Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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Sidney Rice has retired. Is he the most random single-season DYAR leader ever? One-year wonder? Injury prone? We offer a career retrospective for the second-best wide receiver named Rice in NFL history.

25 Jan 2010

Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

compiled by Bill Barnwell

Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

Please also note that we do not write the e-mails specifically to produce this column, so we might not discuss every aspect of the game to the level we do in our other articles.

New York Jets 17 at Indianapolis Colts 30

Tom Gower: Nice job of playcalling this first drive -- Session overcommitted to Richardson's action, and Hayden was playing well off, so the slant was wide open.  Also, should Thomas Jones still be getting carries for any reason other than to give Greene a rest?

Aaron Schatz: Has anyone noticed how Manning just goes right down when the pass rush gets to him? He doesn't even take a hit, he just crumples to the ground if he knows a sack is coming.

Interesting to note that on Indy's first drive, they had Revis on Pierre Garcon and then Dallas Clark, over on the offensive right. Then they moved him back to the offensive left, up against Reggie Wayne as we all expected.

Tom Gower: He's done that for a couple years, I think. Any time he thinks a sack is inevitable and he has a chance, he does it.

Bill Barnwell: Jets with two sacks on two consecutive passes after having two (non-tripping-over-Saturday) sacks against Ryan defenses over Manning's career.

Steve Tasker's on-site? Maybe the Colts could use him on their coverage units.

That 61-yard punt by Weatherford had eyes. Wow.

Doug Farrar: That's now Lowery and Sheppard just demolished at the line by stutter moves.

Vince Verhei: It seems that Manning has either had no time and been sacked, or the blitz has been picked up and he has had forever -- witness the out-and-up-and-curl route that Reggie Wayne ran.

As far as Manning going down whenever the rush is near, that's part of why hasn't missed a game, I don't think, ever.

Tom Gower: I bet they don't call that Edwards deep shot from their own 6, if Indy had gone for it instead of settling for 3 and failed.

Is it just me, or has CBS been especially worthless this game when it comes to providing useful replays?

Bill Barnwell: NFL Matchup pointed out that the Jets love to go deep on the third series. Sure enough, third series, deep pass, six.

Aaron Schatz: If the Colts snap the ball while CBS is promoting one of their other shows, that's a good sign you can expect a penalty on the other team.

Also, when Peyton Manning is getting angry at the ref because he won't get out of the way for a quarterback sneak, this is a good sign to the Jets that the next play will be a quarterback sneak.

Vince Verhei: Peyton was fuming at the refs after the sneak failed -- if it wasn't because the refs blew the spot, then I think he thought the Jets were lined up offside.

Tom Gower: Yeah, if the refs won't let you run a QB sneak and the defense has plenty of time to prepare for a QB sneak, then don't go ahead and run the damn QB sneak into a locked-in defense.

Also, Jim Caldwell needs to talk to Herm Edwards about what you do.

Bill Barnwell: It's only really been two big plays by the Jets, but Sanchez has moved the ball effectively, and that was a fantastic play to stay in the pocket and release an accurate pass to Keller for a touchdown. His "I'm going to throw a wild pass as I'm being sacked" play was a little terrifying to see. 

Peyton Manning, on the other hand...

Vince Verhei: I'm sure I will get mail about this from Jets fans, so let me say this before it gets here: Sanchez's first half, and that excellent touchdown pass in particular, have been very non-JaMarcus-like.

Aaron Schatz: People reading that ESPN piece had a hard time differentiating between "A is like B, so Sanchez is screwed for life" and "A's stats are like B's stats, so perhaps Sanchez's rookie season wasn't as good as you think."

Sean McCormick: The Jets have quietly lost two of their top four cornerbacks in the first half with Lowery and Strickland.  That means that guys who shouldn't be in the game are in the game, and Manning immediately found Drew Coleman on that long pass to set up the Colts first touchdown.  

Vince Verhei: On how many teams would Austin Collie be the best receiver? Oakland, Miami, St. Louis for sure, Tennessee, Jacksonville, the Jets, the Chiefs...

True, but when you say "found Drew Coleman," he actually had very good coverage, but Manning threw a perfect touch pass.

Tom Gower: There's a BIG difference between working the slot with Wayne and somebody else decent like Garcon, with Peyton throwing the ball, and being the #1 target.  Tremendously productive, yes, but let's not crown him too quickly.

Mike Kurtz: The game has a close score but it feels like a larger disparity between the two teams. I think it's because the Jets have been more consistently effective on offense (astoundingly, though passing) than the Colts, but most of the offense for each has been on mediocre-to-blown coverage opening up big plays. If the game continues like this, I'd have to be worried about whether the Jets' passing game can keep up in the second half.

Of course, it's probably not, and these teams will more and more go back to their comfort zones.

Aaron Schatz: I think the best thing for the Colts to do is to leave more guys in to block and trust that Manning can find guys open against a Jets secondary that's missing some guys to injury. He'll find the guys, even with fewer receivers out there running around.

Vince Verhei: Dan Marino at halftime: "Every time the Colts run the ball is a victory for the New York Jets."

Not counting Manning's failed sneak, the Colts are averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and five of their 11 carries have gained 4 yards or more.

Tom Gower: The Jets seemed to learn from the first bootleg -- they had TE Ben Hartsock lined up outside RT and rather than running a route he got the seal on Mathis on the move after he realized Sanchez was booting back his way. Losing the short option is better than getting your QB destroyed.

David Gardner: Man, Feely is killing my fantasy team right now.

Is it too late to nominate these Southwest "Bags fly free" commercials as the most annoying?

Aaron Schatz: I think if the Jets are going to risk giving the ball back to the Colts around the 40-yard line, the better risk-reward scenario on the first drive of the third quarter would have been to treat it as fourth-down territory, run a draw or something on third and go for it on fourth, rather than hoping Feely could hit from 52.

Will Carroll: Estimates inside Lucas have Jets fans at about a third.

David Gardner: I also think it's funny that Jim Nantz called the Colts offense hurry-up. They didn't huddle, which they almost never do, and they snapped the ball with fewer than 10 seconds left on the play clock.

The weird thing is that Lowry isn't really getting worked by Pierre Garcon. He's playing Garcon tight, but Manning is threading it.

Aaron Schatz: Nope. Collie sure is working Drew Coleman, though. I can't tell if Revis is taking Wayne out of the game, or Garcon and Collie playing well against the lesser defensive backs is making it so they don't even need to test Revis.

Tom Gower: The difference between Peyton and a very good but not ridiculously so QB like Rivers: Colts wide receivers, like on a couple passes to Garcon that drive, are just as tightly-covered as the Chargers wideouts were last week, but Peyton is throwing ridiculously good passes.

Aaron Schatz: I hate to tell you, Rivers actually *can* make a lot of those throws... although he's better at dropping it over the top of a guy who is well-covered than threading it in to a guy who's well covered.

Tom Gower: Yeah, that's the throw that Peyton does better than anybody else.  Rivers and the Chargers' wideouts are a great fit for their respective strengths, but they're not complete the same way.  Peyton has that pass, too, which IIRC he used to great effect to Clark in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, not to pick at a nit or anything, but that's not where their strength is right now.

Vince Verhei: Colts listen to Dan Marino -- first drive of the second half, eight passes, no runs, 57 yards, touchdown. Manning is finding Garcon and Collie basically whenever he wants to. Announcers talk about Manning having figured out the Jets' blitz packages, and it looks like that's what's happened -- the wide receiver screen to Addai, for example, the ball was released right over a pair of blitzers. Addai had to slip a couple of tackles, but he slipped them partly because the defenders were out of position.

David Gardner: I don't think that hit by Bullitt was intentionally dirty, because the Jets have been running a lot of play-action stuff. I think it was definitely a penalty, though.

Bill Barnwell: Sanchez follows a great throw over the middle by missing a wide-open Cover-2 hole in zone. Phil Simms: "Great throw..." The throw was two yards out of bounds!

Vince Verhei: An example of fumble luck: Reggie Wayne fumbles in the middle of three or four Jets, but the ball bounces right back into his chest.

Bill Barnwell: Colts' blitzes aren't getting there. Took forever to get that corner around the edge on third down and he still didn't wrap up Sanchez. Result was a deep bomb to Edwards that could've been pass interference, either way.

