Whatever happened on Sunday in Lambeau Field was going to be refracted through the the fact that Odell Beckham and the rest of the Giants receiving corps spent a day in Miami on a yacht with celebrities nearly a week before a playoff game.
It was one of those media phenomena that takes hold and refuses to go away, even as the vast majority of people discussing it realize that it's incredibly stupid and irrelevant. The fact that this was a New York team, followed by a more bloodthirsty media contingent than most, made it all the worse. A hulking content apparatus could push this storyline to critical mass.
SINK OR SWIM: Pressure is on Odell Beckham to shine during playoff debut in Green Bay, via @garymyersNYDN https://t.co/YCdJJyYVaW pic.twitter.com/ByDwELBX6r
— NY Daily News Sports (@NYDNSports) January 8, 2017
It seems Beckham knew that too. Why else run out onto the field shirtless with teammates before the game if not to prove that he was so focused that frigid temperatures meant nothing to him? Granted, this was done elsewhere in the NFL on Sunday, so it could be macho facade that would have happened anyway. Still, the gesture was curious. Beckham is an erratic guy. He's also the most gifted player on his team and a consistent producer. Seizing on any deviation from the expected behavior of an NFL player is a easy thing for media to mention when things go wrong, and it's happened multiple times just this season with Beckham.
Beckham and his boating crew had themselves a bad game, and let down a quarterback who for the most part played pretty well, if not as masterfully as Aaron Rodgers. This played out perfectly for a media firestorm and the FOX announcers were all too eager to stoke it.
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were desperate for any excuse to mention the Miami trip. Beckham might have made it easy with a few drops, but then Buck and Aikman would mention it when Manning sailed a pass way over Beckham that seemed impossible to catch. At one point, Buck suggested the boat trip would have been unthinkable during Aikman's playing days, somehow forgetting the array of lurid exploits of the '90s Cowboys that you can read about in Jeff Pearlman's book.
The NFL has decided it's possible to recover from playing a football game on Sunday to then playing another one on Thursday. But some members of the media and public think it's impossible for a player to sort themselves out and focus for a game six days after partying.
Even rational fans start to engage with these dumb opinions. It's fun for us to dunk on stupid takes. It's good for our brand. It signals us as the smart ones, better than the dolts and their bad takes. It gets us retweets and shares. But of course this enables the people who actually make these takes, whether they're sincere or a trollish put-on. Shares are value-neutral.
Truth be told, making inane boat jokes was the most entertaining thing to do on social media as time ran out in the fourth quarter of a decisive Packers win. It wasn't a playoff weekend of dramatic finishes but it went out as dumb as possible.
For what it's worth, Beckham was upset enough after the game that he put a hole in the drywall in the locker room. That should be an indication that it's possible to both care a great deal about a football game and enjoy your free time. Those inclined to hate fun—who will likely be parsing his postgame remarks for a lack of contrition—will reach their own conclusions.
Expect this scene to continue to play out for another five to 10 years, or however long Odell Beckham's career lasts before either age, injury, or utter madness brought on narrative come to claim him. In the meantime, the rest of us should try to let him live a little.
The Further Adventures of Doug Baldwin's Butt
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin owns a permanent place in Dumb Football lore for being the guy who simulated pooping a football after scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl. On Saturday, his butt only further bolstered its case for Canton by helping Baldwin secure a catch. Instead of something generic like Butt Catch, we should call it Football In The Booty Ass Bitch. Remember, like that Amber Rose hashtag? Fuck it, I liked it anyway.
You Have Landry Jones For a Reason, Mike Tomlin
You could easily argue the Steelers had already secured a win against the Dolphins with 11 and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. At that point, the Steelers were leading 30-6 and the Dolphins showed no signs of being able to score four touchdowns in such a short time. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin kept all his offensive stars in the game, even though this is the first year the Steelers have been lucky to have Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown all healthy for the playoffs. Tomlin was punished for tempting fate when Roethlisberger was sacked by Cameron Wake, which left the quarterback limping and favoring his shoulder. Roethlisberger showed up to the postgame presser in a walking boot, but assured reporters that he's fine and will be ready to go for next week's game in Kansas City. It's Roethlisberger's M.O. to always be dealing with some sort of late-season pain. But this one could have been avoided.
Peezy is Back, And Now He May Be Gone
Late in the Dolphins-Steelers game I thought about how Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter spent the majority of his career playing for these two teams. Hours later, Porter got himself arrested for refusing to leave a South Side bar and allegedly assaulting the doorman. A witness said Porter strenuously denied that claim to police.
Obviously the Steelers tolerated Porter's off-field behavior as a player, so why should that be any different as a coach? Then again, getting shot in the butt in a Denver bar and having your pit bulls get loose and maul a mini-horse isn't the same thing as getting arrested on an assault charge minutes away from your own stadium. Whatever the result, it's a hell of a time for the Legend of Peezy to return.
