Every week this NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, admonish the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Winner: Aqib Talib
We can’t call him the Unburnt, because he’s 31, and at this point in his career, he does get toasted from time to time. But Talib is definitely the Breaker of Chains. Last year, the Broncos cornerback famously snatched Michael Crabtree’s necklace during a game:
“He just been wearing that chain all year, man, it’s just been growing on me,” Talib said after the Week 17 game. And then he decided he’d had enough. "I said if he wears that chain in front of me, I'm going to snatch it off,” Talib said. “He wore it in front of me, so I had to snatch it off. He started crying to the ref. He didn't say nothing to me though.”
Chain-snatching is the ultimate sign of disrespect, an indicator that the snatcher doesn’t believe the snatchee has what it takes to defend the things he values. So you knew these two were going to fight, and sure enough, Sunday, it was on sight. It reminded me of when hockey players drop the gloves as soon as the puck is dropped. Within a few minutes of kickoff, Crabtree and Talib got into a brawl that got them both ejected. They rolled on the ground, they threw punches, they threw helmets.
But most importantly, Talib got the chain again:
Michael Crabtree to announce his retirement after getting his chain snatched by Aqib Talib for the 2nd year in a row pic.twitter.com/iY7WxR8N9p— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) November 26, 2017
The Raiders won, but that ain’t on Talib—after all, both players were ejected. The Broncos lost, while Talib took a 2-0 lead in chain-snatching. Talib doesn’t even wear a chain on the field, so that seems like an insurmountable deficit for Crabtree. As the old saying goes: Snatch my chain once, shame on you. Snatch my chain twice, and—Jesus, do you know how much these things cost? This is real gold!
Loser: Delanie Walker
Walker scored a touchdown and celebrated by performing CPR on a ball. Unless you asked announcer Chris Myers, who happened to be the one calling the game:
Do NOT let Chris Myers babysit your kids if this is how he burps a baby pic.twitter.com/0DjVbTbrPP— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 26, 2017
Myers proudly stated that Walker was “burping a baby.” Public service announcement to any prospective parents who heard Myers say this: Please do not burp your baby like this. Here is how to burp a baby. If you lie your baby down and press your body weight into your baby’s chest with your palms, it will be bad for your baby.
I wonder how Myers would describe some of the other important NFL celebrations of the year.
The Vikings’ duck, duck, goose celebration: “An educational explanation of the time-honored process of jury selection.”
The Lions’ ping-pong game: “That’s a mother and father spanking an unruly child!”
The Steelers’ game of hide-and-seek: “A re-enactment of the classic film Face/Off—you see, JuJu Smith-Schuster puts his face in his hands at the beginning—he’s John Travolta and he’s getting Nicolas Cage’s face put on his face. But then he wakes up and Le’Veon Bell, who is Nicolas Cage’s character, actually now has John Travolta’s face on his face, and Le’Veon/Nic Cage gets a head start but eventually JuJu/Travolta catches up with him, and there’s a big shootout and there’s this huge boat chase and—[Fox fades to commercial].
The Falcons’ free throw: “Even though the Blockbuster was closed, Devonta Freeman was still able to return his VHS copy of Face/Off without incurring late fees by dropping it into the slot on the outside of the store.”
The Packers’ bobsled: “Folks, that’s just inappropriate.”
Anyway, poor Delanie Walker. Great acting job, and it was lost on the viewing public.
Winner: Jimmy Garoppolo
The NFL’s handsome prince is on a mission to make the most money while playing the least football, and my goodness, is his mission succeeding.
Garoppolo was traded from the Patriots to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick at the end of October. That was a pretty big price for the 49ers to pay for a player who will be a free agent at the end of the year, but the idea was that Garoppolo would be the quarterback of the franchise’s future, and that the team could agree to a contract extension with him before he ever hit the open market. You’d think the 49ers would have started playing Garoppolo to gauge whether he was worth the investment, but entering Sunday’s game, almost a month later, he still hadn’t played a snap. The Niners were sticking with rookie C.J. Beathard, in spite of the fact the Garoppolo trade had essentially cut Beathard out of the franchise’s long-term plans. Had Garoppolo not learned the playbook yet? Who cares? San Francisco has won only one game! Were the 49ers hoping that by concealing him on the bench they could lower his potential value? Were they negging Jimmy Garoppolo?
Against the Seahawks on Sunday, Beathard got the start, and played dismally: 201 yards on 38 passes, no touchdowns, and a pick. The 49ers didn’t score a touchdown in the first 59 minutes of the game. But in the last minute, Beathard suffered a potentially serious leg injury, and Garoppolo came in.
And he was golden.
BREAKING: Jimmy Garoppolo comes into game after starting QB C.J. Beathard left game with injury. Garoppolo threw a touchdown off 2/2 passing with 19 yards.— Tailgate Sports (@_TailgateSports) November 27, 2017
Passer rating: 145.8
Jimmy G the next GOAT?! pic.twitter.com/4YJhAdAb3t
Garoppolo was playing against the Seahawks’ defensive scrubs in the closing seconds of a long-decided game, but he acted as if the clock was ticking on a potential Super Bowl–winning drive. He hustled his teammates to the line to get a final snap off before time ran out, and threw the first touchdown of his 49ers career as the clock expired.
It was meaningless—unless you’re Jimmy Garoppolo’s agent. Get that contract extension signed now, Jimmy, before you ever throw an incompletion for the 49ers.
Loser: John Elway
The Broncos began the season with Trevor Siemian as their starter and Brock Osweiler as their backup with Paxton Lynch injured, then later benched Siemian for Osweiler and made Lynch the backup, and Sunday, Lynch started his first game of the year.
Somehow, Lynch played the worst game of any of the three. The 2016 first-round draft pick went 9-for-14 for 41 yards with an interception while getting sacked four times for a loss of 23 yards. That’s 18 net yards on 18 dropbacks for the Broncos. Even Nathan Peterman averaged nearly 5 yards per attempt during his start for the Bills last week, and that was one of the worst quarterback performances of all time. Eventually, Lynch hurt his ankle, and he wept on the sideline, realizing he’d squandered his opportunity to seize the Broncos’ starting gig:
An emotional Paxton Lynch on the sideline pic.twitter.com/PzN1tbacXN— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) November 26, 2017
I feel bad for Lynch. Whichever quarterback comes up when the Broncos’ roulette wheel of doom stops spinning doesn’t have a chance. Siemian played well in relief of Lynch, but at this point, Broncos fans have seen enough of him to know he isn’t the answer. Neither is Osweiler, and through almost two years of Lynch’s career, signs are bad for him, too. None of them were good under the previous offensive coordinator, Rick Dennison; none of them were good under this year’s offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy; and none of them will be good with whoever replaces McCoy for the rest of the season after he was fired last Monday.
Let’s say you go to a restaurant, and you order a burger, and it sucks. So you make up your mind to order something different the next time, and, hell, the chicken sandwich also sucks. Maybe you need to eat healthier, so next time you get a salad, and that kinda sucks too. The Broncos had gotten to this stage before the start of this season, and their solution to fixing it was to just apply a bunch of different sauces and dressings to the foods they already knew sucked instead of questioning the chef.
The chef here is John Elway, who drafted all three players. You’d presume quarterback evaluation and development would be a strength for the Hall of Fame passer, but the only good quarterback the Broncos have had in his seven-year tenure is Peyton Manning, and, well, I could have evaluated that Manning would be an OK quarterback. Elway’s reputation as an executive is going to remain sterling for a long time because he added a third Super Bowl ring to the two he won as a player. But he’s not cooking up anything good right now.
The best football game Sunday was the Grey Cup, the Super Bowl of the Canadian Football League. I strongly advise that every football fan watch the Grey Cup every year. It’s similar enough to American football that you can tell it’s the same game, but different enough that it’s a mind-warp. In reality, Canadian football evolved independently of American football, but I like to imagine it was invented when somebody was tasked with watching a full NFL game while completely hammered and then was asked to reconstruct the rules upon sobering up.
Anyway, it was great. It was played in an Ottawa snowstorm.
the Grey Cup is pretty as heck pic.twitter.com/LBDEgozcJR— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) November 27, 2017
The Calgary Stampeders led 24-16, but the Toronto Argonauts—coached by former Bears coach Marc Trestman—scooped up a fumble on the 1-yard line and returned it 109 yards for a game-tying touchdown (and two-point conversion):
#TSNTurningPoint! @JGab9 forces the fumble and @CassiusVaughn returns it for the touchdown! After another @DeclanCross38 2-pt conversion, we have ourselves a TIE GAME!#GreyCup #ArgosFootball pic.twitter.com/AFGcJksI0x— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 27, 2017
The field is 110 yards long, which makes the field roughly 100 meters long. It makes me wonder why Canada doesn’t just use meters on the field instead of yards. Anyway: 109-yard fumble return touchdown to tie the championship game!
The Argos took the lead with a last-minute field goal and forced a pick to prevent the Stamps from tying. Toronto won, 27-24. (See, Bears fans? That’s three-time Grey Cup champion Marc Trestman.)
But I’m burying the lede here, because the important thing about this game is that it featured a halftime performance by Canadian legend Shania Twain, who was transported onto the field by a sled of huskies:
This was Canada at its finest, and football at its pretty good-est. Watch it next year.
Loser: John Fox
Earlier this year, the current Bears head coach made the worst challenge of all time, costing his team possession in an attempt to gain half a yard. Sunday, he called one of the worst timeouts possible. No, he didn’t cost his team possession this time, but the effect was similar.
Bears just called timeout to avoid a delay of game -- on their own 1-yard line. They wasted a timeout to keep it 3rd-&-17 instead of 3rd-& 17 1/2.— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) November 26, 2017
Fox isn’t so good at cost-benefit analysis. He’s profoundly bad at analyzing what to do within the 1-yard lines, which happen to be two extremely important parts of the field. Maybe that would be OK if he wasn’t also really bad at coaching over the other 98 yards of the field.
Winner: The Eagles
Rasul Douglas of the Eagles intercepted a Mitch Trubisky pass, and the defense did the electric slide. Boogie woogie woogie woogie:
Can't even hate on a team that does the electric slide pic.twitter.com/U1fqJPWzDN— Jasmine (@JasmineLWatkins) November 26, 2017
As it turns out, Douglas’s interception was overturned, nullifying the celebration. But just five plays later, Corey Graham of the Eagles intercepted another Trubisky pass, and this time, the celebration counted. Graham even made sure to film it, using a camera that, in spite of the song’s name, appears to predate electricity.
Eagles making an Electric Slide music video this time out pic.twitter.com/q4RTtlXYZC— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 26, 2017
(Graham didn’t participate in the first slide—it’s possible the camera trick was to hide his lack of electrical charge and sliding ability.)
But that’s not all! The Eagles also celebrated a touchdown by going bowling:
With one bowler (Alshon Jeffery) and 10 pins, all 11 players participated in this celebration—the maximum, unless you bring players off the bench. I believe that breaks an unofficial celebration record set by Thursday’s Vikings Thanksgiving dinner (10 players) and Duck, Duck, Goose (nine players).
Notice something about those two teams? The Eagles have an NFL-best 10-1 record; the Vikings are just a game behind at 9-2. I think there’s a pretty clear correlation here: A team that celebrates together wins together. The celebrations breed teamwork. And most importantly: If you envision yourself celebrating, the touchdowns will come.
Or ... maybe the chicken predates the egg, and teams that score more become famous for celebrations because they have more opportunities? All I know is this: NFL teams need to spend less time practicing and more time working on increasingly elaborate celebrations.