Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?
11 Nov 2003
by Gregg Easterbrook
On Saturday, St. John's University coach John Gagliardi, 77 years old, won his 409th game to become the most successful coach in football history. Yea, verily, how the football gods must love this man! Gagliardi never allows tackling in practice, so players don't get hurt. No one is ever cut from the Johnnies, so feelings don't get hurt. Gagliardi does not carry a whistle; it's too much of an authority-figure thing. Practices are short to insure that kids have time to study. If it's a nice day, Gagliardi has players lay on their backs and look up at the sky. Gagliardi has spent 51 years at the same small school, being a low-paid local hero rather than rushing off somewhere in pursuit of a big bonus. And St. John's receiver Blake Elliott told the Seattle Times the players had never heard Gagliardi mention 409, "unless you're talking about cleaning supplies or something."
Yet Gagliardi has now won more games than any football coach, pro or college. He's even got the Johnnies in the Division III playoffs.
Tough guys may scoff at a football coach who thinks tackling is dangerous and who won't cut anyone because he cannot bear the look on the face of a boy who has just been told he did not make the team. But when Gagliardi leaves this Earth and ascends to Asgard to meet the football gods, George Halas, Curly Lambeau, Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi will be standing at the gates to receive him. There will be song and feasting.
In other college coaching news, Tuesday Morning Quarterback was rooting for Joe Paterno to retire last January, when he could have walked away as the all-time leader in Division One wins. Bobby Bowden was sure to pass him this year, but Joe Pa could have said that when he left, he left on top. Now he's risky being run out of State College on a rail. Of course, Supreme Court justices won't retire either.
No coach anywhere, not even Gagliardi, has ever built up such a store of goodwill as Paterno. Paterno is set apart by his great teams; his modest person life (walks from his three-bedroom house each morning to the coach's office); his donation of millions of dollars to Penn State and related causes (because he and his wife still live in the modest house, Paterno was able to save and invest his promotional fees); and most of all, by the fact that Penn State's football program consistently finishes at the top in graduating scholarship athletes. Surely if you charted it, you'd find Penn State football under Paterno has enjoyed college football's best-ever combination of highly ranked teams and high graduation rates. What an achievement!
But the sun also sets, and the moment has come for Paterno's time in the sun to conclude. Because he has built up such a store of goodwill, if Paterno announces soon that he's calling it quits, there will be a tremendous outpouring of affection. If he sticks around till next year, he will seem unable to let go. It's obvious what Joe Pa is agonizing over: he wanted to take his final bow following a bowl win. But that didn't happen, and now seems unlikely to happen even if he keeps trying. Paterno should focus his thoughts on all the wonderful things that did happen, and leave while the goodwill is universal. Plus, when he attends Happy Valley games, everyone will stand as he enters.
In pro coaching news, congratulations to Dan Reeves on win number 200. Dan, you're practically halfway to catching John Gagliardi!
Reeves is a Hall of Fame coach, but there's no getting around the fact that since he had his heart attack, the Falcons are 30-47. Someone who's had a heart attack must put his health first, but Reeves's performance since that point has been below average. As the 200th win was recorded, players should have dumped a bucket of Zocor over Reeves's head.
Give Reeves credit this week, though, for benching the entire last-ranked Atlanta secondary and starting four assorted rookies and who-dats. Sports-talk radio lambasted this move as desperation. Well, maybe it was desperation! The rookies and who-dats in the revamped Atlanta defensive backfield got two picks, and held Jersey/A to seven points on its own field.
And in other NFL news, last night as usual the Monday Night Football excitement happened after all right-thinking people had gone to bed. Viewers learned why Homo sapiens evolved opposable thumbs! Brett Favre, playing in cold rain at Green Bay with a broken thumb, threw for just 66 yards and three times let the ball flop out of his hand on pass attempts, leading to major losses of yardage and, ultimately, the game's deciding turnover.
Now to the question all America is asking: What's up with Tuesday Morning Quarterback? I may still be at Football Outsiders next week or may be in a new permanent home. See below for details. No matter what happens, check Football Outsiders for TMQ updates.
Stats of the Week: Entering the Super Bowl, the Raiders and Bucs were on a combined 18-3 streak. Since the Super Bowl, they are on a combined 6-12 streak.
Stats of the Week #2: At one point in the Ravens-Les Mouflons collision, Marshall Faulk had two touchdowns and minus-one net yards. At one point in the same game, St. Louis had 21 points and 38 net yards.
Stats of the Week #3: Stretching back to last season, Tiki Barber has fumbled nine times in his last 10 starts.
Stats of the Week #4: Buffalo has not scored an offensive touchdown in four straight road games. The Bills' offense has more turnovers (16) than points (12) in the span
Stats of the Week #5: Struggling defending champ Tampa, 4-5, would be 7-2 if its fabled defense had held three late fourth-quarter leads.
Stats of the Week #6: For the third time this season, the Raiders scored a touchdown the first time they had the ball, then went on to lose.
Stats of the Week #7: Home teams are 2-8 on Monday Night Football this season.
Stats of the Week #8: Green Bay lost despite rushing for 241 yards.
Stats of the Week #9: Detroit won despite rushing for 17 yards.
Cheerleader of the Week: A reader submits the below haiku:
In ninth grade I kissed
hot Persons' cheer-babe Courtney.
High school is long gone.
-- Russell Smith, Arlington, VA
Stephen Glass fact-checked this item, so TMQ has no idea whether Russell actually smooched Courtney in ninth grade. As part of my policy of rigorous research, I called the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons and offered personally to kiss each cheerleader, and take notes. Strangely, the team declined.
Nevertheless, Courtney of the Persons is the TMQ Cheerleader of the Week. A legal secretary, Courtney holds a B.A. in psychology from George Mason University and an M.A. in psychology from Marymount. Two degrees in psychology means your lines definitely would not work on her! Courtney has 23 years of dance and community-theater experience, and is working on her PhD. A cheerleader with a doctorate? This really must be the 21st century. Also, assuming the PhD is in psychology, perhaps Courtney will become the one able to explain Persons owner Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder).
Sidelight one: Check this hilarious press release from George Washington University. GWU had Steve Glass (!!!) headline a panel on journalism ethics, and makes the deadpan declaration that Glass was "one of the most sought-after young journalists in Washington -- until a bizarre chain of events ended his career." Bizarre chain of events? Glass fabricated stories! He ended his own career!
Sidelight two: "Shattered Glass," the new movie about the above, is actually pretty good, especially if you're longing for a flick that is not mainly starcruisers, cleavage and explosions. TMQ can attest that the film conforms quite closely to actual events, and it's probably going to be your only chance this year to go to a suburban shopping-mall cineplex and see a major-studio movie about fact-checking.
Sidelight three: Russell, you are so right. High school is long gone.
Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All: The 7-1 Colts trotted out to start the third quarter against the 1-7 Jaguars with a 20-7 lead. Yet in the second half, the Lucky Charms ran the ball just seven times, repeatedly throwing incomplete, stopping the clock and leaving enough time for Jax's winning comeback touchdown with 1:14 remaining and all Jacksonville time-outs expended. Ye gods.
Sweet Play of the Week #1: Trailing Green Bay 14-10 with 32 ticks left and no time-outs, Philadelphia was at the Packers' six. Todd Pinkston ran a slant-stop-corner, a difficult pattern to execute, and Donovan McNabb "sold" the pump fake perfectly by turning his entire body into the pump action. Touchdown, Eagles victory.
Thought: Did Rush Limbaugh call out McNabb? The Eagles opened 0-2 with McNabb playing horribly. Since Rush blasted McNabb on national television, the gentleman has been terrific and the Eagles gone 6-1.
Sweet Play of the Week #2: Game tied at 20 with two minutes remaining, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons facing third and five on the Blue Men Group 10, Dobby the Elf (Steve Spurrier) called one of those college trick plays that make pro commentators wince. Pat Ramsey threw a receiver hitch to Rod Gardner, a high-school quarterback, in the left flat; the exchange went backward, so was a lateral; the entire Blue Men Group flowed toward Gardner; he then threw to tailback Trung Canidate, who was by his lonesome in the right end zone.
