How I Learned to Stop Caring & Love the Taunting Penalty

Watching your favorite team play in the AFC North is bad for your health. And no AFC North game is more like having a coronary thrombosis than Browns-Ravens!

My guess is that’s true for both sides. For us, the Browns game is a trap. When one side is historically known for defense and the other side for never having a franchise QB, there’s an assumption of victory. For the Browns, it’s Sisyphean. No matter what they do, their efforts are pre-ordained to end in failure and pain. And the worst part is John Harbaugh is devoted to finding new, creative ways to inflict that pain! Last game it was a kick-six. This game it was a safety on a blocked extra point. Next game we’re probably going to block a punt in double overtime. Such is our way. Such is life. Such is Ravens-Browns.

Rant #1 – Corey Coleman Scored One Touchdown, Not Two

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So, this happened!

This is not a touchdown! Why was this angle not available during the game? Not to extrapolate into infinity like your average talking head ESPN lunatic, but what if this were a playoff game? Better yet, what if it were the Super Bowl? And what if a team were to lose on a call like that–a call that was clearly, unequivocally proven later to be wrong? I’m only sort of joking. How does it occur that humanity has telescopes that can see so far out into space that we know what the beginning of the universe looked like, but the NFL can’t tell if someone’s toe has smeared CRAYOLA CHALK? And how was a pissant photographer able to get this shot for his or her newspaper, while the same shot was unavailable to the biggest sports league in the world, which has billions invested in the perceived transparency of its calls? I’m voting this year for whichever candidate forces NASA to officiate football games.

Side bar: In reading forums online I’ve noticed a trend among Browns fans to claim that this was still a touchdown, “because the moment any part of a receiver’s foot comes down inbounds, it’s a catch and the play is dead.” (I’m roughly quoting the hivemind here.) This is just factually wrong. I dug up the rule this play falls under; it’s in Approved Ruling 15.79 of the 2011 Casebook. Casebooks aren’t available to the public, so I can’t quote it verbatim. But as multiple sources state (srsly, google if you care), it’s a rule against heels. It says if someone’s heel comes down inbounds, he is seen as starting a full natural footstep, so the whole rest of his foot must also land inbounds for him to complete a catch.

With that in mind, it’s clear this wasn’t a touchdown. Coleman was taking a full, natural stride with his second foot, the heel of which hit down in play but the tip of which landed out of bounds. The Ravens got hosed on this play, and with statistical certainty moved closer to a loss than if it had been properly overturned after review (which would’ve forced the Browns to settle for a field goal [which they could’ve missed]).

And speaking of dubious officiating! Let’s move on to the penalty Browns fans will still be yammering about 20 years from now, instilling hate for it in the hearts of their grandchildren as they cram bad Polish hotdogs down their gullets.

Rant #2 – Cleveland Is Salty

The marquee AFC North game being Steelers-Bengals, it’s understandable if you non-Ravens fans deliberately ignored this ugly crapfest and thus have zero idea what penalty I’m talking about or why Cleveland would be “salty” (you know, besides the fact an old man literally kidnapped their team 20 years ago then won Super Bowls with it in a different city). So, here’s a rundown:

After going up 20-0 on the Ravens, the Browns went scoreless for the next 2.9 quarters and let the Ravens score 25 unanswered points to go ahead 25-20 … but the Browns then got the ball back deep in their own territory, with no timeouts, and about 1.5 minutes left. Time enough to be heroic and drive for the winning score! And the Browns were doing that, converting some tough 3rd downs and getting out of bounds smartly as they dinked and dunked up the field. And they ended up at the Ravens’ 30-yard line, with 27 seconds left. Compelling, no? McCown heaved it down the sideline toward bad-QB-now-decent-WR Terrelle Pryor, who caught it on Lardarius Webb (typical). But after Pryor caught it, he tossed the ball–and it hit Webb in the facemask! The ref flagged Pryor for taunting, and instead of 1st and 10 at the Ravens’ 10, the Browns were replaying the down at the Ravens’ 30.

Now then! A lot went into this catch-and-taunt, and I’ve already spent too much brainpower and Reddit ink analyzing it. The least judgmental way to describe it is how I just did: “After Pryor caught it, he tossed the ball and it hit Webb in the facemask.” Those are the objective facts. (Christ, I’m insufferable on this subject.) But in context, I’m willing to admit Pryor may have meant no harm. After watching the replay dozens of times (fandom is horrifying), in slow motion no less, it seems to me Pryor was trying to toss the ball to the ref, who incidentally was standing right behind Webb, who was on the ground. I think what happened is the stickum on Pryor’s gloves made the ball come out funny (the trajectory  didn’t even match his arm motion), and that Webb just so happened to be standing up as the ball wobbled out. … Yes, I know. We are in Zapruder territory.

BUT THE PENALTY WAS FINE. This is the critical takeaway.

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Right after the catch, Pryor’s rearing back in a way that suggests he’s aiming to give it to the ref.

First of all, officials aren’t psychic! Whatever Pryor meant or didn’t mean, the ref saw Pryor take an action he’s seen 1,000 other players take before–and 999 times out of that thousand, the action was intentional and the guy was taunting the dude he just burned. At game speed, the ref probably genuinely felt he saw Pryor taunt Webb. The fact he may have been wrong in that interpretation is immaterial. An incorrect judgment can be made for valid reasons. And that’s part of sports.

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Another angle. Pryor’s arm is out beyond where Webb even is. You can see Webb’s helmet here between the ref and Pryor.

Moreover, the two main arguments against the ref’s decision–“It’s the end of the game! You don’t call that!” and “Why would Pryor be dumb enough to cost his team with a flag like that?”–aren’t rational. To the former, rules are rules. Sometimes they raise your chances to win, sometimes they lower them, but either way you can’t demand that officials ignore them based on how much time is on the clock. To the latter point (the ref should’ve known Pryor wouldn’t do something that dumb), PLEASE see “Steelers-Bengals Playoff Game 2016.” Teams do dumb, selfish horseshit that rip defeat from the jaws of victory literally all the time. Pretty much every AFC team that made the Super Bowl this last decade got there because it taught its defense to wait til the ref’s back was turned before it punched someone in the ballsack. In the mind of the ref on Sunday, it was 100% possible Pryor would screw his team over.

Also! The penalty didn’t lose the Browns the game. McCown’s decision to throw into quadruple coverage on the very next play lost them the game. QUADRUPLE! Reminder: There were 21 seconds left, and Cleveland was on the Ravens’ 30. Old wisdom is a play takes about 7 seconds. So, the Browns had time for about three more plays. That’s two plays to nickel and dime toward the sideline, setting up for a final throw that’s 15-20 yards from the end zone and has a decent shot.

My point here? The penalty influenced the outcome but did not determine it.

Yes, I too would be salty a.f. if that had happened to my favorite team. But having lived through 2015 (no! there won’t ever be a blog post in which I don’t refer to last season with all the PTSD and gravitas of having fought in Fallujah), I know what it feels like to actually lose a game because of a penalty. ‘Member Jaguars?!?!?! Now that’s how you kick a fan base in the collective scrote. (Obligatory link to prove my point is real and not biased garbage.) This did not happen here, and so I am not apologizing for winning. And if you’re the kind of white knighting fan who does apologize for such things, STOP NOW. Show me a single Browns fan who wept for us after Coleman’s non-TD–which you can argue did more harm to our chances to win (down three scores on the road) than the penalty did to Cleveland’s (down one score at home and driving)–and I’ll reconsider.

Rant #3 – A Wild Patriots Fan Appeared!

I live next door to a bakery. The other day, I walked in for some carrot cake. I recognized the young guy behind the counter, a Pats fan I’ve been exchanging barbs with since I moved to my neighborhood two years ago. This was the first time we’d seen each other since the new season started.

Before I could even order:

“I give you credit. You called it,” he said. “You said Brady would be suspended and it would stand. I guess enough people thought he was guilty.”

“Are you sure that was me?” I said. “It sounds like something I would say, but I’ve been trying to be more polite in sports conversations.”

Him: “Are you serious? OF COURSE IT WAS YOU.”

My hate for the Pats is so strong that someone remembered me for it six months later. That’s disturbing, as is the pride I feel.

Rant #4 – All the Good Stuff!

The Ravens are 2-0. This time last year, we were 0-2. And last year it took eight games for us to get two wins. I’m filled with cautious optimism!

Mike Wallace and Eric Weddle are treasures. Flacco has thrown three TDs in 2016, and all three have gone to Wallace. And just by being here, Wallace lets others shine on underneath routes: Pitta had just the second 100-yard-plus game of his career (and his first since 2012, the last full year he didn’t have hip problems.) And Flacco himself looks decent! He tested Joe Haden, the Browns’ best CB, one too many times and got picked for it, but his arm is strong as ever, he continues to have that Roethlisbergian ability to not take sacks, and his short accuracy is maybe the best I’ve seen it. Part of that is probably that Wallace, the new Torrey Smith, runs much stronger routes than Torrey ever ran and is better at catching in traffic.

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Ravens’ special teams were excellent this week.

Our Weddle-led defense is balling too, and is actually ranked 2nd in the league right now. And that’s not a surprise: Outside the first 10 minutes in Cleveland, they’ve looked that good. The Bills and Browns aren’t studs on offense, but that’s two weeks of two different QBs (mobile, pocket), two different offenses (run-first, pass-first), two different environments (home, away) and two different situations (in control, down 20). And in both games, the D came up big. They pitched a shutout on the road for the last three quarters. The D line sacked McCown so much he can’t play this week. Discounting the 85-yard TD run that slants the total, the line kept Crowell to 48 yards on 17 attempts. The secondary got two picks, when previously McCown had thrown zero against us in three games. When’s the last time a Ravens defense got a game-changing turnover in a tense situation?

Special teams is shining too. Devin Hester is finding his return groove, Tucker went 3 for 3 (including a 52-yarder), and–of course–the comeback began when the extra point unit blocked Cleveland’s kick and ran it back for a safety. I give Harbaugh tons of credit. He was a special teams coach for 20 years before the Ravens hired him, and it shows.

Oh, and here is Justin Tucker rapping in a Baltimore chicken commercial! Enjoy.

Rant #5 – The Jagoffs

There are two very compelling things about the Jaguars.

The first is Blake Bortles’s hairline, which to me proves that quarterbacking the Jags is as hard as running the free world. This dude went from 100% right-swiped on Tinder to 42-year-old plumber lying to you about his Apex certification in ONE OFF-SEASON. My god, man. Take a break from football and invest in yourself. Care about you.

The second is this woman. I’m obsessed with this video. I’ve shared it with friends and loved ones. I appreciate everything about this wily ol’ Jags fan, from the way she starts her football analysis with a bemused chuckle to the way she needlessly references her “new beach house” (before clarifying that it wasn’t really on the beach) to the way she wraps up by staring into the camera with a snarl.

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This is Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. I actually like them more because he exists.

Aside from this, the only thing to report about the Jags game is there is a bizarrely high chance the Ravens will lose it! I can’t explain it. We never play them well. The Jags own the series 11-8, despite the fact in that timeframe the Ravens produced eight Hall of Famers (give or take) and won two Super Bowls. That is a fact so strange I almost believe Ozzie Newsome asked Harbaugh to throw those games for draft positioning.

Look at this wreckage: We lost our last game to them 22-20, on a field goal the NFL had to apologize for. We won the game before that 20-12 … after Tucker missed two field goals (!) and we fell for two trick plays on special teams. We lost the game before that 12-7 in primetime to rookie Blaine Gabbert, in the process netting 16 yards total in the whole first half and not getting a first down til 40 minutes in. These are HORROR STORIES. Now the Jaguars are fast and frisky, but a lot of that is on us. We play up and down to the level of our opponent. Naturally then, since this Sunday is not a divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh, I assume Flacco will personally gift-wrap three turnovers to Shahid Khan’s mustache.

WE SHALL SEE. But in the meantime, continue to light candles at your local place of worship for the health of our cornerbacks. Thanks for reading, and see you next week (sooner than five days after the game!)