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» Futures: UCLA QB Brett Hundley

Beyond the immediate considerations of Hundley's potential, the quarterback's tape raises larger questions about the position.

19 Sep 2005

Confessions of a Football Junkie: Break Up the Bucs!

by Russell Levine

It took two games, but I'm officially excited about this Buccaneers' season after Sunday's impressive 19-3 win over Buffalo. As I gathered with my friends at a sports bar in Ann Arbor last Sunday, I was convinced the team could go anywhere from 4-12 to 10-6 and I told myself that I was not going to get too excited about either possibility.

By 3:45 that afternoon I was screaming at the TV for the defense to make a stand and not blow the game against Minnesota. When Cadillac Williams clinched things with a 71-yard touchdown run, I took a lap around the bar with my hands up. For Week 2, back on the Sunday Ticket-enabled home turf of my living room, I had an entirely different attitude for Buffalo.

A win would give Tampa Bay its first 2-0 start since 2000 (granted, that season ended with a Wildcard meltdown at Philadelphia) and would mark the Bucs as early playoff contenders. Most of the predictions I saw picked Buffalo, but they all overlooked one thing: Monte Kiffin's history against inexperienced quarterbacks such as Buffalo's J.P. Losman, who was making his second career start. Kiffin's cover-two/zone blitz scheme is always complex, but the veteran defensive coordinator always manages to throw in a few extra wrinkles against a green QB, and the results are often spectacular. See Quincy Carter (Dallas), 2001; Henry Burris (Chicago), 2002, Randy Fasani (Carolina), 2002; Dave Ragone (Houston), 2003; etc.

Facing different looks on nearly every play, Losman looked confused from the start. Buffalo didn't register a first down until eight minutes remained in the first half. When Losman was yanked from the game for a series in the second half, he had thrown for 39 yards and taken a safety when he stepped on the end line while trying to avoid an overload blitz in his own end zone.

That safety came after what TMQ would no doubt term a fraidy-cat punt -- with the game still scoreless in the second quarter, Tampa Bay punted on 4th-and-5 from the Buffalo 38. The ball was caught on the fly at the one-yard line by Tampa Bay's Juran Bolden, leading directly to the safety; the Bucs took the ensuing free kick and scored a touchdown that gave them a two-score lead and pretty much decided the game. It's not always a bad move to play field position, particularly when your defense is dominating the game.

Although it may have been foolish for Mike Mularkey to have a confused Losman passing out of his own end zone, I applaud the Buffalo coach for both pulling his young QB and then re-inserting him in the game to run the two-minute offense against a soft defense. Doing so allowed Losman to enjoy a little bit of success on an otherwise miserable day and to avoid an embarrassingly bad stat line in the box score. Both will help his confidence in the long run.

On the other side of the ball for Tampa Bay, Williams put up an even more impressive performance than last week against a stout Buffalo defense. Often carrying tacklers for extra yardage, he had 128 yards and touchdown despite suffering a sprained foot that required a pain-killing injection during the game.

When Williams needed a rest, it was great to see Mike Alstott, two years removed from a serious neck injury that nearly ended his career, getting meaningful goal line carries and also running down the clock in the fourth quarter. Alstott has all but said he is going to retire after the season, and he was not certain to make the team in training camp. A perennial Pro Bowler at a position (fullback) he doesn't always play, Alstott has over the years gained a somewhat unfair reputation as being a creation of John Madden and Chris Berman. The truth is that Alstott was never as good as those Pro Bowl berths would have you believe, nor was he as limited as the "overrated" tag would suggest. As his career developed, he turned his blocking from a weakness to a strength, and has always been a great finisher on the goal line. Plus, he's responsible for some of the most spectacular one-yard runs in NFL history -- hitting the pile, bouncing off, hitting it again, and carrying three tacklers into the end zone.

With the Bucs game well in hand, I started monitoring some of the other early action more closely, particularly New England-Carolina and Jacksonville-Indianapolis. Although I'm feeling a little bit better about my Carolina Super Bowl pick after the game, neither team looked particularly good. If I were a New England fan, however, I wouldn't spend two minutes worrying about the result. That's what happens with a "sandwich" game ... in this case, a non-conference road game sandwiched between two more important games -- the opener vs. Oakland and next week's road trip to Pittsburgh. Even the best teams can't rise to their highest level of preparedness every single week.

The most noteworthy thing to come out of the Carolina game -- other than the solid performance of the Panthers' defense without Kris Jenkins -- was the awful work by Dick Enberg in the CBS booth. It's tough for me to criticize Enberg. He was the voice of the NFL for me during my formative years as a fan, calling AFC games with Merlin Olson on NBC. But, oh my, has he slipped. He repeatedly confused Stephen Davis and Steve Smith, mixed up the Carolina and New England punters, and made numerous other mistakes.

Of course you don't have to be old to screw up the call of an NFL game. Brent Jones, working the Jacksonville-Indianapolis game with Gus Johnson, committed a cardinal sin on the final play of the game. Jacksonville had one final snap to try and tie the game. There was an Indianapolis lineman obviously offsides at the snap, but neither Jones nor Johnson mentioned it. Instead, Jones screamed that the officials had missed an obvious pass interference against the intended receiver, Jimmy Smith, in the end zone. When a replay revealed that the defender and Smith had merely gotten their legs tangled, which is not a penalty, Jones hemmed and hawed before admitting that maybe it wasn't a foul after all. But then the pair signed off without even mentioning the offsides that should have given Jacksonville another snap. That's my biggest pet peeve about announcers -- when they miss something that is obvious to the home viewer -- and it happens too many times to count every single NFL Sunday.

Speaking of the Jags-Colts game, let me be the millionth person to admit that with the early signs from Indy's defense, it may be time to start taking the Colts seriously as a Super Bowl contender. Granted, shutting down Baltimore and Jacksonville does not exactly make a defense the reincarnation of the Steel Curtain. But when Indianapolis beats a decent team when Peyton Manning has a career low passing output, that's something worth paying attention to. If you saw the closing drive of the game, you saw an Indy defense that was attacking in a situation where many teams play prevent. Byron Leftwich took some huge hits on the final drive, as did his receivers, courtesy of the Colts secondary. It made for a classic finish despite the ugly offensive display for 3 1/2 quarters.

One last note about announcers. With the regular ESPN Sunday Night crew dispatched to work the Monday doubleheader, ESPN turned to Mike Tirico and Sterling Sharpe to work the Sunday night Kansas City-Oakland crew. If only they could Wally Pipp the Theisman-Maquire-Patrick trio, the world would be a little bit better place. Tirico is one of the most versatile and best announcers in sports TV today. He's informative without being preachy, raises his excitement level to what is merited by the play, but no more, and rarely makes mistakes. And Sharpe, a former NFL Countdown stalwart who left ESPN a few seasons ago, was excellent on the color. He speaks well, gives the players' perspective without overdoing it, and admits when he's wrong.

Sharpe, currently employed by the NFL Network, was previously scheduled to work a pair of Saturday NFL telecasts with Tirico later in the season. I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up on a broadcast crew for either CBS or Fox next season.

* * *

There was a big moment in the Levine household Sunday, and it didn't have anything to do with Tampa Bay's win. My three-year-old daughter now has a favorite team! Climbing into my lap to watch the last 10 minutes or so of the late starts, she decided she likes "the green team" (the Packers), and their QB "Breff" (rhymes with "ref," whom she likes because he looks like a zebra). "Breff," also known as "that boy with the number four," was happy, then sad, as we watched the final minutes.

Rationally I know she was just trying to postpone bedtime, but I'm not letting this moment slip by. We even made fun of mommy, who was watching the Emmys' red carpet show on E! on a second TV. When asked if she wanted to watch fashion or football, my little girl chose football. My wife, a bigger (and more knowledgeable) sports fan that a lot of men, got a chuckle out of that one. Must be in the DNA.

After book reading and before lights out, we had a little talk about the Pack. I asked her if she maybe would rather root for daddy's team, the pirate team. "No no no! I only like the green team!" I was told. Informed that daddy's team and her team would play each other next weekend and told we could watch the game together, she got very upset. "I only watch one team -- the green team. And Breff." It's a work in progress.

* * *

Not too much on the college game from me this week. Saturday was my son's birthday party, so the TV remained off until after 5 p.m. and I was barely awake until halftime of the Tennessee-Florida and Florida State-Boston College evening games.

I did see the second half and overtime of Michigan State's annual beating of Notre Dame. Michigan State looks for all the world like a scary team this season, but if there's one thing more predictable than the Spartans' beating Notre Dame, it's the Spartans' following that win by getting blown out by some lesser opponent. Will that be the case Saturday against Illinois? I'm already afraid of Michigan's visit to East Lansing in two weeks. But if the Spartans beat Illinois easily -- as they should -- I'll be downright terrified.

A healthy Drew Stanton makes the Spartans' version of the spread offense as dangerous as anyone's. Michigan State has defensive vulnerabilities -- as they showed in coughing up a 21-point lead to Notre Dame in about eight minutes, but the team appears to be gaining confidence every week.

As for Notre Dame, Charlie Weis's reaction to the loss impressed me as much as anything he's done this young season. He refused to make excuses or praise his team for the comeback, but instead criticized them for not winning the game in regulation when they had the Spartans on the run. He also alluded to his players' inability to handle the distractions of playing at home -- in other words, the hype machine got to them after two weeks of impressive road wins. I would imagine this will not be a fun week of practice for the Notre Dame players as they prepare to face Washington in the Ty Willingham Bowl next Saturday. I expect Weis to try and put the hammer down in that game and take Washington out behind the woodshed.

Mike Martz Award

We're going back to college for the Martz Award this week. Tennessee's Philip Fulmer picks up the honor after his team failed on a fake-punt attempt on 4th-and-9 at its own 32 in the third quarter against Florida. The incomplete pass led directly to a lead-stretching Florida field goal. Yes, I know that the punter thought he probably saw something in the formation and called the fake punt on his own. From the looks of things, he didn't bother to tell any of his teammates. I'm still holding Fulmer responsible. The head coach cannot allow his players to misunderstand a situation like that. How is a fake punt even an option inside your own 35 in a close game?

BlogPoll Ballot

Below is my offcial ballot in the BlogPoll college football poll, which is explained here.

