Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
The Tennessee Titans deigned to score only a pair of field goals in their divisional matchup against the Houston Texans in Week 8, apparently feeling that a touchdown would be uncouth. The result was a 20-6 loss for Tennessee, sending them to last place in the AFC South division, which is the Tennessee Titans of divisions.
Backup Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger started in place of the injured Marcus Mariota for a second straight game, and the defeat dropped Mettenberger’s career record in NFL starts to 0-8. Plus, days after the game, Tennessee fired its head coach. When you play a game so bad that somebody loses their job, maybe that defeat counts extra. (On the other hand, Ken Whisenhunt was such a dreadful coach that losing to Houston—and providing the final straw for Titans honchos to oust Whisenhunt—might have been the best thing Mettenberger could have done for the team.)
Mettenberger is hardly the first quarterback to build up such a one-sided win-loss record. Dan Orlovsky’s campaigns of futility with the Lions and the Colts come to mind. But the precedents don’t make Mettenberger’s current plight any less pitiful. He’s now started half a season’s worth of games over the course of two seasons, and not once has he been able to leave the field with any sense of satisfaction, which seems unfair. “Yes, kids, I was good enough to play in the NFL, just not good enough to win,” he’ll tell his grandchildren. “Neat,” the younger Mettenbergers will reply, not even bothering to look up from their game of Connect Four, or Hologram Raygun Connect Four, because it will be the future.
Susan Lucci understands Zach Mettenberger’s pain. Lucci, the longtime star of the ABC soap opera All My Children, is famous for two achievements: her TV acting career and her unmatched streak of Daytime Emmy losing. Between 1978 and 1998, Lucci was nominated 18 times for the Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series honor, and she didn’t win once. Because, I guess, humiliating Susan Lucci made the Daytime Emmys feel like a real big awards show—the toughest statuette pageant in town. After a while, Lucci’s losing streak became an All My Children meta-storyline of its own. The Emmy voters gleefully extended the “Will she finally win?” drama, and Lucci became the personification of a cliffhanger.
The payoff came in 1999, when Lucci’s win created the ultimate Daytime Emmy highlight, seen above. The whole clip is giddy Hollywood madness. Among the key moments: A soul-patched fellow named Shemar Moore announces, “It is time for the divas of the night!” as he waves an envelope in the air. The nominees chew scenery like ravenous bears. Rosie O’Donnell cries. Oprah shouts something from the wings of the stage. “Oh, Oprah!” says an ecstatic Lucci. Kelly Ripa shakes her head in righteous fury when the producer tries to hurry Lucci along.
This is all I want for Zach Mettenberger—just a single, validating victory that causes Rosie O’Donnell to cry on his behalf. True, he’s no soap opera star, although he does have great hair and a certain rugged magnetism, in a “Zach, I’ll never forget our weekend of self-discovery in that mountain cabin” sort of way. But football is an even crueler arena than a soap opera, because when a backup quarterback’s storyline comes to an end, he doesn’t get a dramatic sendoff—poisoned by an evil cornerback twin, say, or impaled on a field-goal upright (a poisonous one). Instead, losing quarterbacks just vanish. Their cruel end is to be forgotten.
For all we know, Mettenberger is already gone. Mariota, the Titans’ star rookie passer, is still healing a sprained knee ligament, but he participated in practice this week and will probably rejoin the starting lineup Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. If Mariota stays healthy, Mettenberger might not ever be nominated for another NFL win.
Perhaps that bothers him less than I imagine. Mettenberger doesn’t solicit our pity in any case, and there are players more worthy of concern—consider the thousands of competitors who were maimed by America’s pastime in an exceptionally brutal Week 8. There remains a haunting quality to a Mettenberger-type story, though, in which a player ascends to a sport’s highest echelon but never finds out what it’s like to triumph on that stage. The narrative feels incomplete. I don’t expect Zach Mettenberger to become a hero. I just want him to have his Susan Lucci moment.
The worst division in the AFC—the aforementioned South—has been largely unwatchable this season. But the worst division in the NFC, the NFC East, brims with entertainment value. Every team manages to look quite good for brief stretches (with the possible exception of Tony Romo-less Dallas) and irredeemably awful for others.
The upshot is that the balance of NFC East power shifts erratically, such that any team can feel like champions for an instant. After Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins erased a 24-point Tampa Bay lead to win in Week 7, he stormed past the postgame press area and shouted at reporters, “You like that? You like that!” as if he were Russell Crowe challenging the crowd in Gladiator, except with a toddler’s vocabulary. Cousins had succeeded in raising the Washington record to 3-4 for the year. What’s not to like?
Backstage victory yelps aside, no NFC East team has been more fun to watch in 2015 than the Giants. When they win, they look like the class of their woeful division. But it’s the New York losses that are truly special, executed as they are with an implosive flair. The Giants are masters of the fourth-quarter comeback, albeit on behalf of the opposing team. In Week 1, Dallas pulled off a last-minute victory thanks to New York quarterback Eli Manning’s poor clock management, and the week after that, Atlanta overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit with help from Manning’s poor everything management.
