By TERRY LYONS
BOSTON - This is the most wonderful time of year. The NFL is in full swing with great match-ups like this Sunday’s New England Patriots versus Baltimore Ravens game and 13 other contests that dominate autumn Sundays just a day after hundreds of college football rivals battle crisp Saturdays all across the nation. Yet, as football couch potatoes watch our favorite games, we are, unfortunately, forced to watch dozens of political ads purchased with millions in campaign funds wielded by those who spends hundreds of millions to obtain a job that pays $400,000 a year and they have the brass to promise they can balance the budget.
Over the years, a few of those TV spots have posed interesting questions about 3:00 AM phone calls to the White House and one, simply states, “What keeps me up at night?”
Well, as one who regularly chronicles the National Football League, there are a lot of things that keep me up at night, especially in the early weeks of the NFL season of 2012.
So, what keeps me awake at night?
THE REFS: Most obviously and importantly, the ongoing lockout of the NFL’s regular officiating staff is the most troublesome issue of the season. While Commissioner Roger Goodell rightly backed his cadre of replacement refs and even patted his organization on the back for their assumed ability to promptly sign and train the substitute staff, the truth of the matter is that the sub refs are just that; “sub-par, “ “sub-standard” and “sub-ject” to ridicule and manipulation by the shark tank mentality that is the NFL’s coaches, scouts, players, fans and media machine.
After a preseason with plenty of leeway and barely a few real or imagined issues, then an opening weekend which went surprisingly well for the officials and the league, the tides turned when football operations scoured the scouting tapes which was coupled with the natural rise in intensity. Like the Sox falling in Septembers past, the young NFL regular season morphed into a debacle of epic proportions this past Monday night when the officiating crew for the Denver Broncos versus Atlanta Falcons nationally television game turned a single game into an embarrassing, unwatchable variation of what used to be referred to as professional football.
You know you’re in big trouble when NFL lifers like Jon Gruden trashed the on-field product as though it was New Coca-Cola and former NFL referee and on-screen/third screen social media guru Mike Pereira threw his former employer under the “Jerome Bettis” with an online mea culpa to the tune of. “There is no way to keep with your tweets. Just know I feel your frustration. This is not the NFL I worked for. Don't care whose fault it is.”
What else keeps me up at night?
BOUNTY-GATE: It is the story that won’t quit. Like steroids in baseball or the Spygate issue which haunted Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots in 2007 and for seasons upon seasons, the NFL’s suspension of New Orleans saints Coach Sean Payton and his merry band of mayhem-makers who allegedly pooled huge pots of cash as reward money for leveling knock-out hits against opponents.
Prior to the first week of football, an independent committee ruled that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did not have jurisdiction to suspend players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove, mainly focusing on a lack of concrete evidence in the case. While the players were immediately reinstated, the “quicker picker-upper” scandal remains in the public eye since rumors swirled in 2010 and the NFL acted in March, 2012. What is the combined after-effect for the NFL, its teams and players through the whole fiasco? Zero.
What else keeps me awake at night?
WES WELKER: The over-reaction to the fact that wide receiver Wes Welker has under-performed for the Patriots in the first two weeks of the 2012 regular season is as bad as the speculation that the artist formerly known as Ochocinco had a bad summer.
The truth of the matter for Welker, QB Tom Brady and the Patriots is that there are 17 weeks to the NFL season and the increased depth of New England’s wide-outs is a massive check in the plus column, as opposed to the negative vibes coming from the fact Welker has no touchdown catches on 109 yards and eight receptions in two weeks of action. The Patriots’ acquisition of Brandon Lloyd was made to reduce the wear and tear thrust upon Welker over a long, 17+ game season. Welker’s 13.6 yards per catch still leads the team.