1. USC (1) -- The Trojans are officially playing video-game football right now.
2. Texas (2) -– October 8 in Dallas looking less scary every day.
3. LSU (3) -- Not their fault they've only played once.
4. Virginia Tech (5) -- Rolling right along.
5. Florida (8) -- And in week three, Urban proved he could win with defense.
6. Georgia (4) -- Must avoid looking ahead to the cocktail party.
7. Florida State (11) –- If Weatherford is actually coming around, the offense will be OK. Defense is already OK.
8. Miami (Florida) (10) –- Lucky to survive vs. Clemson, but they know how to win those games.
9. Ohio State (9) -– Tressel can't call 12 QB draws a game with Smith in at QB.
10. Tennessee (6) -- Another team with QB issues.
11. Louisville (14) –- That wasn't a MAC school they just hung a 63 on.
12. Cal (12) -– That was a pretty underwhelming win vs. Illinois.
13. Purdue (15) –- A road win vs. a BCS league school is never a bad thing.
14. Georgia Tech (18) –- You don't want to see your QB's name and "meningitis" in the same sentence.
15. Michigan State (NR) -- I'm trying my best to sort out the MSU-ND-Michigan thing.
16. Arizona State (19) –- Offense is scary good. I had them underrated the first few weeks.
17. Notre Dame (7) -- I got a little carried away with them last week.
18. Michigan (13) -- The ND-MSU result makes their loss to ND worse; hence the drop after a 55-0 win.
19. Iowa (17) -- They'll be fine if Tate is healthy.
20. Clemson (16) -- Missed opportunity to upset Miami.
21. Alabama (25) –- They'll have something to say about the SEC race.
22. Texas Tech (22) –- All 80 points vs. Sam Houston State shows is poor sportsmanship. Play somebody!
23. Oregon (NR) -- Good God those yellow uniforms are ugly.
24. Boston College (20) –- Hung in there after terrible start vs. FSU.
25. Virginia (21) -- Ugly win vs. Syracuse.

Dropped out: Fresno State (23), Oklahoma (24)

Games I watched: Parts of Eastern Michigan-Michigan, Miami-Clemson, Michigan State-Notre Dame, Tennessee-Florida, Florida State-Boston College.

Posted by: Russell Levine on 19 Sep 2005

70 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2006, 5:37am by jeff

Comments

1
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Mon, 09/19/2005 - 11:42pm

I think UCLA should be in there somewhere. While OU isn't a great team, they did look very good against them.

T.

2
by primantis (not verified) :: Mon, 09/19/2005 - 11:50pm

Sharpe: "I really like what this Raiders offense is doing." "I really like what this Raiders defense is doing." That was about the extent of his analysis from my perspective. Sorry, but his "excellence" escaped me.

3
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:01am

Not completely on topic, but since you mentioned the Bucs: does anybody else think Cadillac Williams' long TD run versus Minnesota was a really STUPID play. There was less than two minutes to play and the Vikings had no timeouts, so if Williams slides/steps out of bounds short of the goal-line the game is over. By scoring, he left the Vikings an outside shot of coming back.

I had the same thoughts when Steve Heiden scored for Cleveland against the Packers on Sunday. If he stops short, the game is over. By scoring he allowed the Pack the chance to come back, and even though Green Bay did not manage to win, Cleveland still had to defend 8 plays from Green Bay on which players could have been injured.

A final example: last year's Detroit-Vikings game. Moe Williams picks up a key first down late in the game, and the Vikings are in position to run down the clock and kick a chip-shot FG for the win. But no, Williams bulls through two tacklers and scores, allowing the Lions time to mount a TD drive of their own (Minnesota were saved from OT when the Lions missed the extra point, but, again, the Vikings shouldn't have even had to defend that drive.)

Some might say it's hard to ask a player to stop short of the line when the TD is in sight, but, hey, it's tough to ask a guy to go across the middle and get decked by two safeties, but if it's going to help the team win then you do it.

4
by Dervin (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:44am

I saw the Chiefs/Raiders game (thank you Manderin Oriental Macau), and I thought Sharpe was just awful - he was praising Randy Moss so much it made Brett Farve blush.

And I saw the first half of the ND/UM game and UT/OSU game. ND looked great on the first drive, but for after that, they really need a new QB.
And UT didn't look like the Little girls they reminded me of for the last 36 years (oh, I'm a Big12 hater).

5
by Larry (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:05am

It took me about 5 seconds to recognize Sterling Sharpe and note how excellent his commentary was Sunday night. How can it be that producers can't do the same?

Oh, and don't think I didn't notice FSU finally moving past Miami. 'Bout time.

6
by Joey (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:17am

That’s my biggest pet peeve about announcers – when they miss something that is obvious to the home viewer – and it happens too many times to count every single NFL Sunday.

I've heard it explained that the announcers usually watch the game live, meaning their view is way worse than watching on TV. In a related pet peeve, don't ya hate it when they debate whether or not it's a first down when it's plain as day from the replay what the outcome will be? Then they slap themselves on the back for being right.

THREE teams with a loss in the top 10 and EIGHT in the top 25? This illustrates why polls shouldn't be taken until after the first month or so. Start out high and the pollsters' tendancy is to leave you there, win or lose. But, hey, at least OU finally dropped out after losing 2 of 3.

Ryan, "stupid" would be losing the ball on a bad snap on the ensuing kneel down or missing the playoffs because you passed up a sure TD in week 2. You have to play the game to win rather than not to lose.

7
by Eric (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:56am

I'm a Bears fan so I've seen a lot of Dick Stockton.

What you describe Enberg doing is par for the course for Dick in every game. Last year he repeatedly misidentified Lovie Smith and last week "Scott" Brunell was playing quarterback for the Redskins.

I like Daryl Johnston on that team - but sometimes I wish he'd correct Dick as he repeatedly makes those kinds of mistakes that can only be brought out by a complete lack of research.

8
by andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:08am

Watching "Around the Horn" today, Jay Marioti cited the Bucs new offensive coordinator... "Scott Linehan" as one of the reasons for their improvements. Two arguments later "Tom" Colinshaw also cited it, probably picking up on Jay.

sigh....

9
by Josh (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:18am

Hey Dervin,
Mandarin Oriental Macau?

I'm living in Shanghai, any advice on how to catch games in Asia?

10
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:19am

I really liked Sterling. I loved it when he said he was excited to finally get to see Randy Moss play receiver. When Tirico asked Sharpe what he'd been doing all along, Sharpe responded that he'd simply been running down the field and letting his god-given gifts give him an advantage, but when he actually starts blocking and running routes in the middle of the field and everything, then he's finally playing receiver.

I think if you're giving the Martz award to Fulmer, don't do it because his rookie punter still thinks it's high school and he's all-county. Give it because of his horrible handling of the QB rotation. Clausen starts, Ainge comes in, Ainge plays better, Ainge stays in for the entire first half... then they pull him for Clausen in the 2 minute drill. Then they put Ainge back in for the second half and leave him in for the rest of the game. That rotating QB thing might work against UAB, but it's week 3 of college football now. Find a signal caller and STICK WITH HIM.

I asked the question before, but if UT is ranked 10th, and they lose to #3 LSU, I think it's entirely possible that they remain in the top 25 (two losses to top 5 teams). I will personally be appalled if it happens. Can you HONESTLY have a top 25 team that's 1-2 (and whose only victory was a 7 point sigh of relief against UAB?)

That's the problem with polls. They set the early positions before they ever see the team play, and then they just move them up and down based on whether they win or lose, and to whom and by how much. If the #1 team loses 3 straight to the #2, #3, and #4 teams, it's possible for them to be 0-3 and top 25 with that crazy ranking logic.

11
by Josh (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:20am

Ryan, at times that thinking can make sense. For example, in the Vanderbilt game, they had it on the 2 yard line, first and goal, ran once, half yard gain, ran twice, no gain, and then pulled some stupid Play Action in which no one went out on any route and the DE for Ole Miss flew by the line and created a stupid grounding penalty. In that case, well, for one thing Vandy should have kept the ball on the ground for the third down, or at least Cutler should have taken the sack and the loss of yards instead of stopping the clock. Furthermore, later in the game Vandy again had a first and goal at the 3, and while they did score a touchdown in two plays, they might have been better off running down the clock for 3 plays and then kneeling it at the one yard line, giving Ole Miss the ball with 99 yards to go and less time than if Vandy had scored initially.

12
by Bruce Dickinson (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:20am

Re #3.
When a running back runs the ball 70 yards for a touchdown, that is never a stupid play. that's like saying that returning an interception for a TD is a stupid play because it keeps the defense on the field. in the NFL, you take every single point you can get in any situation you can get it.

the smartest player in the league, in the history of the league, would be 'stupid' enough to score that TD.

any player who is thinking so far ahead that he's trying to manage the clock for his coach, i would question their instincts.

13
by byron (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:35am

#3

don't many players have touchdown incentives in their contrcts?

14
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 5:38am

Re #13: I don't think incentives are that common. Most contracts, it seems to me, are just signing bonus and base salary. Maybe roster bonuses or workout bonuses. The media always reports incentive-laden contracts (like Clarett's) as if they're definitely not the norm.

Besides, I'm pretty sure there are no TD incentives in college.

15
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 8:18am

I'm a fan of going down and giving up the TD whenever it makes a kneeldown possible. I don't remember for sure, but I thought GB still had a timeout or two left when Heiden scored, so getting a 9-point, 2-score lead would be preferable to almost running out the clock. If they were out of timeouts, the right move would be to go down.

"Tressel can’t call 12 QB draws a game with Smith in at QB."
What games have you been watching? He's proven that he most certainly can! Whether he should is another matter entirely (hint: no).

16
by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:18am

#3 Not completely on topic, but since you mentioned the Bucs: does anybody else think Cadillac Williams’ long TD run versus Minnesota was a really STUPID play. There was less than two minutes to play and the Vikings had no timeouts, so if Williams slides/steps out of bounds short of the goal-line the game is over. By scoring, he left the Vikings an outside shot of coming back.

That's one of my biggest pet peeves, ESPECIALLY when it's a defensive player scoring on an INT. I remember Ty Law returning a INT for a 90 yard TD against McNair two seasons ago. If he returns it to the five yard line and steps out of bounds, offense comes on, kneel, kneel, win. By scoring the TD, the player brings the possibility of a KR touchdown and onside kick....and before you say it couldn't happen, I've seen it happen exactly like this. I don't recall many specifics, but it was 1998, and I think the Jaguars were involved. The smart play is to give yourself up and sacrifice the personal achievement.

17
by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:20am

#12 any player who is thinking so far ahead that he’s trying to manage the clock for his coach, i would question their instincts

I strongly disagree. At the end of the game, if a player isn't smart enough to know when to go out of bounds and when to make sure he stays in bounds, I don't want him on the field late in the game.

Isn't that clock management?

18
by Bill (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:25am

My Enberg moment was when he was trying to argue that Belicheck should have challenged Stephen Davis breaking the plane of the goal line on 2nd down at the beginning of the game.

That would be - maybe - one of the worst uses of a challenge since the NFL allowed for the challenge to occur, for reasons almost patently obviously, I am sure, to everyone here.

19
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:42am

Re:#18

I didn't see the game, but if I read you correctly, the officials ruled a TD but replays show he was stopped short. Enberg suggested the Pats challenge, and you think it would be a waste (assuming Carolina would score anyway?).

If so, I couldn't disagree more. Well, I could, but not by a whole lot. There are far too many examples of successful goal-line stands to just concede a TD when you've stopped one, especially if 3rd down is coming up.

Case in point: in 01 or 02, the Browns were playing the Steelers, and the Steelers apparently scored on 1st or 2nd down. The Browns challenged, and it was overturned. The announcers went off about what a silly challenge it was, since Bettis would just score on the next play anyway. Next play, Bettis is stuffed. Next play, Kordell rolls out, scrambles for the end zone, fumbles when hit from behind, the ball hits the pylon, touchback for Cleveland. Exactly the same situation as described above, they made the right call by challenging, and it worked out.

But what if it doesn't work out? So you spent a challenge, and just gave your defense a shot at holding them to a FG or stopping them entirely. If that isn't worth a challenge, what is? Seriously, what better use is there for a challenge than taking 7 points off the board? And what kind of message does it send to your defense if you tell them it doesn't matter, because they were just going to allow the touchdown anyway?

So if he didn't get in, even if they spot the ball an inch from the goal line, you have to challenge it. If your defense stops them once more, it forces the other coach to make a big decision on 4th, if nothing else. Never, ever allow a TD to go uncontested (unless you're down 1 with under 2 minutes and no timeouts, then take it as a gift).

20
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:59am

If Fulmer doesn't select a starting QB for the next game (isn't that like Tennessee/LSU or some other big game?) then I'm halfway to calling it the Furtz award.

T.

21
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 10:07am

And, never mind, as I see that Fulmer has now named Ainge the quarterback for Saturday vs. LSU.

Of course, that doesn't mean that with 4 minutes left in the half he won't sub him out, you know, just to get Clausen in there...

T.

22
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 10:36am

When a running back runs the ball 70 yards for a touchdown, that is never a stupid play

yes--there is one situation in which it is--you're up by 1, you have the ball, under 2 minutes, other team has no TO's left; the only way the opponenet has a chance is if you score & give the ball back to them

that actually happened in a game about 5-6 years ago in Buffalo

23
by Dervin (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 10:40am

Re: 9, Josh

It was on ESPN Thiland, the Sunday night game on Monday Morning. It's tough, the only reliable way is through illegal downloading (and unreliable). Which is stealing from, but when the NFL takes our hard earned cash for cheap stuff it's called capitalism.

24
by Russell (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 10:45am

I would argue that the whole "kneel down, don't score" thing is only applicable in the case of a one-point lead, as the TD makes it eight and gives the ball back. I don't think it's ever, ever a bad choice to make a one score lead into a two-score lead. To suggest otherwise is severely overanalyzing things, IMO.

25
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 11:03am

Isn't there a famous Herm Edwards play where the opposing QB fumbles the kneel-down snap and Herm picks it up and runs in for at touchdown? I think that might be just as likely as a Kickreturn for touchdown plus an onsides kick recovery and another score.

26
by Adam H (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 11:19am

RE 25 The Miracle! The Miracle of the Meadowlands! Oh, goosebumps. Go Birds!

27
by wr (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 11:19am

B - The situation was that all the Giants had to do was take a knee, and the game would be over. What happened was that a running play was called, and Pasarcik (sp?) botched the handoff to Czonka, the ball bounced in to Edwards' hands, and he ran it in for the score.

The Giants offensive coordinator was fired immediately.

28
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 11:54am

re #24: I don't know why it's overanalyzing. Scoring instead of running the clock out when you're already ahead gives the opposition a chance to come back.

As mentioned in my first post (#3), even if such a comeback is unlikely it still opens up the possibility that you could have defenders get injured while trying to stop the attempted comeback.

And finally, as for a player not being expected to thnk that far ahead (#12), he doesn't have to. The coach just simply has to say "get the first down, but don't score" before the play. If the coach has gone over this scenario in practice then there really shouldn't be more to it than that.

29
by Jen (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 11:55am

Mike Tirico and Sterling Sharpe were probably one of the worst commentator pairs I've ever hear. By the end of that game Randy Moss had cured cancer and brought world peace.

30
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:09pm

The Giants offensive coordinator was fired immediately.

His name was Bob Gibson (no relation)

That single play, while probably the nadir of the Jints franchise, has been retrospectively seen as a turning point for the better

I was living in NYC at the time and the reaction was one of unbridled fury, which took the place of ennui and nostalgia (or was it nostaglic ennui).

The Maras finally woke up & realized they had to do something to appease the fans--out went all the old former Giants, in comes George Young, who picks Simms, LT, inter alia

Could be just a coincidence, of course

31
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:25pm

For the Cadillac Williams run, let's assume the rational thing for him to do is to down himself. That means the rational thing for the defense would be to not tackle him. So we'd have a situation with Willimas lying or kneeling on the 1 yard line and the defenders standing around him trying to get the ball without touching him.

32
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:30pm

I agree with #24, but since I'm mean I'll point out that the famed Monday night Colts vs. Tampa Bay comeback would never have been able to happen if the DB would have been tackled after his interception instead of scoring to make it 35-14.

(I'm not advocating that he shouldn't have tried to score, nor am I forgetting that there were many other ways that either City of Tampa or the officials could have prevented the comeback win for the Colts.)

33
by Russell (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:55pm

Re: 32, thanks for making me revisit that game.

But since you have, I must ask the question. Are you really advocating that Ronde Barber, with an interception in hand and a clear path to the end zone, with 5:09 to play and a two-touchdown lead, should have taken a knee to allow his offense to run more time off the clock?

34
by Kevin Beane (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:58pm

I've seen DBs take a knee after making a pick all of the time. But (and this doesn't mean it's never happened) I don't remember seeing an offensive player break through the defense, easy touchdown ahead, and instead of finishing the TD run, just taking to his knee after getting 20 yards or so. So while I see Ryan's point, I wouldn't say Cadillac was "stupid" for not being a pioneer in this respect.

