The other night, I get sucked into watching "The Natural" for the 5,000th time. And like always, I ask myself the same question: Why don't the Pirates walk Roy Hobbs after they take out Youngberry in the ninth? John Rhoades comes in but he inherits a 2-0 count. And with runners at first and third with two out, the smart thing is to walk Hobbs, despite him bleeding from his side. But Rhodes gives up the dinger every time.
I think that's the real point of that scene. Everyone focuses on the home run and the lights, but I see the bad Pittsburgh strategy (which has mirrored real-life strategy for the Pirates the last 20 years), and also the lack of celebration from Wilford Brimley, who simply smiles and shakes the hand of his bench coach after the homer. Really? Hobbs just hit a home run to win the pennant! How was that not focused on more during shooting? Hey Wilford, act like you're actually excited and not doing an oatmeal commercial. That's the real point.
The NFL has been like that the last few days. Huge storylines that have blossomed and are going to get a lot of play over the coming days and weeks, and I think the real point has been missed on a lot of them. So we'll look at the popular point and the real points.
The floundering Eagles
The popular point: The defense is all over the place. Nnamdi Asomugha is playing out of position, and no one is making plays. Michael Vick is too inconsistent and injured. They can't protect him, and he's frustrated. Ronnie Brown has been invisible. They're in trouble. The Bills will destroy them this week.
The real point: The Eagles are just fine. Don't panic. The motto to the first half of the NFL season for me is, "Teams that stay together, win together."
Yes, the Eagles brought in every player they could, short of Brett Favre, and I'm not convinced that didn't almost happen. They imported Asomugha, Brown, Jason Babin, Harold Carmichael, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Cullen Jenkins. All of them were expected to play huge roles this year. They will. But they have to find their identity first. It's going to take awhile for them to gel and to figure things out. Eventually, they'll let Jenkins go back to being the player he was in Green Bay. They have to figure out how to best use Brown and how to take Asomugha away from playing pseudo-safety.
They're still tinkering because they've only had two months together. And they're not accustomed to this amount of scrutiny. It's different when the pressure of an entire league is on you in a Super-Bowl-or-bust season. You have to figure out how to handle it. It's just going to take some time on both of those fronts. No one is going to run away with the NFC East. It will still be there Week 8 for the Eagles to hit their gear, and they'll win the division. They play at Buffalo this week and I think it's a chance to get away from home on a short road trip and get it together.
Tony Romo is Public Enemy No. 1
The popular point: Romo continually costs the Cowboys games. How much longer can this go on? Deion Sanders can't trust him. Dirk Nowitzki supports him. Chris Cooley said he enjoyed watching Romo choke. A polarizing figure, to say the least.
The real point: There's only one thing Romo has to figure out, and it's fixable. Very fixable. For this I have to co-credit NFL.com's Steve Wyche. Talking about Romo with him earlier this week, it's not about what happens in the first three quarters, it's about the fourth. Late fourth. Look, QBs are going to throw picks during the course of games, even pick sixes. But it's the backing-up-throwing-off-one-leg-to-Jason Witten-in-the-middle-of-the-field interceptions that doom the Cowboys.
Everyone wanted to compare the Eagles to the Miami Heat in the preseason, and that's viable. But I think you can compare Romo to the Heat, in that ultimate success is judged by how you close out games. Romo is not a closer. It's not his fault. The guy just has never won ... in his life. He fell short of a state championship in high school, and his collegiate career at Eastern Illinois wasn't quite like quarterbacking at the Horseshoe. His biggest game was a playoff loss ... to Western Illinois.
Now you throw the guy into DALLAS, where the spotlight is just a tad hotter and it takes awhile to understand the NFL. Sometimes years. If he had a better grasp of understanding how to end games, Dallas would be unbeatable. With the bye this week, if I'm Jason Garrett, I beat into Romo's head how important it is to not give away games in the final minutes. I show him flash cards of incompletions and ones of interceptions, and hook him up to a buzzer that shocks him every time he chooses the interception card.
Throw it away and live to fight another down. Realize the weight of the moment. I know Romo's been in the league since 2003, but he's never really had a chance to master winning time. He still takes too many chances. He can still take them, just less in the final two minutes. He doesn't have to be a QB who throws TDs late to pull out games. That won't happen. He has to be a QB who will be smart at the end. That's all it is with Romo. That's it. Rest of the time, he's a top eight NFL quarterback. I still say Dallas is a playoff team and can have a deep run. I fully expect them to still be there at the end of the season as a wild card along with the Lions.
The popular point: Baltimore embarrassed them. Mark Sanchez was awful. The Jets are overrated. Is their defense not as good as we thought? Are they still a playoff team? But they do have New England on Sunday, who can't stop anyone, so there's hope.
The real point: They're close to a locker-room meltdown. Forget about the playoffs. The SEASON is this week for the Jets. When Santonio Holmes throws Sanchez under the Gang Green bus by saying the QB needs to "do a better job making his reads and getting the ball to playmakers," it shows you the real level of respect the team has for Sanchez.
You can say all the nice things you want when you're winning, but when bullets start to fly, true emotions come out. They don't trust Sanchez. Would Ray Lewis say the same thing about Joe Flacco? This was a naked moment where a team captain called out the QB because he needed more. Should he have? Of course he should have. The look in Sanchez's eyes in pregame warmups was the 45-to-3 look I saw on him in New England last year. He can't have those moments again. As a Jets fan, I was just stunned by all of these developments. I thought they, and Sanchez, were past it. Obviously not.
We'll find out EVERYTHING about the Jets, and Sanchez, this week. Doesn't have to be a win, but it has to be a fight, and Sanchez has to take the team by the collar once and for all, step up and lead. The Jets can't run the football anymore, despite Rex Ryan saying they're going to return to "ground and pound." That's nice, but you don't have Arian Foster or Darren McFadden running for you. You have disappointing (Shonn Greene), old (LaDainian Tomlinson) and unproven (Joe McKnight). No matter what they say, the Jets' way out is through the air. If Sanchez has another listless, bad-body-language performance against the Patriots on Sunday, at the end of the season we'll look at this two-game span as the time the Jets started thinking about a long-term quarterback change.
Victor Cruz, fumble or no fumble?
The popular point: It was a fumble. It wasn't a fumble. The officials blew it. The officials made the right call. How does Cruz not know what to do, that you don't put the football on the ground? Hand it to the referee!
The real point: Cruz didn't want to get hit, which is an alarm bell for me if I'm the Giants. A guy I'm counting on didn't want to get tackled so he gave up and put the ball on the ground. There's no way in the WORLD he thought he was touched, as he said. He takes six steps after initial contact. Six. That's a short flight of stairs. I would know if someone is pushing me down a flight of stairs. No, he saw three guys surrounding him and didn't want to get tackled. I remember thinking that way, but I was 8 and playing tackle football against 12-year-olds for the first time with no pads. He pulled a Clinton Portis and decided enough was enough. Really? You're down a field goal with three minutes left on the road and every yard is precious and you decide fighting forward for another few yards wasn't worth it? Probably was an interesting week for Cruz in the Giants' locker room.
Hank Williams Jr.'s faux pas
The popular point: He's loony. How do you compare our President to Hitler? And even though he apologized, it doesn't change anything. Should he still be the "Monday Night Football" opening act? You have to get rid of him.
The real point: Let me give a Celebrity 101 lesson to everyone who's going to have a microphone in front of them at some point: Whatever is going on, whatever you don't like, do NOT make an analogy to the following three things: Hitler, 9/11, and slavery. Just. Don't. Do. It.
You never will come off looking good, smart, or provocative. You will look like someone out of touch in a politically correct society that has zero tolerance in the media and general public perception. You will be shunned and it will define your career. Adrian Peterson saying NFL players were like slaves? How did that play? I'd like to think eventually people will stop doing it but it still keeps happening. Compare your opinions to the economy, or the Cold War, or the movie "War Games". Just stay away from those three rails.