We love football for the grit, the toughness, the stars. We follow football and its storylines because sports is the best form of drama; it is completely unscripted and you truly never know what will happen. That isn’t always a positive however, because both on the field and off, inconsistency can damage the product, and not in just an X’s and O’s sense.
When it comes to the actual game on the field, inconsistency has marred teams from the dawn of the game and is often the downfall for otherwise contending teams. Take a look at this past Sunday night, Bears vs. 49ers. San Francisco dominated the Bears early on (or at least the Bears let themselves be dominated). Then things turned around late in the second quarter. Brandon Marshall made an incredible catch for the Bears’ first touchdown of the game. The second half then starts, San Francisco uses up over half of the third quarter and they get a mere three points out of it. Chicago then goes on to score 21 unanswered points, all of Jay Cutler touchdown passes. This is not to count out the Chicago defense, who very much stepped up their game in the second half (most notably thanks to the play of rookie corner back Kyle Fuller). Truthfully, this looks bad on both the Niners and the Bears, despite their victory.
The 49ers have more concerns than you may think, even though they won their first game seemingly with ease. But the truth is that San Francisco, through their first 2 games, have 3 total second half points, whilst giving up 35 to their opponents. It is early in the season but that is not good whatsoever. Kaepernick has shown himself to have traits similar to Jay Cutler, in that now we know there is a good Kaepernick and bad Kaepernick, just like there is good Cutler and bad Cutler. Kaepernick didn’t turn the ball over once in their Week One win over the Cowboys. He turned it over four times, including three interceptions, against the Bears. San Francisco has been to three consecutive NFC Championship games and was a favorite to go again. Based on their play so far, the 49ers still have a long way to go before they can reach that level of quality, and if they can’t, you can be assured that consistency is to blame. For the Bears, they still have a lot of issues to sort out as well. This is a team that was predicted by many to contend for a playoff spot, but they will need their defense to play like they did in the second half against San Francisco throughout the remaining 14 games, not like they did against Buffalo and the first half this past Sunday night. And on offense, even with Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, if Jay Cutler regresses and has a “bad Jay” day, they have almost no chance to win. These are not the only two teams which require more consistency, but they are two prominent examples. Inconsistency kills, but that goes beyond killing playoff dreams all the way to killing an entire brand.
The NFL is not dying out any time soon, you can bet on that. That doesn’t mean, however, that its public image isn’t going to be taking a beating for some time. Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, Adrian Peterson, Josh Gordon, Wes Welker. There is some major star power on that list. What do they all have in common? Each one of those players is contributing to the continued damage to “the shield,” ironically the one thing that Commissioner Roger Goodell has tried to protect more than anything else in his tenure (that includes the brains of ex-players). Domestic violence, child abuse, drugs. This is the stuff an episode of Law & Order:SVU is made of, not a typical sports headline.
Ray Rice beat his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator earlier this year. He was subsequently suspended for two games by the NFL. Then the tape of the actual event was revealed to the public. The Ravens released Ray Rice, and then the NFL suspended him indefinitely. Whether the NFL saw the tape before the public did or not, it’s insane to just change a suspension when the heat is on after the public is now aware of exactly what’s wrong. Why not just suspend him indefinitely from the outset and then if it turns out that he was innocent or something, you just cut the suspension off earlier. This looks bad on the NFL and especially on Goodell. But this is where the inconsistency comes in. There is a new penalty in the NFL, a six game suspension for a first domestic violence incident and an indefinite suspension for a second. Greg Hardy is currently appealing a conviction for a domestic violence charge, yet he is currently playing for Carolina (although he was inactive this past Sunday). Ray McDonald is in the midst of a domestic violence problem yet is active for San Francisco. I understand not wanting to jump to conclusions, but that ship has long since sailed for the National Football League. The Ray Rice case opened up a can of worms for Roger Goodell and the league, and it has created inevitable inconsistency. Greg Hardy is active, then inactive, now his status is up in the air and the NFL itself hasn’t done anything yet. Ray McDonald is playing on the grounds of due process, which is understandable, but again, because of the Rice incident you either have to commit to doing something with him or ignoring it if you’re the NFL.
Then you look at Adrian Peterson. A seemingly decent human being, even though he has certainly made his fair share of mistakes, and one of the faces of the NFL today. There is evidence that he has beaten at least one of his kids, there are allegations of more cases and he has admitted to corporal punishment for his children. What has the NFL done? Nothing as of yet. The Minnesota Vikings deactivated Peterson for one game, in which they were annihilated by the New England Patriots, and now he is planning on playing next week. This isn’t as much of an NFL issue as it is a problem with Minnesota, but if the NFL is going to act like a tough guy here, they have got to lay down some punishment on AP, even if he is a future hall of famer (also, this is completely spineless by Minnesota, for the record. The Ravens cutting Ray Rice for his transgressions was on the extreme end of things, but sitting Peterson for just one game is irresponsible, to say the least).
More than any of the previously mentioned cases, however, inconsistency is evident in how the NFL has handled the suspensions of several players who were in suspended for drug usage. For example, Wes Welker received a four game suspension for amphetamines and Josh Gordon received a full year suspension for another failed drug test resulting from marijuana use. The argument here is not about whether or not weed should be tested for, or whether Gordon deserves a full year suspension for smoking it (repeatedly, it should be noted). The argument is whether or not he still deserves the full suspension after other players, who were suspended also prior to the new drug policy being announced, had their suspensions effectively ended and will be returning to their teams. Wes Welker will be returning to the Broncos while Josh Gordon is still waiting about two months to see the field again. It’s on Josh Gordon for repeatedly breaking the rules, however, if other payers are going to have their suspensions completely overturned, Gordon deserves that as well. Yes, Welker had a much shorter suspension in the first place, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he is no longer serving any of the remaining games he was suspended for. Cutting a few games off of a season-long suspension doesn’t cut it; either get rid of the suspension (and in Gordon’s case cut it to a much more reasonable number) for everyone or don’t allow anyone to get off easy.
Inconsistency can and will kill a team. Their aspirations and Super Bowl hopes will be crushed if they cannot remain consistent throughout an entire season on the field. And while it won’t kill the NFL, inconsistency will indeed damage the league to a point where the damage control effort won’t even truly be able to cover up the mistakes. Whether you’re a gunslinging quarterback or a commissioner under the gun, inconsistency will you bring you down, and for the sake of the viewing public and consumers of the product, that may be a good thing in at least one case.
Written by Brendan Dzwierzynski. You can hear Brendan on Tuesday nights at 7 for The Pregame and also on Friday afternoons at 3.