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Colin Kaepernick Starts, Richard Sherman Gets Handsy, and More from NFL Week 6: Dumb Football with Mike Tunison

Buffalo Bills fans welcomed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick with open arms, questionable T-shirts, and reportedly some projectiles.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Consider your petard hoisted, Dan Quinn. The Atlanta Falcons head coach was ready to slap the stripes off a referee after his team couldn't get a pass interference penalty on a fourth down in the final two minutes of their 26-24 loss at Seattle. And while Richard Sherman hooked Julio Jones' arm on the play, an undeniable infraction that should have been called, the foul was done in a sly enough way to avoid detection—exactly the way Quinn taught his players to operate during his years as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator.


Here's Quinn back in 2013, discussing how Seattle coached players in the finer points of getting away with pass interference:

"The thing we try to do is just educate what's going on around the league, in terms of, 'This was called in this game. This was called in this game. This was called in this game.' It's called tight. No doubt and we challenge and we play at the line and we like that style. So for us, it's important just to know what's kind of the climate of how it's being called."

This has been Seattle's M.O. for several years now, and it has worked tremendously well for them. While it must be no fun for Quinn to be on the wrong side of these tactics, he certainly can't claim ignorance. Ultimately, Sherman committed a foul, and either the official didn't see it or was afraid to throw a critical flag late in the game. Many observers claim the refs should "let them play" and not influence the outcome of a close game by calling penalties. Of course, not calling penalties that should be called is every bit as influential on game outcomes as throwing a flag. But if referees are reluctant to throw a flag in crunch time, it's smart for the Seahawks to exploit that, no matter how unethical it may seem.

Read More: Kelli Masters Is an Agent for Change

There are some important questions that need to be asked about pass interference in the NFL. First, should it be made reviewable, and/or subject to coaches' challenges? Second, does it make sense to award a spot foul, as opposed to how pass interference is called in college football, where the offense is awarded a maximum of 15 yards? None of this can be addressed by the league until next offseason. In the meantime, it's not too early to start a conversation. Consider the challenge idea. As it is, the NFL has a difficult enough time defining a catch. Can the league be trusted to clearly differentiate between interference and an attempt to make a play on the ball? My cynicism says no—but with enough support against game-changing pass-interference penalties made on the fly, the league may have to give it a try.


The Discourse Lover's Guide to Political Football

Colin Kaepernick made his first start of the 2016 season on Sunday. From a football standpoint, it didn't go particularly well. If he was better than Blaine Gabbert, it wasn't by much, and San Francisco got pummeled by the Buffalo Bills, a team led by a running back who invited a bunch of cops to the game and a head coach who supports Donald Trump.

Of course, football outcomes don't justify political stances—unless your side wins, and then they absolutely do.

Taking a knee. Photo by Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

To recap the scene in Buffalo:

● A group of Buffalo fans outside the stadium protested in solidarity with Kaepernick during the national anthem. There were also anti-Kaepernick shirts for sale in the parking lot, many with homophobic and potentially violent messages.

● During Kaepernick's anthem protest, a cop strategically stood behind him to get in the camera shot so everyone could see him saluting the flag. Now each side can call the other attention-starved glory boys!

● There was a report that a fan was ejected for throwing a beer bottle at Kaepernick when he was on the sideline. When asked about it after the game, Kaepernick said he was unaware of it, but if it did happen, the fan had bad aim.

● The usual drunken debauchery of a Bills tailgate was mixed with what might have been political messaging. A dummy was decorated to look like Kaepernick and a woman was recorded hitting it while onlookers yelled, "Tackle the Muslim!"


● A man drank liquor out of a woman's butthole, which also might be politics or might not. I'm not a semiotics expert.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, a plane flew a banner that read "Hillary for Prison 2016 - Lock Her Up" over MetLife Stadium before the Baltimore Ravens-New York Giants game. I don't know if the FBI can be swayed to change its mind by a banner flown over a football stadium, but I suppose we'll find out.

The World Is Not Prepared for the Odell Beckham-Kicking Net Love Child

Dearly beloved. Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sport

Having become the butt of jokes for being hit by a kicking net that he struck out of frustration, Odell Beckham Jr. seems to have decided to make this a thing, potentially for the rest of the season. Last week, he hugged the net after scoring in Green Bay. On Sunday, the relationship blossomed to a marriage proposal following his second touchdown catch. I look forward to a Beckham-kicking-net Vows column in the New York Times. It can't be any more off-putting than reading about other rich people.

Vernon Davis Is This Week's Reminder That Fun Ist Verboten

Congrats, Vernon, you just scored your first touchdown in two years, and in front of a hometown crowd, no less. Oh, wait, couldn't help but notice that you exuded some small measure of joy in the bloodsport you play. That'll be 15 yards. Mimicking a basketball shot counts as using the ball as a prop in the celebration, which the NFL banned in 2014. However, punting the ball into the stands, as Blake Bortles did following a touchdown a few weeks back, is totally fine by the league. I won't try to make sense of it. I suggest you spend the precious moments of your fleeting existence on something else, as well.


