Posted by: Mike Cornelius | January 11, 2015

A Weekend Of Good News For Roger Goodell

Given his high standing with the owners of the 32 NFL franchises, Roger Goodell isn’t likely to be writing his memoirs anytime soon. But when the football commissioner does get around to them, it’s certain that the chapter on the current season will be a particularly painful one. For the man who started as a 23-year old administrative intern in the NFL’s New York offices and wound up being called the most powerful man in sports, this season has been by far the worst of his tenure. But after months of mostly bad news, this weekend Roger Goodell finally caught a break. Actually, as the divisional round of the playoffs unfolded on Saturday and Sunday, he caught four of them.

The AFC’s top seed, New England was a seven point favorite over visiting Baltimore in the weekend’s first game. But the Ravens arrived at Gillette Stadium having won two of their last three playoff games there, and were not in awe of the Patriots. Baltimore opened the action with a 19-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, and needed just four more snaps to put the ball in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. The Ravens scored again on their next possession, with quarterback Joe Flacco hitting Steve Smith for 9 yards and a two touchdown lead.

The Patriots’ offense was slow to get started, but eventually Tom Brady ran in from 4 yards out to cap a 78-yard drive that put New England on the board. Late in the first half Brady found Danny Amendola down the left sideline for a touchdown that tied the game; only to have Baltimore answer with a go-ahead score just ten seconds before halftime. When Flacco connected with running back Justin Forsett in the third period the favored Patriots again trailed by two touchdowns.

But once again New England rallied, eventually knotting the score on a trick play, with Brady pitching a lateral to wide receiver Julian Edelman, who played quarterback in college. Edelman then heaved a scoring strike to Amendola on a play that covered 51 yards. Still it wasn’t until Brandon LaFell scored on Brady’s 46th postseason touchdown pass with just over five minutes to play that New England finally took the lead. When the Patriots defense turned aside the last desperate heaves by Flacco, Baltimore was finally vanquished, 35-31.

With the Ravens out of the playoffs, the conference championship round next weekend should be free of any references to Ray Rice and the mess that Goodell made of the case involving the former Baltimore running back. Just last week an internal investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller condemned the league for its failure to aggressively pursue the facts of Rice’s assault on his then fiancé in an Atlantic City hotel elevator last spring. The issue mushroomed into the biggest crisis of Goodell’s reign when video from inside the elevator became public, showing Rice viciously slugging Janay Palmer. With the Ravens now in the rear view mirror, discussion of the Rice debacle should be as well.

Saturday night the Seattle Seahawks buried the Carolina Panthers 31-17 in a game that was more lopsided than the score. That too was good news for Goodell, as it eliminated a team that manifestly didn’t belong in the playoffs at all. The Panthers “won” the NFC South division with a record of 7-8-1. Happy talk about what can happen on any given Sunday is all very nice, but a losing team making a run deep into the playoffs, or perhaps even making it to the Super Bowl would cause Vince Lombardi to roll over in his grave. With the Panthers out, order and the idea that playoff glory belongs only to the best teams was restored.

Sunday afternoon in Green Bay the hometown Packers scored on their first possession when quarterback Aaron Rodgers found Andrew Quarless over the middle from 4 yards out. But with Rodgers hampered by a left calf injury suffered in the last game of the regular season, the Green Bay offense wasn’t as dynamic as usual. Tony Romo and the Cowboys tied the score on their next possession, and then went on to take a lead they would hold until the 4th quarter. However the only score in the final 15 minutes was by the home team, as Rodgers capped a 9-play, 80-yard drive with a toss to Richard Rodgers that put the Packers ahead 26-21.

The victory by Green Bay, in the first playoff game between the two old rivals at Lambeau Field since the historic 1967 Ice Bowl, meant that Goodell and the league could put aside last week’s officiating mess as well. Dallas’s win over Detroit in the Wild Card Game was tainted by an egregiously bad call that thwarted a crucial drive by the Lions. With the Cowboys and Jerry Jones sent home the NFL won’t have to worry about a Super Bowl contender arriving in Arizona thanks to bad refereeing.

Appropriately enough, the Cowboys were the victims of a controversial, though ultimately correct call on Sunday. With four minutes to play Dez Bryant appeared to make a circus catch of a Romo pass deep in Green Bay territory. However the initial call on the field of a catch was overturned on review, which clearly showed the Bryant failed to control the ball as he fell to the ground. This week it’s the Cowboys who are left to complain, though with far less validity than the Lions and their fans.

Finally late Sunday afternoon Goodell got a bonus when the Colts beat the Broncos and the fading Peyton Manning. While that result means the AFC title game next weekend won’t be what must feel to most fans like the 500th edition of Brady versus Manning, in its place will be an intriguing generational matchup between the veteran Patriots’ signal caller and the Colts’ Andrew Luck. A similar story though with less dramatic contrast will be on display in the NFC showdown between Rodgers and the Seahawks Russell Wilson, who are closer in age though considerably separated in NFL experience.

In just his third year in the league Luck has already set records and shown considerable poise, with his quarterback rating improving every season. About the only thing he hasn’t done is take his team to the Super Bowl, a trip that Brady has made five times and that Rodgers and Wilson have both made once. Luck and the Colts may have a tough time overcoming New England to punch that first ticket to the big game. But having that drama instead of all the stories that could have been in the headlines next weekend is long overdue good news for Roger Goodell.  Whether he deserves it is a different question.

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