Sweet Play of the Week (Defense): With the score Atlanta 14, Jersey/A 7 in the third, the Giants faced third and four at their 28. Jersey/A came out empty backfield, two receivers left and three right. The Atlanta Typos responded with an eight-man front, an unorthodox set for this down and distance; rookie corner Bryan Scott was across from the slot man left. Scott blitzed, and had an "unabated" path to Giants' QB Kerry Collins; Scott jumped with both hands just as Collins threw a panicky pass; Tod McBride picked off the panicky pass, and the rest silence for Jersey/A.
Beefcake Haiku: Referring to past ESPN columns whose links mysteriously now don't work, Deborah Sullivan lauds the shirtless poses of Terrell Owens and Liam Neeson, then asks for same of Eric Lindros. Deborah, working alone, without the resources of an enormous corporation, this was the best I could find.
Owens eye candy
better than Liam Neeson.
Eric Lindros next?
-- Deborah K. Sullivan, Philadelphia
Best Blocks: TMQ counted one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three, one-thousand four, one-thousand five on three straight Kansas City dropbacks at one point. Cleveland's highly overpaid DL Gerald Warren wasn't even getting into a stance before the snap, just standing up and looking around like a high-school player, then barely bothering to push across the line. TMQ counted one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three, one-thousand four, one-thousand five on Carolina's winning touchdown pass against the defending champion Bucs. Extremely very highly paid Bucs DL Simeon Rice was nowhere to be seen. All those flashy sacks from the extremely very highly paid Rice do tend to come early in games, don't they?
300-Pounder-Plus Plays of the Week: Lining up as a tight end, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden caught a one-yard touchdown pass for the Ravens. (Sportscasters inaccurately called the play a "tackle eligible," but the Ravens were not in an unbalanced line, they were in a heavy formation with Ogden reporting eligible as a tight end.) Lining up eligible as a tight end, defensive tackle Warren Sapp caught an 18-yard pass for Tampa on a Bucs' fourth and one.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Trailing Kansas City 27-17, the Cleveland Browns (Release 2.1) faced fourth and three at midfield early in the third quarter. You're down by 10 on the road. You're going to have to take a chance at some point, and as chances go, fourth and three at midfield isn't bad. Instead the Browns launch a mincing fraidy-cat punt. Emboldened, the Chiefs execute a 10-play touchdown drive, making the score 34-17.
Leading indicator of buck-buck-brawckkkkkkk -- on Cleveland's previous possession, trailing 24-17, the Browns faced fourth and two at the Kansas City 48, and punted. Emboldened, the Chiefs drove for a field goal.
Trailing indicator of buck-buck-brawckkkkkkk -- now down 34-17, on their next possession the Browns drove to fourth and goal at the Kansas City five. You're down by 17 points late on the road -- you must go for it! In this situation it's almost better to go on fourth and miss, pinning the opponent deep, than to take a fraidy-cat three and kick off. Cleveland took a fraidy-cat three and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook.
Death by Field Position: On the road and minus Zach Thomas and Pat Surtain, Miami's drive starts were own 23, own 20, own 9, own 20, own 14, own 29, own 30, own 23. These eight bad field-position starts merely set the stage for the Marine Mammals' ninth drive start, from their own 2. Soon came an interception return 11 yards for a touchdown by Andre Dyson -- surely one of the shortest interception returns for six in league annals -- and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Tennessee created such bad field position for the Dolphins by three times punting in Miami territory, including a punt on fourth and one from the Miami 39, when normally Maroon Zone logic dictates going for it.
What's the Maroon Zone? The area between the opponent's 30 and 40, where it's usually too far to kick a field goal but too close to punt. See more below.
Worst Blocks: Dallas leading 7-3 in the second, Buffalo had first and ten near midfield. Extremely highly overpaid Bills RT Mike Williams, fourth pick of the 2002 draft, made an astonishing blunder. As a Dallas linebacker walked up to blitz from the offensive right, Williams inexplicably turned inside to double-team the Boys tackle on his side. This left the halfback blocking the defensive end, and no one blocking the blitzing linebacker, who recorded the sack. TMQ counted a total of three Buffalo OLs standing around watching, not even attempting to block anyone, on this sack.
Just to prove it was no fluke, later on the same series Buffalo faced third and 10. Dallas brought six, two of them coming directly toward the extremely highly overpaid Williams. Which did he block? Neither, freezing like an ungulate in the headlights and watching as both men blew by.
And just to prove that was no fluke, at the end of the half the Bills faced third and eight on the Dallas 12, still trailing 7-3. The Cowboys right DE blew in to force Drew Bledsoe to throw the ball away. Williams, lined up in front of the gentleman, simply stood there, never touching him -- or anyone.
These instances are reminders of a little-appreciated fact about "professional" football: that it's amazing how often someone on the field is doing nothing at all. Attention focuses on the incredible athletic intensity shown by most NFL performers. But watch a game in person, or watch film, and on almost every snap you can locate at least one player doing nothing -- just standing there watching the action. On Doug Flutie's first touchdown run against Minnesota, a bootleg right, TMQ counted six Viking gentlemen who simply stood there, watching. On Chad Pennington's three-yard pass to Gerald Sowell with a minute left, forcing overtime at Oakland, TMQ counted five Raiders simply standing there, watching.
Teams that win the Super Bowl tend to be teams whose coaches have eliminated the problem of the plays on which someone stands there doing nothing. So far as TMQ can tell, most NFL coaches aren't even working on this problem.
Whatever Happened to Going for the Jugular? Leading the Arizona (CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN FOOTBALL-LIKE SUBSTANCE) Cardinals 14-3, Pittsburgh recovered a fumble at the Cards' 22. On their first snap, the Steelers play-actioned and went to Hines Ward on the deep post, touchdown, and the rout is on. By tradition, teams that have just gotten a turnover immediately try a deep strike. Lately this seems to have fallen out of favor in the NFL; the first snap after a turnover is often a five-yard out. Deep strikes after a turnover are a good idea.
TMQ Position on France: Chirac Non, Thongs Oui: I am moved to quote at length from this important New York Times dispatch from Paris:
To inaugurate its 28,000-square-foot lingerie shop this week, Galeries Lafayette, the closest thing France has to Bloomingdale's, invited hundreds of guests on Tuesday evening to sip Champagne, stroll down a "street of temptation" named "Le Red Hot Boulevard" and examine 80 different brands of "strings" (the French word for "thongs"), brassieres, bustiers, corsets, panties and garter belts. On Saturday, the store is offering free half-hour lessons by professional striptease artists so that "women can familiarize themselves with the art of revealing their new lingerie."
Classes in how to take your clothes off? Only in France! And from "professional striptease artists?" TMQ imagines that in France there is a government agency to certify strippers, and those seeking a license to disrobe must spend hours engaging filling out forms for diffident civil servants. L'Agence Francaise du Bada-Bing, perhaps.
Note to female readers whose hectic modern lifestyles don't leave them time to take lessons in stripping from a certified French professional. If the goal is pleasing men, here is how to take your clothes off: Quickly.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback is glad French women are turning their thoughts away from the United Nations Security Council and toward erotic harnesses. But where's the equal-time beefcake? And how can a department store possibly sell enough thongs to justify a 28,000 square-foot lingerie display? Of course, these must be high-markup items, considering how little material they contain. Which is the nice part.
Maybe It's to Protect the Driver from Sales Pitches: Commercials for the new Ford F150 pickup truck show it being driven by someone wearing a racetrack crash helmet and Nomex fire suit. The F150 is that unsafe?
Sour Play of the Week: The Bills' defense held the favored Cowboys to 10 points on their own field. But with the score Dallas 10, Buffalo 6 and the Boys facing third and two in their territory with 2:13 remaining -- a stop here forces the punt, setting up a monster finish -- the Buffalo defense came out in a three man line. In an obvious run situation! Adrian Murrell up the middle against three DLs for the needed two yards, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook.
Globalization Skids Into the Curve: The new "Saab" model 9-2 will be built by Subaru. Saab, a "Swedish" carmaker, is owned by General Motors.
Best Play by a 40-Year-Old: Bruce Smith notched a sack, putting him one takedown away from the all-time record.
Best Plays by a 41-Year-Old: Doug Flutie ran for two touchdowns and passed for two as San Diego upset the favored Vikings. On each run, he juked out young testosterone-pumped gents maybe half his age. Flutie is a mixed blessing. When he comes in fresh, as he did Sunday, he's unstoppable; when he's started a few games in a row, his arm strength expires. But once in a while he's got magic, and age seems to be no factor.
Bad Unis Update: While the Oakland coaches, and especially the Oakland cheerleaders, were wearing too much, the Jets came out in green pants that were in their own way too much. First Jersey/B went retro to the 1960s with its Namath-era look; now Jersey/B goes retro to the 1950s. Seriously, Jets, it's 2003. Do something about those uniforms.
And Jacksonville -- black pants, dark jerseys? No wonder your own stadium was half-empty by the time you scored your improbable winning comeback touchdown.
Those Who Do Not Learn From Game Film Are Doomed to Repeat It: At this point Tuesday Morning Quarterback has written so many items about the Bills bringing defeat upon themselves by going pass-wacky on shortage-yardage downs that I might as well just enter a generic Buffalo short-yardage-fiasco item into my AutoText. Nevertheless, for the record, trailing Dallas 10-6 in the stadium with the big . star, the Bills faced third and two on the Cowboys' 25 in the fourth quarter. Did they simply pound into the line? (Bills rushers averaged four yards per carry in the contest.) Did they at least throw quick? Five-step drop, sack, fumble, Dallas football.
At this point it's time to question the heart of Drew Bledsoe. Not only is he playing poorly, more important, he isn't going to the coach to demand that things change. Bledsoe is the only Buffalo squad member with the stature to go to the tastefully named Gregg Williams and demand that the awful offensive strategy change. Instead he's trotting off the field like he doesn't care.
Best in a Losing Cause: Keenan McCardell of Tampa made a one-handed, 36-yard touchdown catch amid three defenders.
Best Crowd Response: One of the many things going wrong for the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons is that Dobby the Elf (Steve Spurrier) has installed audibles so elaborate they result in delay-of-game penalties. Persons trailing the Blue Men Group 14-3 in the first quarter, QB Pat Ramsey came to the line and began elaborately signaling a complex audible. Immediately the home crowd broke into loud boos.
Cold Coach = Victory: Kickoff temperature 61 degrees at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum in Oakland -- that's chilly by California standards -- home coach Bill Callahan came out in a parka, while visiting Jersey/B coach Herm Edwards wore a long-sleeved turtleneck shirt. Now, which team do you think won? To confound the home-team offense to the football gods, the high-aesthetic-appeal Raiders cheer-babes, who normally keep public opinion in mind, wore bulky field jackets. Cheerleader professionalism is essential to victory: professionalism in this sense meaning skin or at least skin-tight.
The above provides a totally gratuitous excuse to direct you to the Raiderettes individual photos.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! (Pro Edition #1): Trailing 24-20 with 1:27 remaining, the Panthers had first and 10 at the 27 of the defending champ Bucs. It's a blitz! Six gentlemen including corner Ronde Barber cross the line; 22-yard completion to Muhsin Muhammad in the area Barber vacated; winning touchdown on the next snap.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! (Pro Edition #2): Trailing the Packers 7-0, the Eagles faced third and six in the third quarter. Since Philadelphia to that point in the game had a net of 20 yards passing, the throw didn't seem a huge threat. Nevertheless, it's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross the line; Duce Staley drifts out for a swing pass to the area vacated by the blitzers; 34-yard reception sets up a field goal, and sets in motion the Eagles' comeback.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! (High School Edition): Josh Meyer of Rawson, Ohio, writes: "I am one of the coaches at Cory-Rawson High School. Our team has blitzed twice this entire year, both times early in the season, both times surrendering touchdown runs of plus-50 yards. Haven't blitzed since, 11-1 record, regional finals."
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! (Electronic Edition): Brian Sinclair of Indianapolis writes that he is a three-time local champion at EA Madden Football -- despite playing as the Arizona Cardinals, for maximum challenge. His secret? "If it's third and four or greater, I always rush four and drop seven into coverage. I never blitz. I've lost track of how many times I've forced a turnover or caused an incompletion by playing straight defense."
NFL in Iran Update: Tuesday Morning Quarterback endlessly bemoans the woofer games inflicted on viewers by local network affiliates, and the fact that NFL Sunday Ticket, which solves the problem, is only available to the lucky 10 percent of American homes that get DirecTV. If only we all lived in Iran! Readers from the Fertile Crescent have noted that Middle East TV, which broadcasts to Iran, Egypt, Turkey and other nations, has an excellent track record of showing top NFL games.
This Sunday the Middle East TV NFL doubleheader was Bucs at Panthers followed by Bills at Cowboys. Not bad! Surely a better card that shown in many cities in the United States. New York had classic Jersey Gridlock: the nation's largest city saw the Jersey/A and Jersey/B games on Sunday afternoon, and nothing else. Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city, in the afternoon slot saw Jets at Raiders, combined record 4-12, rather than Buffalo at Dallas, combined record 10-6. That Jets at Raiders turned out to be more fun than Bills at Cowboys is beside the point. No one knows in advance which games will be exciting; local affiliates should show the top pairings.
Check here to learn what games Middle East TV will feature this coming Sunday. Cry in your beer as the mullahs in Tehran sip Arabian coffee and see better NFL pairings than aired in the United States.
TMQ Feels Relieved When Anything in the NFL Is Deliberate: A week ago the New England Flying Elvi (see below) beat the Broncos on Monday Night Football partly because Bill Belichick had the presence of mind to take a deliberate safety in the endgame, putting his charges down by three points but dramatically improving the field-position equation. MNF announcer Al Michaels knows the sport so well that he anticipated the deliberate safety call; John Madden seemed surprised when Michaels suggested what was coming.
This brought to TMQ's mind an incident whose specifics I cannot remember. It was during the Howard Cosell years on MNF. Toward the end of a Dolphins game, Miami leading by slightly more than the spread, Cosell was discussing how bettors would be disappointed by the victory margin. TMQ is glad booth personnel don't talk about wagering or point-spreads anymore: my personal compromise with my Baptist upbringing is to be pro-topless but anti-gambling. At any rate, the Dolphins were pinned on their one, just as the Flying Elvi were a week past, and when Bob Griese came out in a standard formation on fourth down, Cosell thought the Dolphins were going to try for the first. "This game is fixed, the Dolphins are trying to manipulate the spread!" Cosell bellowed, or words to that effect. Cosell didn't realize an intentional safety was coming. Griese took the snap and stepped out of the end zone, Miami free-kicked in comfort and the game ended.
Anyone out there remember the specifics of that night?
Mystery Officiating: Les Mouflons leading the Ravens 21-19, Baltimore's Todd Heap ran an "up" to the St. Louis goal line and was slammed into by the defender a full beat before the ball arrived. The zebra on the scene threw the flag for pass interference. The referee then ordered the flag picked up; Baltimore did not get the ball on the one, and settled for a field goal on the possession. Can anyone explain this? Referee 25 yards away overrules official two yards away, whose call had been correct.
End of the half, Browns at Chiefs. With five seconds left and Kansas City in field-goal range but holding no time-outs, Trent Green, about to be sacked -- the clock would have run down and the half ended -- alertly heaved the ball into the feet of one of his lineman, changing the sack into an incompletion. Officials threw yellow for "illegal touching" by the lineman and assessed the Chiefs five yards but did not run off 10 seconds, ending the half, though the rule is that in the final minute, a penalty against the offense requires a 10-second runoff. A league spokesman later said no runoff was required because the call was not intentional grounding. Can anyone explain this?
Kick Early, Go for It Late: This TMQ immutable law of football was honored by two beleaguered clubs, Cincinnati and the Persons, and both were crowned with victory. Trailing 27-24 with 13:03 remaining, the Fudgsicles faced fourth and one on the Houston seven. Rather than kick for the tie, Marvin Lewis went for it, converting on the run. Cincinnati scored a touchdown on the series to take a 31-27 lead, and never looked back. Game tied at 20 with 6:13 remaining, the Persons faced fourth and one on their own 25. Dobby the Elf went for it! This may seem extreme, but as Jimmy Johnson once said, if you cannot gain one single yard then you do not deserve to win. The Persons converted on the rush, scored on the possession and prevailed.
Hidden Plays of the Day: Hidden plays are one that don't show up on highlight reels, but stop or sustain drives. Seven minutes left in the contest, score tied at 20, the Blue Men Group faced third and one at midfield against the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck turned to hand off and collided with Shawn Alexander, loss of yardage. Seattle punted; the Persons took over and drove for the winning touchdown.
Game scoreless in the second at Kraft Cheez-Whiz Field at Lambeau, Todd Pinkston of the Eagles took a reverse handoff in cold rain, bobbled it, and rather than create a turnover simply fell on the ball for an 11-yard loss. Green Bay did not score after the Eagles' punt, and the football gods rewarded Pinkston by allowing him to catch the winning pass with 32 ticks left.
What's Up With Tuesday Morning Quarterback? Right now several possible TMQ deals are in the works. Expect an announcement soon, but for the moment Football Outsiders is my venue. I thank the Outsiders, especially Aaron Schatz, for providing me a home during my period of exile.
Two things you can help with:
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Second, sadly, there's nothing any of us can do about the fact that ESPN cashiered me. As you know, I've urged people not to boycott ESPN. They were wrong to fire me, but overall, ESPN is terrific.
If you want to help me personally, the way to do it is to preorder my next book, The Progress Paradox, which comes out in December. You can preorder it from Amazon (using the button here will help benefit Football Outsiders as an Amazon associate), or use your local bookseller -- that's still legal!
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Running Items Department
Obscure College Score of the Week: Maine 77, Morgan State 24. Oklahoma isn't the only school that can run up 77 points! Located in Baltimore, Morgan State was originally Centenary Biblical Institute, a single building; Morgan now covers 140 acres of a hillside, and is Maryland's sole urban public university. Visitors and prospective students are assured that Morgan offers "worry-free parking."
Obscure College Score of the Week: Northwestern of Iowa 50, Dana 12. Well of course an entire team would beat just one guy -- or, possibly, just one woman. Located in Blair, Nebraska, Dana College is "a place where students make things happen." Most colleges try to downplay that part! The campus "buzzes with excitement seven days a week"; Tuesday Morning Quarterback was not aware that anything buzzed with excitement in Nebraska. The school extols its residential halls, noting, "Research has shown that students living on campus are more likely to succeed in college, academically and socially." Does Dana mean to say you've got a better chance to get lucky if you have your own dorm room? Probably so.
Enormous College Enormous Mistake of the Week: Okay, so Oklahoma outscored Texas A&M 77 points and outgained the Aggies by 585 yards. The game was so one-sided, the final should have read 77-00.
But the Sooners ran up the score. After the game Bob Stoops issued a transparently insincere claim not to have wanted to pile on, and Sooners faithful pointed out that, when near the Aggie goal line in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma basically knelt on the ball. But here's the giveaway. Leading 35-0 late in the second quarter, Oklahoma threw on seven of its final eight snaps of the first half. When you're ahead by 35 and still throwing on every down, what you are doing is running up the score. The football gods take a dim view of this sort of thing, and will exact vengeance. Unless they immediately engage in some act of humility, the Sooners can kiss the national championship goodbye.
New York Times Final-Score Score: Once again the Paper of Guesses goes 0-14 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact NFL final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-977 since TMQ began tracking. There was rending of garments and gnashing of teeth on West 43rd Street, as the Times predicted Eagles 17, Packers 16 and the final was Eagles 17, Packers 14. The goal of 1,000 inaccurate predictions, once just a dream, draws tantalizingly close for the Multicolored Lady.
Reader Animadversion: Regarding TMQ's item on people who ask, regarding my The Atlantic Monthly affiliation, "Atlantic Monthly - how often does that come out," reader Tiago Garcez of Aachen, Germany, wrote to note that McKinsey Quarterly, the publication of the consulting giant McKinsey, is published six times annually. "Would you trust your company's problems to a consulting company with such mathematical abilities?" Garcez asked.
Just to make sure this was right - Steve Glass had gone out to lunch with Jayson Blair when it was time to fact-check this item -- TMQ registered at www.mckinseyquarterly.com. Here's the email offer I got back:
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Tray of Troy, New Hampshire protests that although many teams have a TMQ cognomen (the San Francisco Squared Sevens, the Tennessee Flaming Thumbtacks and so on), the New England Patriots do not. His proposal? "When a revised team logo was introduced a few years ago, it was immediately dubbed The Flying Elvis. The name stuck, to the extent that the Patriots' official web site now refers to it as the 'Patriots Elvis Logo.' But the team has a plural number of members. So, obviously, the team should be called the New England Flying Elvi." Jeff offers in haiku,
Patriots must have
TMQ nickname. Clearly,
the Flying Elvi.
-- Jeff DeTray
- what a great nickname. Mr. Data, make it so!
TMQ proposed in his final ESPN column, here -- wait, the link won't work, now isn't that strange -- that the Maroon Zone, the area between the opponent's 30 and 40, is essential to football success, because it is t here that mere possessions become scoring drives. Using their incredibly scientifically advanced stats technology -- let's hope it never falls into the wrong hands! -- the Football Outsiders analyzed Maroon Zone performance and found it a weak statistical indicator. (Ed. note: Well, for the first nine weeks of 2003, anyway) Guys, I told you, Steve Glass already fact-checked the Maroon Zone item! See the Outsiders' analysis, which proposes that the overlooked secret to success is actually the Scarlet Zone, defined as the area between the opponent's 10 and 30.
Note: thanks to the efforts of Tien Mao, a New York City construction guy with a severely cool personal website, you can still read my Maroon Zone column here. Mao has rescued everything the Ministry of Bristol tried to drop down the memory hole, though without the cheesecake and beefcake photos, sadly. Isn't this just the beauty of the Internet? One guy working alone in an apartment in New York, greatest city in the world, single-handedly frustrates the attempt of a huge corporation to make something disappear.
Finally of TMQ's decision to call the Falcons the Atlanta Typos -- their new all-black unis look like a printing press error -- John Hales of UM Printing Services in Ann Arbor, Michigan, writes,
A typo is not a printing press error. A typo takes place long before paper reaches the press. The technical term used when ink is printed on a sheet of paper where it is not supposed to be is "scum." Now if you feel this is too harsh, the alternate technical term is "toning." When spots or imperfections occur in print due to dirt or lint, these are called "hickeys." Hope this helps.
Let me get this straight, John Hales proposes that the team cognomen be changed to the Atlanta Scum, or the Atlanta Toning, or the Atlanta Hickeys. The first is too harsh, the second is too bland and the third suggests more fun than the Falcons are likely to be having in their off-hours this season, given their record. So TMQ will stick with Atlanta Typos, even if this is technically inexact.
Last Month's Challenge The last TMQ Challenge on ESPN was to name a ridiculous phrase in regular usage. TMQ kicked it off by objecting to "partial nudity," maintaining that someone is either starkers or not. Note: it was not my intent to discourage "partial" nudity on the part of buff mega-babes or, I grudgingly add for female or nontraditional male readers, ripped ultra-hunks.
Marc Melendez of Cleveland suggested "50 percent chance of rain," noting this means that it will either rain or not rain. Susan Drummon of Montpelier, Vermont, suggested the similar "mix of clouds and sun." Isn't weather always a mix of clouds and sun?
Joel Magnan of Edmonton, Alberta, objected to "preheated oven," noting that an oven can either be off or heated. Travis Bond of the United States Air Force suggested the similar "preboarding." Either the plane is empty, Bond notes, or has been boarded.
Roberto Alsina objected to "head over heels," noting, "having your head over your heels is the usual state of affairs."
Dave Boraksy of Durham, North Carolina, objected to a phrase that also drives TMQ crazy, "foreseeable future."
And the winner of Last Month's Challenge is Beth Gibbons of Rome, Georgia, who objected to "common sense" on the grounds that it is not common.
This Week's Challenge This week's Challenge is to wait until you find out where TMQ will appear next Tuesday. Check Football Outsiders for updates.