Jerry Jones Absolutely Can Screw This Up

If there's a silver lining to the Dallas Cowboys starting 5-1, it's that team owner Jerry Jones is well positioned to make a complete hash of the season by putting Tony Romo back in as starting quarterback. So far, there isn't any indication that he's eager to do it, but I believe in the ol' Double J. With any luck, he'll even wait until after the presidential election, when Chris Christie is available, so that the New Jersey governor and noted Cowboys fan can be back in the owner's suite for Romo's return game, which inevitably will end with four interceptions and a team mutiny. America needs this, Jerry. Only through shared Cowboys schadenfreude can we hope to unite after a bitterly contested political campaign.

True Vontaze Burfict Hours

Vontaze Burfict going low on Bennett. Seemed unnecessary but what do I know. — Will D. (@WAD1980)October 16, 2016

At 2-4, the Cincinnati Bengals are nearing the point of no return for 2016, but that doesn't mean their defense can't do what it does best—attempt to injure opposing players.

Vontaze Burfict has been on his best behavior since returning from a season-opening three-game suspension for dirty hits in 2015, but let's be honest, that tiger can be kept in its cage for only so long. Besides getting into scraps with New England's Rob Gronkowski, Burfict dove at the knees of the Patriots' other tight end, Martellus Bennett, away from the play in what looked like an obvious attempt to take out an opponent. Of course, this isn't the sort of obvious head targeting that feeds into the NFL's brain trauma crisis, so the league seems unconcerned for the time being.


The Team Accounts Get Snarky

The NFL's new policy for team accounts sharing GIFs and video has raised the hackles of the whole damn sports internet. The Carolina Panthers' official account poked fun at it last week before eventually deleting their joke. Whether that was a forced deletion or a social media person being ashamed of their Twitter gag is unclear. Either way, the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles picked up the bit and ran with it on Sunday, thanks to some primitive animation and electric football boards.

TOUCHDOWN BROWNS! — Cleveland Browns (@Browns)October 16, 2016

EXCLUSIVE highlight of Malcolm's pick. — Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles)October 16, 2016

The Steelers' Loss Went from Bad to More Bad

What was initially just a run-of-the-mill embarrassing loss at the hands of an awful team got considerably worse for Pittsburgh when the news broke Sunday night that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Roethlisberger was injured in the first half of Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins when defensive tackle Jordan Phillips clipped his leg from behind on a rollout.

This means Roethlisberger will miss next Sunday's game against the Patriots, which both hurts the Steelers and turns what previously had been one of Week 7's most enticing games into a virtually assured New England blowout. Pittsburgh's bye is the week after that, so it's possible that Roethlisberger could return to the field on November 6th in Baltimore, just in time for Terrell Suggs to dive at his knees again.


Roethlisberger has proven oddly adept at accumulating injuries that force him to miss a few games a year, while somehow avoiding catastrophic injuries that would cost him a full season. Even going face-first into an SUV windshield cost him only one game. Factor in a missed game next Sunday, and Roethlisberger will have only started all 16 games in three of the 13 seasons he's been in the NFL; on the other hand, he also has never started fewer than ten games. Fun fact: Roethlisberger did start all 12 games he was available in 2010 after serving a four-game suspension for rape allegations. How to classify that is up to you.

Fan of the Week

Meanwhile in Nashville — Richard Knutts (@BoneCrusherMCMM)October 16, 2016

The Browns quarterback graveyard jersey returned, just in time for Halloween. The "official" one was retired during the spring in an uncharacteristic fit of optimism among Cleveland sports fans after the Cavaliers won the NBA Finals even though Golden State had a 3-1 lead. Anyway, it's good to see someone is keeping the tradition alive. The way the Browns are going through QBs this season, that list of starters could hit the floor if the wearer is under six feet tall. That's something the rest of us are counting on seeing. In fact, it's one of the few things keeping me going. Stop being so greedy, Cleveland fans.

Five Winners Who Covered Their Bloodline in Glory

1. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills: For the second straight week, Shady went more than 100 yards before halftime, and finished with 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a rout of San Francisco. McCoy also just happened to invite cops to the game the same week that Kaepernick was coming to town. Coincidence? The Bills running back swears there's no connection, and that the invitation had nothing to do with him currently being sued by two off-duty officers he got into a brawl with back in February. No word on whether the invited police showed up.

2. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants: Turns out being really emotional on the field is good this week, as Beckham tallied 222 yards, two touchdowns, and one engagement to a piece of sports equipment. What's a good venue for a wedding with a kicking net? Nothing too airy. It's just going blow the bride's threads around.


3. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins: Ajayi became only the fourth back to rush for more than 200 yards in a game against the Steelers since 1970, so this is a case where being in the same company as O.J. Simpson is a good thing. The Dolphins' second-year runner tripled his yardage output this season, and looks to have earned himself a more extended look at starter just as Arian Foster is returning from a hamstring injury. Cornerback Byron Maxwell also had a big day for the Dolphins, though that's considerably easier when the other team's quarterback is playing half the game injured.

4. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: Gronk finally broke out last week in Cleveland. He kept it going at home against the other sad Ohio team, hauling in seven catches for 162 yards and a score. He did get flagged for taunting when he flipped the ball at the Bengals sideline after getting into it with Adam Jones and Burfict. On the other hand, you have to respect a player actually earning a taunting call this season, given all the ones doled out for seemingly nothing.

Paying the rent on taunting flag success. Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

5. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans: Houston had no business winning its Sunday night game against Indianapolis, which is as much a testament to the Colts' poor coaching as it is to the Texans' resilience. Still, credit to Miller, who scored on an amazing catch and run in the red zone to get Houston within a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Most of his 149 rushing yards were all the offense the Texans could generate until Brock Osweiler finally came alive late in the second half.


Five Losers Bathing in the Hard Water of Infinite Shame

1. Aaron Rodgers: What has happened to our sweet boy who loves quoting The Princess Bride and practicing martial arts with his actress girlfriend? He's been sapped of his mojo, baby (another very timely movie reference). Rodgers, considered one of those fancy elite quarterbacks for a while now, has been struggling for the past year, and it's a little baffling considering how good his pass blocking has been. There were several times on Sunday when he had forever to throw and was just off the mark to open receivers. I'm not a dietician or anything, but it's safe to say his problems are definitely because he stopped eating cheese this summer. At least that explanation probably will fly in Green Bay.

"Didn't you used to be Aaron Rodgers?" Photo by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

2. Tony Corrente: The missed pass interference call on Sherman wasn't the only extremely suspect PI ruling on Sunday. The Ravens got the benefit of a very questionable pass interference penalty that allowed them to briefly hold the lead in the fourth quarter against the Giants. While officials can alter the outcome of games in ways that don't always get attention, having the ultimate say on whether a team can win is going to gin up some outrage. It's also worth noting that Corrente's officiating crew is the same one that didn't call an illegal end zone bat that helped Seattle beat Detroit last season. Cue the Trump-like conspiracy theories, folks.


3. Halapoulivaati Vaitai: Thanks to Lane Johnson's suspension, Philadelphia's rookie right tackle was forced into a starting role. His first test did not produce encouraging results: Vaitai gave up two sacks and allowed multiple hurries by Ryan Kerrigan in the first half. When your quarterback is getting his jersey sheared off his shoulder, things are probably less than ideal on the blocking front.

4. Derek Carr: The Raiders got to enjoy a few days of sole possession of first place in the AFC West before it all came crashing down in a thoroughly rain-soaked day in Oakland. Carr, who has otherwise enjoyed a breakout season, fumbled twice and threw an ugly pick, looking rattled under pressure. Meanwhile, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was at his dinky, dunky best, completing 19-of-22 passes, albeit with only five attempts deeper than ten yards in the air.

5. Zack Sanchez: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees had a perfect rating targeting this inexperienced Carolina defensive back, throwing for two touchdowns and seven completions on nine targets. The Panthers secondary was an issue last year, and that was when the rest of the defense was playing well; this season, it's a full-on disaster, as is most of what's happening in with Carolina this season.

As for Tonight…

I'm not Ron Jaworski; it's not my job to sell you this clunker. Still, if we're giving the NFL a break, we should note that it's hard to advance-schedule attractive prime-time games in a league where the balance of power can shift wildly from one season to the next. A month and a half ago, this looked like an intriguing contest between one team that reached the NFC Championship (the Arizona Cardinals) and another that just narrowly missed the playoffs (the New York Jets); tonight, it's a matchup of squads sitting below .500, both led by quarterbacks playing well beneath their 2015 levels.

Those quarterbacks, Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick, are evidently good buddies from their days together with the Bengals. Fitzpatrick told reporters this week that after he threw six interceptions against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3, he sent a bunch of texts to Palmer to commiserate with him about their ten combined picks that Sunday. Civility in politics is extremely overrated and mostly a means for obstructing progress, but civility among mediocre passers? Well, that's just fine and dandy.

The love fest extends to the teams' respective coaching staffs. Jets coach Todd Bowles gets a crack at the franchise where he used to work as defensive coordinator; Cardinals coach Bruce Arians also used to coach Bowles at Temple. Their connection run deep. Little surprise, then, that Arians was quick to assure New York media that the Jets coach is tough as nails and able to survive a three-game losing streak.

Bowles has generally been well received in New York, though he spent this week taking the most heat he's experienced so far in his two-year tenure after opting to punt on a fourth-and-two at midfield while trailing by two scores midway through the fourth quarter in Pittsburgh. While the win probability in that scenario was already not great, punting essentially conceded defeat, especially as the Steelers put the game away on their ensuing possession. For what it's worth, Bowles stands by his decision.

Anyway, that's the extent of the football narrative you can squeeze out of this bad boy. However, if it's kinda-sorta-maybe broadcasting conflicts of interest that entice you, then I guess you're in luck!

It's a McDonough kind-of night: ESPN's Sean McDonough calling Jets-Cards in AZ, where younger brother Terry is Cards VP of player personnel.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter)October 17, 2016

This is like the even more boring version of when Jon Gruden calls Washington games featuring his brother, Jay—though if the Monday Night Football season premiere was any indication, Arizona is in for a long night.

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