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#pounditSunday, January 23, 2022

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Titans awarded interception on controversial play against Bengals

Amani Hooker holds the ball

The Tennessee Titans were awarded an interception on a controversial play against the Cincinnati Bengals in their AFC Divisional Round playoff game on Saturday.

The Titans had just kicked a field goal to make it 16-9 late in the third quarter. After a good return, Cincinnati began their possession at their 40.

Joe Burrow dumped off a pass towards Samaje Perine out of the backfield, but he couldn’t hold onto the ball. Amani Hooker alertly scooped up the ball as it was headed towards the turf to secure an interception.

The officials reviewed the play to see whether the ball had hit the ground. Though slow-motion replay seemed to show Hooker grabbing the ball off the ground, watching in real-time made it seem like Hooker made the interception.

The officials upheld their initial call on the field of an interception, giving Tennessee the ball back. Then on 2nd-and-16, Ryan Tannehill threw a touchdown pass to AJ Brown. The Titans tied the game at 16.

Did the refs make the right call?

Video shows reported play that got Russell Westbrook benched

Russell Westbrook getting beat defense

Frank Vogel’s decision to bench Russell Westbrook is the talk of the town in Lakerland at the moment. Now we can better visualize what exactly led to Vogel’s decision.

The L.A. Lakers guard Westbrook was pulled from Wednesday’s game with the Indiana Pacers late in the fourth quarter. Vogel, the Lakers coach, opted to sit him for the final 3:52 of the contest, which the Lakers lost 111-104.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported Thursday that there was one specific play that led to Westbrook’s benching: a blow-by that he allowed to Pacers guard Caris LeVert for an easy basket midway through the fourth quarter.

From McMenamin’s article:

The final straw, pushing the staff to honor their instinct to bench him, was when Caris LeVert blew by Westbrook on defense for a layup with 7 minutes, 13 seconds remaining.

The coaching staff had repeatedly emphasized the scouting report to take away LeVert’s right hand, and Westbrook, guarding LeVert at the top of the key one-on-one, didn’t angle himself properly to thwart the drive and allowed LeVert easy access to the paint en route to the hoop.

Lakers Daily shared video on Twitter of the reported play. In the video, you can see Westbrook darting one way to anticipate a LeVert drive off a dribble handoff, only for LeVert to cut back the other way to his strong hand.

Westbrook actually played for another three minutes after the sequence in question. But that appears to have been what spurred Vogel’s decision to bench him as the game tightened.

Though he has struggled mightily for much of the season, the former league MVP Westbrook did not handle the benching particularly well. What is also interesting about the whole situation is that Vogel reportedly had plenty of support to make the move.

Boomer Esiason has strong halftime message for Mike Vrabel, analytics gurus

Boomer Esiason smiling

Boomer Esiason delivered a strong message to Mike Vrabel and analytics folks while speaking at halftime of the Tennessee Titans-Cincinnati Bengals AFC Divisional Round playoff game on Saturday.

The Titans were down 6-0 in the second quarter to the Bengals, who had kicked a pair of field goals early in the game. Tennessee tied it up with a Derrick Henry touchdown run in the second quarter.

Rather than attempt an extra point to take a 7-6 lead, the Titans went for two since they were closer to the goal following a penalty call on Cincinnati. Henry’s rush attempt on the shorter-yardage situation fell short, leaving the game tied at six.

The Titans went into halftime trailing 9-6 and lost 19-16.

At halftime, Esiason took a shot at analytics folks while criticizing the Titans for their decision.

“This goes to all coaches out there. And I don’t want to upset people from MIT, Harvard or Yale. Don’t go for 2 until you have to. That’s my algorithm, and I’m sticking to it,” said Esiason.

There really was no reason to go for two at that point. Maybe Vrabel thought there was an opportunity to steal one more point by going for two, and if they didn’t make it, at worst the game would be tied.

Would it have made much of a difference had they converted? Probably not. The Bengals were the better team and came out hotter. Tennessee’s offense was flat, beginning and ending with Ryan Tannehill’s three interceptions, which cost his team the game.

The failed 2-point conversion was emblematic of bigger problems, such as their inability to execute, rather than a reflection of multiple poor coaching decisions.

Richard Sherman takes shot at 49ers fans over Jimmy Garoppolo treatment

Richard Sherman in practice gear

Some San Francisco 49ers fans have been eager to move on from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Richard Sherman is not terribly impressed with that sentiment.

Sherman, who played with Garoppolo for three seasons in San Francisco, was critical of the 49er fans who failed to appreciate the fact that the team was winning with Garoppolo at quarterback. Sherman also warned that those agitating for rookie backup Trey Lance will not realize what they had in Garoppolo until the current starter is gone.

On one hand, the 49ers have won consistently with Garoppolo. He has them in the NFC Divisional round, and took them to the Super Bowl two years ago. On the other hand, Garoppolo’s 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season are not impressive statistically, and some of Garoppolo’s throws have left much to be desired.

The 49ers have been widely rumored to be eyeing Lance as the starter for 2022, which Garoppolo admitted has weighed on him. The fact that some fans clearly prefer Lance, despite his rookie status, probably has not helped either. Sherman may be right that the fan behavior hasn’t really helped matters.

Was Zac Taylor trying to call timeout before game-changing interception?

Zac Taylor running

The Cincinnati Bengals pulled out a miracle victory in the final minute of their divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. But Bengals coach Zac Taylor almost prevented it from happening altogether.

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a game-changing interception as the team was driving with less than 30 seconds left in a 16-16 ballgame.

The interception gave Cincinnati the ball near midfield. A 19-yard pass play from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase on the very next play put the Bengals in field-goal range. Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson then won the game with a 52-yard field goal as time expired.

Going back to the crucial Tannehill interception, video went viral of Taylor appearing to be calling for a timeout before the ball was even snapped. In the video, Taylor could be seen running up to the line official but failing to get his attention. The play proceeded, and Tannehill threw the pick.

Others also noticed that Taylor seemed to be asking for a timeout.

The Bengals had two timeouts remaining at the time, and using one might have made sense since the Titans were on third down. Getting a stop on third down would have forced a punt and left at least some time for Cincinnati to do something before time expired in regulation.

Others pointed out though that Taylor may have been calling for a penalty against Tennessee. In the video above, you can see Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan moving before the snap, potentially creating grounds for a false start.

In any case, the interception sequence ended up putting the Bengals in a position to win the game. If he actually was trying to call a timeout there, you can bet that Taylor is thanking his lucky stars that it was not granted. Otherwise he might have dethroned this fellow head coach for the worst timeout call of the NFL season.

Troy Aikman identifies the 1 big challenge of playing for Cowboys

Troy Aikman in a suit

Troy Aikman is one of the most famous Dallas Cowboys players ever. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback played for “America’s Team” from 1989-2000, winning three Super Bowls. He knows better than almost anyone what the pressures and responsibilities are that come with being a member of the Cowboys, or, in his case, the most high-profile player on the team.

Aikman believes that one of the hardest challenges of being part of the Cowboys is trying to maintain an edge of toughness, largely due to how popular they are and how well they are treated in terms of facilities.

“It’s an organization that it’s hard, I think, in order for them to keep an edge. And I think that’s important,” Aikman said on his KTCK radio show. “The facility that they practice at is amazing. It’s the nicest in the NFL. There are tours that come through constantly. You’re constantly reminded that you’re a Dallas Cowboy and you’re really popular.”

He said that Mike McCarthy has an extremely difficult task with trying to help the players maintain an edge. Aikman feels that his former coach, Jimmy Johnson, was great at that.

“I know when I was playing for Jimmy I don’t know that we ever felt like we accomplished anything, to be quite honest,” Aikman said. “The more we won, the tougher he got. There’s something to be said for that.”

That approach worked for Johnson and helped the coach become a Hall of Famer. But the toughness doesn’t necessarily sell well these days. Bill Belichick is notorious for being tough, and some players just don’t like playing for the Patriots as a result.

The Cowboys had a very good regular season at 12-5. They just blew it in the playoffs. Is that because they’re too pampered at their practice facility? Probably not.