First comment. Whoo-hoo!

35
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:03pm

Re: #31

The NFL actually has rules in place in the case of a player that wants to be down when there isn't a defender that wants to down them (or perhaps a player that wants to avoid injury or something).

If a player takes a knee of his own volition and yells "Down!" or gives some other signal to the referee, the referee is instructed to immediately blow the whistle and stop play, and flag any player that would then tackle them for a late hit (assuming by standard rules it was preventable).

However, that rule has been used so infrequently (like, almost never) that it wouldn't shock me if most referees didn't remember they were supposed to blow the whistle in that situation.

T.

36
by MCS (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:06pm

There was a big moment in the Levine household Sunday, and it didn’t have anything to do with Tampa Bay’s win. My three-year-old daughter now has a favorite team! Climbing into my lap to watch the last 10 minutes or so of the late starts, she decided she likes “the green team� (the Packers), and their QB “Breff� (rhymes with “ref,� whom she likes because he looks like a zebra). “Breff,� also known as “that boy with the number four,� was happy, then sad, as we watched the final minutes.

I just want it noted that children (and animals) are outstanding judges of character.

We aren't out of bullets, we're just reloading. Go Pack!

37
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:06pm

What you're missing is a player can't down himself, he needs to be touched by a defender, and the defender's rational move in this case is to not down the player. Thier goal should be to 1) cause a fumble 2) get the player out of bounds or 3) let him score.

38
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:08pm

The rule mentioned in #35 also is what allows taking a knee to run the clock - the quarterback after kneeling hasn't actually been touched by a defender and thus isn't "down" by contact, however, since it is the player's intent to down themselves, the referees blow the whistle.

That's the gist of the rule - if a player makes a clear intent that they are trying to down themselves, the referees are supposed to stop play.

T.

39
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:08pm

That isn't true, B.

A player can down themselves by taking a knee and yelling "Down" to the referee. A defender doesn't have to touch them. It's never done, but it is a rule.

T.

40
by Trey (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:10pm

Had Cadillac "managed the clock" and gone out of bounds, he would've been dumped from my fantasy team with the quickness.

41
by Dave (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:28pm

I'm not saying this is an instance where the player should have fallen down, but by way of illustrating the point: last year, Dallas at Seattle, Shaun Alexander on a 4th and 1 from the Dallas 32 gets through the line and scores to make it 39-29 with 2:46 remaining. Dallas, of course, comes back.

In this case, Dallas had all its timeouts, and it was a 3-point lead stretched to 10, so obviously the TD is the right play. But 166 seconds on the clock is just enough rope for a team like Seattle to hang itself and it might have ended differently had he been hauled down at the five, forced Dallas to spend its timeouts on defense, and ended up scoring two or three plays later.

Flip side: As coach of the Packers, Mike Holmgren had his defense lie down to allow Terrell Davis to score what proved to be the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXXII, in order to preserve enough clock for Favre to mount a potential tying drive. Didn't work out, but definitely the right play; Denver might have more effectively closed the game by kneel-downs to bleed out the clock and kick the FG. Of course, that's a coach. Hard to ask a player to make the judgment in the heat of battle that now is the right spot to sacrifice points for time.

Oh, and Tirico and Sharpe: I was just so relieved my ears weren't bleeding from shrieks and interjections that I could've kissed them both. Bring 'em back!

42
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:49pm

re #41: I've actually had disputes with people about that Broncos-Pack Superbowl before. I think allowing the TD was the wrong move by Holmgren, since the Pack had two timeouts and it was second and goal (Terrel Davis' 17 yard run to the one yard line came on first and goal after a holding penalty) Therefore, I think the Pack had a lot to gain by holding the Denver lead to three and using up their timeouts (driving for a tieing FG being much easier than a TD)

However, since we're on the subject, the Pack had been burned earlier that season by a woeful Colts team who marched to a first and goal at the 1 with the game tied and less than two minutes left. Rather than try to score the TD, the Colts took a knee on a few plays and ran the clock down to a couple of seconds. They then kicked the winning chipshot FG without ever giving Favre the chance to drive the other way. A great illustration of the run-out-the-clock-rather-than-score principle.

43
by MDS (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:01pm

I agree completely with Ryan. If you can run out the clock, you always do it. There is absolutely no reason to give the other team the ball back if you have the ball and you're in a situation where three kneel-downs will win the game. Where would the logic in comment No. 12 end? Should a basketball team with a late lead heave three-pointers before the shot clock winds down?

44
by Russell (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:12pm

MDS I agree with you, provided that scoring doesn't give you a multiple-possession lead. On the Cadillac Williams run in question, His touchdown gave the Bucs a two-score lead with under two minutes to play. Had he stopped after the first down, I believe the Vikings still had TOs left and could have gotten the ball back. I'd rather give the ball back with 90 seconds left and an 11-point lead than give it up with 1 second left and a 4-point lead.

45
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:17pm

No, the Vikings had no timeouts left. Therefore, without any debate stopping short of scoring ends the game in favor of the Bucs. I agree it's not likely that the Vikings will come back, but 100% certainty of victory is better than not likely the opposition will come back.

46
by MJB (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:22pm

Re: 39

The kneel down by a player other than a QB has been done before. It was during a EPSN game between Green Bay and Minnesota about three to four years ago. A Vikings WR (not Randy Moss) caught a pass for a first down and immediately went down to a knee to end the play. The only problem was the referee did not blow the play dead, so a Packer DB (Darren Sharper, I believe) hit the defenseless reciever. The DB got a 15 yard roughing penality, and the Vikings still lost in Lambeau.

I remember at the time thinking that it was a smart play by the reciever because he got the first down, and by not trying to run further down field he did not take too much time off the clock. But most importantly by stopping where he did his linemen would not have to run as far down field to line up for a spike play. From watching so many games it seems that the furthur down field that the O-Linemen have to run the more likely they are to line up wrong for the spike play itself, causing a costly penality and possiblely the end of the game (Just ask Kurt Warner about this).

47
by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:23pm

I can't stand Tirico. Can't really say why, exactly, but he just annoys me. He's always very prepared and everything. I just think he's annoying. I thought Sharpe had potential. He wasn't long on insights, I agree, but he was frank, which is rare and good, and I too enjoyed the Moss playing receiver comment.

Also, I've come to think that Gus Johnson is the best announcer working TV sports today. He's right on the action, uses good wording to make accurate calls, and modulates his voice appropriate to the moment. I like the way he'll hang on a word as something happens -- "throws long down the left siiiiiiiiiiiiide, caught!" Reminds me of Vin Scully describing action.

48
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:07pm

I couldn't stand Sharpe's color commentary untill I realized it was Sterling and not Shannon.

49
by Independent George (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:27pm

Oh, great. Another generation of Favre worshipppers... :)

50
by yoyo (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 5:40pm

re josh # 9
for watching nfl in asia
check this out - http://www.sopcast.org/channel/

51
by Kevin Beane (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:07pm

Question for rule wonks...

Does the QB yell "down!" (which I've never heard) when he takes a knee? If not, does the rule book specifically exempt the QB from needing to observe that half of it, or are the refs being easy-going?

52
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:15pm

I would guess that the rule actually says something like "A player can down themselves by intentionally taking a knee and giving clear signal to the referee that they intended to end the play" or something like that.

On a kneeldown, the referee already knows the QB is intending to do that, so they don't bother looking for a signal, while on any other play that isn't the case, so they need to do something (and yelling "Down" seems as good a method as any).

I remember that Minnesota play - I knew it had happened at least once before, where a player intentionally downed themselves and was hit, leading to a penalty. I also recall the announcers going back and forth as to whether or not a player could even do that, until someone dredged up the little-used rule.

T.

53
by Larry (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:55pm

There was a play where Emmitt Smith as a Cardinal scored a touchdown to extend a game that would have been over otherwise. It doesn't seem like it requires genius level mental faculties to realize that when a first down ends the game because you can kneel it out, that should be the goal of the play. Getting a two score lead doesn't change anything. We're talking about a choice between

1) You opponents need a quick score + onside kick recovery + another score

vs.

2) Opponents recover a fumble on a kneel down play then drive 99 yards for a score.

1 is unlikely but it happens at least once a season, sometimes more. 2, as far as I know, has never ever ever happened (even the first part, recovering the fumble). Unless someone knows of a fumbled neel down? I don't.

54
by Dave (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 7:05pm

Ryan (#42), I take your point. I remembered that Colts game and watching the Super Bowl was actually yelling at the tube to let them score, assuming that he'd never be so daring as to do so. (I also remember that the fact that Green Bay had done this was always sort of sub rosa ... not the sort of thing the NFL and its ugly stepsibling Gamblor want to admit decided the game. Maybe this is a mistaken recollection.)

Anyway, my reasoning: They're on the 1. T.D. and the Denver running game at the height of their powers: he went for 1,750 yards that year, and he'd been grinding 5+ per against the Packers that day. Are they really going to stop him twice? Here's your basic set of scenarios:

1. Broncs score on 2nd down, Packers get the ball back down 7 with 2 time outs and 1:40 to go (what actually happened).

2. Broncs score on 3rd down, Packers get the ball back down 7 with 1 time out and 1:35 to go.

3. Broncs stuffed twice, kick field goal, Packers get the ball back down 3 with no time outs and 1:25 to go.

#2 is clearly the worst. To me, #1 and #3 are close to a push -- valuing time outs on offense at ~20 seconds, you're down 55 seconds but need 30 extra yards.

I don't know that FO stats on these teams are available ... but a look-through the play-by-play says that with 1 or 2 yards to go, Denver converted rushing plays 6 times out of 7 (there was an eighth, also converted, called back for illegal formation), and went 2-for-3 passing as well.

Green Bay wasn't gonna stop them. Although I must admit that I've convinced myself by this point that you're actually right. The loss of time outs wasn't as decisive as it would have been had there been half the time on the clock; the prospect of a turnover or Denver running a pass play that went incomplete worth the cost. Still, though, it wasn't that far wrong, and right or wrong, it's certainly the reasoning that dictated the decision.

55
by Larry (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 7:29pm

#54: There is one difference between 3 and 1. In situation 3, there's a chance you can win the game. With a big kickoff return or a busted coverage or a very efficient 2 minute drill. So, while I applaud Holmgren for considering a unique and interesting option, I'm not sure he chose properly. Of course, if, as Holmgren obviously thought, option 3 isn't on the table, option 1 is clearly better than option 2.

56
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:40pm

Good points. I hadn't considered how unattractive option two was, so if that was a distinct possibility then perhaps it was worth avoiding it by allowing option one.
I agree with your other point though. It's a theoretical argument, since the way TD was running I think the Pack could have put 15 men on the field and still not stopped him.

57
by MDS (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:57pm

One thing that is very obvious, but I've never heard anyone say it, is that if you think Holmgren was right to let the Broncos score, you also think Shanahan was wrong to run a play instead of taking a knee. It's bizarre to me that everyone argues about Holmgren's decision when no one bothers to mention that Shanahan's decision to run a play is what allowed Holmgren to make his decision.

58
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 10:48pm

But I think Dave answers that in post 54. Shanahan ran a play because he didn't want to end up in situation 3 which is what would have happened if he'd had Elway take a knee (in this case, with the Pack having two timeouts and the Broncos not being able to run down the clock, it seems reasonable to go for the TD rather than the FG)
Holmgren allows the TD because although he would love to force situation 3, he cannot guarantee this and he really, really wants to avoid situation two. So, his decision is based on what he reasonably expects from his defense rather than what he'd really like to happen.

59
by thad (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 11:26pm

re 34
ok this was in 94
and i could be wrong, but i swear i saw barry sanders do it in 94. they lions were playing tampa bay. sanders riped off a huge run. lions up 14-9. sanders stopped and went down at the 2. a few kneel downs, game over. again, it was 10 years ago, maybe my memory is wrong but i am pretty sure thats what happened.

60
by Russell (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 11:53pm

Re: 58:

Wow, this is really starting to sound like the poison cups argument from the Princess Bride.

61
by SJM (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:40am

RyanMc: Truly you have a dizzying intellect.

Dave: Wait 'til I get going!

62
by Jay B. (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:04am

Pardon me for derailing this conversation, if in fact I do, but I'm a grammar stickler, so I have to get this off my chest.

When referring to an unspecified singular person of masculine gender (for example, referring to "a player" in the context of NFL rules), the proper pronouns to be used are "he" or "him," never "they" or "them."

Incorrect example (no offense to the author): "...if a player makes a clear intent that they are trying to down themselves..."

Corrected: "...if a player makes a clear intent that he is trying to down himself..."

Use of "they" and "them" has become common in recent years because English lacks true gender-neutral pronouns. I don't like it, but I accept the necessity. But there is no need for these in situations where gender is not neutral, for example when talking about football players, who are all male.

63
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 11:22am

Re#62: Hey Jay B -- GET A LIFE. Have you anything better to do at 1:04am? How about SLEEP, or is bad grammar across the U.S. preventing you from getting some shut-eye? If so, maybe you have some deeper issues.

In case you didn't notice, this is a football chat room/message board, not English Grammar 101.

Please go bother someone else.

64
by B (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 11:55am

RE #57: I say Shannahan was right to run a play, because no fieldgoal, even from the 1 yard line, is a guarantee.

Since it was 2nd down, the Broncos could either kneel down twice and kick a fieldgoal, kneel down once and try to score, then if the score fails, kick a fieldgoal, or try to score on each down.
It's important to note that a kneel down results in a loss of a yard, so scoring on 3rd down would be from the 2 yard line. I don't know what the chances are for the Broncos to score from the 2 yard line in one play, but it's reasonabale to assume they were below 50%. That is, if the Broncos had a greater than 50% chance of scoring from the 2 yard line in one play, they should have gone for two after every score instead of kicking extra points, so Shannahan must have thought his chance was less than 50% (Or he was acting irrationally).
That means Shannahan made the right choice, which, according to MDS, infers that Holmgren made the wrong choice.

65
by Bad Doctor (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:01pm

Agree with #64 ... didn't the 49ers lose a game two or three years ago when they knelt down inside the opponent's 10 figuring the tiebreaking FG was in the bag, only to miss it? I seem to remember arguing that they were doing the right thing while watching the game with friends, only to look really stupid.

66
by anothersteelersfan (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:14pm

About Holmgren's decision. Even if it made mathematical sense, there is no way from an emotion standpoint you can ask your defense to lay down in the Super Bowl under any circumstances. Anything could happen. You can't take that chance away from them.

What he should have done was called an 11-man blitz. Three times in a row if necessary. Sure, it's likely Davis would immediately score and get it over with, but the defensive guys had a chance to give it their best shot, and there's a small but real chance of a freak play, turnover, confused timeout by the Broncos, whatever.

67
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:26pm

found it:

this
http://www.jt-sw.com/football/boxes/index.nsf/8aba06aaab1d51b485256a9e00...

is the game I was thinking of

Buffalo nearly blew it by scoring with a 1-point lead; Indy actually scored after that , but missed the 2 point conversion

68
by the big no show (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 9:25pm

anothersteelersfan - spot on comment.

69
by Brandon (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 11:56pm

great article here i just wanted to comment on the broadcasting part...the sunday night crew let me say is just terrible..led by paul mcguire..they cant call an NFL game for shit,(excuse the language) hes wrong on more then 1 occasion,he babbles NON STOP, theisman talks about his days playing as much as the game itself, hes the most bareable out of the 3 but the other 2 make him worse then he is...what u said about mike tirico and sterling sharpe i couldnt agree more with...i was upset sharpe left the countdown which is by far the best pre-game show in any sport..i watch it EVERY Sunday..sharpe did a great job of announcing that game and i wouldnt be surprised either if he was announcing sooner then later..
one more thing i want to bring up to any1 whos reading this....did anybody see James Hasty, former corner for the chiefs on Quite Frankly about a week or 2 ago? Stephen A was throwing many many questions on him about the NFL and what was goin on after week 1 etc. and he had reasonable,accurate,intelligent comebacks for everything..i agreed with what he said on pretty much everything..thats another man that i wouldnt be surprised getting a job somewhere..u heard it here first
thanks for the article again this is my new favorite website i really enjoy having somewhere to talk NFL

70
by jeff (not verified) :: Fri, 09/22/2006 - 5:37am

tvuplayer carries lots of live games. http://www.viidoo.com