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Quick Inside Slant: Divisional Round

Impressions of the 2014 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.


By: Dustin Fisher

Well, Dallas was playing with house money anyway.

Eligible Receiver Downfield

Shane Vereen 2

Before I get into when a catch isn’t a catch and why it wasn’t a catch and why it still won’t be a catch next year, I want to talk about the brilliance of Bill Belichick. Earlier this year, I mentioned how I see a play about once every ten years that I didn’t see coming. This was shortly after the awesomeness that was the Stedman Bailey punt return against Seattle. Well, it happened again last week in the Patriots game. And just to ice the cake, I get to hear Ravens fans, players, and coaches whine about how Bill Belichick cheated because they didn’t think of it first.

Three times during a drive early in the second half, the Patriots used a formation neither myself nor John Harbaugh had never seen before, where they would line up Shane Vereen up as a slot receiver. HOWEVER, they declared him ineligible and lined him up on the line of scrimmage, inside of the wide out, who was also on the LOS. This declaration was announced over the loudspeaker at the stadium. Since declaring himself ineligible, Vereen was not allowed to receive a pass or be downfield while one was being thrown. He combated this issue by faking a screen pass, dropping back behind the LOS with his hands in the air, to sell the fake. MEANWHILE, on the other side of the line, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui lined up in a position normally occupied by a linemen, and went out for a pass, completely uncovered. All this is to say that the Patriots did something COMPLETELY LEGAL that has never been done before, and it confused the Ravens.

After the third time this happened on the drive, John Harbaugh stormed on the field to complain to the refs about the cheating Patriots. He said afterwards that he “had to go take the penalty to get their attention so they can understand what was going on.” I guess a time out would have been too subtle. Maybe some of that time spent complaining to the officials about the play could have been spent telling your defense how to defend the play. And if you can’t figure it out in that time, well, you’ve been outsmarted.

Once, as a volleyball coach – something I wasn’t particularly good at – I ran out of time outs and noticed my team was not properly aligned. I tried to call a time out and when not awarded that time out I didn’t have, we lost the point due to our illegal alignment. I complained to the down ref, asking him what I’m supposed to do if I see we’re out of position and can’t call a time out. “Lose” he said simply. And we did.

As did the Ravens. And I don’t blame them at all. This is something no team had ever seen before. I’m not entirely sure the Patriots defense would have adjusted properly to this play. What I can blame them for is whining about it afterwards, saying that the Patriots were trying to be too “deceptive.” Earlier in the same game, Joe Flacco went to hand the ball off to Justin Forsett, and instead, pulled the ball back into his chest and threw it downfield to a receiver. Nobody complained about that deception. Maybe somebody did the first time it ever happened. But it would have been nice to see Harbaugh and the Ravens take their lumps and give credit for such a smart play, rather than telling the media that he’s sure “the league will look at that type of thing.” Or maybe, perhaps, other teams will look at that sort of thing and we’ll start to see it more often. Just like the play-action pass. You got outsmarted by the smartest guy in the room, John. Learn from it and move on.

Catch 22

Dez Bryant 2

Yes, it was a catch. By every definition other than the one in the NFL rulebook. Dez Bryant clearly to all watching, went up, caught the ball, got three feet down (which is impressive, since most people only have two feet), and when going down to the ground, extended his arm toward the goal line. When that arm hit the ground, the ball came loose. By now, we’re all familiar that a receiver has to control the ball through the entire process if going to the ground during a catch. Most people call it the “Calvin Johnson rule” since he was “screwed” out of a game-winning “catch” back in 2011. Even casual football fans know this by now. Dez did not do this. Had he just tried to secure the catch like an average receiver, he’d have probably controlled it all the way through the process and given the Cowboys a first and goal from the 3-yard-line. But because he is such a freak athlete, he had it in his head that he had caught the ball already and was trying to go and get that touchdown himself. In short, his freakish athleticism worked against him. It’s a shame Romo didn’t throw it to Cole Beasley.

And since that moment, the rest of the world imploded in defiance of what the NFL considers a catch. “I know it when I see it” seems to be the primary argument from people who haven’t bothered to think this all the way through. Because that won’t cause any arguments. I completely agree that this seems like a catch, but the rule has been put in place to give as definite a line as possible to help each individual human official get the same result from any given play. If we start to leave anything in this world today up to individual interpretation, the idiots with computers will explode the internet, and John Harbaugh will have some legitimacy to his complaints. Which is why they won’t change this rule. If anybody out there wants to write the rule in a way that can be easily interpreted by EVERYONE, please add it to the comments section below. Otherwise, holster that emotion and let’s move on. There are still three games left. Four, if you consider the Pro Bowl a game.

Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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4 Responses to “Quick Inside Slant: Divisional Round”
  1. kesseljunkie says:

    “Four if you consider the Pro Bowl”? I have yet to meet a living human being who does.

    • Apparently Roger Goodell does and that’s about it. The players certainly don’t. My relationship to the Pro Bowl is usually one of flipping through the channels and seeing football and being confused until I say “Oh yeah. The Pro Bowl!”

  2. Larry says:

    I still don’t get why it wasn’t a catch.
    Say what you want about Belichick’s personality etc, but the guy will anything he can to win the game. He is innovative.

    • When going to the ground to catch a ball, you have to control the ball all the way through the process. The ball popped out when it hit the ground in this case. If you still don’t get why it wasn’t a catch, you’re among a very healthy population in the world.
      And yes, Belichick is smart. And people hate getting outsmarted. That’s why they don’t like him. It’s not like he does anything to piss people off other than do his job better than everyone else.