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Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Updated: April 25, 12:31 PM ET
New key to success: the Maroon Zone

By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Football purists obsess over the red zone, but what about the Maroon Zone? Often it is where the manly men are separated from the individuals who merely have XY chromosome pairs.

The Maroon Zone is the area from the opponent's 40-yard line to 30-yard line -- where logic usually dictates going on fourth down, since it's too far for an easy field goal, but too close to punt. Once in the Maroon Zone, make a first down and you've converted a mere possession into a scoring opportunity; fail to get the first and it's either an embarrassing turnover on downs, a long-shot figgie try that gives the opponent great field position if it fails or, worst, launching a ridiculous, mincing fraidy-cat punt. In the Maroon Zone, the team that wants to win simply must get a first down.

In Sunday action, Denver had three Maroon Zone possessions, from the Pittsburgh 30, 34 and 38. Result? Two scoring drives, one for a touchdown and one for the winning field goal as time expired. Winning Maroon Zone performance!

Kansas City had three Maroon Zone possessions, from the Green Bay 31, 32 and 38. Result? Two scoring drives, one for a touchdown and one for the tying field goal at the end of regulation. Winning Maroon Zone performance!

In the same game, Green Bay seemed Maroon Zone invincible -- its four touchdowns followed Maroon Zone possessions at the Kansas City 31-, 35-, 40- and 40-yard lines. Then in the middle of the fourth quarter the Packers entered the Maroon Zone for the fifth time, ball spotted on the Chiefs' 36. An interception returned for a Kansas City touchdown made it Packers 31, Chiefs 28 and this (plus Mars and Uranus being unusually close to Earth) spelled eventual home-team defeat.

Chiefs-Packers
As the Chiefs showed the Packers, it's all about the Maroon Zone.

When Maroon Zone penetrations fail, calamity follows. Leading 3-0 late in the first quarter at Jersey/B, Buffalo reached third-and-inches in the Maroon Zone at the Jets' 32. Pass incomplete on third down; run stuffed on fourth down; Jersey/B, energized, drives the length of the field to take the lead. Trailing 20-3, the Bills reached third-and-3 at the Jets' 30 early in the third period, comeback hopes on the line. Sack, turnover on downs. Maroon Zone failures doomed the Bills to humiliating 30-3 defeat by a previous winless team.

Last night on Monday Night Football, the Atlanta Typos trailed 10-0 late in the second quarter and faced a critical Maroon Zone moment, third-and-1 on the Rams' 32. Incompletion, incompletion, blocked field-goal attempt. Maroon Zone failure doomed the Typos to a humiliating 36-0 defeat on national television. (Note: TMQ calls Atlanta the Typos because their new all-black uniforms look like a printing-press error.)

Yes, things can go well in the Maroon Zone and defeat still knock on the trainer's-room door. The Colts had three Maroon Zone possessions for three scores against Carolina, yet left the stadium mumbling "&%$#@!" Tuesday Morning Quarterback does not claim the Maroon Zone is a flawless predictor of outcomes. But it is the place where possessions either become scoring drives, or end badly. Time to start tracking the Maroon Zone.

In other NFL news, the evil Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder) got to watch Brad Johnson, the quarterback whom Snyder personally ordered discarded by the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons, pound on Snyder's team in its house. Since Voldemort's canny decision to discard Johnson -- in order to start the always-failed-everywhere Jeff George! -- the Persons have gone 19-23 and made no postseason appearances. The Bucs, starting Johnson, have gone 27-14 and won the Super Bowl. Once again TMQ asks, how did Dan Snyder become a multimillionaire? Every management decision he has made with the Persons has been a boneheaded blunder.

And in still other NFL news, this Sunday was the worst-ever for programming gaffes by network affiliates. Local affiliates showed a menu of cringe-worthy woofer games while the two marquee contests of the week, Panthers-Colts and Chiefs-Packers, both of which turned out to be overtime thrillers, went unseen almost everywhere: details below. What's the solution? Move to Canada or Mexico, where, unlike in the United States, NFL Sunday Ticket is available to anyone. Or move to Iran -- where, it turns out, NFL Sunday broadcasts are better than in United States! Iranians get better NFL games than the American taxpayers who make NFL profits possible? See below.

Steve Smith
Steve Smith has given the Panthers reason to celebrate.

Stat of the Week: Stretching back to last season, the Panthers are on a 9-1 run.

Stat of the Week No. 2: Stretching back to last season, Oakland has followed a 9-1 run with a 2-5 run.

Stat of the Week No. 3: Arizona held Jamal Lewis to 131 yards rushing.

Stat of the Week No. 4: Dick Vermeil has reached 6-0 with the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs.

Stat of the Week No. 5: Buffalo has gone four consecutive games without scoring a touchdown in the first half.

Stat of the Week No. 6: Green Bay, Jax and the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons surrendered a combined 55 points in the fourth quarter, all at home.

Stat of the Week No. 7: The Panthers and Ravens, combined record 8-2, have run 356 times and passed 249 times, a 59 percent rushing percentage.

Stat of the Week No. 8: The Bills and Persons, combined record 6-6, have passed 415 times and run 297 times, a 42 percent rushing percentage.

Stat of the Week No. 9: For two consecutive weeks, Oakland has scored a touchdown on its opening possession and then not scored another touchdown in the game. The Raiders lost both.

Stat of the Week No. 10: Brett Favre is 0-3 against Kansas City; he has at least one win against every other team the Packers have faced during his tenure.

Stat of the Week No. 11: Tiki Barber has fumbled eight times in his last seven regular-season outings.

Stat of the Week No. 12: Miami lost more yards on penalties (149) than it gained passing (143).

Holli
A nurse and a Colts cheerleader! Holli makes TMQ wish he were suffering from the same injuries as Edgerrin James.

Cheerleader of the Week: Many readers including James Etling of Indianapolis have proposed Holli of the red-hot (actually, blue-hot) Indianapolis Colts, so here she is. The Colts don't put much about their cheer-babes into cheerleader bios, though we do know that Holli is a nursing student. A nurse and a cheerleader -- fantasy overload.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 1: Leading 3-0 late in the second quarter, Les Mouflons faced second-and-goal at the Atlanta Typos' 3. St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger came to the line and saw that the Typos had no middle linebacker on the field -- they'd gone to a dime defense despite a likely-run situation -- and that both Atlanta defensive tackles were on the outside shoulder of Rams guards. This meant there was no defender directly in front of him. Bulger called the "instant sneak," the high-school play on which the QB taps the center's butt and just takes the ball himself, while the rest of this team stands there. Uncontested three-yard touchdown, and Les Mouflons never looked back.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 2: Trailing Oakland 7-3 in the third, the Cleveland Browns (Release 2.1) lined up for a field-goal try. The holder flipped the ball to kicker Phil Dawson, who ran 14 yards for the first down. Cleveland scored its only touchdown, the winning points, on the next snap.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 3: Game scoreless, the Seattle Blue Men Group faced third-and-7 on the San Francisco 24. Seattle formed a screen right, Matt Hasselbeck pumped right, and then Hasselbeck threw left to Bobby Engram behind a second screen. Engram got the first down, and Seattle scored a touchdown on the next snap. What made this play so sweet? The pump-faked-screen is a San Francisco play! It comes directly from the Niners' playbook, and once was Steve Young's favorite call. Niner acolytes in Green Bay also used the pump-faked-screen play for Ahman Green's 11-yard touchdown against Kansas City.

Sour Play of the Week No. 1: Trailing 17-3 early in the fourth quarter, Jersey/A faced fourth-and-8 on the New England 16. The Giants took the field goal. Accomplishing what? Instead of being down 14, they were still down 11. Trailing big in the fourth quarter on the road, you've got to take some chances and cause some pressure on the home team. Fourth-and-8 from the 16 isn't bad considering that if you miss, the opponent is pinned deep.

New York Giants
Kerry Collins was distraught after Jim Fassel called for the FG instead of going for it.

Then, having chosen tactics based on cutting the margin to 11 points -- meaning a field goal and a touchdown plus a deuce are required -- on its next possession, Jersey/A reached fourth-and-6 on the New England 26. The Giants went for it. Interception, and Jersey/A never threatened again. Having chosen tactics based on cutting the margin to 11 points, aren't you locked in to the field-goal try at this point?

Sour Play of the Week No. 2: Leading 17-10, the Blue Men Group faced second-and-24 on their own 24. Hasselbeck played-faked a run, then threw an interception; San Francisco scored a touchdown on the possession, setting up the close ending. Who's going to fall for a play fake on second-and-24?

Oh, What Might Have Been: Two plays before Kansas City's winning touchdown in overtime at Green Bay, Darren Sharper of the Packers dropped an interception with nothing but grass in front of him. One play before Denver's winning field goal at double-zeros, Steeler safety Brent Alexander dropped an interception. And the pass that Ricky Manning intercepted and returned to the Indianapolis 28, setting up the touchdown that started the Carolina comeback, was perfectly thrown to Colts' back James Mungro, off whose hands it bounced into the air.

Where Was the Defense? One of TMQ's immutable laws is Play-Fake on First. Reaching the goal line, play-fakes work on first down because the defense is thinking run; they rarely succeed on second down, when the defense has just stuffed a run and is thinking pass.

Trailing the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons 3-0, the defending champion Bucs reached first-and-goal at the Persons' 1. The run on first down was stuffed. On second down, Tampa play-faked; easy touchdown pass to tight end Todd Yoder. After stuffing a run, why wasn't the defense thinking pass? Later, leading 14-13, Tampa reached first-and-goal on the Persons' 6. The run on first down was stuffed. On second down, Tampa play-faked; easy touchdown pass to tight end Will Heller. After stuffing a run -- and after seeing a run followed by a play-fake in the identical situation earlier -- why wasn't the defense thinking pass?

Stupid Movie Physics: A consistently delightful Internet site is Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics, which details how Hollywood represents flight, explosions, space travel and other phenomena in ways that violate physical law. Guns that fire hundreds of rounds without being reloaded are a staple complaint. The site often harps on how falling and jumping are depicted in the movies in physically impossible ways, regardless of strength.

A review of the BS (Beyond Stupid) dragons-attack-London movie "Reign of Fire" pointed out that if the dragons had scales so thick that modern surface-to-air missiles bounced off, they'd be much too heavy to take wing. And go ahead and assume that fire-breathing animals can exist; but if they do, "any energy transferred out of the dragon in the form of flames must first go into the dragon in the form of food." The scene in which a dragon melts an entire tank convoy would require, the Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics reviewer calculated, the equivalent of at least 100 gallons of petroleum for flame energy, which in turn would require the dragon to ingest the equivalent of 12,000 milkshakes. Ridiculously, we are told the dragons subsist by consuming ashes from the fires they ignite. But ashes have, by definition, already lost most of their energy content.

Spider-man
The only thing more insulting than stupid movie physics are teams that always pass on third-and-short.

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics also took apart a scene that represents, to TMQ, the epitome of movies depicting something impossible in physical terms, regardless of superpower. In "Spider-Man," the sinister Green Goblin is standing atop the Queensboro Bridge, holding the comely Mary Jane in one hand and a cable supporting a cable car full of tourists in the other hand; Spider-Man is supposed to choose which the Goblin will drop and which he will spare. Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics calculated that if the cable car weighed two tons and the cable is at a five-degree angle to the horizon, the side force at the Goblin's arm would be 23,000 pounds. "Even if we suspend our disbelief that the thin material in the Goblin's armor could support 23,000 pounds," there's no way this force, counterweighted only by the nubile Mary Jane, could fail to pull the Goblin sideways off the bridge.

What happens next is one of the "endless falling" scenes that drives TMQ crazy -- people in movies plummeting downward through the air for far longer than physically possible, often calmly doing something as they plummet. When Spider-Man refuses to choose, the Goblin drops both the cable car and the charming Mary Jane. Spider-Man executes a series of dramatic web-swings to catch both. Set aside that the cable car, now accelerating under gravity, when grabbed by Spider-Man would transfer hundreds of thousands of pounds of force to Spidey's arm. Set that aside and just count the seconds. The Queensboro Bridge is 350 feet high. Free-falling objects in Earth's atmosphere accelerate at 9.8 meters per second per second. This means Mary Jane and the cable car would take four seconds to fall from the top of the Queensboro Bridge to the surface of the East River. The scene in which Spiderman swings into position to catch them is 15 seconds long.

Best Use of TMQ: Tuesday Morning Quarterback advised in its NFC preview, "Tip to Eagles opponents: Philadelphia onside kicks in unexpected situations," especially to start games. Three years ago, the Eagles onside kicked to open their game at Dallas. On Sunday they did the same; Cowboy Randal Williams snagged the rock and ran it 37 yards for the touchdown. Cowboys' sideline gentleman Bruce DeHaven, one of the best special-teams coaches in football annals except for one play -- his Buffalo charges gave up the "Music City Miracle" at Tennessee -- knew about the Eagles' onside tendency, surely from reading TMQ! DeHaven had the Dallas return unit in the up position, expecting an onside; Philly failed to notice this. The football gods chortled.

According to the official Game Book, Williams ran the ball 37 yards in three seconds. That's the equivalent of a 3.2 time in the 40-yard dash.

Revenge of the Chicks, Part Two: Reader Amy Botello of New York City has conducted an incredibly scientifically advanced of cheesecake and beefcake in Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns this season and found, "So far your stud-to-hot-chick ratio is 3-to-16. And I have to say even though that was a great display of abs and pecs, Terrell Owens is soooooo obnoxious he can't be considered truly yummy, so it's really a 1-to-8 ratio. Not good." She protests in haiku,

Where is the beefcake,
what about the promised studs?
Eye-candy for all!

-- Amy Botello, New York

Brad Pitt
Amy, this is for you.

Amy requests shirtless poses of "Brad Pitt, Matt Damon or Ashton Kutcher, not the aging Harrison Ford or Sean Connery. For every Britney, give us a Justin." Amy, I'd trade you Britney for Justin, just to get rid of Britney! At any rate, your wish is my command -- here's your beefcake.

Best Blocks: All highlight reels showed Miami QB Jay Fiedler cleaning the clock of Arleigh Burke-class Jax DE Tony Brackens on the Ricky Williams reversed-field run that was the Marine Mammals' initial touchdown. TMQ counted one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three, one-thousand four, one-thousand five, one-thousand six on Steve McNair's first touchdown pass to Derrick Mason; one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three, one-thousand four, one-thousand five on McNair's second TD to the same gentleman. On Mack Strong's 21-yard touchdown run for the Blue Men Group, blocking was magnificent, especially by guard Steve Hutchinson. It's pretty fun to run when everyone in your path has already been knocked to the ground.

Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All: Trailing 13-7, the Raiders faced third-and-1 on the Cleveland 24 with 33 seconds left, holding a timeout. Pass incomplete, pass incomplete, game over.

Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All No. 2: Last December the Dolphins' season crashed and burned when they went incompletion, incompletion, incompletion on their final possession at New England, rather than running into the line for no gain and keeping the clock moving; the Patriots tied the score with mere ticks to spare, and won in overtime. This season, TMQ continues to feel spooked that the Marine Mammals are not simply handing the ball to Williams in clock-grinding situations. Leading 17-10 at Jax, Miami threw incomplete on third down on each of its last two possessions, twice stopping the clock and leaving 2:18 for the Jaguars' last-ditch attempt from their own 21. Had Miami simply run into the line for no gain on both snaps, Jacksonville's last-ditch attempt would have begun with the clock nearly drained.

The Hulk
Amy, does a shirtless, computerized Hulk count as beefcake? (See, we could have taken the sleazy route and ran a partially nude Jennifer Connelly.)

Moviegoers Learned Why Producers Took the Word "Incredible" Out of "The Hulk": Disclaimers for "The Hulk" warned of "partial nudity." What is "partial" nudity -- aren't you either naked or not? Mega-babe Jennifer Connelly is the one who was partially naked in the movie. TMQ would have preferred to pay $8 just to look at her, with the rest of the movie deleted.

The concept of "partial nudity" recalls the Department of Agriculture concept of the "partial whole" strawberry. According to this USDA manual for grading strawberries, "a partial strawberry is a berry in whole style that is less than three-fourths of a whole strawberry." This means some shipments of strawberries are labeled "contains partial whole strawberries."

Worst Blocks: The extremely overpriced Potomac Drainage Basin offensive line -- three of the highest-paid linemen in the league, and most sacks allowed in the league -- gave up four sacks to Simeon Rice alone. On one play, extremely overpaid tackle Chris Samuels turned inside to double-team the rarely-sacks Warren Sapp, leaving only a tight end to block Rice, who blew in for the sack. On another play, extremely overpaid tackle Jon Jansen turned inward to help extremely overpaid guard Randy Thomas double-team rarely-sacks Anthony McFarland, leaving only a running back to block Rice, who blew in for the sack.

The Football Gods Promised An Investigation: I don't wish to alarm you, but not only are the Dallas Cowboys third overall in offense, they are third overall in defense.

TMQ, Grammar Snob: Amtrak advertising for the new Acela train boasts "faster travel times." Time is a means of measurement, neither "fast" nor "slow." Trains can be slower or faster, trips can be shortened or lengthened, but times cannot be faster, no matter how flashy Acela looks.

Amtrak
If you read TMQ on the Acela, would it mean you finish it faster?

Exception: Einstein showed that at very high velocities, time passes more slowly from the perspective of the fast-moving observer. This sort of thing doesn't apply to Amtrak, which presumably does not reach relativistic speed. Outrunning bicyclists is normally Amtrak's velocity goal.

The Bank of America branch near the Official Office of TMQ, in downtown Washington, D.C., has a giant banner in the window reading, LONGER HOURS. Longer than 60 minutes?

Any Physics Post-Doc Who Inadvertently Destroys the Universe Will Receive an Incomplete for the Course: Relativistic effects are rarely observed outside the particle accelerators found in physics labs. Sir Martin Rees, the noted British astronomer, declares in his new doomsday book "Our Final Hour" that it might be possible for an error at a particle accelerator to destroy the entire universe by converting all 50 billion galaxies into a single, minutely small "strangelet." Alternatively, Rees writes, an accelerator experiment might inadvertently create a zone of the mysterious nothing-anything condition that existed before the Big Bang: the inadvertently created not-anything would spread outward at the speed of light, eventually deleting the entire cosmos. A minor accelerator error, Reese muses, might merely convert the Earth into "an inert hyperdense sphere a hundred meters across."

Best Clocking-Grinding Drive: Leading the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons 14-13, the defending champion Bucs took over on their own 9 late in the third quarter. Tampa held the ball for 12 plays, scoring for a 21-13 lead and grinding so much clock the Persons were forced to go pass-wacky, to their woe.

Best Nine-Straight-Passes Drive: Trailing by a touchdown with three minutes left, the Lucky Charms got the ball on their own 9. They moved to the tying touchdown, Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne with 25 seconds remaining, improbably passing on nine consecutive snaps.

Best Nine-Straight-Runs Drive: Trailing by three, Kansas City took over the ball with 2:43 remaining in regulation. For the remainder of the contest, won in overtime by Kansas City coming back from a 31-14 deficit, the Chiefs ran 22 offensive plays to one for Green Bay. What changed? The Chiefs switched to the run -- the last thing you'd expect from a team trailing late on the road. To the moment Kansas City took over with 2:43 in regulation, the Chiefs had more points (31) than rushing yards (30). Nevertheless they ran several times on the tying drive. Getting the ball on their own 29 to start overtime, Kansas City ran Priest Holmes on nine consecutive downs, moving the ball to the Green Bay 30. Next came an exchange of turnovers. The Chiefs' field-goal attempt was blocked, then the Packers fumbled the ball back; Trent Green threw the winning touchdown strike on the next play. The nine-straight-runs drive put the overtime into Kansas City's control.

Shorna
Shorna loves talking forestry with Peyton Manning in her spare time.

Assistant Professor Cheerleader of the Week: Speaking of the blue-hot Colts, many readers, including Stephen Terry of the Plasma Physics Laboratory at Princeton University, have pointed out that one of the Indianapolis cheer-babes is Shorna Broussard, an assistant professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue University. According to the Colts' cheerleader profile -- which dryly notes, "occupation: professor" -- Broussard's most recently read book is, "Wilderness and the American Mind." This is slightly north of the "Who Moved My Cheese?" titles that dominate cheerleader reading lists.

This Associated Press article dryly declares of the Colts cheer-babes, "Broussard is the only assistant professor on the squad." The article further explanations that Broussard tried out for the Colts' cheerleaders because she had been taking dance classes since childhood, and wanted a hobby that was different from teaching natural-resource management. Broussard told the Associated Press she "is interested in the political aspects of environmental policy." Shorna, I've written a book about environmental policy, so maybe you and I could ... oh, forget it.

Disturbing sidelight: they're reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback in the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. They're gawking at cheer-babe pictures at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Please be sure to keep an eye on the dials of the particle accelerators, OK?

Programming Outrage of the Week: Undefeated Carolina at undefeated Indianapolis, the last pairing of unbeatens in the 2003 season! (Unless you believe Kansas City and Minnesota can both be 15-0 when they meet Dec. 20.) So did New York City, largest city in the nation, see this monster game? New York did not. Did Los Angeles, second-largest city in our great nation, see this monster game? Los Angeles did not. Did Chicago, third-largest city, see this monster game? Chicago did not. Did Washington, capital of our great nation, see this monster game? Washington did not. The list goes on in awful detail.

Did Fox, which had the call, even feature Carolina at Indianapolis as its game of the week? Fox did not. Fox sent its lead announcer team to the Bucs at Persons collision, combined record 5-4, which it beamed to most of the country rather than Panthers at Colts, combined record 9-0. Bucs at Persons turned out to be a snorefest, Panthers at Colts an overtime thriller; no, there's no way to know in advance which games will be good, but combined record is the best leading indictor. Last week, CBS had a chance to show two undefeateds, Denver at Kansas City, and instead chose a lesser game as its nationally featured contest. This week, Fox passed on what was almost surely the final pairing of undefeateds that will occur in the 2003 season, in order to air a lesser pairing. Ye gods.

Jennifer Connelly
Just because: thought we'd slip in a photo of Jennifer Connelly anyway (although not a partially nude one).

At times, TMQ has promoted the notion that Los Angeles is the best place in the United States to watch the NFL on television because, lacking a home team, City of Angels local affiliates can pick the best games. This Sunday, Los Angeles became the City of Woofers. Instead of Carolina at Indianapolis, combined record 9-0, Los Angeles Fox affiliate KTTV showed Eagles at Cowboys, combined record 5-3. Instead of Kansas City at Green Bay, combined record 8-2, Los Angeles CBS affiliate KBCS showed Oakland at Cleveland, combined record 4-6. Ay caramba.

Many cities did not see Carolina-Indy because the home team was playing at the same time on Fox. Did cities at least see the excellent Kansas City at Green Bay pairing -- another overtime thriller, and which involved no network conflict? Most did not. In Washington, rather than show the excellent Kansas City at Green Bay pairing, to which it had the rights, local CBS affiliate WUSA showed: infomercials! Wait, isn't there a NFL league-promotion spot in which Zach Thomas of the Dolphins declares that if it weren't for pro football we would have to watch infomercials on Sunday? That's what our nation's capital saw on Sunday, infomercials, rather than the Kansas City at Green Bay overtime thriller.

Baltimore beheld the woofer Oakland at Cleveland pairing, combined record 4-6, rather than the excellent Kansas City at Green Bay pairing, combined record 8-2. This is an example of the local affiliates' absurd habit of showing bad divisional games -- the Browns (Release 2.1) are in the same division as Baltimore's Ravens -- rather than the best contests.

Did most major cities see the solid Pittsburgh at Denver pairing, a down-to-the-last-second thriller which came in the 4 p.m. slot and involved no home-team conflict in most locations? Chicago, at least, saw this game. But instead of Pittsburgh-Denver in the late afternoon slot, our nation's capital got the woofer Baltimore at Arizona pairing, combined record 3-6. That's the third Arizona Cardinals game to air in our nation's capital this year. Does WUSA, Washington's CBS affiliate, even know that the Cardinals have been moved out of the NFC East? Only 24,193 people who live in Arizona wanted to see the Cardinals' game, based on attendance; but all of the nation's capital was assumed, by WUSA, to wish to behold this contest. Meanwhile Washington has yet to get its first glimpse of the Panthers, who are not only 5-0 but located 2,000 miles closer than the Cardinals.

I'll spare readers repetition of TMQ's grievance that the NFL stages fabulous games like Carolina at Indianapolis and Kansas City at Green Bay, then elaborately prevents people from seeing the fabulous games. The NFL prevents most Americans from seeing the best games by limiting NFL Sunday Ticket to the satellite monopoly DirecTV: which only 10 percent of American homes get, and huge numbers cannot receive for technical reasons. And I'll spare readers repetition of TMQ's grievance that, while access to the top games is elaborately denied to most Americans owing to the DirecTV monopoly, Canada and Mexico forbid such monopolies; there, anyone can order Sunday Ticket on cable. This means Canadians and Mexicans have far better opportunity to view the NFL than Americans.

Iran football
And we don't mean Iranians are watching this kind of football!

No, I won't repeat those complaints. But I will add -- now even Iran gets better access to NFL games than Americans! Numerous readers including Diana Sophronia of Cyprus have flagged TMQ that Middle East TV, which broadcasts to Iran, Egypt, Turkey and other nations, has a much better track record of picking NFL games than do most U.S. local network affiliates. On Sunday, for example, the Middle East TV pro football doubleheader was Chiefs at Packers followed by Steelers at Broncos . That's a far better Sunday card than was shown in New York, Los Angeles, Washington or most major American cities. Mullahs sipping Arabian coffee in Tehran got better viewing access to NFL games this Sunday than people living in the United States!

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Leading 24-10 in the third, the Flaming Thumbtacks faced second-and-9, pinned on their own 3. Since the average pass attempt yields about six yards, all the Texans needed to do was played straight defense -- anyway, it's a blitz! A 44-yard completion to Justin McCareins, touchdown two snaps later. The Titans go 98 yards in five plays, and the rout is on.

Yes, the blitz sometimes works -- Dallas blitzed six on the Donovan McNabb fumble that sealed the Cowboys' win, and New Orleans blitzed six to cause the Kordell Stewart fumble that set up a Saints' field goal. My point is that the blitz backfires at least as often as it works. Most of the time, you're better off playing straight defense.

Those Who Fail to Learn From Game Film Are Doomed to Repeat It: For two consecutive columns, TMQ has noted Buffalo's pass-wacky tendency in the Maroon Zone. Three times in Weeks 4 and 5, the Bills faced third-and-1 or third-and-2 on an opponent's 32 or 33. In no instance did they pound, pound for the 90-percent-likely first down. Each time the third down call was a pass; each time (incompletions, fumble, missed field goal) the possession ended without points. Did the Bills coaching staff learn the lesson of the last three failures in this situation, and on Sunday pound, pound in the Maroon Zone situations noted at the column top? Pass attempts on both third and shorts; incompletion, sack.

Want to See Good NFL Games? Move to Iran ... or Portland, Ore.: Reader Alison Fowler of Portland, Ore., reports that the top matchups are usually aired by her local network affiliates. "Portland is not much of a football city, so maybe indifference is the key to getting the good games," Fowler suggests. On Sunday, Portland saw Chiefs at Packers, Steelers at Broncos and Bucs at Persons -- TMQ would have settled for that card in a heartbeat. Fowler also gloats, in haiku, that Portland got the monster Week 5 games that went unseen throughout most of the United States:

City of Roses
saw Broncs-Chiefs, Seahawks-Packers.
No Ticket needed.

-- Alison Fowler, Portland, Ore.

Making Reality TV Worse Was a Big Ratings Success, So Why Doesn't Making the NBA Worse Attract Viewers? Today the San Antonio Spurs are at the White House. Good for them, but the Spurs-Nets NBA Finals was the lowest-rated NBA championship ever in prime-time. The Nielsen mark for the series was just 6.3, terrible for prime time: a top series like "Friends" rates about 15, while NFL Sunday afternoon broadcasts rate around 10. In the last five years alone the "share" -- the percentage of turned-on television sets that are tuned to a particular broadcast -- for the NBA Finals has fallen from 32 percent to 12 percent. Every other denominator of NBA popularity is in free-fall, too. And what is the response of the league? So far as TMQ can tell, the NBA thinks the solution is to dumb the game down even more, chucking out quality and emphasizing hype: though it's the dumbing-down that started the NBA ratings slide.

All this is worth bearing in mind as Maurice Clarett sues to overturn pro football's rule that draftees must be at least 20 years old. If the doors are opened to immature me-me-me players such as Clarett, an inevitable cycle of dumbing-down, declining quality and lost ratings will arrive for the NFL, too.

As this column has pointed out, the drop in NBA popularity coincides with the league's decision to start admitting high-school players en masse. Every year the quality of NBA play goes down, owing to more callow athletes who lack schooling in the fundamentals, who'd rather strut and point at themselves than listen to coaches. Every year, the NBA response is to draft still more high-schoolers and dumb things down further. The NBA thinks fans are too stupid to notice the ongoing decline in pro basketball product quality. Check the ratings: fans have noticed!

The solution for the NBA is to get the high school kids off the court and back into college, which would be good for the sport and good for them personally. As regards the NFL, it is essential that the league fight Clarett with everything it has. Ruin the kid's life if necessary: Clarett's I-don't-care-about-anything-in-the-world-but-me-me-me act begs for a retaliatory strike. Clarett is the carrier of a deadly disease. Keep him out, and prevent the cycle of product-quality decline from coming to pro football, too.

Did I Hallucinate This? On ESPN's Monday Night pregame show, correspondent Chris Mortensen delivered, without a hint of irony, a report saying that in the wake of the Philadelphia loss at Dallas, Eagles players "are beginning to question Donovan McNabb's ability."

Oh Ye Mortals, Trifle Not With the Football Gods: During the offseason, Buffalo DT Pat Williams boasted, "No one will run against the Bills this year." Buffalo is 23rd against the run, and Sunday allowed 118 rushing yards by Jersey/B, which entered the contest as the last-ranked rushing team in the league. During the offseason, Bills coaches, criticized as pass-wacky, promised a commitment to running. After running for just 53 yards against the Jets' 32nd-rated rushing defense, which entered the game surrendering 174 yards per contest, Buffalo now takes over from Jersey/B as last-ranked in rushing.

Wacky Food of the Week: According to this article, trendy New York City eateries have begun to offer grilled chocolate sandwiches: "At the Chickenbone Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Zakary Pelaccio grills bittersweet chocolate between slices of rich brioche, creating a density akin to the most elegant cake." Grilled chocolate sandwiches are promoted as a breakfast option.

Volvo
If it's a truck, where's the gun rack?

"Swedish Wagon of the Year" Just Didn't Have the Same Snap: If it weren't SUV-like, I would name the Volvo XC90 the Official Car of TMQ. Why? Volvo is promoting the XC90 as winner of the "North American Truck of the Year" award. The XC90 is neither a truck nor built in North America.

TMQ Insider Exclusive! Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned on an exclusive basis that Jon "I Was Teenaged Coach" Gruden was asked to leave a Tampa-area Hooters -- Gruden carries a Hooters VIP card http://espn.go.com/page2/s/tmq/030114.html -- when he declared he "was groping for answers to the Bucs' problems." Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive.

Running Items Department

Obscure College Score of the Week: McKendree 59, Iowa Wesleyan 13. Located in Lebanon, Illinois, McKendree's slogan is "Where Quality Matters". Its previous slogan, "Where Quality Doesn't Matter," failed to test-market well.

Bonus Obscure College Score: Northwestern State 87, Southeast Louisiana 27. Northwestern State, which has outscored opponents 146-27 in its last two games, recorded 12 touchdowns, including five on runbacks of interceptions or blocked kicks. Postgame speech of Southeastern Louisiana coach Hal Mumme:

"Well, boys, you held them under 90."

Located in Hammond, Louisiana, Southeastern's slogan is, "We Have A Place for You". So if you can't get into McKendree because of that quality thing, call Southeastern.

Double Bonus Obscure College Score: Edinboro 28, Indiana of Pennsylvania 20. TMQ's favorite obscure team fell from the undefeated ranks as the Indianans of Indiana of Pennsylvania were caught looking ahead to next weekend's monster showdown against California of Pennsylvania. You can listen to the Indiana of Pennsylvania at California of Pennsylvania monster showdown over Web radio here. And really, is there anything more important that you would be doing on Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern than listening to Indiana of Pennsylvania at California of Pennsylvania?

The Football Gods Guffawed: Since being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the Oregon Ducks have lost three straight and been outscored 131-43.

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 1-921 since TMQ began tracking. The goal of 1,000 inaccurate predictions, once just a dream, comes ever-closer to reality for the Multicolored Lady.

Reader Animadversion: Got a complaint or deeply felt grievance? Register it at TMQespn@yahoo.com.

Recently, TMQ proclaimed another immutable law, Clang on First Bars Run on Second. My contention, backed with seemingly airtight stats from games played in Week 3, was that teams that feel they must run on second down after an incomplete pass on first down "might as well tell the refs they are waiving second down and proceeding directly to third-and-10," because a second-down rush after a first-down incompletion is routinely stuffed. Stats from Week 3 showed that runs on second down, following first-down incompletions, averaged less than one yard gained.

Comes now the Football Outsiders website, a wonderful new stats-obsessed site run mainly by sports nut Aaron Schatz. The Football Outsiders crowd has come into possession of some kind of incredibly scientifically advanced database of every conceivable stat from every NFL game. Let's hope this technology does not fall into the wrong hands! Using its database, Football Outsiders scanned every game played in 2002 for rushes on second down following an incompletion on first. The numbers show an overall average of 4.6 yards gained per rush attempt, somewhat higher than the league average for all carries.

So does this disprove TMQ's immutable law? Not necessarily; Football Outsiders also found that 38 percent of second-down rushes following first-down incompletions were stuffed, gaining two yards or less, while only 28 percent of second-down rushes following a completion were stuffed. Of course, the offenses that throw lots of incompletions also tend to be the offenses whose runs are stuffed. At any rate, the Football Outsiders scan of the entire 2002 season seems to support TMQ's contention that a second-down run after a first-down incompletion is a predictable play that often leads to a third-and-10. And readers are advised to keep an eye on Football Outsiders, a stat-lover's paradise.

On the subject of Arnold Schwarzenegger's height -- he calls himself 6-foot-2 but is surely less -- reader Michael Kovaka writes, "A few years ago, I had a locker next to him in the fitness center at the ANA Hotel in Washington, D.C. Both of us were buck naked, thereby ruling out any aid either of us might have received from footwear. Arnold was vastly more buff than I; however, at 6-1, I loomed over his 5-10-or-so frame. Modesty prevents me from making any further physiological comparisons." Michael, if only you had your camera-equipped cell phone at the ready, TMQ could now be satisfying the beefcake-demanding chick reader faction.

Last Week's Challenge: How does one become a "celebrity chef?" TMQ asked readers to pose a test.

Nicholas Scrivani of Downers Grove, Illinois, proposed that "to become a celebrity chef, one must learn how to cook and marinade everything with Cristal Champagne. Every celebrity I have ever seen on MTV Cribs has Cristal stocked in the refrigerator."

Three readers proposed tests in haiku:

Celebrity chef?
Create disgusting entrée,
get people to pay.

-- David Bouchillon

Lighting food on fire;
keeping hair-piece free of flame;
knowing fowl from fare.

-- Sam Pfeifle, Portland, Maine

Celebrity chefs
have but one prerequisite:
a zany accent.

-- Jeff Marion, Eugene, Oregon

Tim of Minneapolis supposed, "To become a celebrity chef, you must cook something that Calista Flockhart would eat." But there is no such thing!

Many readers proposed that that making food for, or perhaps waking up next to, Paris Hilton would cause one to graduate to celebrity chef. One reader haiku-ized,

Paris Hilton
Is Brian Urlacher ready to pop out of one of the cakes?

Celebrity chef:
one who has prepared breakfast
for Paris Hilton.

-- Shayan Hussain, Chicago

Check this brief bio of Hilton at the Ask Men website; it calls her a "high-society party girl, part-time model and quasi-actress." Quasi-acting -- isn't that how you become wealthy in Hollywood?

Reader Jean-Pierre Gagick of Paris, France, wins this Challenge by declaring that to become a celebrity chef, one must do a turn in the kitchen of the Hotel les Mouflons in southern France. Previously featured in TMQ, the Hotel les Mouflons -- "hotel of sheep" -- is the official resort hotel of the St. Louis Rams, known to this column as Les Mouflons. According to the Babel Fish automated translator, the first paragraph at the center of the Hotel les Mouflons web page declares,

At the exit of the medieval citè of Besse in Chandesse, at five minutes of Super Besse and its ski pistes, you will be able to combine the pleasure of the old stones and inheritance with that of the great extents and the sport.

The pleasures of the old stones! Can't wait. Again according to Babel Fish, the hotel also promises,

The truffade, the trout and beef de Salers are here the specialities, declined on several simple receipts and of quality. We also propose a chart to you where gastronomy and soil will be accompanied by best believed.

Only a celebrity chef could prepare trout declined on simple recipes, so the Hotel les Mouflons must be the place.

This Week's Challenge: "Partial nudity" makes no sense -- you're either starkers or you are not. What other phrases, in everyday usage, make no sense? Submit your witty proposal to TMQespn@yahoo.com.

Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is believed to be the first Brookings scholar ever to write a pro football column. You can buy his book, "The Here and Now" here ... and now.