Matt Moore's 40-Second Concussion Evaluation
The Dolphins quarterback was on the receiving end of the most brutal hit of weekend, a helmet-first full-speed car wreck dished out by Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree in the second quarter. Moore lay on the field for several minutes before being helped to the sideline, where he stayed for just one play. The Dolphins said he was cleared by the team physician and an unaffiliated neurologist. Moore played the rest of the game and there hasn't been an indication yet that he suffered a concussion.
Still, an examination that lasts just one play has to be considered cursory at best for the way he looked immediately after that hit. Similar situations have resulted in players being taken back to the locker room for more a thorough examination. But context matters to the NFL in these instances, which is why it seems the league doesn't really care that much about safety after all. Player health is a paramount concern until the quarterback is hurt in a game where a team trails by multiple scores with the season on the line. It's a joke. The NFL will continue to tout its concussion protocol even though it can be easily circumvented.
The Browns Quietly Did A Browns Thing
While everyone was distracted watching teams actually in the postseason, the Cleveland Browns were quietly sowing the seeds of future Brownsiness by bringing in Gregg Williams to replace Ray Horton as defensive coordinator. As conventional wisdom dictates, when you have an opportunity to poach Jeff Fisher's former staff, you have to do it!
The strength of those Rams teams might have been defense, but that doesn't mean those defenses were dominant or schematically impressive. The fact that the Browns don't presently have Aaron Donald on the roster must also be concerning. But these are the Browns, after all, and they are as good a bet as any team to prolong the career of ridiculed coaches.
Fisher, meanwhile, was spotted over the weekend looking glum and holding a good dog at the airport, which sounds about right. Good dog, bad coach.
The Good News Is Darius Slay's Wedding Will Be Fire
Bout to start planning this wedding since I got so much time off….
— Darius Slay (@_bigplayslay23) January 8, 2017
Sadly, the Detroit Lions lost their fourth game in a row, and this one finally got them bounced from the 2016 season. The Lions could have used some of those close officiating calls to go their way, but they did themselves few favors. But cornerback Darius Slay prefers to look at the bright side, as this now frees up ample time for the messy work of wedding preparation. Mazel tov, you crazy kid.
As fans we want to believe that getting a championship is life-or-death for players. But financially speaking, some more prominent players might not mind being done early.
An NFL player's salary, after all, is paid out once the regular season ends. Every player on a Wild Card team earns the same $24,000 check for that playoff game. Another game for the Lions would have been another $27,000 for Slay. That's a pretty good payday for you and I. For a player who commands more on a per-game basis during the regular season, it's a pay cut with no less risk of serious injury.
I'm not saying Slay isn't concerned about winning a title; I'm sure he is. This is just another way players get the raw end of the deal.
Fan of the Week
Are you balding? Happen to be a sport fan? My advice to you is to cover that cranium with an autograph from your favorite sports hero. Failing that, any pro athlete will do. That's the message this Packers fan took to heart before showing up on Sunday. It's unclear who signed the guy's head, but the the woman on Twitter who took the photo told me she suspects it was former running back Dorsey Levens. Even if it was only happenstance, I salute the choice. A Favre signature would have just been gross. But one of the many Packers running backs to gain occasional notoriety? Fantastic.
Five Winners Who Covered Their Bloodline in Glory
1. Antonio Brown — Less than nine minutes into the game Brown had 119 yards and two scores. Business, as they say, was boomin'. The Steelers star receiver only gained five yards the rest of the way, and had a few drops, but that big start cleared the way for James Harrison and Le'Veon Bell to send Pittsburgh to the second round. And Tony Toe Tap — yes that's a nickname he would like to cultivate — snuck in a rapid fire three pumps without getting flagged.
2. Aaron Rodgers — For most of the first half, the Giants played the kind of game they needed to in order to steal a road win. But then Rodgers played like the guy that led the Packers to seven wins in a row. It helped that he had good protection, though there aren't many quarterbacks who can maneuver their way through a pass rush to throw pinpoint passes, which got Green Bay on the board late in the second. Then Rodgers somehow connected on his third Hail Mary touchdown in the last two seasons to open things up going into the half.
3. Thomas Rawls — In the final three games of the regular season, the Seahawks back was averaging fewer than two yards per carry. In his playoff debut, Rawls posted a season-high 161 yards on 27 carries. His three broken tackles weren't quite reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch, but it was enough to inspire confidence that Seattle can run the ball to help balance out their offense against any team they'll see in the postseason.
