Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints Retrospective

>> 12.06.2011

Talking about justice
Hush this
We’re not supposed to discuss this
We gotta hide it in a song
We gotta keep things quiet
They don’t want us to riot
Gotta make like nothings wrong
Cause when you talk about politics you gotta talk about all of it
you can’t leave nothin’ out
We need to walk up to the front door
tell em we ain’t takin it no more
Whats it all about
About Justice

-Victor Wooten, “Justice”

I have a thing about justice.

I want things to be right. I want things to be fair. I want the playing field to be level. I want people to get what they deserve. When I hear about a story or a news event without a clear right or wrong, I consume all the information about it I can; I have to know what I think is right.

Yesterday I sat down with my third cup of coffee (more or less (more)) and put my hands on the keyboard. My thoughts weren’t ready yet. Perhaps it was the short turnaround from Sunday Night Football to Monday morning, but the events of the Saints game had yet to percolate through my mind. With nothing but the title typed, I stopped “writing.”

Last night I didn’t go near the computer. I didn’t write a word. I let my thoughts brew slowly. I let frustration and disappointment dilute in the liquid heat of my id while I played some FIFA and ate pancakes. Eventually, I found the words to “Justice” on my lips. This morning, I went to the coffee pot and found that overnight my post had brewed.

DISCLAIMER: I am not equating NFL football with institutionalized racism, race/class conflict, or police brutality. To paraphrase Bill Watterson, I’d hope the juxtaposition is ludicrous enough that no one would take it seriously—but people take everything seriously. So. In this case, please don’t.

The way fans talk about football with each other is a shadow of the way players talk smack on the field. As I said last week in response to a post on Cheesehead TV, it’s part of the illusion of fandom. We brand ourselves with their brand, we wrap our identity up in theirs, we take their successes and failures to heart, and others project their successes and failures onto us.

Complaining about the refs is for losers. It’s what happens when loser fans watch their loser teams lose. Winners know the better team usually wins. Why do you think Vegas sets a betting line? In the NFL, any fan can pick straight winners far more often than not. When upsets happen, it’s because the “worse” team showed up and played better on that day.

The Saints are better than the Lions; there’s no doubt about it. They’re undefeated at home. They went up to Lambeau in Week 1 and were a yard and/or bad playcall from taking the Packers to overtime. By SRS, they’re the second-best team in the NFC, and fourth-best team in the NFL. As the Watchtower showed, they’re scoring a little more, and allowing a little less, than the Lions.

The game’s stats reflect that exactly. The Lions gained 408 yards passing on 44 attempts; that’s an awesome 9.27 YpA. The Saints, though, threw for 342 on 36 attempts, a slightly-better 9.50. The Lions did okay on the ground, getting 87 yards on 22 carries (3.95 YpC). The Saints were a little better; 100 on 23 (4.35 YpC). The Lions were sacked 3 times for The Lions turned it over once, but only after the game was all but in the books. As I said in the Watchtower:

The Saints are like the mini-Packers, and the Lions are like the mini-Saints. These two teams hold up a mirror to one another, and the Saints are a little bit better in every phase of the game—except the Lions play much, much better pass defense. I could see this going either way.

So what turned my projected 30-28 Lions win into a 31-17 Lions loss? Well, the Lions had one field goal blocked, and missed another—getting zero points from two good drives. But that only makes it 31-23. Where’d that other touchdown go?

Oh, right: the Lions were flagged 11 times for -107 yards, and the Saints were flagged 3 times for -30 yards. The penalty differential was exactly one scoring drive.

It isn’t that the Lions didn’t commit these infractions; they did. But as with last week, the problem is consistency. Offensive and defensive holding, and offensive and defensive pass interference, are subjective calls. Much like charging and blocking in basketball, there are technical definitions but enforcement is done by “feel.”

When Nate Burleson is flagged three times for offensive pass interference—as Pride of Detroit user “NobodySpecial” pointed out, that’s as much as any offensive player in the NFL had been tagged with OPI all season long—the game “feels” rigged.

I mean, here’s the SaintsNation Saints blog:

In my entire life of watching football I've never seen an offensive player get flagged 3 times for the same penalty in a game, especially something rare like offensive pass intereference. That goes back to the poor discipline, but it's also just weird.

I don't believe the referees were being controlled by Vegas, mobsters, Roger Goodell, or any other outside force determined to make sure the Lions lose. But it’s impossible to claim with a straight face that the Lions are being officiated the same way other teams are. For instance: pushing a hand into another player’s face is a penalty, except when it’s a ball carrier stiff-arming a defender . . . unless that ball carrier is a Detroit Lion, then it’s a penalty again.

My personal belief is that the league and/or officials are trying to send a message to the Lions. Now that they’re a “dirty team,” the Lions not only have to play as clean as everyone else, they have to play cleaner. They’re going to get flagged for things no other team gets flagged for. Rough stuff from the other side is going to go unpunished. The league is sending a message to the Lions, and it’s up to them to listen.

For once, the one-way street of fandom cuts both ways: on Sunday, the Lions were just as furious as fans were. They were feeling just as confused, just as upset, just as impotent as everyone hollering at their TVs. They were playing the game just as well and just as clean as the Saints, but the refs were taking the results away from them. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s unjust.

Civil disobedience isn’t a choice here; the Lions cannot #OccupyTheNFL. There are two possible responses: have a tantrum, or grow up. Remember when Gosder Cherilus was our resident hothead? He of all people should be the first to jump in and make a stupid play after the whistle—but he got it. He gets it. He lets it roll off his back. The Lions are going to have to learn to do the same.

The great thing is, the Lions are talented enough to do it. They can win playing clean. They can win playing cleaner. They can beat the Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers with one hand tied behind their back—and that’s good, because they’ll have to.


Anonymous,  December 6, 2011 at 2:48 PM  

Good article my friend. Keep them coming.

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