As the quarter pole of the 2013 NFL season begins to come into focus, we’re once again reminded that the line between winning and losing in the NFL is so fine that it should be actually impossible to see. Yet, for a few teams, the line is extremely visible.
Football is such a complex game, which is why it’s funny to me that the only statistic that really matters in the NFL is wins and losses. Sure, fantasy sports have changed the way we fundamentally think about the 17 individual weeks of football each fall and winter, but team fandom still reigns supreme.
Wins and losses shape a team’s identity during a season and when the definition of a team’s season is combined with the preseason expectations, a final judgment can be stamped on the season and filed away forever in the data banks of Pro-fooball-reference.com.
For example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have now entered the Mike Glennon era. Head coach Greg Schiano made the decision to sit the once promising Josh Freeman (remember when the Bucs just missed the playoffs with a 10-6 record in 2010, after rebounding from a 3-13 season in 2009?) It’s hard to disagree with Schiano’s decision to sit the franchise quarterback. Freeman played at Gabbertian and Weeden levels during the first three weeks of the season (45.7 completion percentage, 6.1 yards per attempt and a 2/3 TD/INT ratio).
It seems fair to say that Freeman’s job would have been safe if Tampa Bay opened the season with a 2-1 record instead of their current standing of 0-3. Instead, LB Lavonte David took a stick and started to draw the line in the sand with a horrendously stupid penalty in Week 1. Then, Schiano took the stick and made the line even more visible in Week 2, after deciding to kick a 46 yard field goal with a minute to go instead of attempting to pin the Saints inside their own 10-yard line. (Bucs RT Demar Dotson also contributed by committing an illegal formation penalty that wiped a 73-yard touchdown by Vincent Jackson.)
It seems so simplistic and narrow minded to look at three plays and believe these are the direct reasons why a team could be destined to look for a new head coach after this season, but David’s penalty directly affected the outcome of the game against the Jets. Without that 15-yard penalty, Geno Smith would have been forced to launch a 55-60 yard hail mary, which according to advancednflstats.com, has around a zero percent success rate.
The Bucs are just one of a handful of teams that could have very different outlooks on their season. The Panthers did give EJ Manuel one of the easiest touchdowns throws he’ll ever have, but without a key pass interference penalty by LB Luke Kuechly, Manuel may not have had the chance to find Stevie Johnson for the game winning touchdown. The Panthers would have been 2-1 and Cam Newton’s leadership ability would not have come under fire so quickly.
The Chargers are also another good example. There are just too many variables in their Week 1 collapse against the Texans that it’s much easier just to file it away as a “typical Chargers loss”. In Week 3 however, San Diego was one play away from leaving Tennessee 2-1, until SS Marcus Gilchrist dropped what would have been the game-winning interception. It’s that simple. If Gilchrist holds onto the ball, the offense takes the field and Rivers kneels twice to kill the rest of the time. The Chargers are 2-1.
With so many complexities to just one NFL game, it shouldn’t be this simple, but it’s hard to not think that it is. David shouldn’t get the blame for lighting the fuse on the end of the Freeman era and for the most part David has paid his due for committing a mindless penalty, but the correlation between Freeman’s bad play, David’s penalty and Schiano’s bad decision in Week 2, have been condensed to a continuing battle between Schiano and Freeman that was ultimately won by Schiano.
If the Bucs continue on this path, it could be one of the last battles Schiano wins during his first head coaching stint in the NFL.
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