Walkthrough: Return of the King
by Mike Tanier
Jeff George told Sirius radio last week: "I find it hard to believe there isn't a place in the game for me."
I find it hard to believe there's a place on satellite radio for Jeff George.
George sighs heavily while watching the NFL these days. Peers like Gus Frerotte and Kerry Collins are leading successful, even undefeated teams. Why not George? Sure, he was a bigger tool than Paul Bunyan's crowbar when he played. But Collins had a drinking problem and used racial slurs in Carolina, but he landed on his feet after a few tricky bounces. George was a vicar by comparison.
George is 40, but he claims to have the arm of a 25-year-old (though hopefully not Brodie Croyle). George's legs have endured four decades of wear, but technology may offer a solution. Honda announced that it will soon unveil robotic legs that will allow the disabled to walk and the immobile to buy time in the pocket. I plan to purchase three pairs and tear through the streets like Doctor Octopus. George could afford a pair. Heck, he could upgrade to the Acura models, which have built-in MP3 players and cruise control.
George isn't the only '90s quarterback thinking comeback. A rumor rumbled through the bowels of the Internet recently that Kordell Stewart plans to come back to the NFL as a wide receiver. The 36-year-old Stewart is no older than Joey Galloway, so don't laugh the rumor off.
OK, now you can laugh it off. Stewart is the sewer alligator of football. He's a walking Urban Legend; Snopes.com should have its own Kordell Stewart category. During his playing days, Stewart was the subject of salacious, slanderous rumors that were as plausible as the average Wal-Mart abduction story. I traced the latest tall tale back to a wishful thinking interview that Stewart gave in September. Stewart said he would like to come back. And I would like to have six robotic Accord EX legs. Neither is happening.
I'd like to see Stewart return; the dude was fun to watch. If he staged a successful comeback, NFL Films would have to assemble a highlight reel. There's only one album in the world that would make a worthy soundtrack: Chinese Democracy. Lo and behold, Guns 'n' Roses' latest album is coming out next week. The folks at Apple want me to make an advance purchase. Why? Do I have to be first in line to download? Will they run out of MP3s? It may not matter. I heard the title track already. It sounds like two garage bands arguing over who spilled Natural Ice on the PA system.
Still, one can dream. Kordell Stewart and Guns 'n' Roses. Axl and Slash, reunited at last.
Unfortunately, there's no place in that game for Jeff George.
Upon Him Does the Sun Rise and Set
Let's say the Jets finish the season 10-6 or 11-5. It's very possible when you look at their long-term schedule, which features the Broncos, Niners, and Seahawks, three foes who could easily vault them to nine wins. A break here or there gives them double-digits.
Let's say the Packers keep diddling around .500, ending the season at 7-9 or 8-8. Again, that's plausible: Give them a split with the Bears, plus a loss at either New Orleans or Jacksonville, and they're one loss away from .500 with only one gimme (the Lions in Week 17) on the schedule.
Imagine the Jets in the playoffs, maybe with a first-round bye, while the Packers are home for the holidays. You know what the storyline would be. Heck, I'll write it for you now, complete with the sentence-as-paragraph affectation columnists use when they think they are revealing some cosmic truth.
Brett Favre made all the difference.
He took a ragtag collection of second-fiddlers in Gotham and turned them into winners.
In His absence, the Packers melted like an ice cream sandwich in the midday sun.
The Packers rejected their favorite son, but Favre shook the dust from His sandals as He left town. He took with him His moxie, His competitive spirit. His leadership. His precious male essence.
He gathered up the things that made the Packers winners, stuffed them into a carry-on bag, and flew to JFK airport. Once safely in the Big Apple, He unzipped the bag, and all those intangibles floated out like a genie from an old oil lamp.
I could continue, but you are probably retching already. You can already smell the bouquets that will be heaped at Favre's feet, you can imagine prose so purple that Prince would wear it. The inconvenient facts -- the millions the Jets spent on Alan Faneca and other free agents, the Packers' injury problems and awful run defense -- will either be ignored or retro-fitted to be more Favre-friendly:
The Packers were adrift in the wilderness. Without Favre's leadership, their defenders could no longer tackle.
The Jets already had veterans on offense. Favre made them better. When He faced the Rams, He simply stared across the line at them, and their defense wilted like a geranium during a two-month drought.
(The mixed metaphor back there was deliberate; please no e-mails.)
Now that I've set up a straw man argument and congratulated myself for tearing it down, it's time to do some real work. We all know that a sprinkling of magic Favre Dust didn't turn the Jets into winners. But he did make them better. Or did he? On the flip side, his release didn't take away the Packers' ability to win, run the ball, or stop the run. But can you really say they are better off with Aaron Rodgers, particularly after Sunday's double-safety fiasco?
Let's examine the situation from a variety of angles.
Favre vs. Pennington: When evaluating the Jets, you have to remember not to compare Favre to Rodgers. Favre replaced Chad Pennington. Statistically, Pennington has Favre beaten a dozen ways this season: in DVOA (22.1% to -3.3%), DYAR (623 to 141), and EYards (2353 to 1792). Pennington has thrown for more yards on fewer attempts and has a higher passer efficiency rating (92.6 to 89.8).
It's hard to argue that Pennington has a better supporting cast than Favre. The Dolphins have better running backs, but the Jets have better receivers. The Dolphins have a young, improving offensive line, but the Jets have a mix of high draft picks in their third seasons and millionaire free agents. The Wildcat scheme has defenders on their heels against the Dolphins, but Eric Mangini is pretty creative in his own right, and it's hard to see how Wildcat running plays are affecting Pennington's passing numbers. It's safe to assume that if Pennington stayed in New York, he would have produced passing stats at least comparable to his Dolphins statistics. Therefore, while his hypothetical Jets numbers might be shaped differently than Favre's (fewer touchdowns and interceptions), they would probably be better.
Maybe Favre has an edge over Pennington that isn't measured in conventional statistics or DVOA. Favre is a better deep passer; maybe his ability to throw long is stretching defenses. The Jets lack explosive playmakers, so they need Favre to force some passes to generate points. Pennington's risk-averse, high-percentage passing is great when you have a superstar running back or receiver, but it would only lead to stalled drives with the Jets. Favre may throw more interceptions, but he makes up for it with his daring touchdowns.
This is the famous gunslinger/game manager argument, and it can make you chase your tail. The differences between Favre and Pennington as deep passers are exaggerated, and even if Favre gets some derring-do points, he has a lot of DVOA and DYAR ground to cover. Follow this line of reasoning in search of credit for Favre, and you'll soon arrive in "he's a winner" territory.
Another way to compare Favre to Pennington is to analyze the Jets on a game-by-game basis. Let's assume either quarterback would have beaten the Bengals and Rams (awful teams) the Chiefs (an awful team that stayed close because of Favre interceptions) and the Bills (who were beaten mostly by the Jets defense). Both quarterbacks would have lost to the Patriots and Chargers. That leaves the Dolphins, Cardinals, and Raiders games.
Favre threw six touchdowns against the Cardinals. Let's assume Pennington isn't capable of that kind of output. The Jets beat the Dolphins on the strength of a pair of deep passes by Favre. One bomb was an easy throw to a wide-open receiver, but the other was a crazy fourth-and-long prayer. Let's generously say that Pennington wasn't enough of a gambler to make the plays needed in that game (of course, if Pennington played for the Jets, the Dolphins wouldn't have been competitive, but never mind). By that accounting, Favre gave the Jets two extra wins this season.
But there's a problem: the Raiders game. Favre threw two interceptions in that game, one in the red zone. He also was sacked and fumbled three times, though the Jets recovered all the fumbles. If we give Favre gunslinger credit, then we should concede that Pennington would have taken better care of the ball against a terrible team. With Pennington under center, the Jets beat the Raiders.
At best, we can give the Jets an additional win, thanks to Favre. At worst, we could point to Pennington's overall statistics and conclude that not only would he have beaten the Raiders, but the Cardinals and perhaps the Patriots as well. My hunch is that Favre has helped the Jets slightly, but that Alan Faneca and an easy schedule has helped far more. One thing is certain: The Dolphins were big winners in the August quarterback sweepstakes. They wouldn't be 5-4 with John Beck or Josh McCown.
Favre vs. Notfavre: Conventional stats and Football Outsiders metrics also show that Aaron Rodgers is having a better year than Favre. Rodgers bests Favre in DVOA (14.8% to -3.3%) DYAR (495 to 141) EYards (2,194 to 1,792), as well as corny old passer efficiency rating (93.3 to 89.8).
The metric differences here aren't as extreme as they are between Favre and Pennington, and the Packers appear to have a stronger overall offense than the Jets, so I'm not willing to conclude that Rodgers is having a superior season. Peripheral stats could close the gap. For example, Rodgers has been sacked 21 times in 288 attempts, Favre 16 times in 282 attempts. The Adjusted Sack Rate differences between the two teams aren't strong enough to conclude that Favre has better protection. Favre endured just 15 sacks last season behind a Packers line that was healthier than this year's version. After watching the Packers lose to the Titans and Vikings, I would conclude that the Packers pass protection has fallen off, but that Rodgers has made some of his own trouble. Favre has much better pocket presence.
There are some intangibles that should at least be talked about. The Packers lead the league in penalty yards, with 655. They commit a lot of line penalties. Let's (very generously) suggest that Favre could reduce offensive line penalties: his snap count might be more regular, he could use his experience to spot an illegal formation, he gets rid of the ball before holding penalties occur. Favre might even get some "superstar" treatment when it comes to penalties. Rodgers' illegal forward pass from the end zone on Sunday might have been interpreted as a gutsy veteran play if Favre had thrown underhanded on two hops to Donald Driver. Favre is legendary for over-selling ball fakes, so maybe we could give Ryan Grant a few more yards because Favre is channeling his inner Lee Strasberg after the handoff.
If we heap all of these intangibles on Favre's side of the scale, what do we get? Probably a win over the Vikings, though I have a funny feeling that Favre would have traded Rodgers' two safeties (four points) for at least one no-look interception from the goal-line (six points). To give Favre difference-making abilities in the Falcons and the Titans games you must overlook the fact that A) Rodgers played well in those games, and B) the Packers run defense was culpable in both losses.
There's one other game Favre might have won: the Buccaneers game. Rodgers injured his shoulder against the Bucs. The Packers trailed 21-20 when he left. Backup Matt Flynn was ineffective, so Rodgers came back in, only to throw the interception that allowed the Bucs to pull away. If the Packers had both Favre and Rodgers, one of them could have come off the bench, played well, and helped the Packers win a game that the Bucs were trying hard to give away. That doesn't make this a game where the Packers needed Favre, just a game where they needed someone better than Flynn.
Conclusion: If the Favre Saga never happened, I believe the Packers would be 5-4. The Jets would probably still be 6-3 and one of the league's pleasant surprises. The Dolphins would be belly-up. The balance of power didn't change much when Favre was traded. It changed when the Jets signed Faneca and Damien Woody, when the Packers lost run-stuffer Corey Williams, and so on. Favre was a medium-sized pebble, not an avalanche. When you read one of those Almighty Favre columns that are sure to arrive in the coming weeks, trust your gut instinct. It's about 90 percent bunk.
Unless he really does have the magical power to make the defense better.
Nutshells, Part 1
Jets at Patriots: Rivals. Heroes. Controversy. Accusations. Hype. More hype. Favre. Mangini. Belichick. Law. Ben. Jarvus. Green. Ellis. Slightly-above-average teams with inflated records. Patriots.
Cowboys at Redskins: It all started back in Week 4, when the unbeatable Cowboys lost to the Redskins in Dallas. They lost because they could not stop Santana Moss or Clinton Portis and because they abandoned the run too early. The loss touched off a downward spiral that featured major injuries, panic-button trades, and rumors that Wade Phillips might join the Scott Linehan-Lane Kiffin-Mike Nolan-coffee klatch. Tony Romo is back in the huddle for the Cowboys, but they are still beaten up, and the temptation to unleash another doomed 47-pass game plan will be great. Still, I'll buck common sense and take the Cowboys, especially with Portis' status in question.
Bears at Packers: Rex Grossman wasn't very impressive last week, but if the Packers don't do something about their pass protection, the Bears will win this game 4-0. I still see the season series as a split, so I'll pick the home Packers to win the way they almost beat the Vikings: lots of interceptions, a healthy dose of hope.
Texans at Colts: Sage Rosenfels wants to redeem himself for his fourth-quarter fumble against the Colts in Week 5. And his other fourth-quarter fumble in Week 5. And his fourth-quarter interception in Week 5. And the interception he threw in the red zone at the end of the third quarter against the Vikings. And all of the passes he threw right into Ray Lewis' chest last week. And ... well, he'd like a mulligan for all of 2008, if that could be arranged. Colts.
Rams at Niners: Mike Singletary and Jim Haslett now have a scarlet letter "I" burned on their chests. Actually, Singletary's is on his ass. Niners.
Lions at Panthers: Jake Delhomme is adhering to a rigorous schedule this year: two good games, then one awful game. He was pretty good in Week 1, good enough to win in Week 2, then got sacked five times in Week 3. He kicked butt in Weeks 4 and 5 (530 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) but threw three picks in Week 6. He posted great numbers against the Saints and Cardinals, then made the Raiders secondary look like Lester Hayes, Willie Brown, Jack Tatum and Nnamdi Asomugha (he looked like himself) with his seven-completion, four-pick masterpiece last week. Delhomme will lead the Panthers to an easy win against those lovable Lions. His problem weeks will be Week 12 at Green Bay, Week 15 at the Giants (that makes sense), and in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, which is bad news for anyone who thinks the Panthers will do great things in January.
A Few Minutes with an Andy Rooney Impersonator
Don't ya' just hate it when teams empty the backfield in short-yardage situations?
It's a well-known fact that the best way to convert on third-and-short is to run the ball. That applies not just to third-and-1, but third-and-2. It's even a good percentage strategy on third-and-3, even though teams are as likely to run the ball on third-and-3 as to admit they pulled their seventh-round pick's name out of a gumball machine.
That doesn't mean teams should run off-tackle every time they face third-and-short. A little play-action can be a dangerous thing when the defense has nine players in the box. But teams should at least make it look like they are going to run. Even on second-and-1, when many teams throw deep, it makes sense to keep a back in the backfield so defenders will respect the run threat. The same goes for goal-to-go situations inside the five: The threat of a handoff keeps linebackers close to the line, which opens up opportunities in the back of the end zone.
You would think this is common sense, but offensive coordinators don't agree. They can't resist sending that running back in motion before the snap, taking away any chance for a run. Sure, the quarterback could run a draw or sweep, but no one really thinks Kerry Collins is going to bust up the gut on third-and-goal from the four-yard line.
|Figure 1: Empty Backfield TD Pass to Forte|
Sure, there's some logic to emptying the backfield. It's easy to isolate a receiver against a linebacker in man coverage, and those linebackers usually aren't quick enough to jam a receiver off the line and prevent a quick slant. If the defense is in zone coverage, one of those five receivers at the line of scrimmage will come off the ball uncovered: another easy pitch-and-catch. Teams like the Bears and Eagles throw a lot of passes to their running backs, and an empty backfield allows backs like Matt Forte or Brian Westbrook to quickly get into their pass routes. Figure 1 shows an empty-backfield play the Bears used on Sunday near the goal line. Forte scored easily by forcing a Titans linebacker to chase him on a double-move.
Back in the old days, teams never used empty backfield sets. Even if they did, they wouldn't dare use them near the goal line or on third-and-short. Teams used two-back offenses in yesteryear, and the go-to guy when you needed a yard or two was the fullback. Near the goal line, teams deployed I-formations or split backfields. The defense had no idea who would get the ball, so they couldn't key on one back. The big fullback often plunged for the touchdown or first down.
|Figure 2: Standard Fullback Trap|
The fullback dive is alive and well in the NFL. Usually, the halfback runs a sweep, and the quarterback fakes a pitch to him, either before or after the handoff to the fullback. It's a useful play, but it's no fun to diagram. The fullback trap is more interesting (Figure 2). On this play, the guard (whose block is shown in red) slips behind the tackle and traps the first pursuing defender, usually the defensive end. The fullback takes the handoff and runs counter to the flow of the offensive line. To further sell the illusion that this is a halfback sweep, the right tackle fold blocks on the right side. Most of the defense follows the halfback right, and the fullback gains five or six yards running left. The Ravens are the only team I've seen using this exact play, and they are more likely to use it on first-and-10 handoff than in short yardage. But the Ravens run a variety of fullback handoffs. It seems to be working for them.
If you ask me, I think offensive coordinators should junk all the empty backfield plays and stick to old-fashioned football when it comes to getting tough yards.
Of course, the Bears did score on that empty-backfield pass to Forte. The Packers used a five-receiver set to get Donald Driver open for a big gain on third-and-short.
Meanwhile, Ahmard Hall fumbled on a fullback dive for the Titans at the goal line. Le'Ron McLain also fumbled a fullback give. Mike Cox of the Chiefs got stopped on a fullback dive at the goal-line in the final seconds. Halfbacks had it tough in short-yardage situations this week, too: Check out Westbrook on Sunday night and Frank Gore and Michael Robinson on Monday.
Maybe both strategies have their merits. Maybe the right call depends on personnel and offensive philosophy, not just on the predilections of a crotchety old sportswriter who thinks football has gone downhill since the day Rocky Bleier retired.
Nah. I'll just ignore contradictory evidence. Fullback dives are good for short yardage conversions. Empty backfields are bad. Change is scary.
(Ed. Note: Not that an empty backfield every so often is a bad thing, but I should point out that our research shows that in general, teams do have more success in short-yardage situations when they run the ball. Of course, a sweep to Brian Westbrook may not be best specific run play to call... -- Aaron Schatz)
Nutshells, Part 2
Dolphins at Raiders: Yep, it's been three weeks since the Raiders scored a touchdown. Yep, they are averaging seven points per game over their last five games. Yep, they were 2-of-17 on third down conversions last week. Yep, I could cite eye-popping offensive stats for about three pages. Nope, Tom Cable isn't on anyone's head-coaching short list. He has taken over play-calling duties, but if he fails, plays will be called by Ouija board and one of those glass birds that dunks its head in the colored liquid. Dolphins.
Browns at Bills: Now that Chris Perry has been benched, the battle for NFL's Worst Starter is a four-man race. It's down to Robert Royal of the Bills, L.J. Smith of the Eagles, Josh Bullocks of the Lions, and Brandon McDonald of the Browns. McDonald is the new face. He earned national attention for his amazing coverage of Eddie Royal on Thursday night. The highlight was a 93-yard touchdown that came bundled with International Sign Language narration, courtesy McDonald's gestures. "Hey, I can't cover this guy. I need safety help. Crap, there's the snap. I'm beat! Where's the ball? Oh no, where's Royal? Maybe if I wave at him I can cause a mighty cyclone to emerge from my arms to tackle him from afar!"
I watched the Ravens pick on McDonald a few weeks ago. I know other teams did, because he has a lot of six- or seven-tackle stat lines. Most cornerbacks earn high tackle totals by making stops after 15-yard passes, not by supporting the run. McDonald had an interception against the Giants, but it's looking more and more like the Giants were just getting it all out of their system that night.
The Bills can beat the Browns by picking on McDonald, by making Brady Quinn prove he can match Thursday's performance, and by running hard against a defense with tackling issues. The Bills may be on the long, slow slide to mediocrity, but when they get there, they'll find that the Browns have already ordered appetizers.
Saints at Chiefs: Reggie Bush hopes to make his triumphant return this week. It's a good thing: The Saints just need him to return punts, run the ball, catch it, punt, kick, and play safety. The Saints have tried to build their short passing game around Pierre Thomas and Aaron Notbush (also called Stecker), but for all his faults, Bush is the guy who turns those swing passes into big gains. The Saints win this week because Herm Edwards will give up on the kicking game entirely, going for every fourth down, going for two after touchdowns, and hiring Jeanette Lee to shoot kickoffs down the field with a pool cue. The worst part is that Sean Payton will take notes.
Ravens at Giants: The Giants will lose at least once, maybe twice, in the next four weeks. They should win this one, but I like the Ravens to cover that 6.5-point spread. I live about 70 miles from the Meadowlands, but when Ray Lewis hits Brandon Jacobs (or vice versa), I may be able to hear the pop.
Titans at Jaguars: The Jaguars were making fun of the Lions during their blowout win on Sunday. "You suck," a Jaguars player would say. "Your mom sucks," the Lions player would respond from the fetal position. "No, you suck," came the witty retort. "Your face sucks," came the stiletto-sharp rejoinder from the Lions player limping off the field to make room for the punting unit. A lot of folks smell Jaguar upset here, and the Titans are only field-goal favorites. I'm sticking with the Titans because the DVOA disparity is wide and the Jaguars run defense isn't very good.
Three Safety Opera
The Vikings recorded two safeties against the Packers on Sunday. The NFL record of three safeties in one game was set by the Rams against the Giants in Week 5 of the 1984 season. This is the story of that game.
The Giants were a surprise team at the start of the 1984 season. Second-year coach Bill Parcells was quickly building a contender from scratch. The Giants hadn't won more than nine games in a season since 1963, but Parcells turned the team around from a 3-13 campaign in 1983, leading the Giants to a 3-1 start. Fourth-year linebacker Lawrence Taylor was the team's biggest star, but the rebuilt Giants offense was a bigger story. Oft-injured quarterback Phil Simms was off to the best start of his career. New faces like rookie receivers Bobby Johnson and Lionel Manuel, and rookie linemen Karl Nelson and William Roberts, gave the Giants their best passing attack since the days of Fran Tarkenton.
The Rams, coached by John Robinson, were 2-2 when they traveled to the Meadowlands. Quarterback Vince Ferragamo broke his hand in Week 3, but Jeff Kemp stepped in to lead the Rams to a win over the Bengals in Week 4. With Eric Dickerson at running back and a defense led by stars like Jack Youngblood and Gary Green, all Kemp had to do most weeks was manage the game.
This game proved strange from the opening kickoff. Ali Haji-Sheikh of the Giants kicked to A.J. Jones of the Rams. Jones lost the ball in the sun and allowed it to roll past him into the end zone. A stunned Phil McConkey pounced on it for a Giants touchdown. Haji-Sheikh missed the extra point, setting an ominous tone for the way the rest of the afternoon would play out for the Giants.
After a few short drives, the Rams forced the Giants to punt from their own 8-yard line. The Rams got excellent field position, and they capitalized by pounding the ball up the middle with Dickerson and fullback Dwayne Crutchfield. Crutchfield gave the Rams the lead with a 1-yard touchdown. Later in the second quarter, Giants punter Dave Jennings came up short on a punt, one-hopping the ball to Henry Ellard. "I was lucky it took a nice bounce right to me," Ellard said after the game. "Once I got over to the right, I saw it was only me and Jennings. I thought about cutting in, but I saw him just shuffling along, so I went down the sidelines and he missed me." Ellard's touchdown gave the Rams a 14-6 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Norwood Vann hit McConkey, jarring the ball loose. The Rams recovered the fumble at the Giants' 24, setting up a field goal. After the kick, the goalpost mysteriously drooped to the ground. An upright was caught in the field goal netting, and as the net dropped, it took the goalpost with it. It was that kind of day.
The second half started with a holding call on the Giants' kickoff return. Youngblood and Reggie Doss each sacked Simms, forcing Jennings to punt from the 1-yard line. Ivory Sully, one of the best special teamers of his era, broke through the line and blocked Jennings' kick through the back of the end zone. "I noticed their guy did not block me on the previous punt," said Sully. "I told Gil (Haskell, the special teams coach) I thought I could get one." It was Sully's fifth blocked punt in six seasons.
Just two minutes after the Sully safety, the Giants were once again deep in their own territory. Simms dropped to pass and tried to elude Youngblood and Doss. Simms appeared to get away, but the referees said he was in the grasp. Simms disagreed vehemently. All quotes from that era were censored, but you get the idea. "It was a bleep call, a bleep call," Simms said. "That's bleep, totally absurd. A sack? My bleep. I'd been in the same situation the whole game and they didn't call it. Why that time? Bleep."
(Younger readers may not know this, but in the mid-1980s officials called many more in-the-grasp sacks than they do now. Many of them were debatable: Strong, mobile passers like John Elway or Randall Cunningham would slip through an arm tackle and start to scramble, only to discover that they had just been "sacked." Sack totals of the mid-1980s are extremely high, in part because of the in-the-grasp call, but also because of Taylor, the Bears' defense, the Eagles' offensive line, and other factors. When you see a clean-looking sack arbitrarily turn into a 15-yard offensive play, you are seeing the same phenomenon in reverse.)
The Giants were reeling. The running game was not their strong suit, but it was particularly dreadful against the Rams, gaining a total of eight yards on 13 carries. The Giants committed nine holding penalties. Three of the holds negated first-down passes. Different sources give different counts of dropped passes, but there were at least eight. One third-quarter offensive series featured three drops, one each by Williams, running back Rob Carpenter, and tight end Zeke Mowatt.
The Rams scored quickly after the second safety kick. Kemp completed a long pass to Ellard, then hit tight end David Hill on a three-yard touchdown to make the score 28-6. The Rams extended their lead with a field goal after another Giants three-and-out. Late in the third quarter, Jennings once again found himself punting from his own end zone. Norwood Vann blocked the kick, which was recovered in the end zone by Giants linebacker Gary Reasons. "That's the first time I've ever blocked one, even in high school," Vann said.
One quarter. Three safeties.
The Giants did not have a comeback in them. They scored a meaningless late touchdown, but Haji-Sheikh provided a fitting end to the day's special teams blunders by missing his second extra point. The Rams won 31-12. Simms finished 24-of-48 for 276 yards, many of them in garbage time. Dickerson ran for 120 yards. Kemp completed just 8-of-17 passes, but Youngblood finished with three sacks. Linebacker Jim Collins had 13 solo tackles. Cornerback Gary Green deflected five passes.
"We just got outplayed in every area," Parcells said after the loss. "Both the players and coaches will have to take the blame for what happened today. We're not as poor a team as we showed today. That's all I have to say." Parcells was right. The Niners trounced the Giants 31-10 the following week, but the Giants won three of their next four games, then hung around to finish 9-7. The Rams finished 10-6. When the two teams met in the Wild Card round, Kemp and the Rams were the ones trying to escape an overwhelming defense. The Giants forced two fumbles and held the Rams to just 214 yards of total offense in a 16-13 win.
We may see three safeties in one game again, but I doubt we'll see three in one quarter. There are two morals to this tale:
- A team can recover from an embarrassing game to win in the postseason and become champions a few years later.
- Next time someone asks me about Steve Tasker's Hall of Fame credentials, I will talk about Ivory Sully.
Nutshells, Part 3
Broncos at Falcons: Tatum Bell is back in Denver, Ryan Torrain is out for the year. The Chargers signed Michael Bennett for no other reason than to keep him from the Broncos. Sammy Winder is waiting for Mike Shanahan's call. Falcons.
Eagles at Bengals: The Angstrom equals 0.1 nanometers, or .0000000001 meters. It's a convenient unit for measuring atoms. The picometer measures .01 Angstroms, or one-trillionth of a meter. It's the smallest unit of measure most scientists ever work with. But physicists have defined another unit of measure equal to .01 picometers. They've called it the Kleckometer. It's used to measure the distance from which the Eagles can safely convert in short-yardage situations. Eagles.
Cardinals at Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck is a stranger in a world he never made, like Howard the Duck or Klaatu. Take the Cardinals and the encouraging three-point line.
Chargers at Steelers: The Steelers' top-ranked defense (in DVOA) faces the Chargers second-ranked pass offense. That's a stalemate. The Chargers defense ranks 29th, but the Steelers offense ranks 26th. That's a stalemate. The forecast once again calls for cold weather and snow showers. The chess board just froze. Steelers.
Vikings at Bucs: Jon Gruden is thrilled that Cadillac Williams could return to boost his team's sagging offense. "It's almost like Christmas is here. Christmas is Wednesday, I hope," Gruden said early in the week. Actually, Wednesday was the birthday of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, which has an estimated five million adherents. Wrong religion, Jon, but an honest mistake. Don't put up a tree.
The sparkly new "DVOA picks games" system in our Premium section has this as the only "red" game this week, and I agree. No pick.