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Shaffer: Just go play?

Posted: 11:30 AM, Oct 18, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-18 16:30:21Z

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sports has always been a breeding ground for hypocrisy. Whether it’s the NCAA proclaiming its amateurism, billionaire owners demanding publicly funded stadiums or the foul pole being absolutely in fair territory.

So when NFL executive Troy Vincent this week said “You’ve just got to go play” to Chiefs linebacker Breeland Speaks instead of letting up like he did on Tom Brady before a key TD run Sunday night in Foxborough, it was nothing new. Because hypocrisy is nothing new from the NFL. And this is the height of hypocrisy.

And of being tone deaf.

And out of touch

And absurd. And laughable. And lots of things.

“Go play”?

How can he say that with a straight face?

Wasn’t Clay Matthews “just playing” in D.C. when he bear hugged Alex Smith to the ground and got called for roughing the passer?

What was Sheldon Richardson doing in Minnesota when he dared leave his feet while tackling Jimmy Garrappolo? I would say he was just playing.

And Grady Jarrett in Atlanta when he allowed his weight to fall on the quarterback. (By the way, have you ever tried to tackle somebody and not have your weight fall on them? It’s called missing a tackle.) And Carlos Dunlap in Cincinnati when he touched his facemask to the quarterback’s shoulder pads.

And Matthews again on Kirk Cousins of Minnesota when Matthews didn’t hit Cousins late, didn’t go high, didn’t go low, didn’t lead with the head, didn’t fall on Cousins with his weight, didn’t leave his feet.

Yet still a yellow flag. An interception erased. A game changed. A sports fan base confused.

The new rules and points of emphasis on old rules in the NFL this season in regards to hitting the quarterback, in my opinion, perverse the game. And, actually, that’s fine. We’ve been headed in this direction for a long time. And there’s more “softening” of football to come. But to completely ignore the impact it’s had on the league is disingenuous.

Still Vincent goes on, “I looked at the video and Tom Brady stepped up and the player missed the tackle.”

Let’s backtrack a bit here. Setting the scene, the Patriots were driving in the 4th quarter Sunday night against the Chiefs (The Pats never stopped driving, in fact. They didn’t punt once.) On a play inside the 10, Brady stepped up in the pocket, pump-faked, and eventually ran in for an important touchdown in New England’s 43-40 win.

Right after the pump fake, Speaks let up. He appeared to have Brady wrapped up for a potential sack only to let the immobile QB go in for a rare TD run.

Afterward, Speaks explanation seemed plausible, “It was definitely on my mind (the NFL’s new protecting the passer rules). It sucks,” said Speaks.

Vincent says that shouldn’t be the case. 

“The one thing we want to remove from a player’s mind is doubt and we think that we continue to educate, showing what their peers are doing to make plays, but in that situation it’s something that we have seen Tom do year in and year out, step up in the pocket, avoid a sack and wind up running into the end zone.”

First of all, no we haven’t. We haven’t seen that “year in and year out” from Tom Brady. He’s got 19 career touchdown runs ... in 19 years! And the overwhelming majority of those are quarterback sneaks from inside the one-yard-line. I don’t remember any plays like that from Brady ever. But if you listen to Troy Vincent, TB12 is all of a sudden a combination of Ben Roethlisberger (avoid the sack) and Michael Vick (running into the end zone).

But that’s the least egregious part of Vincent’s statement. Remove doubt from the player’s mind? Huh? You don’t get to implement nuanced rule after nuanced rule and then tell players to “have no doubt” and “just go play.”

And it’s not just guys hitting the quarterback. It’s all over the field. You think members of the secondary, where Vincent used to play, are playing without doubt when going to make a hit on a receiver? Do you really want them to “go play?"

There are 244 pages in the NFL rulebook. I would argue the last thing the NFL wants is for players to just go play. And that they want them to have doubt.

Speaks continued dropping truth bombs in the face of Vincent’s contradictory statements. Said Speaks, who thought Brady had released the ball on his pump fake, “We’re in New England. Tom’s going to get that call.”

The Patriots had zero penalties in that game. Heck Vincent, the NFL’s Head of Football Operations, refers to Tom Brady as “Tom” and Breeland Speaks as “the player” so I’m gonna go ahead and believe Breeland again on that one.

The good thing here is that the play and whatever did or didn’t happen is a moot point. The Chiefs held in the end zone, meaning even if Speaks had stayed with the play, sacked Brady, forced a fumble, ran the ball all the way back for a touchdown, and received a Sam Adams beer shower by the New England fans, it still would have been Patriots ball, 1st & Goal, at the one.

And I doubt that would have been the time the Chiefs defense stiffened.

So thankfully you can’t pin the loss on this play, like when the Packers traded a win for a tie against the Vikings when Matthews just “went out and played.”

But it doesn’t mean the hypocrisy should go unnoticed.

There will be play this week in the NFL, probably a handful of plays, when a flag is thrown and a questionable roughing the passer call is made.

Let’s get Troy Vincent’s comments then.