With under two minutes to go in the second half of a one-point game, Robert Griffin III's helmet communicator 'malfunctioned'. That didn't prevent him from marching down the field, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up a few easy completions to lose the games, but it's a familiar sight around the NFL. In late, close games, the helmet communicators of visiting teams suddenly 'malfunction'. They stop working.
Santana Moss certainly didn't think it was a coincidence that Griffin's connection to the sideline cut out at the most crucial moment in a hostile stadium. After the game, he essentially accused the Buccaneers of cheating, via Yahoo! Sports.
"Happens every time," Moss said after the game. "No lie. I've been in the league 12 years, I've been in plenty of games, and the home team goes, 'Oh well.' " Then he mimicked yanking an imaginary plug out of a wall.
Go back just one week, and Josh Freeman experienced the same problem in Dallas. On third-and-9 just before the two-minute warning, the fourth-year quarterback called a running play to get something off. That play-call was baffling, but it was caused by a 'malfunctoning' helmet communicator. We've all read stories like that before, and they're not isolated occurrences.
In October of last year, Mike Martz complained to the Chicago Tribune that they have "always had that problem here for some reason", referring to headset problems after a game in Detroit. Earlier that year, Mark Sanchez had problems when his headset 'malfunctioned' during a close AFC Championship loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, via ESPN. In 2010, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the same issue in a close loss to the Atlanta Falcons, one that cost them a spot in the playoffs.
Back to September of last year, and Jason Garrett actually accused the Jets of sabotaging the helmets, via Larry Brown Sports. "It seems to happen a lot on the road. You've just got to fight your way through that." In fact, Larry Brown has a small archive of incidents going back to 2007.
This has been accepted as standard practice in the NFL. You're on the road and the game is close? You're going to have problems with your headset. But this practice hurts the NFL, and it's shocking that this has never been addressed before. The media and coaches still use euphemisms like 'malfunctions' or 'problems' when talking about this issue, even though technology has progressed to a point where this really shouldn't be an issue. And certainly not an issue that is somehow only restricted to the visiting side in the final minutes of close games.
By rule, when a communicator cuts out on one side, the other side will have its communications cut off as well. But it should be obvious that a quarterback and the offense benefit more from the ability to communicate than does the defense, especially in two-minute, hurry-up situations where the defense often plays the same coverage on every snap. The home team tries to take away the advantage of communication through simple cheating.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheated yesterday, and still lost the game. But this isn't about the Buccaneers, as they've been the victim of this kind of cheating over and over again themselves. It's about an NFL that refuses to address something that actually hurts the game in subtle ways. Fans are paying for he right to see an athletic contest decided by skill and luck, but not by cheating. When will the NFL address this?