Can TMQ claim victory? For years I denounced the big blitz, and in the past two seasons, big blitzing is way down -- there were only a handful of big blitzes this weekend. And long have I hammered on the point that NFL teams should usually go for the first down on fourth-and-short -- especially in the maroon zone, where it's too far for a field goal but too close to punt. What happened this weekend? Teams went for it on fourth-and-short everywhere you looked.
Facing fourth-and-1 at the Redskins' 43, Baltimore went for it, converted and got a field goal on the possession; the Ravens won. Against Buffalo, Miami went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Bills' 34 and got a field goal on the possession; Miami won. Trailing Cleveland 6-0, Tennessee went for it on fourth-and-1 on the Browns' 28 and got a touchdown; the Titans won. (Tennessee cleverly threw to blocking back Ahmard Hall, who lost a fumble on fourth-and-1 earlier in the year; knowing that, Cleveland totally ignored Hall.) With the game tied at 7, the Niners twice went for it against the Jets on fourth-and-1 in their own territory, and both times converted; San Francisco won. Houston went for it on fourth-and-6 from their own 35, via fake punt, and converted; the Texans won.
Sunday's three monster plays were all fourth-down situations on which a team made the manly man choice under intense pressure, and was crowned by victory. Trailing Seattle 21-16 and facing fourth-and-1 on the Seahawks' 1 with 2:50 remaining, New England went for the touchdown, scored, and continued on to win. Trailing 13-6 with 3:27 remaining and facing fourth-and-1 on the Dallas 23, Pittsburgh went for it, converted, and continued on to win. Trailing Atlanta 25-22 with 6:16 remaining and facing fourth-and-1 on the Falcons' 7, rather than kick to tie as NFL tradition dictates in this situation, New Orleans went for the first down, converted, and continued on to win.
Has there ever been an NFL week in which so many teams did the manly man thing in traditional-kick situations, and were smiled on by the football gods?
Of course, not all fourth-down tries succeeded, but even the number of failed attempts seemed a trend toward manly man play. Detroit went for it twice on fourth down in the second half against Minnesota and still lost; but after all, it's Detroit. The Rams went for it on fourth-and-1 on the Arizona 42, converted and still lost; but after all, it's St. Louis. Trailing 24-17 against Denver with five minutes remaining, Kansas City boldly went for it on fourth-and-goal on the Denver 5, failed, and lost; but after all, it's Kansas City. The defending champion Giants went for it on fourth-and-short three times and thrice failed, but used strange tactics; see below. And of course, not all triumphant teams always went for it. Houston punted on a fourth-and-1 and kicked a field goal on a fourth-and-1, for instance.
Gregg Easterbrook on
• Stats of the week
• Cheerleader of the week
• Sweet and sour plays of the week
• The new James Bond movie
• The government and taxes
• A creepy cosmic thought
• "Friday Night Lights" update
• Reader comments
• Scouts notes
But overall, going for it carried the day. How Atlanta must rue punting to New Orleans on fourth-and-5 from the Falcons' 35 with 3:23 to play, when trailing 29-25 -- Atlanta never touched the ball again. Punting in that situation was the traditional NFL choice, and cost the Falcons the game. Especially considering the Falcons averaged 6.6 yards gained per offensive play against New Orleans. Plus, as TMQ maintains, sometimes it can be better to go for it and fail than to launch a mincing, fraidy-cat kick. Trailing 13-3 with 12:26 remaining, Pittsburgh went for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the Dallas 1, and failed. Yet from that moment, the home team, previously sluggish, caught fire. For the remaining 12 minutes, Pittsburgh outgained Dallas 135-31 (offensive yards and return yards) and outscored Dallas 17-0. Failing on fourth-and-goal seemed to rev the Steelers up. Coaches: Fortune favors the bold! Go for it on fourth-and-short.
In other football news, Pro Bowl voting closes Tuesday, even earlier than in previous years. Pro Bowl Creep! Previously, TMQ called the Hawaii-bound the Eighty-Eight Percent All-Pros, because they are chosen when only 14 of 16 games -- 88 percent -- have been played. This year they are chosen with 13 of 16 in the books, making them the Eighty-One Percent All-Pros. Why don't late-season performances count in Pro Bowl balloting? It's as if Alabama had been chosen for the BCS title game with two weeks to go in the Tide's season.
Stat of the Week No. 1: The Cardinals will host their first home playoff game in 41 years.
Stat of the Week No. 2: Since taking the field in January for the playoffs, Green Bay is 5-9 and Jacksonville is 4-10.
Stat of the Week No. 3: New England is on a 14-1 streak against the NFC -- the sole loss being in the Super Bowl.
Stat of the Week No. 4: The NFL has a 0-13 team for the second consecutive season (Miami 2007, Detroit 2008).
Stat of the Week No. 5: Buffalo's point production in its past three games: 54, 3, 3.
Stat of the Week No. 6: San Diego has defeated Oakland 11 consecutive times; Kansas City has lost at Denver seven consecutive times.
Stat of the Week No. 7: Cincinnati has lost its past two games by a combined 69-6.
