I also loved this episode, but boy, was it dark. I continue to marvel at how subtly the show ties what's happening on the field to what's happening off it. Emily, I too was struck by how Eric, for maybe the first time, consistently came up short in this episode. Usually he can pull out just the right words to smooth over a painful situation. But with Matt, as you point out, it's not working. He tries to comfort Matt, but first Mom interrupts, then Grandma interrupts. Later, in the locker room, Matt himself makes it clear he isn't having it. "Good talk, coach," he says sardonically.
In fact, the "good talk" in this episode is the one Riggins keeps delivering in a cynical salesman mode. Like a character from a George Saunders story, Riggins spews some weird sales line he picked up from Buddy, about how when the rats leave a sinking market, "the true visionaries come in." Riggins seems surprised to hear the words coming out of his mouth and even more surprised that they work. "I'm a true visionary!" Billy says and then hands over the money for the house that the Four Stooges want to flip. And, of course, we all know, although they don't, that this will lead to disaster. The boys just fight over the money and the house, and the mother of Street's child is horrified, not comforted. Plus, they'll never sell that house. It's as if when Eric chose money and success (J.D.) over heart (Matt), the consequences of that decision rippled all over town.
The whole episode had a very Paul Auster feel. One fleeting thing—an unearned pile of money, a one-night stand, a tattoo, a suddenly paralyzed teammate—can change your entire life. Accident and coincidence are more powerful than any God-driven holistic narrative. My favorite moment is when they cut from the meth dealer shooting at the Riggins truck straight to Jason babbling to his new little boy. There is no happy script. Life can be a little random and scary, and it can all turn on a dime. This is why those ominous radio announcers—"If they lose this one, they can kiss this season goodbye"—really get under your skin. One missed pass by one 17-year-old should never mean so much, but in Dillon, it does.
The episode almost felt as dark to me as the bloodiest Sopranos episode. Except for the Touched by a Mom subtheme we've all complained about. Thank God for Herc, who's man enough to handle anything. I love when he calls everyone "ladies." Also: "Babies love vaginas. It's like looking at a postcard." Who writes those great lines?