They're now killing the Jets with underneath stuff, all curls and slants, nothing deep.

Tom Gower: I watched the Clark TD about 4 times trying to figure out who was supposed to be in coverage and still can't figure it out.  It looked like the two safeties were playing deep zones and neither Harris nor Ihedigbo dropped or reacted to Clark's movement at all.  I'm guessing Ihedigbo was supposed to have him, but that looks like a very poorly-timed busted coverage.

Aaron Schatz: I did like the replay they first showed of that touchdown, though. They showed this closeup of Clark that REALLY did nothing to show you who blew the coverage. It was the opposite of the all-22 angle: The "All-1 angle."

Vince Verhei: Manning is virtually forcing the ball to Garcon now. He gets open on a slick, slick little hitch-and-corner route and gets a first down. Cut to Bill Polian, grinning and clapping in exuberance. If the Colts win the Super Bowl, every Colts fan on every message board on the Internet is going to have an animated GIF of Polian there in their signature.

Bill Barnwell: Jets stopped getting big plays in second half. Without the big plays, they couldn't go station-to-station with first downs. Losing Greene also hurt. 

Tom Gower: Sanchez is, I believe, 7-15 for 75 thus far in the second half, while Jones has 8 for 27.  Greene was 2-14 before leaving with the injury.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's tough to run when you're averaging 5 yards per pass attempt and <3.5 yards per rush.

Will Carroll: Colts miss the chance to send in Painter. Too much of a tip of the cap to fans. 

Aaron Schatz: This is a better Colts team than the one that won the Super Bowl three years ago. I have to think they'll be favored in either Super Bowl matchup.

Tom Gower: New York Jets, Success Rate by back:
Shonn Greene: 7-10, 70%
Thomas Jones: 3-16, 19%

Will Carroll: Was the Greene injury the turning point in the game?

Vince Verhei: I don't think so. I think Barnwell nailed it a few posts ago -- the Colts settled down and stopped leaving receivers wide-open downfield. All their points today were set up by big plays -- the Braylon Edwards catch, the Brad Smith throw, and the fumble recovery. The Greene injury didn't help, obviously, but I don't think it made the difference.

Mike Kurtz: After relying on big plays in the first half, the Jets' offense couldn't keep up the production. Part of it was better coverage by the Colts, but Sanchez also just wasn't as good in the second half.

Ned Macey: The Colts were a little too excited about stopping the run, leading to the two big plays.  No idea why they didn't just show patience to make the Jets drive the ball down the field, like they did in the second half.  Still, the defense obviously dominated the second half. 
 
I thought Sanchez played well, made a number of really good throws, but he also made a handful of WTF passes when under duress (some of which he completed), and you can see why he has such a high INT %. 
 
Manning was just unreal.  I'm sorry but Collie and Garcon are mediocre to slightly above average players.  This team used to run out Brandon Stokley as its fourth option (or probably actually Dallas Clark that year).  That was just an incredible football game by a quarterback.  The Jets' pass defense DVOA was -34.6%.  It is not 2002 TB good, but it is about as good as any pass defense in recent years.  Manning just shredded it.  I know they were down some people, but Strickland is not exactly a great player. 
 
I also disagree that this Colts team is better than 2006.  This is, in my mind, the worst Colts team of the past six or seven years.  Sure the 2006 regular season defense was worse, but history has shown that it was somewhat of an aberration.  The Colts have consistently been a slightly above average defense for five years.  The 2006 Colts offense, meanwhile, was dominant.  Imagine if Pierre Garcon were instead an in his prime Marvin Harrison (first in DYAR that year).  What the hell would the Jets have done?  They would have been forced into two deep, and then the Colts would run all over you (see 2006 playoffs).  I think we should trust DVOA on some level that this Colts team was hardly dominant.  They have the best quarterback in history, but they are hardly dominant.
 
I expect they'll be favored, but I wouldn't put a lot of money on them against MIN.  I think NO is the better team, but I think IND matches up much better with them beause the Colts (today excluded) limit the big play, and NO thrives on those plays.  Anyway, it should be a pretty high scoring SB with about as high a level of QB play as we've seen in a long time.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, I think this defense is generally better. The guys who were young in '06 have more experience and are better now -- Brackett, Hayden, Bethea. The DTs are better. Even if the receivers aren't as good.

2006 Colts had regular season DVOA of 17.3%. 2009 Colts had regular season DVOA of 17.1%, but considering that includes the Curtis Painter experience, I think even DVOA registers the 2009 team (at least, the regular season version) as a little better.

To add to my last Colts comments... the 2009 Colts also had more Pythagorean wins than the 2006 Colts, even counting the Curtis Painter games. (10.8 vs. 9.6)

Minnesota Vikings 28 at New Orleans Saints 31

Vince Verhei: I just saw Pam Oliver and Brett Favre have a detailed discussion of the ethics and mechanics of slapping men on the ass. If the Vikings win I'm not turning my television on for two weeks.

Mike Kurtz: Adrian Peterson, despite only getting two carries, looked really good on the opening drive. If Minnesota can run and throw effectively, New Orelans doesn't have much of a chance.

Bill Barnwell: Will Smith apparently decided that he wanted to show off his ability to run in a perfect circle on that Peterson touchdown. 

Tom Gower:  With the Saints' weakness against power rush and the Vikes' propensity to slam Peterson into the line regardless of effectiveness, I figured we'd see a Fisher-type gameplan, and that certainly wasn't it.

Will Smith at least had outside contain.  Darren Sharper had "waving in the general direction of Peterson"-type contain.

Vince Verhei: Saints are blitzing Favre a lot, which is not a huge surprise, but they're sending their safeties from deep in the secondary a lot. I don't care if you have Usain Bolt at safety, that's going to give Brett Favre too much time to read and react more often than not.

Aaron Schatz: Jabari Greer is doing a good job, though. I think the only time they've thrown his way was the wide receiver screen, and Greer made the tackle. They had to move Rice to the middle of the field to get him away from Greer, then threw him the second touchdown.

Mike Kurtz: Bush pitch on third-and-1! AWESOME!

Tom Gower: Jared Allen did an excellent job of sniffing that play out AND getting outside enough to force Bush to cut it back inside.

Mike Kurtz: Fast forward to the end of the first half, and Favre on the last two drives has been just a bit off. Not horribly inaccurate, and it doesn't seem to be nerves, but just a touch off. It's made a huge difference.

Of course, Bush then fumbles a punt return, and Minnesota is in the driver's seat.

Bill Barnwell: After careful analysis, that's a muff and not a fumble.

Why were people all over the Reggie Bush bandwagon this week? He has these great games once every six or seven times out, and then he's bad for five games. This is nothing new.

Vince Verhei: And the Vikings hand it right back. I'm not sure which of those fumbles was more galling. I guess Minnesota had to run a play -- Bush had the option to get the hell out of the way and let the punt bounce.

Tom Gower: He had an obvious good matchup this week, with the loss of EJ Henderson.  Shockey's hurt, so he's not going to be able to take advantage of Brinkley, but Bush has the skillset to be able to do such things.

David Gardner: Don't worry. Adrian Peterson -- no doubt in a plot to ruin my playoff  fantasy chances -- fumbles at the goal line.

Mike Kurtz: Amusing note: fumbled handoff between Favre and Peterson, Aikman INSTANTLY (certainly without any replay) blames it on Favre. Because.

Aaron Schatz: On Bush, he didn't have to move out of the way. He could have called for a fair catch. That's what he should have done.

On Peterson/Favre, technically any fumble on the exchange like that is charged to the quarterback. Looking at that fumble I honestly couldn't figure out who's fault it was.

It seems to me that the Vikings aren't blitzing at all, even zone blitzes, but Jared Allen is basically taking away the deep pass on his own. He's pushing Bushrod backwards on every play but they don't get heat on Brees because the Saints are throwing all short passes. If they want to go deep, though, they're going to have to give Bushrod help.

Mike Kurtz: I like the Mass Effect 2 halftime stats.

Percent of game completed: 50%
Class: Gunslinger
Favorite Ally: Sidney Rice
Missions Completed: 2
Mission Failures: 2
Romance: Pam Oliver

Aaron Schatz: You know, the Saints don't do well when they play zone. They need to play less zone.

Bill Barnwell: Porter was holding Shiancoe's TOWEL on that corner route. Is that a penalty?

Mike Kurtz: Towel is part of the uniform, so holding them is the same as holding the jersey (or a non-obtrusive corrective brace!).

Tom Gower: Rule 5-4-6 covers Optional Equipment. (a) is Rib Protectors, (b) is Wrist Protectors, (c) is Towels, and (d) is Headwear Coverings (remember the early 90's do-rag controversies?).  Anyway, here's (c):

Towels, provided they are white licensed towels approved by the League office for use on the playing field. Players are prohibited from adding to these towels personal messages, logos, names, symbols, or illustrations. Such towels also must be attached to or tucked into the front waist of the pants, and must be no larger than 6 x 8 inches (slightly larger size may be issued to quarterbacks, or may be folded to these limits for wearing in games). A player may wear no more than one towel. Players are prohibited from discarding on the playing field any loose towels or other materials used for wiping hands and the football. Streamers or ribbons, regardless of length, hanging from any part of the uniform, including the helmet, are prohibited.

Um, Darius Reynaud, people don't normally catch punts at their own 1 for good and valid reasons.

David Gardner: I disagree with Troy Aikman. I think the rule is ticky-tacky, but Hargrove definitely drove him into the turf, and that's against the rules.

Oh no! I agree with Joe Buck. I think that's worse than being wrong.

Vince Verhei: Vikings get back-to-back lucky breaks as first ANOTHER Adrian Peterson fumble is recovered by Minnesota, and then they convert on third down on a roughing the passer call in which there is no way the pass rusher, whose face was pointing straight down, could have known the pass had been released.

Mike Kurtz: Dave: IT'S A TRAP

Bill Barnwell: Adrian Peterson does not want this football you keep handing him.

Aaron Schatz: The Brett Favre interception intended for a receiver with three defenders sitting right around him was really no worse than an earlier Drew Brees dropped interception intended for a receiver with three defenders sitting right around him. However, if we're going to be sticking to the rules as written, Bobby McCray should have received a personal foul for going low on Favre, the Carson Palmer rule. He clearly was lunging below Favre's knees on purpose. That was much more flag-able than the "driving Favre into the ground" penalty on Anthony Hargrove from a couple plays before.

David Gardner: I keep seeing that Pizza Hut "any pizza for $10 commercial" and wanting to call them and order a personal cheese pizza for that price.

Bill Barnwell: That's funny. I keep seeing the Domino's "your sauce tastes like ketchup" commercial and wanting to call them and order a pizza with ketchup instead of sauce.

Vince Verhei: Saints FINALLY recover a Vikings fumble! Miracles can happen!

David Gardner: Nobody on the Vikings wants that football.

Tom Gower: Yes, and despite trying to pick it up instead of just falling on it.  Then again, not like Minnesota was sensible either.

Bill Barnwell: Saints are clearly using a Game Genie to induce fumbles at this point. 

Vince Verhei: We knock the refs and replay a lot, but that Reggie Bush touchdown was one instance where they got it right -- the call on the field was clearly wrong, and they had a chance to reverse it. It was a huge play in a huge game, and they got it right. Kind of makes all the weird calls and bad challenges worth it.

Tom Gower: That #28 for the Vikings who made that 27-yard run on second-and-7?  That guy's a pretty good running back.  In unrelated news, the Adrian Peterson Touches Without Fumbling Counter now stands at 1.

David Gardner: Bernard Berrian does not want that football.

Mike Kurtz: The NFL on FOX should just go ahead and change its theme to Yakety Sax.

Either Favre isn't recognizing these megablitzes or he's just holding on to the ball way too long. Part of it is a good game by Greer, but in some part he's digging his own grave.

Tom Gower: How many times has the ball been thrown Greer's way, four?  How many times has the ball been thrown Porter's way, 20?  Do Buck/Aikman not realize that the Vikings have been targeting Porter the entire game, or are they just choosing not to talk about it?

Aaron Schatz: It's not Porter. I think they've split things between Porter, Gay, and the big gigantic holes in the zone where nobody wants to cover Shiancoe. I don't think they're picking on Porter specifically. But Greer *is* shutting down whoever he covers on each play.

David Gardner: Again, I disagree with Aikman on that call. I thought Porter had position and that Berrian jumped into him. Thought that could have been incidental contact.

Will Carroll: Favre's ankle's no big deal. He had it taped. That's hardly "limited mobility" except in the strictest sense. He twisted it, it hurts, it will swell, so I'd be curious what he's doing in between series. I haven't seen anything shown. 

Vince Verhei: Peterson score to tie the game at 28. You know, you take away the turnovers, and this has been a complete Vikings asskicking -- they're up 429 to 227 in yards, 28 to 12 in first downs.

Mike Kurtz: Joe Buck also seems to think that every single handoff is delayed. Every. Single. One.

Bill Barnwell: Tracy Porter wins KCW for that "tackle". Yeesh. 

Mike Kurtz: Time for everyone's favorite awful coaching move, "playing for the long field goal." NFL fever... catch it!

Vince Verhei: Vikings get within range of a 51-yard field-goal attempt ... and then run the ball for no yards and let the clock run. I don't care if they hit this kick, that's a terrible, terrible decision.

David Gardner: Why would you run a play to go away from the middle of the field there? I hope they run another play for the sake of Longwell.

Tom Gower: Marv Levy is probably available for consultation on whether kicking the long field goal instead of keeping to try on offense is a good move. So is Scott Norwood if you can find him.

Mike Kurtz: This penalty may be a gift, as playing for a 56-yard field goal is JUST TOO CRAZY.

David Gardner: You can't call back-to-back timeouts! Favre got away with one there thanks to the penalty. Back-to-back timeouts is a 15-yard penalty.

Tom Gower: Back to back timeouts is only a 15-yard penalty when you're icing the kicker.  When you're on offense, the call for a second timeout is just ignored.

Brett Favre throws an unconscionable interception.

Vince Verhei: There is the Brett Favre I have been expecting to see all season!

Aaron Schatz: Total Favre throw.

Bill Barnwell: Tracy Porter is Mike Adams reincarnate. What an awful throw.

Mike Kurtz: My brain hurts. It was like a masterclass on how to not win a game.

Aaron Schatz: I've got to give props to K.C. Joyner on this tweet, esp. since I think we are among the people being addressed:

"People ask me all the time what qualifies as a bad decision. All I can say is that pass definitely would be in that category."

David Gardner: Let's not overlook the possibility, either, that Favre's career could end on an equally bad pass as the one that ended his Green Bay career in the NFC Championship Game against New York two years ago.

Aaron Schatz: Minnesota just lost its best cornerback to an injury on kickoff coverage. Uh-oh.

Tom Gower: So, of course, the Saints start off with two straight runs. There's a reason Peyton Manning gets a lot of credit for being really damn observant, and this is a good explanation of why.

Vince Verhei: Any other team, I would say run it on fourth-and-a-foot. But the Saints are playing the Vikings, and their quarterback just set a record for completion percentage.

Aaron Schatz: Devery Henderson, meet Kevin Faulk. Kevin Faulk, meet Devery Henderson. Let's all try not to bobble the ball when it is gonna cost us a yard near the sticks, okay?

Tom Gower: Henderson's bobble was preceded by two Colston catches.   This had been a ridiculously sure-handed bunch of receivers for most of the year, so it's only fitting that it deserts them at a key moment of this parade of errors.

David Gardner: You'd also think a quarterback sneak here for most teams would be successful, but Brees is barely 6-feet tall.

Vince Verhei: I think it's the only way to go. At some point, the Vikings are going to stop turning the ball over, and you've barely stopped them all day.

Tom Gower: DPI there: laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.

Bill Barnwell: Uncatchable pass.

Aaron Schatz: I just swore a big long blue streak at the television on that DPI, even though I'm rooting for New Orleans. Do you people understand what uncatchable means???

Mike Kurtz: Three reviews in four plays, maybe? I love the NFC.

Tom Gower: For the record, pass interference can only be called for actions by defenders more than 1 yard downfield.

Let the insufferable OT whining commence.

David Gardner: Damn, that was a GOOD field goal.

Mike Kurtz: I want the last 3 hours back.

Tom Gower: Make it 3 hours and 40 minutes.  Even better: we'll be getting another offseason of "will Brett Favre retire or won't he".  It's times like these when I wish I drank.  Heavily.

David Gardner: I thought that was a thoroughly interesting game. I'm glad I spent the last 3 hours and 40 minutes watching.

Aaron Schatz: I feel bad for the Vikings. On one hand, they got screwed by a couple calls on that last drive. The DPI was totally uncatchable, and I think that if the fourth-and-1 call or the Meachem catch had been called the other way on the field, those calls would not have been overturned either. Not enough visual evidence either way. On the other hand, the Vikings can blame themselves for the game going to overtime -- both Favre for the pick and whoever screwed up and was the 12th man in the huddle. Not to mention all the fumbles, of course.

Ned Macey: The way the Vikings managed the final minute of regulation was appallingly bad, between appearing to settle for a 50-yarder as the plan and the inexcusable 12-men penalty. That has to fall on Childress who, despite being pretty successful, has a bad reputation among many people. While I think that sequence was unforgivable, it is only a small part of the head coach's game, and Childress had his team in the NFC Championship -- and, if they had held onto the football and Ryan Longwell hit a field goal, the Super Bowl. Even with all the errors, had Favre just run forward on the final play for 5-10 yards, they had a better than even chance of going to Miami.

Bill Barnwell: Fun game. Just ridiculous. 

Vince Verhei: The Game Of The Year poll has just been rendered completely irrelevant. That just about redeemed what had been a pretty crummy postseason.

I do feel terrible for Vikings fans, who have had their hearts ripped out again.

I predicted the Saints would win a close game, but not like this -- getting the door shut in their faces over and over again but getting bailed out when the Vikings couldn't hold onto the ball. Instead, they were frustrated all day -- SEVEN three-and-outs! Two second-half touchdown drives that totaled 44 yards! I figured the Vikings defense would be the reason they lost, but they just about dominated one of the best offenses in football.

Tom Gower: OK, a waste of time is certainly a massive exaggeration, but I enjoyed it much less than you'd expect for a 31-28 OT game that was close throughout, and the game was particularly sloppy for a game between two good teams.  Plus, the Saints on the game-winning drive got first downs on a defensive hold, a fourth-and-1 on a reviewed spot, and a marginal defensive pass interference call.

Really, though, the Vikings have themselves to blame.  They couldn't hang on to the ball, turning it over thrice when they could've gotten key scores, and lost.

Mike Kurtz: I really don't understand how you could enjoy this game. It was incredibly sloppy in every phase, with special teams disasters, an incompetent new orleans offense paired with a worse-than-incompetent Vikings execution (and playcalling at the end of regulation), and while the defenses didn't melt down, they didn't look particularly exceptional. The Vikings completely brain-freeze at the end of the fourth quarter, we get into an overtime, where a third of the plays are reviewed by the booth, riddled with awful officiating.

I suppose I can see the claim that it's amusing, but good lord, this was bad football.

Bill Barnwell: Because it was dramatic? It was like watching a couple argue in a parking lot.

Aaron Schatz: Yes. Sloppy, amusing football. You kept saying, "what is going to happen next?" And the bad sloppy plays were interspersed with some good play, like Adrian Peterson spinning away from Saints guys, or Jared Allen killing Bushrod over and over.

Vince Verhei: That's actually close to how I felt at the end of the Green Bay-Arizona game, so I guess it's in the eye of the beholder. (I do disagree about the Minnesota defense -- I thought they were pretty exceptional, especially the front four.)

David Gardner: I don't think sloppy necessarily means bad. I've seen some well-executed football games that are boring as hell. To say that the game wasn't entertaining is a stretch.

Rob Weintraub: And I will be rooting for the Colts, purely because I can't have another team win a Super Bowl before the Bengals get one. Yes, I am a sports sociopath.

I second the thoughts on those who can't see it as a Game of the Year.  Highly competitive and entertaining but comically sloppy.

Aaron Schatz: Strange for Rich Eisen on NFL Network to be talking about "it's hard to even say it, sounds so strange, the Saints are in the Super Bowl." I don't think it is that strange. It was strange last year because the Cardinals had never gone AND they were horrible in December so nobody expected it. But the Saints started 13-0, they were the number one seed. They had never made it before, but does it feel that strange? This is a lot more like what it felt like to have the Bucs in the Super Bowl in 2002.

With the two number-one seeds in the Super Bowl, I feel like the world has returned to normal after the wackiness of the last few postseasons. No, they weren't the top two teams in DVOA, but some of that had to do with sitting guys at the end of the season, and the ratings were awful close otherwise. What's important is that these aren't teams that backed into the playoffs and then got hot. These were two of the best teams for the whole year, if not the two best.

And yes, this makes the Lions the only NFC team to never make a Super Bowl.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 25 Jan 2010

304 comments, Last at 26 Apr 2013, 4:18pm by ellsworth vitiligo remedy

Comments

282
by MJK :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 1:36pm

I think you've exactly identified the problem. There is no grey area between "possession" and "fumble". I believe the NFL rules view "possession" as happening until the moment of a "fumble", or equivalently, a "fumble" is defined as the act of losing "possession"--there's no such state for "well, it wasn't a fumble yet, but he didn't have complete control of the ball, so we'll call that 'partial possession' and reset forward progress". And I don't think the league has any desire to go there. In general, they like to set rules that MINIMIZE the amount of subjective judgment calls that refs have to make, keying off objective measures (e.g. "was the QB's arm going forward?") instead of subjective guesses (e.g. "do you suppose he was trying to throw it or tuck it?").

If you think the ball at any point crossed the first down marker (and I think it did, but am not sure...but certainly it's not clear beyond a reasonable doubt), then the only way that he didn't get forward progress is if you are willing to call what happened a fumble. And given that the ball was jostled loose from his hands, but was cradled against his body and arms the entire time, and he did get it back into his hands, I think no ref will ever rule that a fumble, especially when there was no ruling on the field. Technically, by the letter of the law, I agree and think it was a fumble and forward progress ought to have reset, but I can understand why the call went the way it did.

Indeed, if they did call that a fumble and reset forward progress, it would set a dangerous precedent. Imagine one of those cases where a RB surges past the 1st down line, but is gang-grabbed and forced back three yards. The refs are a little slow on blowing the play dead (as they are very frequently). The defenders are obviously all punching and pulling at the ball. Just before the whistle, clearly visible on replay, the ball is slightly loosened from the RB's grasp and shifts a bit. He manages to re-secure it and it never comes out, and then the whistle blows, but there was a moment when he didn't have complete control of it. Did he get the first down, or did forward progress reset the instant that the ball moved a little in his grasp? And how much is "a little"--i.e. how much does it have to move before they'll take away his forward progress?

283
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 2:04pm

It was just a weird play, in that the defender's helmet pinned the ball to the running back's body, and thus the ball never clearly came out. Bad luck for the Vikings, but not the sort of thing that lends itself to a booth reversal.

294
by Tom Gower :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 5:19pm

Sorry, I don't normally check late comments. I don't have my copy of the rulebook with me, so this is off the top of my head, plus I don't have the chance to re-watch the play again, so this is from memory.

The first distinction to make is that this isn't the same case as a pass-a thrown pass is still a thrown pass until it's possessed by a receiver on a completed catch. In this case, Thomas had clearly established possession of the ball at spot X. If he's then contacted by a defender who knocks him backwards and taken down, the ball gets marked at spot X as the mark of forward progress.

So, he makes forward progress to X and the contact from the defender causes him to shift. The question then becomes whether the shifting of the ball becomes a loss of possession, i.e. a fumble. While the ball shifts, nobody else ever has a hold on the ball and Thomas also quickly regains actual physical possession and control of the ball. In my mind, it's not even close to a fumble.

Had he indeed lost the ball, the Saints could possibly still have been awarded a first down based on Thomas's forward progress and the stopping of his forward progress before losing possession of the ball, but that depends on when exactly his forward progress was stopped and when he loses a firm grip on the ball. You see that a little bit in the goalline scenario, though the forward progress issue there is simpler (possession + nose of ball over goalline = score, play over). THAT would be a fun little scenario for a ref.

304
by ellsworth vitiligo remedy (not verified) :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 4:18pm

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