NFL 2011

Did Buffalo Outsmart Bill Belichick?
The stadium scene.
Sept. 26 2011 5:44 PM

NFL 2011


Bill Belichick. Click image to expand.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick during Sunday's game versus the Buffalo Bills

I remember a particularly brutal weekend in football last year, after which the whole sport seemed to sit, dazed and googly-eyed, beneath a flock of chirping cartoon birds and tort lawyers. At least five players sustained concussions that Sunday, four of them on what you'd call "flagrant" hits. Things seemed very bad for the game's future.

What I didn't realize at the time was that all the talk about concussions and violence would coalesce around those "flagrant" hits. That would prove to be a manageable story for the NFL, since "flagrant" implies improper behavior, and improper behavior can be assigned, categorized, and penalized, which is what Roger Goodell does best. More importantly, it shifted the burden of the concussion crisis onto the players and off the game itself, which is how we got James Harrison doing the "I'm an outlaw, and I'll say so in a Jann Wenner magazine" thing this offseason.


I'm thinking about that weekend because a central story of this NFL season has been the  quiet, commonplace violence  of the sport, not the big hits we saw on that Sunday last year. Michael Vick has now been knocked out of consecutive games on fairly routine plays. The first, on which Vick sustained a concussion, was legal and flukey; the second, on which he sustained a hand injury, was probably an uncalled late hit, but it still fell well south of "flagrant."

Now, Vick is well within his rights to work the refs through the media, but what's interesting about Sunday's game is that the Giants didn't really rough him up, certainly not in the way the Falcons did the week prior. By my rough count, Vick was knocked down on pass plays only five times. (I omitted a sack after a brief scramble and a block on Vick, in the wake of an interception, that sent him pinwheeling out onto Broad Street.) The Eagles went conservative and very often kept an extra blocker in front of their quarterback. Vick's injury was simply a bad outcome of an ordinary event, and this has to be as galling to the league as it is to Vick himself. Josh,  you alluded to this last week, and it bears repeating: The last thing the NFL wants right now is a reminder that the thing that makes football so violent is, well, football. No amount of rulemaking will change that.

That was some Pats-Bills game, wasn't it? It had all the makings of one of those patented New England blowouts in which the Patriots need approximately eight minutes to make the game boring—and then, suddenly, there were the Bills, adjusting, jumping routes that Brady had exploited earlier, and generally doing to the Patriots what the Patriots do to everyone. Is it possible that Bill Belichick actually got outcoached when it mattered on Sunday? And by Chan Gailey, of all people?

I'm looking at  this great breakdown  of the game's decisive play, the short pass that Fred Jackson took 38 yards, to within a yard of the Patriots' goal line, and it's hard not to think that Buffalo was baiting New England here. "It was something we knew would be an opportunity for us to make a play on," Jackson said. "The way they play, the way they blitz to empty. It was something [quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick] and I saw. Any time we line up out there and we point away from a linebacker, this one over here blitzes and leaves that gap open. Fitz held the ball and let me get in the second window and I was able to make a play on it."

And how great was that Belichick tantrum that came directly after the Jackson catch? It's still not entirely clear to me what had gotten Belichick so hot and bothered—his postgame press conference  didn't shed much light, and  neither did the ref's explanation. But between this and the  documentary, there does seem to be an ongoing effort by Belichick to behave like a man who might one day pass a Turing Test.



War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?