Anyone who has been following along with this column knows we love our old adages and mythic tales of football lore. This week we’re going to focus on yet another old adage: Every game comes down to a handful of plays.
The Houston Texans’ Brock Osweiler arguably played his best game in a Texans uniform on Monday night, going 26-of-39 for 243 yards, one touchdown, and one Brockerception.
Lamar Miller ran for 104 yards on 24 attempts for a respectable 4.33 yards per carry, landing in the end zone once.
As a team, Houston’s defense held the Oakland Raiders’ offense, one of the best in the league, to a paltry 16 first downs, a 36% third down efficiency, and only 325 total yards. Meanwhile, the Texans’ offense had 22 first downs, 354 yards, and a 50% third down efficiency.
On paper, strictly looking at the box score, that’s a win all day, every day for the Houston Texans.
The problem is that box score doesn’t account for the handful of critical game-changing plays that slapped Houston across the mouth with enough force to leave a mark that won’t fade away anytime soon.
Less than three minutes into the game, Brock Osweiler hit DeAndre Hopkins on a crossing route and Hopkins was off to the races. Unfortunately, a side judge decided D-Hop stepped out of bounds and blew the play dead. Even though one angle of replay looked pretty conclusive that D’Hop did not step out, the play stood as called and a touchdown came off the board for Houston and the Third Coast Professional Kickball League ™ came in to put three points on the board instead.
For those keeping track at home, that’s a -4 point swing in Oakland’s favor.
The second of those crucial moments was strictly on the coaching staff and one player: Tyler Ervin. Six seconds into the second quarter, Ervin muffed a kick return, fumbling it right to the Silver and Black. Oakland then turned that into a field goal.
We’re up to a -7 point swing in favor of the the Raiders.
Why on earth the Tyler Ervin: Return Man experiment is still ongoing is a major head-scratcher, by the way.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter and not once, but twice the Texans had a game-winning drive stopped by incomprehensibly bad ball spots by the officials.
This is where it gets really wonky.
Houston head coach Bill O’Brien decided against challenging a third down ball placement that was clearly several feet short of the actual correct spot when viewed in instant replay. Instead, he decided to go for it on 4th down via a hand-off to newly promoted running back Akeem Hunt. Hunt chose not to follow his blocks, but still managed to dive forward far enough to clear the line to gain by 18 to 24 inches.
Once again, the officials backed the ball up behind the line. This time O’Brien threw the red flag, but the call on the field was upheld.
Not only did every Texans fan on earth immediately feel screwed, even Jon Gruden – you know, the guy who turned the Raiders back into winner in the late 90s and got screwed by the Tuck Rule – said it was a screw job against Houston.
Oakland took over on downs and drove down the field for the winning score.
Net difference: -14 points in Oakland’s favor.
If Houston had – rightfully – kept the ball in that fourth quarter screw job, Oakland may not have scored their last touchdown and, Houston could have at least brought out the Third Coast Professional Kickball League ™ to put up three more points.
If Tyler Ervin had never gone out and muffed that kick return, Oakland may not have had three points.
Had D-Hop’s touchdown stood, Houston would have had four more points on the board and more momentum.
If any one of those things had gone the other way, Houston would have won the game.
There’s been a lot of fuss in the NFL offices and national media about declining TV ratings and ticket sales throughout the league this season. There’s also been an equal amount of rising anger about the overwhelmingly poor officiating by the NFL’s referees. Odds are the two are far more related than Roger Goodell and his co-workers are willing to admit – publicly, at least.
As a fan of the NFL, the inherent expectation is that the team’s staff and players will solely decide your favorite team’s fortunes. It comes down to the general manager’s ability to bring in good players, the coaches’ ability to get the most out of those players, and the players’ ability to execute expertly on the field to capture all the glory.
Nothing robs a fan of their joy more than watching their team get screwed by old men in stripes who come off as delusional or in collusion each and every Sunday. The feeling fans walk away with is that they got cheated out of something that was rightfully theirs.
Make no mistake: NO ONE likes feeling cheated. That’s pretty universal.
Raider Nation hated it when Tom Brady’s fumble was called an incomplete pass nullifying Charles Woodson’s game-sealing fumble recovery in the snow that fateful day in 2001.
Houston fans hate it right now.
When we get to the bottom line, we have to know the NFL is nothing more than entertainment. Since no one finds getting cheated entertaining, and the NFL is essentially run by a pack of attorneys and big businessmen, any answers as to why this influence on the “entertainment” is allowed to continue aren’t forthcoming anytime soon.