By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Between Rob Gronkowski and JuJu Smith-Schuster and George Iloka, there’s been a lot of talk about violence this week in the NFL.
Frankly, the outrage and hysteria is a bit odd. Yes, certain aspects of the violence this past week were unique, but the occurrence of professional football players doing their best to inflict serious pain on their opponents is not new at all. It’s actually a fundamental element of the sport. For some folks to find it distasteful now just shows that they aren’t altogether honest with themselves about the sport they hold so dear.
However, I’m not here to wag a finger or tut-tut my way through a picks column. But I’m also not here to pile on the madness. In fact, I’m here to do quite the opposite.
Instead of talking about the horrific violence that’s inherent in the sport, I’m going to shine a light on a complete lack of violence. A hilarious, comical, unbelievably amazing instance of a complete lack of violence that coincidentally took place in the midst of Monday night’s melee in Cincinnati.
It went down, officially, in a way that doesn’t look all that special: “Ben Roethlisberger pass complete short left to Le’Veon Bell for 35 yards, touchdown.”
That is technically what happened. But not really.
With the Bengals leading 17-3 in the third quarter, they were likely feeling good about their chances to pull off an improbable win against a better Steelers team. Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are not exactly known for having a steely resolve or a laser-sharp focus, so it’s fair to wonder what those players were thinking about on the second-and-10 snap at the Cincinnati 35-yard line. Perhaps they were planning their postgame party. Maybe they were contemplating what to purchase as gifts for their loved ones this holiday season. Perhaps they were wondering why “Community” was taken off the air three years ago. (That show was funny.)
Whatever was on their minds, it was not tackling Le’Veon Bell. That was not at all what they were thinking about in that moment. Not even a little.
In fact, they weren’t even that interested in covering Bell, who’s one of the most dangerous players in the entire NFL. They left him this open:
But that’s OK. Bell would pick up a first down but not score. Right? RIGHT?! He’s not going to score after catching a dump pass at the 37-yard line. Right??
Rookie linebacker Jordan Evans did the right thing, sealing off the field and forcing Bell to the boundary. Yes, he’d make his big gain, but he’d be forced out of bounds and the Bengals would live to see another day. But Evans made one critical mistake: he believed his teammates might be interested in helping out.
Let’s take another look from space! All the Bengals who could have possibly made a tackle are highlighted with a big orange star (because everyone’s a winner here!). Bell is the fella surrounded by the white box.
Cornerback William Jackson literally backed away from Bell, the same way you might make yourself smaller when squeezing past a coworker in the hallway while saying “Morning, Cassie.”
And cornerback Josh Shaw? He was literally just watching. You can almost see his thoughts flash on the screen:
It was the perfect confluence of ineptitude and a lack of attention span, and as a result, Bell trotted casually into the end zone.
This might have been the worst defensive play in the history of football. Even Bell couldn’t believe what happened. He had to stop during his scamper to the end zone to look back and make sure that it did in fact take place in real life.
Truly a historic moment. If you ever sit your grandchildren down on your lap 50 years from now, make sure you tell them of the time you saw this turn into a touchdown:
Shockingly, the Bengals blew the lead and lost the game. Marvin Lewis remains permanently employed. The Bengals will never improve. They are one constant in the crazy mixed-up world, and we can all find comfort in that.
(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)
New Orleans (-1) over ATLANTA
Kind of a tough call with a divisional matchup. I like to lean toward the home team for the somewhat evenly matched Thursday night games, as it’s just an easier week for them. And so I was ready to go with the Falcons.
But then I saw this headline: “Falcons fans get written excuse from Dan Quinn to be late to work Friday.”
Oh my goodness.
The letter itself urges fans to “crank the noise to another level.” It promises that the Falcons will “bring the juice.”
Heavens to Betsy.
Who would have thought that the guy who came from the tacky-as-heck Seahawks rah-rah organization would do this for a Thursday night game in Week 14?
Saints by a million.
(The note also concluded with some questionable capitalization on “In Brotherhood, we Rise.” it drove me oddly nuts. Capitalize them all or don’t capitalize any. Plus it’s a slogan, so the comma seems unnecessary. This letter really stinks.)
(Oh! Also. Quinn told fans that the team loves “the energy and juice you all bring on game day!” But, well, I was watching a Falcons game this year where almost literally everybody left the stadium, even though it was a one-possession game. What a bunch of hooey.)
(I am SO BOTHERED by this letter. I should probably go for a walk.)
Oakland (+4) over KANSAS CITY
Sometimes you’ve got to make a pick based on your hope for entertainment. Is it the smartest way to go about business? No, not at all. Have the Raiders shown anything that makes you believe in them to really do anything well? Not really.
However, if you can close your eyes and envision the most perfectly hilarious scenario — in this case, the Chiefs losing their seventh game in eight weeks while their star cornerback serves a team-imposed suspension for throwing a flag into the stands and then ejecting himself from a football game — then you have to just roll with it. You might end up losing, but at least you played to win.
San Francisco (+3) over HOUSTON
The oddsmakers are giving three points to Jimmy Garoppolo? You don’t ever give three points to Jimmy Garoppolo. Everyone knows that. When will these fools learn?
Chicago (+6) over CINCINNATI
MARVIN LEWIS VS. JOHN FOX!
MARVIN LEWIS VS. JOHN FOX!
MOVE THIS GAME TO PRIME TIME!
The Bears only get to run like, 35 offensive snaps during football games somehow, but I don’t think the Bengals have enough healthy players after Monday night’s fiasco. Tough call overall. This one should be fun. (By “fun” I mean “absolutely terrible,” but you knew that.)
Green Bay (-3) over CLEVELAND
If you want to get really stupid and wild, you could notice that the Browns are running out of time to actually win a football game this year. And with a two-game cushion in the race for the No. 1 overall pick, they can actually afford to win one.
And you look at their schedule, and you see a trip from Brett Hundley and the Packers on the slate, and you figure it’s a decent chance for the win to come. It’s a fun concept to pick the Browns and hope it turns out.
But let’s be honest, boys and girls. The Browns aren’t winning. At least, they’re not winning until Week 16, when they go to Chicago.
CAROLINA (-3) over Minnesota
This is a really, really bad method of making a pick but I’m going to do it anyway: The Vikings are overdue for a loss! They’re good, yeah, but their quarterback is Case Keenum, and they’ve won eight games in a row.
Yes that defense is the real deal, but this is the modern-day NFL. This isn’t 2001. You can’t win nine games in a row with Case Keenum as your quarterback. You just cannot do it.
(The haters will say, “Hey idiot, I bet last week you would’ve said that you can’t win eight games in a row with Case Keenum as your quarterback.” To the haters I say this: buzz off!)
Dallas (-4) over NEW YORK GIANTS
Because uhh … because … well … honestly there’s no reason to feel good about either team. The Giants may get an emotional lift from having Ben McAdoo exiled from the building and Eli Manning returned to his spotting start. But, the understated story through all of the Eli drama is that he hasn’t been very good this year.
The Cowboys, heading outdoors in December, it’s unsettling to say the least. But they looked to have maybe figured out how to live without Ezekiel Elliott last week? Maybe? And for the first time perhaps all year, they head into a game where they’re not the organization dealing with more off-field nonsense?
Tennessee (-3) over ARIZONA
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-6) over Washington
DENVER (+1.5) over New York Jets
Indianapolis (no line) over BUFFALO
JACKSONVILLE (-2.5) over Seattle
Philadelphia (+2.5) over LOS ANGELES RAMS
It’s Goff vs. Wentz! Who knew heading into the season that’d end up being the game of the Week 14? Football is fun. Sometimes.
Baltimore (+5) over PITTSBURGH
There’s just no way the Steelers can recover and gather their emotions and health and everything else to win this game. Plus, I mentioned when Mike Tomlin made his comments about the Week 15 Patriots matchup a few weeks ago that the divisional opponents on Pittsburgh’s schedule would probably find some added motivation to play with a little more edge when taking on the Steelers in the interim. Cincinnati certainly did that, and I anticipate Baltimore to respond similarly. “AFC North football,” as Mr. Roethlisberger would say.
MIAMI (+11.5) over New England
I’m going with the odd principle of believing it’s difficult to win via blowout against the same team twice in three weeks, unless that team is an abysmal disaster. The Dolphins may be a lot of things, but they’re not an abysmal disaster.
I do believe Tom Brady will spin some magic and make the absence of Rob Gronkowski (five catches, 82 yards, two touchdowns in Week 12) less noticeable, but I think where Gronkowski will be missed will be in trying to slow down some of the men tasked with demolishing Brady. Considering the Dolphins logged eight hits on Brady two weeks ago, that figures to be the biggest issue that may prevent the Patriots’ offense from really opening this one up.
Plus, as everybody knows, you never bet against Jay Cutler on Monday Night Football. You just. Don’t. Do it.
Last week: 8-8