4. Paul Richardson — For the record, yes, players can earn this pointless accolade solely through points. Looking only at the stat line, Richardson's three catches for 48 yards and a score isn't terribly remarkable. But his stat line surely wasn't what flashed across your Twitter feed a few dozen times over the weekend—unless you do a really good job of blocking out sports accounts. The amazing touchdown grab is marred somewhat because Richardson was holding the Lions defender's facemask. But it was still an amazing athletic feat. And his other catches were highlight reel stuff, which provided needed excitement to a bit of a boring game.
5. Jadeveon Clowney — This was a critical season for the no. 1 pick of the 2014 draft. His first two seasons in the NFL were defined by time missed due to injury. His 2016 season suggests great things to come. Clowney dominated in the Wild Card win, making a juggling interception on a screen pass in the first quarter to lead to the game's first touchdown, as well as batting down two other passes, to go along with his four pressures.
Five Losers Bathing in the Hard Water of Infinite Shame
1. Odell Beckham — The discourse can and will spend several days bickering about what happened with Giants receivers this week. There's no disputing that Beckham in particular had a poor game, even if not every miscue was his fault. But he wasn't the only one, as pretty much the whole boat crew had a poor showing. I'm still building my conspiracy theory about how Beckham is a crisis actor trying to embolden people who hate when athletes have fun.
2. Connor Cook — It's not enviable being the first quarterback of the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in a postseason game, especially with the Raiders Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn being ruled out just before the game. And it didn't help that Oakland's receivers kept up their nasty regular season habit of dropping tons of passes. Now that I've been nice and spotted him a bunch of excuses, I can say he was in way over his head and was every bit as bad as advertised.
3. Brad Wing — The Giants punter confirmed every paranoid thought of slamming your foot into a frozen brick in the cold. He shanked several punts, giving the Packers great field position to set up scores. All told, he averaged around 32 yards on eight punts. Between Wing and Bobby Rainey taking one kickoff out of bounds inside the New York five, the Giants didn't help themselves much with field position.
4. Branden Albert — The Dolphins left tackle was clearly outmatched by 38-year-old James Harrison. With Laremy Tunsil ready to anchor the line, it appears Albert is done in Miami. Tunsil—the former first-round pick, who you may remember from a certain pre-draft gasmask video—had a pretty good game against the Steelers in defeat, which should give him a bigger role in 2017. Miami meanwhile has a decision to make about Albert, who is three years into a five-year, $47 million deal he signed in 2014.
5. Khyri Thornton — The Lions' defensive front got blown off the ball by the Seahawks offensive line. Detroit caught some bad breaks with officiating, but their defensive line played so badly and their receivers dropped so many passes that this loss was on them.
On to the Divisional Round
The best the NFL managed on Wild Card Weekend was three-fourths of a good game between New York and Green Bay until the Packers pulled away late. While the other games weren't routs, a winner had pretty much been determined by the fourth. The lowest margin of victory during the weekend was 13 points, but that was in a game where it seemed like the Raiders would have needed another four quarters to catch up.
Of course, several of those contests didn't appear great on paper whereas the divisional weekend actually looks promising—even if they're all rematches of games from this season.
Seattle at Atlanta, 4:35 p.m. ET, Saturday
An uncalled pass interference on Richard Sherman while covering Julio Jones on a late fourth down play was the big story from the regular season meeting of these teams, which was one of the better games of the season.
Houston at New England, 8:15 p.m. ET, Saturday
At least we have a week to prepare the "you tried" cake for the Texans. Or should we spell that out on a plate with brisket? We have time to figure it out.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City, 1:05 p.m. ET, Sunday
The Steelers, fresh off getting beaten the previous week by Philadelphia, put a hurting on the Chiefs on Sunday night in early October, boat-racing Kansas City 43-14 in a game they were up 29-0 at half. Mike Tomlin called it Redemption Sunday. Tyreek Hill scored a garbage time touchdown in the fourth quarter of that game, but the Chiefs hadn't yet made him a prominent weapon in their offense. Either way, it was a game that Kansas City let get away from them early. With the rematch in Arrowhead possibly featuring a hobbled Roethlisberger, you'd have to assume they'll do at least a little better the second time around.
Green Bay at Dallas, 4:40 p.m. ET, Sunday
A Week 6 loss to Dallas in Green Bay seems less discouraging now that Aaron Rodgers is playing more like himself. It's difficult to pinpoint what exactly happened with Rodgers that made him snap out of a funk to become the quarterback teams fear. Perhaps he just needed to develop the "run the table" mantra, as slogans always seem to be germane to Green Bay playoff runs. Dallas, a team led by two rookies, couldn't face a more intimidating opponent in their first postseason game, though the public presumption that the Cowboys are going to screw this up will surely be a motivation. But Green Bay's defense can be run on—Ezekiel Elliott had 157 yards in the first meeting. Jordy Nelson's status—rib injury—will be closely monitored during the week, as there's a better than decent chance this one could be a track meet.