Photo: Nov 21, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys former quarterback Troy Aikman attends the NFL game between the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Evan McPherson had awesome quote before his winning kick

Evan McPherson waves

Evan McPherson was one of the heroes in the Cincinnati Bengals’ 19-16 playoff win over the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night. His mentality and confidence are big reasons for his success.

McPherson went 4/4 on field goals and 1/1 on extra points, making all five of his kicks in the Bengals’ win. He accounted for 13 of his team’s 19 points.

And according to Joe Burrow, McPherson knew he was going to make the biggest kick of all.

Burrow shared after the game that a few minutes before making the winning kick, McPherson told Bengals backup quarterback Brandon Allen that Cincinnati was headed to the AFC Championship Game.

That kind of confidence is awesome and exactly what a kicker needs. They need to approach a big kick knowing they’re going to make it. They can’t think about the pressure or have second thoughts, because that sort of thinking often throws off one’s mechanics and leads to mistakes.

The Bengals flexed on Twitter after their big win regarding McPherson. It sure looks like they knew what they were doing.

McPherson just needs to keep that confidence and not let it go.

Photo: Jan 15, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson (2) waves to fans during warmups prior to the game against the Las Vegas Raiders in an AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

TJ Watt shares the reason he violated cell phone rule during game

TJ Watt

The NFL has a rule against players using cell phones during games for any reason. TJ Watt felt he had to break that rule during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ regular season finale.

Watt was in pursuit of the NFL’s single-season sack record against the Baltimore Ravens, and there was some doubt whether he’d been credited with a sack on the first half of his Week 18 game. That’s why, as Watt admitted on “The Dan Patrick Show,” the star pass rusher simply had to check on his phone at halftime after hearing conflicting information from staff.

“I thought I had two (sacks), so I checked my phone at halftime, which I never do,” Watt admitted. “Then JJ and my brothers, the group chat, was like ‘they only gave you one, man, you gotta go get another.'”

Watt could face a fine for his admission, though he might be happy to pay it. The sack record was clearly important to him, just as it was to the Steelers. If he wasn’t sure where he stood, he had to find out somehow.

Packers special teams coach Maurice Drayton gets harsh Wikipedia edits

Maurice Drayton talks with the media

The Green Bay Packers’ horrendous special teams unit cost them in their NFC Divisional Round playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night, and that will almost certainly cost Maurice Drayton his job.

The Packers’ special teams had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown; a field goal blocked; and they allowed a long kickoff return to set up a field goal to start the third quarter. Oh yeah, they also had just 10 men on the field for the final play.

This wasn’t an anomaly either; multiple rankings had the Packers’ special teams as the worst in the league this season.

Drayton became so notorious after his units’ poor showing on Saturday night that fans began giving his Wikipedia page harsh edits.

I don’t know much, but I can tell you that there’s no way Drayton will still be employed as the Packers’ special teams coach come next season.

Aaron Rodgers still has not spoken with his family in years?

Aaron Rodgers gets ready to throw

Aaron Rodgers was the center of a feature from ESPN’s Keith Van Valkenburg that was published on Friday morning. The article shares many of Rodgers’ thoughts on the world, the political climate, cancel culture, and other issues. The feature also included one other notable piece of information.

In his story, Van Valkenburg brings up Rodgers’ family, which is a subject that has made headlines in the past but has not been touched upon too recently.

Van Valkenburg said in his story that “Rodgers hasn’t spoken to his parents or his two brothers in several years, for reasons he has declined to disclose.”

Van Valkenburg did not make clear whether he asked Rodgers in the interview whether the quarterback has talked with his family, or whether Van Valkenburg was basing that line in the story on the most recently-available public information.

Either way, the nugget from Van Valkenburg is surprising based on a past report.

Rodgers and ex-girlfriend Danica Patrick broke up in 2020. But a report last year said Patrick was helping Rodgers get back on speaking terms with his family prior to their relationship ending. Either that report about Patrick helping Rodgers was false, or Van Valkenburg was sharing outdated information regarding Rodgers’ family.

In 2016 was when we first heard about Rodgers having issues with his family. Rodgers’ brother even opened up about the tension a few years back. Rodgers has always said he prefers to keep family matters private.

Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports