I try to avoid bitching about the refs when my team gets beat. There are always other reasons for a loss. And who wants to dine on sour grapes anyway?
Sunday, the Eagles beat Atlanta, 24-15. So, in sweet victory, please allow me a little room to comment on the state of NFL officiating.
Need more? The men in striped shirts are overmatched, overeager, inept and inconsistent. They have taken the best game on earth and slowed it to a crawl with endless flags and reviews. One moment, they flag the pettiest of infractions. The next play, they ignore the most obvious.
You can argue NFL ratings are down because of the election or anthem protests or the growth of Netlix or whatever extraneous force you choose to cite. I’ll say the biggest factor is that officials have insinuated themselves into the game to the point that a fan can’t watch any single play without having one eye focused on whether a yellow flag was thrown. It’s just no fun anymore.
Sunday’s Eagles game was not dominated by penalties, unless you want to count Zach Ertz jumping the snap every other play. Overall, there were 154 yards in penalties, modest by today’s NFL standards.
But it was a noncall by the refs that shows their incompetence. With the Eagles down, 15-13 in the fourth quarter, QB Carson Wentz threw one in traffic to WR Jordan Matthews. As Matthews tried to pull the ball to his chest, Atlanta safety Keanu Neal launched — helmet first — at Matthews’ face.
Matthews was obliterated. He dropped the ball (give him some slack on this one) and crumpled to the ground. He eventually rose with a cracked face mask, bloody lip and expectation that a flag would be thrown.
Two years ago, the NFL added rules to protect its players. Helmet-to-helmet hits were outlawed. Assaulting a “defenseless receiver” became grounds for a 15-yard penalty.
Either of those would have applied to the hit on Matthews Sunday. Neither was called. At the moment, coach Doug Pederson hollered at the refs — as did some of the Eagles medical staff. After the game, Pederson became more circumspect, not wanting to draw a fine and the ire of hypersensitive Commissioner Roger Goodell. Pederson will, no doubt, send tape of the episode to the league, but who thinks that will accomplish anything?
Matthews was less mealy-mouthed, saying of the refs: “I don’t know if they were watching the game or if they were thinking about going to Chickie’s [and Pete’s] later.”
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think the NFL has it out for the Eagles. Last week’s Buffalo-Seattle game was ruined by inane officiating. Every team in the league likely has a good case against the zebras.
The Eagles won this game, and may have even benefitted from a makeup call shortly after the missed penalty on Matthews. But the larger picture is this: Our favorite game is threatened by the guys who stand on the field not even playing it.
- We’ve been waiting for Carson Wentz to direct a game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Sunday he did, although this wasn’t an epic Favre-ian one for the highlight reels. He didn’t carry the team to victory so much as he didn’t blow the opportunity to win. Overall, a nice effort by the rookie.
- Give credit to the Eagles for honoring the late Kevin Turner as Sunday’s alumni co-captain, and inviting Turner’s family there to share the moment. Turner, of course, died from ALS, which appears to be related to the hits he took playing football. It’s a touchy issue, with lawsuits against the NFL, but the Eagles rose above it to do the right thing Sunday.
- Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich’s game plan of dominating possession by running the ball right at Atlanta worked brilliantly. The Falcons’ weakness over the season’s first nine games seemed to be a porous pass defense. But the coaches gave 230-pound Ryan Mathews a chance to emerge from purgatory and bulldoze the ball right through Atlanta’s front seven. The Eagles held the ball for 38:10 and — despite what Chip Kelly might think — that’s a formula for victory.
- In other news, pitchfork-hands Nelson Agholor is still useless.
- If you’re keeping track, the Vikings have now lost four straight. That first rounder the Eagles got for Sam Bradford may end up coming earlier than the one the Eagles sent to Cleveland in the Wentz deal.
- Jim Schwartz’s defense demands recognition. Holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to 15 points and 11 first downs was a tremendous accomplishment — likely the best any defense will do against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and company this season. First credit goes to the defensive line for crushing Atlanta’s running game. But give some, too, to a secondary that hung in even after losing its top CB, Nolan Carroll.
- And give credit to the 69,596 fans at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday. They were raucous from the first kickoff and especially loud each time Ryan came to the line to call signals. The Eagles are undefeated at home for many reasons, but the incredible play of the defense — just three TDs allowed in four games — is at least in part tied to the noise of those fans.
- In what is likely his final season here, Jason Peters is playing much better than he did in 2015. A huge chunk of Sunday’s 210 rushing yards followed right behind the left tackle. As Halapoulivaati Vaita continues to improve at right tackle, Peters’ future here looks more precarious — with the bonehead RT Lane Johnson expected to move to the left side next season. Regardless, Peters’ seven seasons as a rock here make him one of the best-ever free-agent signings by the Birds.
- As you celebrate Ryan Mathews’ 109-yard, two-TD day, don’t ignore Wendell Smallwood gaining 70 yards on 13 carries. I think a big storyline in coming weeks is that Smallwood gets to contribute more and more.
- Finally, once again, Dave Fipp’s special teams continued to be, well, special. Kenjon Barner stepped in for the deposed Josh Huff and returned three kickoffs for 114 yards. Caleb Sturgis missed a 44-yard FG, but nailed the 48-yarder at the end to ice the game. Just as in the days when the Eagles had John Harbaugh, they are blessed again with a masterful special teams coach.