sitcom where Falcons receiver Julio Jones makes kitchen sinks explode. Available only in super-ultra widescreen, the premise of the show is “Let’s find a way to use this awesome iPhone video of Jason Bateman waving at the camera and wishing that we would stop bothering him.” In conclusion, I just wrote 600 words about feathered mascots, and I forget why. Root for whoever the hell you want. The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: Atlanta 28, Seattle 20.
AFC Divisional Playoff: Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots — Saturday, 8:15 p.m., CBS
When they visited New England during the regular season, the Houston Texans were lucky enough to avoid handsome hero quarterback Tom Brady and instead go up against a rookie passer named Jacoby Brissett. Brady was benched by the league because of the Defleffgnert scandal, and Brady’s backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, was hurt. So the starting job defaulted to the third-string quarterback, Brissett. Nonetheless, the Texans were humiliated by a score of 27-0, although they only scored zero points because it is impossible to score negative points.
Brady, a popular mattress salesman, is now back in the starting lineup, so Brissett is unlikely to take the field for an encore performance against Houston this Saturday. Yet the TV cameras are sure to turn toward Brissett when the announcers on CBS recap the regular-season blowout. At that point, it will be appropriate to wonder whether this is the end of Jacoby Brissett’s turn in the limelight.
There’s such a wide range of paths that a backup QB’s career can take. You might be the next Brady or Aaron Rodgers, the understudy who comes to outshine the star. Or you might be Mike Glennon, the Tampa Bay passer who looked like a phenom for one glorious week in 2014, leading the Buccaneers to a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback, and has accomplished nothing of note since. The vicissitudes of glory are cruel. So when Brissett gets the equivalent of a curtain call in Saturday’s broadcast, I’ll savor the chance to salute a one-time hero who, by no fault of his own, may never be heard from again. The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: New England 35, Houston 0.
Phil Simms is a poet
Roosevelt Nix, #46
Watch the full 45
Watch him get the block
oh my gosh
cannot get him before
he gets into
He is quick:
They bring in the extra offensive lineman
A 4-3 defense:
They like that
And it has worked
How To Eat A Cube, with your host Pete Carroll
AFC Divisional Playoff: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs — Sunday, 1:05 p.m., NBC (UPDATE: Kickoff is now 8:20 p.m.)
Pittsburgh-Kansas City promises to be an exciting game between two evenly matched teams, but I’m anticipating it for non-football reasons: It’s our last NBC football broadcast of the year. After this weekend, there will be no more of announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth in the booth until next season. That’s a real loss because nobody builds an in-game narrative, from down to down, better than Michaels and Collinsworth.
A sequence from last Saturday’s Lions-Seahawks game provided one example of the NBC team’s unparalleled talent for infusing the action with added interest. Early in the third quarter, Detroit offensive lineman Cornelius Lucas was flagged for a false start penalty. Ninety percent of NFL announcers would mark the occasion with a predictable remark about the loud Seahawks fans and the challenge they present for visiting teams. Indeed, Collinsworth did say something to that effect, but even he seemed bored by it. He added a more specific observation. Collinsworth noted that the star Seattle defender Michael Bennett was shifting around on the line of scrimmage prior to the snap, and it was this gamesmanship—in addition to the noise—that likely baited Lucas into flinching.
Then Michaels applied his own layer of polish. With the knowledge that Lucas was making his first start of the season (in place of injured right tackle Riley Reiff), Michaels said, “How much fun is that for a guy who gets the start because the regular is hurt? A free agent out of Kansas State, you’re lining up against Michael Bennett.” With this commentary, Michaels recast his colleague’s astute analysis of Xs and Os in relatable emotional terms. The flourish was effortless and effective. For the rest of the game, I kept my eye on the Lucas-Bennett matchup with a sense of the intimidation that Lucas was experiencing. This is what great announcers do. They transform faceless, uniformed athletes into characters with depth.
Michele Tafoya? She has an important job, too: furnishing wacky meemz. Tafoya is, like her counterparts in the announcing booth, the best in the business at her particular job. NBC’s producers give her substantive material to work with—human interest angles about the players and coaches, mostly—as opposed to other broadcasts that restrict sideline reporters to injury updates and insipid halftime interviews.
Nonetheless, my favorite Tafoya contribution is an exercise in vacuity: the recurring segment called MICHELLE’Z MEEMZ. At least, it ought to be called that. As I’ve noted in this space, MICHELLE’Z MEEMZ is evidently written by a middle-aged man who has never seen an actual meme, but the meemz NBC concocts instead are much better than memes. That’s because they are read by a hapless Michele Tafoya, who realizes how dumb the meemz are yet tries to sell their nonexistent jokes anyway. For instance, last Saturday, Tafoya was compelled to pretend there was entertainment value in the following observations:
- It’s going to be cold in Green Bay.
- It’s going to be cold in Pittsburgh.
- Tom Brady will not play football this week.
- Matt Ryan, whose nickname is “Matty Ice,” has been photographed in front of fire.
NBC, please spin off MICHELLE’Z MEEMZ into its own show so that it is no longer dependent on the limitations of your NFL broadcast deal. I NEEDZ MY MEEMZ. The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: Pittsburgh 20, Kansas City 17.
NFC Divisional Playoff: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys — Sunday, 4:40 p.m., Fox
While we’re on the subject of announcers, consider Fox’s #1 team, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who haven’t come up in Block & Tackle for a while. Buck gets a lot of hate, as does pretty much any sports announcer with his prominence, but lately he strikes me as an announcer who deserves the platform he has. Buck has grown looser, more enthusiastic, and less prim over the years. And he has a better feel for the game—he mentioned that “Aaron Rodgers seems to have a hot hand” seconds before the Packers QB threw a touchdown pass. Maybe that’s luck, but I think it’s just as much a result for Buck getting caught up in the swells of the game. I enjoyed his calls this season. He’s harmless. Leave Joe Buck alone.
Aikman is a more curious case, an on-air analyst who hasn’t actually said anything for years. Words come out of Aikman’s mouth, but they don’t produce meaning. They assemble themselves into sentences—long, joyless sentences, the sort of sentences that go on and on with no end in sight, and every time you think the sentence is over, Aikman keeps talking, usually just reiterating his same empty point, but maybe with the words “National Football League” tossed in there, because that is a long phrase that he can use to kill time while he waits for an idea to come along, which it never does, yet still he talks.
In the third quarter of Sunday’s Giants-Packers game, the Packers failed to convert a 3rd-and-1 play. At this juncture, your average color commentator would observe that Green Bay has struggled on 3rd-and-1 this season. Then we would move on with our lives. Aikman instead embarked on an odyssey through the brambles of gridiron oratory. He noted that the down was an “opportunity to continue with this possession,” which is the definition of a down. The subject of a single Aikman sentence changed from the Packers to the Giants with little warning, and then to an uncalled facemask foul that was replayed on screen.
Another Aikman tic is to say that he’s “surprised.” This is Aikman’s way of expressing disapproval without quite doing so, thereby maintaining the weightlessness of his commentary. Aikman was “surprised,” twice in rapid succession, by the officials’ aforementioned failure to call a facemask penalty. Then he was “surprised” seconds later by Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to go for it on fourth down. Minutes after that, he was “surprised” that the Giants weren’t giving the ball to Rashad Jennings more often. Life is one long surprise party for Troy Aikman. The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: Dallas 27, Green Bay 21.
Playoff Register Of Truth
Block & Tackle 2017 playoff prediction record: 4-0
Untruthful games in Wild Card round: 1
Truth-untruth ratio for 2017 playoffs: 3-1