I am a bitter Detroit Lions fan. Let’s just get that out of the way right now – I’m pissed that 1) the Lions couldn’t complete their first season sweep of the Packers since ’91 and 2) that the Lions got screwed on a ticky-tacky facemasking call and 3) that Aaron Rodgers’ bonus-time Hail Mary found it’s way into his wide receiver’s hands for six points. I’m sick about it. We were up 20-0 and couldn’t close it out.
But on a more rational note I’m sad about the state of football, my favorite game in the world. Here’s my issue: football is one of the only sports, or maybe the only sport, that gives the offense a measurable advantage in the late minutes of each game. The game is regulated in such a way that wide receivers and quarterbacks are practically untouchable in late-game situations. The Lions have benefited from it and suffered from it just like everyone else. Of course, this benefits the league and the broadcasters because it means that fans have to watch the entire game, not just the first half or the first 40 minutes. A team can be up by 10, 15, even 20 points in the fourth quarter and still lose because defenders have to be so careful about how they cover, how they tackle, how they move around the field – a bump here or a grab there and suddenly the offense has moved 60 yards in a matter of seconds. And it happens over, and over, and over, and over. It’s not unusual anymore. Down by ten or less with a minute to play? No problem. Those comebacks are hardly miraculous anymore because it is so easy for offenses to score late in the game.
Last night’s game highlighted these issues. Detroit led 20-0 in the 3rd quarter. I knew that the lead wasn’t safe…even without rules that empower offenses, you don’t take even a three-score lead for granted. There’s a reason that the phrase “it’s not over ’til the fat lady sings” has been around for a long time. But it was the way that it all played out that highlights the league-wide problem. Green Bay scored a touchdown, then Detroit turned the ball over and Green Bay scored again. 20-14. I get it. That was Green Bay’s skill and the Lions’ ineptitude. The Lions get the ball and churn out a lengthy, time-consuming drive…and end it with a field goal. 23-14. A two-score game. Challenging to overcome, but certainly not impossible. Then Green Bay gets the ball with what, seven minutes to play, and drives down the field for their third touchdown of the day. That cut the lead to 23-21 with about three minutes to go. Detroit gets to a third-and-12 situation, converts, and has a fresh set of downs with 2:11 to go. At this point, the Lions simply need a first down and the game is over.
Instead, Detroit runs the ball three times and eats up all but 30 seconds of the clock. I understand the play-calling, but here’s the problem: 30 seconds is plenty of time in this day and age to score. Plenty. You can’t just hand the ball back to the offense and expect to shut them down. So Green Bay takes over at their own 21, throws two incomplete deep balls, and then runs the old hook-and-ladder. The Lions’ defender brings Rodgers down, but he bumps the facemask and is called for a 15-yard penalty. Time has expired. After 60 minutes of football, the Lions have won. But football’s rules benefit the offense. The rules are too sensitive and the officials gave Rodgers another shot at the end zone, this time from 15 yards closer. I saw three possible scenarios unfolding – either the Hail Mary would be incomplete or picked, it would be caught, or Green Bay would benefit from an interference call and get the ball again, this time from the 1-yard line.
As it happens, the pass was caught for a touchdown and the game ended. But I’d say there was about a 67% chance that Green Bay was going to get points either on or as a result of that extra play.
Do other sports have this issue? I don’t think so. Batters don’t have a ninth-inning advantage in baseball. Goalies don’t have to play with one hand tied behind their back in the third period. Can teams still score quickly? Do comeback still happen in other sports? Absolutely. But those results are fewer, more far between, and more often the result of skill as opposed to regulation.
So yeah, more than anything I am upset about the state of the game. I think it sucks that offenses are given such a large benefit from the rules. When I grew up, if your team was down by 20 in the final quarter it truly was a miracle if you won. It really was. But now, it’s almost expected. That takes away from the game…as a fan of the game, and as a fan of the Detroit Lions who got absolutely screwed last night. The system is rigged but it benefits the league so I don’t see it ever changing.