New York fell to New Orleans on Sunday after another buffoonish fourth-quarter mishap. This time, the Giants’ error was a fluke facemask penalty during a punt return, which put the Saints into position to kick a game-clinching field goal as time expired. Yet this was just the dizzy coda to an thrilling contest that, with a final score of 52-49, featured the third highest point total in NFL history. This all-out battle of offensive one-upmanship was the football equivalent of a Price Is Right Showcase Showdown where 90 cents is beaten by 95 cents and then by a dollar, which happened recently on the Halloween special, and it was fantastic.
The 2015 Giants team, like the guy dressed up as Drew Carey on The Price Is Right, at least knows how to lose memorably. Block & Tackle’s Guaranteed Correct™ Prediction forecasts that New York will prevail against Tampa Bay this week, but it would probably make for a better game if they didn’t. The Block & Tackle Prediction: New York 31, Tampa Bay 23.
In September, I wrote a few unsparing words about the Cleveland Browns’ revised uniforms. Last Sunday, however, I had to admit that those dapper Brownies were the best-looking team around the league. For the first time in 2015, the Browns sported their orange jersey/white pants combination, and a bright afternoon sun made the players look as if they were radiating autumn. When Fox’s cameras caught Cleveland defensive back K’Waun Williams walking across the Browns’ midfield helmet logo, the TV image was so orange that it seemed like the broadcast had been preempted for a Match Game ’74 rerun. Gorgeous.
Cincinnati-Pittsburgh is another game that was enhanced by balmy late-afternoon light. The sagging sun casts long shadows, which accentuate the distance between a leaping receiver and the turf. In one replay, Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones appeared to be flying. But don’t be fooled. Only one NFL player has the ability to levitate, and that person is Arizona Cardinals long snapper Mike Leach. Congratulations, Mike!
The Chargers franchise is a prime candidate for relocation to Los Angeles in the 2016 season, and the team is clearly destined for a move after negotiations to erect a new stadium in San Diego broke down. The city was only willing to contribute $350 million in taxpayer money to help build another field, and the Chargers’ owner felt that this misappropriation of public funds was not obscene enough for his liking. If San Diego citizens aren’t willing to spend at least half a billion dollars to subsidize the Chargers’ lucrative membership in a televised-violence cartel, then maybe they don’t deserve an NFL team at all.
Facing imminent betrayal, San Diegans have responded by preemptively abandoning their team. As a result, the Chargers are the only squad in the league that suffers from a home-field disadvantage. Qualcomm Stadium is reliably packed with loud fans of the visiting team who got their seats from disgruntled Chargers season-ticket holders. Facing Pittsburgh last month, San Diego’s offense had to contend with so many screaming Steelers fans that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers resorted to a silent snap count, which is extraordinary for a home game—or, as Rivers put it, “odd.”
Theoretically, it’s also odd that NFL executives, who have made “integrity of the game” a self-parodying mantra, would allow the Chargers to suffer a material disadvantage like this simply because the local scalpers are offloading a lot of tickets. In practice, though, nobody finds it weird that Rivers and the rest of his offense are punished for the franchise’s eroding fanbase. It’s just an imbalance that we implicitly accept in sports. If you don’t pack the stands with your own kind, you don’t get the benefit of their passion—a tribal calculus with a primitive appeal. The Block & Tackle Prediction: San Diego 20, Chicago 10.
If Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry were a Girls character, which Girls character would he be?
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 9 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct. If there is a discrepancy between a prediction and an actual football game, the football game is wrong.
Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Cincinnati 33, Cleveland 16.
Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Miami 22, Buffalo 15. To help his players understand their Week 9 opponents, interim head coach Dan Campbell prepared the Dolphins for this game by making them get down on the ground and pretend to be buffalo. Campbell kept his pen handy to note which men were the most verisimilitudinous grazers.
Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Oakland 23, Pittsburgh 14.
Tennessee Titans vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): New Orleans 52, Tennessee √49. Tennessee will present a radicalized version of the Giants’ 49-point effort against the Saints last week.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New York Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): New York 14, Jacksonville 10.
Washington vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New England 48, Washington 21. Look, I don’t want to diminish Susan Lucci’s accomplishment, but judging solely by the clips of the Lead Actress nominees that year, Elizabeth Hubbard was robbed. “I will sing. I WILL SING!”
St. Louis Rams vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): St. Louis 19, Minnesota 17.
Green Bay Packers vs. Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Green Bay 28, Carolina 27. Panthers kicker Graham Gano uses the header image of his Twitter profile as a tribute to the crotches of Carolina’s kicking-game specialists.
Atlanta Falcons vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): Atlanta 4, San Francisco 0.
Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): Denver 28, Indianapolis 3.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Dallas 17, Philadelphia 13.
Teams on bye: Arizona, Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Seattle
Block & Tackle prediction record for 2015 season: 119-0
Erroneous football games played last week: 5
Erroneous football games played overall in 2015: 39
Block & Tackle reader JWD writes via Twitter:
@johnteti this is another reminder that 💳 is a much better emoji than 🌞 for the Cards.
— JWD (@johnwdickenson) October 31, 2015
That’s cute! The motion is sustained. No more nominations until the 2016 season, though, please. The emoji system is confusing enough—which is to say, it’s just the right amount of confusing—without us changing it up all the time. Anyway, here’s this week’s Pocket Edition: