San Francisco 49ers

Das Bloat: NFL games bogged down by penalties, reviews

Video: Five things to watch when the 49ers visit Seahawks

Sacbee reporter Matt Barrows with five things the SF 49ers need to do to get a victory when the visit the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.
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Sacbee reporter Matt Barrows with five things the SF 49ers need to do to get a victory when the visit the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.

When the director’s cut of “Das Boot” was released, reviewers said the new version remained a fascinating depiction of life inside a German U-boat but that with a whopping 209-minute running time, Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 masterpiece was way, way, way too long.

Sunday’s game between the Cardinals and Seahawks was 24 minutes longer. Yes, the plot was excellent and the ending was unexpected. But the editing was terrible.

Viewers who tuned in to see 20-something athletes in their physical primes instead saw airtime hogged by red-faced Bruce Arians, gum-chomping Pete Carroll and referee Clete Blakeman. The third quarter alone was an hour-long slog. The game, which didn’t include overtime, ended at 12:13 a.m. on the East Coast.

Cardinals-Seahawks was one of five contests in Week 10 that lasted 3:20 or longer. The biggest threat to America’s favorite sport isn’t head injuries or bad behavior. It’s tedium. If Cardinals-Seahawks had a title, it would be “Das Bloat.”

Arizona guard Mike Iupati’s neck injury – the ex-49er was cleared for practice this week – added to the running time, and no one will complain about that. The real delays were caused by 23 penalties, three replay reviews and three coach’s challenges.

There is nothing more tiresome than watching the same play over and over while listening to two men describe what you are watching six different ways. Does the ball hit the ground? Let’s spend the next five minutes discussing the matter and bring in an expert – an ex-official – to hear his opinion.

There is nothing more tiresome than watching the same play over and over while listening to two men describe what you are watching six different ways.

The NFL is airing these marathons at a time when it is trying to spread the game abroad. The league will continue to play three games per year in London, with Twickenham Stadium being added to the mix next year and a new stadium in North London becoming a twice-a-year venue for the NFL beginning in 2018.

In addition, the league wants to play a game in Mexico City in 2016. Germany has been discussed as well.

The overseas obstacle is that the team sports those nations watch now – soccer mainly – aren’t stop and go. At all. In English Premier League soccer, for example, the whistle sounds, and there’s 45 minutes of continuous airtime. There’s a 15-minute halftime. Then the sides play another 45 minutes with perhaps three or four minutes tacked onto the end. The clock doesn’t stop.

In sports-insane Australia, all sports – whether it’s Rugby League or Aussie Rules football – operate that way. The biggest complaint from new Australian 49ers fans (other than, “Hey, mate, why don’t they give Jarryd Hayne a go?”) is that an NFL game is so halting and disjointed. A Rugby League telecast lasts 90 minutes. An NFL contest spans an entire afternoon.

One problem is that NFL coaches are such notorious control freaks they make German U-boat commanders seem easygoing. Yet they are given the power to stop the clock. They go into games armed with three timeouts per half and also can throw their red hankies to challenge a play, something that Arians, Arizona’s coach, did three times in Seattle.

One problem is that NFL coaches are such notorious control freaks they make German U-boat commanders seem easygoing.

On one of them, Arians didn’t think a Seattle runner picked up enough yards for a first down. That runner, however, vanished in a sea of bodies, and everyone watching knew Arians had no chance to win the challenge. But the game was halted for two and a half 2 1/2 minutes – or the length of five Michelob Ultra commercials – nonetheless.

Last year, coaches threw their challenge flag a combined 274 times. Only 35 percent of the plays in question were overturned, however, a clear signal that officials are willing to reverse themselves only when there’s an obvious mistake.

The challenges should be taken out of the coaches’ hands and given to an impartial observer in the press box. If there’s an obvious officiating error, that observer calls down and halts the game.

If there’s not – please, we’re begging you – play on.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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