Stat of the Week No. 8: Pittsburgh allowed more third-quarter points (10) at home against Dallas than it had allowed in all previous third quarters this season combined (9).
Stat of the Week No. 9: The Jets are 0-3 in Pacific Time, losing at Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco.
Stat of the Week No. 10: The Giants lost, and made the playoffs. The Chargers won, and were all but mathematically eliminated.
Abbie of the Ravens -- which is hotter, a nuclear reactor or her swimsuit pose?
Cheerleader of the Week: Bill Parietti of Tualatin, Ore., nominates Abbie M. of the Ravens, a University of Maryland graduate whose team bio reports she is studying for her MBA while working in nuclear-power financing for Constellation Energy, a utility. Watch out for that team bio link -- if you are reading TMQ at work, Abbie's string bikini photo may set off a loud warning Klaxon. The Ravens are the sole NFL franchise with male as well as female cheerleaders. There's also a nice symbolic gesture to the cheer units. Check the Baltimore home page: a tab marked "people" opens to the roster, the coaches, the front office or the cheerleaders. That is, the cheerleaders are treated as part of the team. Maybe this progressive attitude toward sideline cavorting is causing the football gods to smile on the Ravens.
Sweet Play of the Week: The Ravens offer a mix of great defense, a terrific Division I-AA rookie quarterback, glamorous cheer-babes and innovative play calling. In addition to numerous gadget plays, Baltimore is pulling linemen and emphasizing misdirection. With the game scoreless, Baltimore faced third-and-10 on the Washington 29. The Nevermores lined up trips left, showing pass. The trips receivers ran crossing patterns while tailback Ray Rice took a sprint-draw left -- into the area the trips receivers just cleared -- behind a great pulling block by right guard Chris Chester. A 21-yard gain set up a Baltimore touchdown, and the hosts never looked back. In the third quarter, leading 14-0, Baltimore went for it on fourth-and-1. Joe Flacco faked a toss right, and it was a "show" fake -- he made sure defenders saw the ball. Then Flacco sprinted right as if to run; then stopped and threw back into the left flat to tight end Todd Heap, whose 24-yard gain set up a field goal. Heap is a feared player, yet no one at all was guarding him, because the misdirection worked so well. On third-and-1, Baltimore ran an old Mike Martz semi-gadget on which Flacco faked bobbling the snap, then pitched overhand to the tailback going outside -- first down. The Ravens' offensive coordinator is canny, crafty, cagey Cam "Cam" Cameron, who was a bust as Dolphins head coach but is having a fine year in purple.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 2: Early in the game in the Dallas red zone, Pittsburgh lined up trips on one side then threw to the opposite side -- often the point of lining up trips is to make the defense look that way, then throw the other way. The play failed when the pass was deflected. Now it's Dallas 13, Pittsburgh 6 and the Steelers have first-and-goal on the Cowboys' 6 with 2:10 remaining. Again Pittsburgh lines up with trips to one side. Immediately Boys defenders began pointing at the opposite side -- where the ball went from that formation the last time. Pittsburgh threw a designed play to the trips side, touchdown, and the home team went on to prevail. Once again for a cold-weather game, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin looked sharp in an unzipped varsity jacket with no hat, and his charges prevailed. Dallas coach Wade Phillips was so heavily suited up he looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. In the past decade, Dallas is 18-29 in December. Maybe Cowboys management should collect and destroy all of its coaches' heavy parkas.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
"Roger, Houston. We are exiting the airlock and go for EVA at Heinz Field."
Sweet Undrafted Player of the Week: With Atlanta leading 25-22 with 6:16 remaining, New Orleans went for it on fourth-and-1 in the Falcons' red zone and made it. Now it's first-and-goal on the Falcons' 5. Undrafted free agent Pierre Thomas sweeps left for the winning touchdown on a double pull, once a standard college action but rare in the pros -- left tackle Jammal Brown and right guard Jahri Evans pulled left to lead the play. New Orleans began the possession at the Atlanta 16 thanks to an 88-yard kickoff return by Thomas. Then, with the Saints leading 29-25, with first-and-10 on their 23 with 2:30 remaining and the Falcons holding two timeouts, Thomas ran on five consecutive snaps for two first downs that iced game. When he left college, nobody wanted Pierre Thomas; now everybody does. After Sunday, Drew Brees is slightly below the pace to break Dan Marino's all-time single-season passing yards record. Against Atlanta, Saints coaches called 30 rushes -- what's up with that?
Sour Play of the Week: With Kansas City leading Denver 17-7, the Broncos faced third-and-goal on the Chiefs' 12. How could Brandon Marshall possibly be open in the end zone? To that point, he had 80 receptions on the season. There were three Kansas City pass defenders standing around guarding no one as Marshall caught a touchdown. Later, with the game tied at 17, Kansas City seemed surprised when Denver threw to Marshall in the end zone for the win.
Sweet 'N' Sour Situation: The Giants returned a blocked kick for a touchdown against Philadelphia, but an Eagles' kick block had more impact on the contest. With Philadelphia ahead 3-0 in the second quarter, defending champion Jersey/A lined up for a long field-goal attempt. The G-Persons' interior linemen "submarined," diving low to try to force the Philadelphia front low; Trent Cole hurdled over the Jersey/A line, landed on his feet and blocked the kick. Long field-goal tries often have trouble clearing the line: Eagles' coaches may have noticed from film study that the Giants' line submarines on long field-goal tries, and alerted their defenders to jump. That was sweet. Last week TMQ praised Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for coaching the league's highest scoring unit -- the Giants promptly scored just seven offensive points at home. That was sour. Note: Philadelphia has won consecutive games against division leaders since Andy Reid yanked Donovan McNabb, a move for which Reid was roundly denounced by sports pundits.
My Name is Blah, James Blah: We've now endured two movies of the rebooted, supposedly "realistic" James Bond franchise, and at this point I'd like to go back to supervillains controlling outer space death rays. Supposedly, "Quantum of Solace" is "realistic." This film has four scenes in which multiple foes fire machine guns at Bond at close range for extended sequences, and every one of hundreds of bullets misses. Bond in response kills many bad guys with super-accurate long-range single shots from his small-caliber pistol, always while running -- he isn't even bracing the gun with two hands. Though conveniently Bond's pistol is one of those movie guns that never has to be reloaded no matter how often it's fired. Dozens of guys with automatic weapons missing at close range is realism? CIA agents trying to kill an MI6 agent by chasing him in a public place while firing machine guns is realism? An ultra-luxury hotel in the middle of the Atacama Desert is realism?
His small semiautomatic sidearm easily defeats dozens of guys with machine guns.
In the movie's most absurd scene -- and by saying this I don't mean to take anything away from the other absurd scenes -- Bond is put into an elevator with two MI6 agents assigned to prevent his escape; in seconds, Bond knocks both unconscious on his first punch, and escapes. Prizefighters elaborately train to try to knock people unconscious with one punch, and almost never achieve this: Bond throws two punches and knocks two guys unconscious. (Of course in "Mission Impossible III," Tom Cruise was in an elevator with three guys and knocked all three unconscious with his first punch.) If Bond movies bear no relation to reality, I'd rather see gadgets and girls than absurd fight scenes. Meanwhile, this is the third consecutive Bond plot -- spoiler alert -- that turns on a high-ranking traitor in MI6; "Quantum" also throws in a high-ranking CIA traitor. There is no cheaper spy-movie plot device than having high-ranking people suddenly revealed as traitors, forcing the super-spy to fight his own agency: all three "Impossible" movies turned on this cliché, too.
In Many Action Movies, the Air Shafts Are Big Enough to Hold a Drive-In Hamburger Stand: At least Bond never runs through a huge, well-lighted sewer to escape dozens of henchmen firing machine guns. In A&E's remake of "The Andromeda Strain," five researchers are trapped in an underground lab designed to analyze extraterrestrial life forms. We're told the lab has cost-no-object engineering to seal off level-by-level in the event an alien microorganism escapes. After the lab seals itself and the researchers appear doomed, they are saved by -- crawling through an air shaft. No actual research facility in the world has an air shaft big enough to crawl through; in this movie, an advanced underground facility designed to contain microorganisms has air shafts big enough to crawl through! The underground containment facility also has a bottomless pit. In action-movie terms, all it lacked was a sewer that allows someone to walk directly to a door into the Oval Office.
'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All: The defending champion Giants failed on fourth-and-4, fourth-and-3 and fourth-and-1 -- all were incomplete pass attempts. The Giants have the league's No. 1 rushing attack -- how could they fail to run on fourth-and-short? To the point Jersey/A threw on fourth-and-1, Brandon Jacobs was averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The standard analysis of the Eagles' win is that with no Plaxico Burress to double-team, Philadelphia put an extra man into the box and stifled the Jersey/A run. Maybe. To TMQ, it looked like the Giants stifled their own run.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
He's a decent guy. So why is he putting into his pocket taxpayer money he doesn't need?
Stop Subsidizing the Well-Off: Now that the presidential campaign is over, it's time to ask a question about John McCain: Since he and his wife earn more than $6 million per year, why does McCain take $82,000 annually in federal pensions? (John and Cindy's financial disclosures can still be found here.) McCain earned the pensions, but clearly does not need them. Every pension dollar he pockets is passed on to our children as debt, or subtracted from resources that could be spent on the needy or for rebuilding the country. McCain could have his pensions canceled, or simply tear up the checks. Instead, federal taxpayers, with a median household income of $49,000, give McCain $82,000 a year he does not need.
The Arizona senator is hardly the only person drawing subsidized pensions he or she doesn't need. Many billions of dollars per year in Social Security, military and government-employee pensions go to people who already have hefty incomes. The country has just borrowed insane amounts of money to fix the financial meltdown. Little fairies will not come in the night to replace that money. The national debt must be paid down somehow. Want an across-the-board tax increase? A much smaller defense budget? Drastic Medicare cuts? Social Security retirement age raised to 75? There's only one place where the federal government could take a big step in the direction of fiscal responsibility without causing any suffering or harm -- eliminating Social Security, military and government-employee pension payments to the well-off. Senator McCain: How about setting a good example by tearing up those checks?
Would a Donation to the United States Government Be Tax-Deductible? Barack Obama says he will raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. He'll have no choice. History has shown that confiscatory taxes on the rich are unfair and backfire, but raising the top marginal income tax rate, now 35 percent, by a few percentage points won't hurt the rich or the economy, nor will imposing payroll taxes on income above $250,000. (Currently the payroll tax stops at about $103,000.) The wild, profligate spending of the George W. Bush years must be paid for somehow, and the rich are the candidates to pay. For the rich who backed Bush, this is just desserts. The national debt has increased so much so fast that decades of higher taxes on the rich may be required.
AP Photo/Matt Sayles
He's a decent guy. So why is he waiting for new federal tax legislation when he could tax himself?
Some very affluent people, such as Warren Buffett, have said they hope Congress imposes higher taxes on them. But wealthy taxpayers don't need to wait for legislation, they can tax themselves by writing a check to the Treasury, or tearing up any federal checks they receive, or -- here's the really easy self-tax -- simply not claiming deductions. Just because you are eligible for a deduction doesn't mean you have to claim it. Rich people who are worried about the financial condition of the nation, what are you waiting for? Tax yourself!
In 2007, Bill Clinton complained that taxes on the rich are too low, yet did not voluntarily tax himself by mailing a check to the United States Treasury. Yours truly wrote, "It is self-promotional hypocrisy for Clinton, or any wealthy person, to proclaim a willingness to be taxed more but then not voluntarily tax himself. Clinton and other rich people who make claims about favoring higher taxes on the wealthy, then hoard their money, want to be admired for seeming to be willing to sacrifice -- without the annoying complication of actually making any sacrifice." A few months ago, Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) introduced a bill to add a donations line to IRS Form 1040, making it convenient for the rich to impose additional taxes on themselves. Rep. Campbell meant his proposal as a joke -- but TMQ thinks the Campbell bill is a great idea!
Not only would Campbell's proposal encourage the rich to tax themselves, it would help voters evaluate office-seekers. Candidates for high office generally disclose tax returns. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama all said during the primary campaign that they favored higher taxes on the rich. All are well to do. If there were a voluntary-tax line on the 1040, voters could see for themselves whether candidates who claim they favor higher taxes on wealth had put their money where their mouths are, by taxing themselves, or were just blowing hot air.
Assuming Favre Will Ever Retire: Indianapolis has won six straight and closes the regular season against winless Detroit, followed by demoralized Jax, followed by Tennessee, which likely will have locked up its best postseason seed before that game. Thus the Colts' table is set for the first wild card in the AFC. Is Peyton Manning on a pace for the all-time NFL passing yards record? His career average is 259 passing yards a game, versus 239 for all-time leader Brett Favre. If Favre retires after this season, Manning, who is 32, would need roughly five seasons at his current pace to get the all-time record.
Sweet 'N' Sour Drive: With the game tied at 21, Houston took over on its 3 with 1:49 remaining and the Packers holding two timeouts. The home crowd, confident of a quick stop followed by a punt that would put Green Bay in position to win, was roaring at military-afterburner decibel levels. Many NFL coaches would have gone conservative in this situation and tried to play for overtime. Houston coach Gary Kubiak went all out, for most of the drive putting his team in an empty backfield. The Moo Cows marched 75 yards in nine plays and kicked the winning field goal as time expired. The big play went to blocking back Vonta Leach, who entered the game with nine receptions on the season. Leach lined up wide, was ignored, and took a flare pass 22 yards to quiet the crowd. The Texans' winning drive was sweet.
Sour was the Green Bay defense, which can't get opposing teams off the field in the second half. All the attention has been on Aaron Rodgers, but suspect defense is why the Packers have lost five games this season by four points or less. On Sunday, Houston gained 549 yards and converted 8 of 14 third- or fourth-down tries. Then again, the Packers' play calling hardly helped. As noted by Kevin Spinti of Bensenville, Ill., Green Bay faced 10 third downs. Packers coaches called passes on nine of those plays, resulting in an interception and eight punts; once they called a rush, resulting in a 22-yard gain and a touchdown on the series.
Valerie Macon/Getty Images
If Peanuts were being written today, the Great Pumpkin would appear in July.
The Ghost of Christmas Creep Past: Tom Mitchell of Winston-Salem, N.C., notes, "Watching 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving' this year, I caught Sally exclaiming, 'Christmas candy before Thanksgiving? I haven't finished eating my Halloween candy yet!' That show first aired in 1973, showing Christmas Creep has been around at least since then."
Unified Field Theory of Creep: This South Carolina Christmas-town festival ended on Dec. 7.
The JaMarcus Russell Figurine Has Better Stats Than the Actual JaMarcus Russell: TMQ likes McFarlane sports figurines; I always give a couple for Christmas. But just as there is a Sports Illustrated curse and a Madden game curse, there's a McFarlane curse. Each year, the company offers 15 or so new figurines. Last year, Brady Quinn (didn't play) and Steve McNair (career ended) were featured. Two years ago, Cedric Benson (since waived by Chicago) was featured. This year, McFarlane offers its sixth version of LaDainian Tomlinson (LT is popular even when he's getting stuffed at the line) plus a JaMarcus Russell (ouch). The McFarlane of Devin Hester catching a punt is definitely cool.
Here's What Happens When You Don't Use Manly Man Tactics: Trailing 14-0 in the first half, Washington punted on fourth-and-2 at the Baltimore 43. After kicking a field goal to draw within 17-3 early in the fourth quarter, the Redskins did not onside kick; they kicked away. Washington was playing one of football's hottest teams. Victories don't come in the mail -- against a superior team, you must take chances!
The figurine is only allowed to return punts, not kickoffs.
TMQ's Christmas List: Stuff stockings this year with Heavenly Lip Balm.
Creepy Cosmic Thoughts: I speculated that even if there is never any way to exceed the light-speed barrier, planets in nearby star systems could still go to war by hurling nuclear bombs at each other at 99 percent of light speed. A reader countered that such incredible energy would be transferred by an object at that velocity that a pound of vanilla ice cream moving at 99 percent of light speed would hit with about five megatons of force. Bombs would not be required, because warring planets could hurl super-accelerated basketballs at each other. Greg Markowsky of Cambridge, Mass., writes that the first reader erred by using the formula to determine the kinetic energy of an object at Newtonian velocity, the speed of everyday experience. Anything moving at near light speed becomes relativistic, and there's a different formula for calculating relativistic kinetic energy. (Details here.) Markowsky's calculation:
- KE = mc^2(q-1), where q=1/sqrt(1-v^2/c^2), v=.99c, m=.45kg(1 lb.) and c=3*10^8 m/s
With these units, answer should come out in joules. I get
KE = 6mc^2=2.43*10^17 joules
with all equalities being approximate. One megaton is 4.184*10^15 joules,
so KE = 2.43*10^17/(4.184*10^15) megatons.
He concludes, "That is about 58 megatons. Thus it's much worse than you think." With current technology, accelerating any object of even modest mass, such as an ice-cream carton, at 99 percent of light speed is unimaginable, owing to the power levels required. But today, we use energy at levels that would have been unimaginable a few centuries ago. Atom-smashers accelerate individual subatomic particles to 99 percent of light speed, which tells us it is physically possible to push something to this velocity. I am betting it is only a matter of time until humanity learns to make vessels that travel at 99 percent of light speed, though such spacecraft may be incredibly expensive and impractical, just like space vehicles of today. Setting aside acceleration and braking, at 99 percent of light speed, it would take only a few minutes to reach Mars and about four hours to reach Neptune, the outermost planet of our solar system.
AP Photo/Rod Searcy
Linus Pauling shows how accelerating a capsule of vitamin C to 99 percent of c turns it into a weapon.
'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All No. 2: A week ago against San Francisco, Buffalo had eight snaps inside the opposition 10 and never gave the ball to power back Marshawn Lynch. On Sunday, after reaching first-and-goal at the Miami 3, Bills coaches called a pass, which was intercepted. The Bills' last four trips inside the opposition 10 have netted three points. Buffalo's Dick "Cheerio, Chaps" Jauron is now 56-74 as a head coach, has coached only one winning season in his career, and in three campaigns with the Bills has two victories over teams that finished with a winning record that year.
Hidden Plays: Hidden plays never make highlight reels, but stop or sustain drives. With Dallas leading 13-3 in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh gave up a sack on third-and-2, and faced fourth-and-long with 7:20 remaining. Jeff Reed banked in a 41-yard field goal off one of the uprights. Had this kick missed, the Hypocycloids likely would have rolled over in the water. Instead, they rallied to tie the score at 13 on their next possession, then won late on an interception return.
Hidden Series: With Cleveland leading 3-0, Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins threw a careless interception, giving the Browns first down deep in Flaming Thumbtacks' territory. The Tennessee defense held Cleveland to a field goal -- in 13 games, Tennessee has allowed a mere 33 points after turnovers -- and Tennessee prevailed, 28-9. Keeping the slow-scoring ball-control Titans down only six points, rather than 10, was an important hidden series.
"Friday Night Lights" Update: The series is down to its final episodes. In the latest, we see a high school playoff bracket with 32 teams while the voiceover says, "Dillon must win four games to reach the Texas championship." But the actual Texas 5A playoff bracket contains 64 teams; a team needs five postseason W's to reach the state championship. The "Friday Night Lights" gang is so obsessed with relationship talk and longing glances, they forgot to put enough teams in the playoffs! During the episode, the Panthers' opening-round postseason contest is broadcast on national television. In a sly joke, we see NBC production trucks at the stadium: NBC does not air high school football, but was the original home of the FNL series. With Dillon leading archrival Arnett Meade by three points with 50 seconds remaining, SuperCoach Eric Taylor faces this maroon zone dilemma: fourth-and-7 on the opponents' 38, with Arnett Meade out of timeouts. Does Taylor punt or go for it to ice the game? U B the coach!
Realism Note 1: TMQ complains about the gimmick schedules of football-factory colleges that play more home games than road games. Even some high schools now enjoy such schedules: The new high school of coach Rush Propst, who was featured on the MTV show "Two a Days," had six home games versus four away dates. On "Friday Night Lights," the Dillon Panthers play nearly all their games at home! We've only seen two road games in the entire three-year series.
Realism Note 2: Riggins just won an NCAA scholarship from the fictional San Antonio State. The San Antonio State recruiter is depicted as buying steaks and drinks for Riggins. College recruiters shouldn't buy drinks for minors even if this were not a violation; turns out the steak is a violation, too. NCAA recruiting rules are so complex no one could possibly remember them all. Just click a few rules at random and you'll see what I mean. For instance, rule 184.108.40.206.4, which governs what month a phone call may be placed to a prospective women's ice hockey player who is a high school sophomore in another country. Any recruiter following the letter of NCAA rules can't even buy a cheeseburger for a kid except during the one sanctioned visit, and during that one sanctioned visit, can hardly do anything but walk the kid around campus without violating a rule. There must be some way to simplify NCAA recruiting strictures.
"All right, gang! From now on, we won't let Rudolph punt in any reindeer games!"
College note: Occasionally actual schools and sports-world figures make FNL cameos -- it's good promotion for them. Texas A&M cooperated with the episode in which the Smash Williams character becomes an Aggie, though the episode depicted a recruiting violation. Smash was shown undergoing a live-contact tryout with the Texas A&M first team, but visiting recruits are not permitted to participate in any kind of practice activity, not even watching game film. The scene was clearly artistic license for moviemaking, so Texas A&M did not fear anyone would think the school actually holds live-contact tryouts for prep prospects. But no actual college wanted to be depicted as the one plying Riggins with alcohol, because viewers would assume that's what really goes on.
College Playoffs Proposal from a Source Sort-Of Close to Barack Obama: While football-factory coaches at the very top, such as Pete Carroll of USC and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, favor playoffs replacing the bowls, most Division I coaches would resist ending the bowl format. After all, the 34 Division I-A bowls allow 34 schools to say their season ended with a glorious victory. If bowls were replaced with a playoff bracket, only one school could end its season in glory.
So is it practical to add an Obama-style college football playoff without clobbering the bowl tradition? Many readers offered proposals. After a completely objective and unbiased evaluation process, I have chosen this one, from my Official Brother Frank: "There are now five BCS bowls. Increase the total to seven, and use them to run a playoff with eight teams. The other non-BCS bowls would proceed exactly as they do already -- with two extra high-ranked teams, as the BCS now includes 10 colleges, and in a playoff it would have only eight. The first four 'BCS playoff bowl' games would be Christmas week, when the minor bowls now occur. The semifinal games would be New Year's week, when the major bowls now are played. The 'BCS Championship Bowl' would be played the week after New Year, when the BCS championship game already is scheduled. The BCS bowl total would be increased from five to seven by re-designating major bowls outside the BCS, such as the Cotton Bowl."
The Official Brother may have insight into what would appeal to Obama, since Frank and Obama had adjoining offices for several years when both were teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. I plan to dine out on this fact for the entire Obama Administration. Also, I will move aggressively to get the TMQ brand on one of the new BCS events. Perhaps TMQ's Tuesday Morning Quarterback Cotton Bowl Featuring TMQ, Presented by Quiznos.
TMQ's Tuesday Morning Quarterback Cotton Bowl Featuring TMQ, Presented
Reader Comments: I wrote that unlike in Division I-A football, where 34 schools finish their seasons by winning a bowl game, in Division I-AA, Division II, Division III and the NAIA, only the playoff champion can claim success on the last day. Andrew Klinksiek of Raleigh, N.C., countered the Eastern College Athletic Conference sponsors seven Division III bowl games pairing regional teams that did not earn NCAA Division III playoff berths: "So 46 of the 236 Division III teams (19 percent) make the postseason and there are eight schools (3 percent) that end their years with a postseason victory. I know this because my alma matter, Albright College of Reading, Pennsylvania, has won a few of these little-known bowls." In an ECAC bowl last month, 20 touchdowns were scored as Brockport beat Hartwick 70-68. The game was called the Northwest Bowl, though held in Oneonta, N.Y., which is in the Northeast. Brockport's formal name is The College at Brockport. Jeff Blake of Charlotte, N.C., noted there is also the Oyster Bowl, an annual fundraiser for Shriners Hospitals. This year the bowl paired two NAIA teams, 3-7 Southern Virginia University against 1-7 Apprentice, with Apprentice prevailing 37-14. Southern Virginia, originally a seminary, is now a Mormon liberal arts college. The Apprentice School teaches shipbuilding, in affiliation with Northrop Grumman.
Bob McGarva of London, Ontario, noted the CFL is even worse than Division I -- six of the eight Canadian Football League teams make the playoffs. Basically, the entire 18-game CFL regular season was staged to eliminate Hamilton and Toronto. McGarva notes, "At least the CFL has a 'crossover' provision that prevents a good team in one division from not making the playoffs in favor of a bad team in another division. This led to 10-8 Edmonton making the playoffs instead of 4-14 Toronto." You'd think it would be too cold in Edmonton for bikinis, but you'd think wrong -- here is the Eskimos' cheerleaders' swimsuit calendar. Like the Ravens, the Eskimos also field male cheerleaders; like the Ravens, only the cheer-babes get to put it out there on a swimsuit calendar. At least the Eskimos' cheer-hunks receive team bios -- here is Jason.
Consider the CFL "crossover." If Division I conferences had such a provision, Saturday's Big 12 championship would have paired Texas versus Oklahoma -- a far better game with great ratings, and then no second-guessing about who should be meeting Florida for the BCS title. TMQ continues to assert that with all the sportsyak last week about whether Oklahoma or Texas should have gone to the conference finale, the real issue was that 9-3 Missouri should not have. If football conferences simply used a seeded format, or had a crossover provision, these endless disappointing title matchups could be avoided. Seeded formats might cut down on running up the score, too. It was grating to watch Oklahoma, ahead by an insurmountable margin against hapless Mizzou, frantically throwing deep in the fourth quarter to try to break 60 and impress poll voters. If the game had paired Texas and Oklahoma, it wouldn't have been about style points, it would have been about who won.
AP Photo/Paul Chiasson
If Division I football was run as well as the CFL, Texas would have played Oklahoma for the BCS championship invite.
Speaking of our frosty neighbors to the north, the Supreme Court of Canada just ruled that airlines must provide the obese with a free extra seat. Requiring an obese person to pay for an added seat is discrimination, the court found. So should slender people be compelled to pay the restaurant bills of the embonpoint? Saying an overweight person deserves free extra space -- everybody on a modern airliner is uncomfortable! -- is the same as saying the short or slender must subsidize the hefty, since airline fares will need to rise to adjust for the unpaid seats. The court's decision found that being seriously overweight is a federally protected handicap. This seems to open the door to all manner of shenanigans.
Many readers, including Rebekah Atkins of Boston, pointed out that Harvard, the richest school in world history, is nonetheless singing the blues about itself: "So the Harvard endowment value has declined. By most schools' standards, wouldn't $28.7 billion still be plenty to spread around?" TMQ suspects Harvard is crying poor-mouth because it worries that rich donors will come to the correct conclusion -- that Harvard already has all the money it will ever need, so donations should go to less-well-endowed colleges. And as TMQ has noted, many news organizations continue to make the fundamental error of asserting that the stock market decline means money has been lost; it doesn't, unless the equity holder sells. The Wall Street Journal's headline about the Harvard we're-poor-as-church-mice announcement said the school's endowment has "lost" 22 percent. Perhaps the endowment is now valued at 22 percent less, but that's not a loss unless Harvard has been furiously selling at the bottom of the market -- and my guess is Harvard has not.
Everything's wrong with the Detroit Lions, who have 101 defeats in this decade and no cheer-babes. Dome teams especially should have cheer-babes, who can dance wearing hardly anything regardless of the weather. Brad Cramer of El Dorado, Kan., reports that if you go to the Lions' Web site and type "cheerleaders" into the search box, you get the following message: "Cheerleaders are not part of the Detroit Lions organization." Try it. So not only do the Lions not have cheerleaders, they've gone out of their way to post a hostile message on the subject. The message might as well say, "How dare you expect us to operate like a winning NFL team?"
Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
If cheerleader professionalism were the only factor, San Diego would be 8-5 instead of 5-8.
"Monday Night Football" Analysis: So whom would you pick for the Super Bowl based on this week's games -- Baltimore versus Carolina? Both teams are hot and do many things well. Neither was a preseason favorite of the touts, which is another point in each team's favor.
If you like offensive-line play, you like the Panthers, who put on a clinic Monday night. Carolina has invested two first-round picks, two second-rounders and a third-rounder in its line -- Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton, Ryan Kalil, Keydrick Vincent and Jeff Otah. Teams that invest draft choices in offensive linemen usually are glad they did; as opposed to investing cash in offensive linemen via free agency, which often does not work out. As the Cats ran up 299 yards rushing against City of Tampa, the offensive line did a stellar job. Carolina played much of the night in an old-fashioned set with two tight ends and a fullback -- the same old-fashioned set that 12-1 Tennessee has been featuring. Carolina's offensive linemen often pulled an old-fashioned tactic that's making a comeback, and they pulled with enthusiasm even in the fourth quarter, when linemen tend to tire and just want to lunge straight ahead. Wide receiver Steve Smith, normally a glory boy, blocked with great efficiency. Plus, Carolina got away with a lot of holding -- and whether you can get away with holding is a test of whether you have a good NFL offensive line.
When Jonathan Stewart went 18 yards off tackle in the third quarter, Otah and Keydrick Vincent made perfect blocks. The hole was 5 yards wide, and Smith plastered Bucs corner Ronde Barber. When DeAngelo Williams went 41 yards off tackle in the fourth quarter, fullback Brad Hoover drilled middle linebacker Barrett Ruud -- he fell backward, he was hit so well -- as Wharton pulled and knocked down Bucs corner Phillip Buchanon. On Williams' 36-yard touchdown run that iced the game at the two-minute warning, Hoover plastered Cato June, who also fell backward, he was hit so well, while Otah pulled and got safety Jermaine Phillips. You'll rarely see better or more enthusiastic blocking.
As for the Bucs, there are good days and there are bad days. The first time Carolina and City of Tampa met this season, it was a good day, as Tampa won by 24 points. A week ago, City of Tampa had a good day, beating New Orleans as Tampa's defensive line dominated New Orleans' offensive line. Monday night, Tampa just looked awful. The Bucs came into the game with the fifth-ranked defense against scoring, and gave up 38 points. Barber, a perennial Pro Bowler, was knocked on his keister repeatedly by Cats blockers, and he missed several tackles. The Bucs' small speed linebackers, June and Derrick Brooks, just looked small. Still, Tampa was in the game until the two-minute warning despite five dropped passes on offense. The Bucs are 6-0 at home and 3-4 on the road; their stretch run is at Atlanta, followed by home games against San Diego and Oakland. The Falcons need to win, but the Chargers and Raiders will be thinking about next year when Tampa hosts them, so you'd project an 11-5 finish and a wild-card slot for Tampa. But if the Buccaneers don't get serious about playing on the road, their stay in Bracketville will be brief.
Adventures in Officiating: The Bears toyed with the dysfunctional Jaguars, but benefited from a non-call. With the game scoreless, Danieal Manning intercepted David Garrard and advanced to the Jags' 5, from which the hosts scored a quick touchdown. Brian Urlacher of Chicago committed an obvious block in the back that made Manning's return possible; the ball should have been spotted at about the Jacksonville 30. Officials were distracted by an argument about what player from which team knocked over the pylon, and totally missed what should have been the call.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Trailing San Diego by 10 points, the Raiders faced fourth-and-1 at midfield and punted. You're 3-9, so what have you got to lose? Why are you punting? And now you are 3-10. Trailing Indianapolis 28-3 in the fourth quarter, the Cincinnati Bengals punted from the Colts' 38-yard line. Who cares if it was fourth-and-long? You're 1-10-1, it's the fourth quarter -- what have you got to lose? Why are you punting? And now you are 1-11-1.
Auburn's historic Samford Hall. Is it big enough to house the Athletic Department?
Sports Bureaucracy Watch: Auburn became the latest football factory to retain a corporate search firm to look for a coach. According to the New York Times, Auburn hired Bill Carr's athletic consultancy. If a coach headhunter sounds excessively bureaucratic, check the gigantic Auburn Athletic Department, which has roughly 10 times the staff of the school's English department. Some 42 people hold "director," "head" or "manager" titles -- and this isn't counting the associate and assistant directors, just the directors. There are co-head coaches for women's swimming and diving, plus a director of swimming and diving operations. Check out some of Bill Carr's clients -- I wonder how many of them fired whomever he recommended.
Scouts Notes: Everybody's stacking the line against Tennessee and daring Collins to throw. The Jets did this in Tennessee's sole defeat, the Browns did it Sunday and the Titans struggled early. Tennessee is going to have to show a pass-oriented game plan at some point; in the playoffs, rushing alone may not cut it. Also on Sunday, for the third time this season, rookie tailback Chris Johnson made wild taunting gestures after scoring a touchdown. The football gods frown on that sort of thing.
In the Super Bowl, Jersey/A allowed New England to complete endless curls and comebacks to Wes Welker, being more concerned with preventing the home run ball to Randy Moss. Against Seattle, the Patriots showed they could win by hitting endless curls and comebacks to Welker, who had 12 receptions for 134 yards. In the fourth quarter in Seattle, the Blue Men Group ran 10 plays for no points, while New England ran 22 plays for 11 points, and Welker catches were the key. Down the stretch, New England opponents may have to take away Welker and gamble on Moss dropping the ball.
As for Brett Favre Brett Favre Brett Favre, he's losing arm strength as the season progresses. In the past two games, his throws have had no zing. The San Francisco secondary was choking up against Jersey/B, daring Favre to throw deep -- and the Jets called 34 passes (attempts plus sacks), which resulted in just 123 yards, a miserable 3.6 yards per pass play. Expect remaining Jersey/B opponents to play the secondary up and dare Favre to throw long.
Focal point of feminist analysis -- or excuse to watch TV in a college class?
Obscure College Score of the Week: Montana 24, Weber State 13 (Division I-AA playoffs). Located in Ogden, Utah, Weber State offers degrees in automotive topics, including one in "aftermarket emphasis and collision repair."
Bonus Obscure College Score : Minnesota-Duluth 45, California of Pennsylvania 7 (Division II playoffs). Located in California, Pa., California of Pennsylvania has an Office of Continuous Improvement.
Double Bonus Obscure College Score: Wisconsin-Whitewater 34, Wartburg 17 (Division III playoffs). Located in Waverly, Iowa, Wartburg offers a course about the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The course description reports, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer has become a focus of cultural and feminist studies ... showings of the series are a course requirement." (Go here, then look under the Department of Inquiry Studies for course 101 04.)
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In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" and other books. He also is a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly.