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Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Updated: August 31, 8:08 PM ET
It doesn't pay to punt

By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Once again this weekend the NFL landscape was littered with Preposterous Punts. Trailing 24-3, San Francisco punted on fourth-and-1 on the Philadelphia 40. Even the great Bill Belichick ordered a punt from the Broncos' 35. As this column repeats ad infinitum (Latin for "by using AutoText"), NFL coaches punt in opposition territory, or on short yardage, in order to avoid blame -- if a team goes for it and fails the coach is blamed, whereas if a coach does the safe thing and kicks and then loses, the players are blamed. But skip the psycho-dynamics and ask: Should a football team ever punt?

A year ago at the Hall of Fame reception in Canton, Ohio I found myself sitting between Bill Walsh and Don Shula. I posed this question: In a day when the Bears line up five-wide and Texas Tech passes 60 times a game, are there any fundamental innovations that have not been tried? Walsh supposed someone might try using trick formations for an entire game. Shula twinkled his eyes and said: "Someday there will be a coach who doesn't punt."

Think about all those punts on fourth-and-1, fourth-and-2, fourth-and-3. The average NFL offensive play gains about five yards. Yet game in, game out, coaches boom the punt away on short yardage, handing the most precious article in football -- possession of the ball -- to the other side. Nearly three-quarters of fourth-and-1 attempts succeed, while around one-third of possessions result in scores. Think about those fractions. Go for it four times on fourth-and-1 -- odds are you will keep the ball three times, and three kept possessions each with a one-third chance of a score results in your team scoring once more than it otherwise would have. Punt the ball on all four fourth-and-1s, and you've given the opponents three additional possessions. (It would have gotten one possession anyway when you missed one of your fourth-and-1s.) Those three extra possessions, divided by the one-third chance to score, give the opponent an extra score.

TMQ Cheat Sheet
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Stats of the week
Cheerleader of the week
Sweet and sour of the week
X-Men analysis
Single worst play of the season
Running up the score watch

Bottom line? If you face fourth-and-1 four times and punt all four times, your opponent will score once more than it otherwise would have. If you go for it all four times, you will score once more than you otherwise would have. (These are simplified probabilities that do not take into account that the one-score-in-three figure assumes most teams voluntarily end drives by punting on short yardage; subtract those punts, and a possession becomes more valuable because a score is more likely to result.) Few teams face fourth-and-1 four times in a game, but the numbers for fourth-and-2 and fourth-and-3 work out about the same, and most teams do face fourth-and-short several times per game. Probabilities suggest a team that rarely punts will increase its scoring while decreasing its opponents' point totals.

Think I'm crazy? Let's turn to this 2005 paper by David Romer, a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley. Romer's work got attention from the sports media because he contends teams facing fourth-and-goal should almost always try for the touchdown. I'm not so sure, and will address that in a later column. (Short version of my counterargument: Field goals are nothing to sneeze at.) But there is gold, absolute gold, in the overlooked later pages of Romer's study. His numbers say that anytime the situation is fourth-and-4 or less, teams should not punt. Romer thinks teams should try for the first down on any fourth-and-4 or less even when in their own territory. After all, the average play gains almost five yards. On average you will retain possession, and the pluses of that exceeded the minuses of the inevitable failed fourth-down try.

Romer put the opening quarters of all NFL games from 1998 to 2004 into a database, then analyzed when coaches ordered punts, when they went for it, and how these decisions had an impact on field position on subsequent possessions. Here are Romer's three key conclusions. First, inside the opponent's 45, go for a first down on any fourth-and-7 or less, unless a field goal would decide the game. Second, inside the opponent's 33, go for a first down on fourth-and-10 or less, unless a field goal decides. In Romer's sample years there were 1,068 fourth downs in which the above formulas said go for the first down, yet NFL coaches kicked all but 109 times -- meaning they went for it only about 10 percent as often as they should have. Finally, Romer's numbers say that an NFL team should try for the first down on any fourth-and-4 or less, regardless of where the ball is on the field. Of course some fourth-down tries would go down in flames and even create easy scores for the other side. But over the course of a season of rarely punting, Romer maintains, the team that eschewed the punt would score more than it otherwise would, while its opponents would score less.

Paul Ernster
Admit it -- football without punting would be much more fun to watch!
Suppose an NFL or major-college coach came into a season determined to go for it any time it was fourth-and-4 or less. I don't think a coach should be doctrinaire about this. I'd punt if it was fourth-and-4 inside my 20, and I'd be inclined to punt in the second half if protecting a lead. But otherwise, the coach commits to going for it instead of punting, even if the first few attempts backfire. Surely a strategy of rarely punting would sometimes boomerang, but on balance it could lead to more scoring for your team while depriving the other team of the ball. The strategy could cause exhaustion and panic on the parts of defenses that thought they had done their jobs by forcing fourth down, only to discover your offense had no intention of passively jogging off the field. Teams that rarely punted might pile up big advantages in points and time of possession. If Don Shula's "coach who doesn't punt" appeared on the NFL scene, that coach, Tuesday Morning Quarterback suspects, would revolutionize football. Player talent being equal, that coach might blow the doors off the National Football League.

Which leaves us with the question of whether the coach conjectured by Shula could ever exist. Such a coach would need to be completely unconcerned with the media and owner backlash that would follow a loss caused by a no-punt policy. Such a coach would need to be fearless, and financially independent. Will there ever be such a coach? Tuesday Morning Quarterback wonders. But next time it's fourth-and-3 and you hear the announcers say "now they have to punt," just remember: No, they don't have to punt.

In other football news, all hail the United States Saints! That's what TMQ called the team last season during its wanderings, and surely they were the United States Saints last night upon their triumphal return to New Orleans. The emotion of the event was powerful, but the Saints played so well it forced one to wonder: Maybe this is actually a top team. How fitting if the football gods repaid the Saints' horrible 2005 with a wonderful 2006. Between Drew Brees and Reggie Bush looking so, so good while Daunte Culpepper and Mario Williams look so, so bad, there must be serious buyer's remorse today in Miami and Houston. The Saints' early blocked-punt touchdown was not only a sweet play but conformed with TMQ's immutable law of punt defense: Send Eight to Make a Punt Go Backward. As this column has pointed out before, NFL coaches rarely send more than five rushers after the punter. It's blame-shifting: if the coach calls an all-out rush and the kicker is roughed then a coaching decision is blamed, whereas if there's a light rush, a return and the offense fails to move the ball, then the players are blamed. On the first Atlanta punt, New Orleans overloaded the line with eight men in tight, and all eight came: Thunk! For the rest of the contest, New Orleans rushed only five. NFL special teams coaches, take heed.

In other news, they were booing in Foxborough as the Patriots left the field at halftime. Sure, New England has won three of the last five Super Bowls. But what have you done for us lately! Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger has lost two consecutive games and threw three awful interceptions on Sunday. Now he's only 28-6 as an NFL starter. He's really tailing off! How soon till Steelers fans start booing Roethlisberger?

Stat of the Week No. 1: Baltimore and San Diego have outscored their opponents by a combined 110 points.

Chris Simms
Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms has an outside chance of playing football again this season.
Stat of the Week No. 2: At 1:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, almost an hour into their third game of the season, the Buccaneers scored their first touchdown of the 2006 season.

Stat of the Week No. 3: Because the Raiders had a bye, it will be October before Oakland scores its first touchdown of the 2006 season.

Stat of the Week No. 4: Seattle is on a 23-4 streak at home.

Stat of the Week No. 5: At 11:22 p.m. ET on Sunday, the Broncos allowed their first touchdown of the 2006 season. Considering an overtime, the Denver defense played 12 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown.

Stats of the Week No. 6: At 8:53 p.m. ET on Monday, the Falcons allowed their first touchdown of the 2006 season.

Stats of the Week No. 7: At the end of the first quarter in Seattle, Eli Manning had two interceptions and minus-12 yards passing.

Stats of the Week No. 8 : The Giants have not won in Seattle in 25 years.

Stats of the Week No. 9 : Stretching back to Jan. 1, when the Buccaneers won the NFC South, Tampa has lost four straight.

Stats of the Week No. 10 : The Saints are 3-0 for the first time since 1842.

Cheerleader of the Week: Vincent Hendricks of Houston nominates Summer of the Texans' pep squad. According to her team bio, Summer "works as an engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center." A rocket scientist cheerleader! She also has a VFR pilot's license and is working on her instrument rating. If her team photo is an indication, Summer is not only a rocket scientist cheerleader, she's a sultry rocket scientist cheerleader. This really must be the third millennium!

Sweet Series of Plays of the Week: On "series" plays, one action sets up another. Game tied at 7, Indianapolis was on its own 31. Marvin Harrison lined up wide right, with tight end Dallas Clark also on the right as a slot receiver, and ran a middle crossing pattern as Clark ran an out; Harrison caught a pass for 38 yards. Two plays later the Colts lined up the same way. This time Harrison came in motion back toward the formation. At the snap, Harrison headed for the middle cross again, but from the inside of Clark, while Clark ran for the sideline and tailback Dominic Rhodes ran a flare right. Two Jax defenders went with Harrison. Two came up to cover Rhodes. That left no one on Clark; Peyton Manning saw this and motioned Clark up the field, where he caught a 30-yard touchdown pass.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 2: Trailing Pittsburgh 17-14 early in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati faced fourth-and-1 on its own 30. Following professor David Romer's advice, the Bengals went for it and converted. Cincinnati did not score on the possession, but Marvin Lewis' decision to go for it on his own 30 communicated to his charges that he was challenging them to win the game, which they did.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 3: Leading 3-0, Denver had third-and-1 on the New England 32 with 56 seconds remaining in the first half. Normally it's best to rush on short-yardage downs: but if you're going to pass, throw the home run, not some dinky three-yard out. The Broncos play-faked, Javon Walker went deep up the right sideline single-covered and caught the touchdown that made it 10-0 at the half. Flying Elvii defensive backs -- there were only 56 seconds remaining, why were you surprised Denver went to the end zone?

Sweet Play of the Week No. 4: On a 23-yard completion to Muhsin Muhammad, Rex Grossman of the Bears play-faked left, then play-faked right, then threw. You don't often see two play-fakes on the same down. But was this pass-wacky unit really the Chicago Bears? At one point in the game, the Bears' coaches had called 26 passes versus eight rushes.

Sweet 'N' Sour Player of the Week: Grossman was the epitome of Sweet 'N' Sour. His touchdown pass won the game as the clock ticked toward all-naughts. But on the first snap of the fourth quarter, the Ming Ding Xiong ("Bears whose outcomes are decided by fate" in Chinese) having a first-and-10 on their 12, Grossman sprinted 15 yards backward into his own end zone. About to be tackled, he threw a nutty heave-ho that was intercepted by Minnesota and returned for a touchdown. Yes: He threw an interception to avoid a safety!

Sour Play of the Week: A TMQ maxim holds that sometimes all a team needs to do is run the up the middle for no gain, and everything will be fine. Leading 24-23, City of Tampa faced third-and-5 on its own 25 at the two-minute warning, with Carolina down to two timeouts. The Bucs' coaches called a deep pass that clanged incomplete, politely stopping the clock for the Panthers -- who won the game on a long field goal with seven seconds remaining. Had Tampa simply rushed up the middle for no gain, grinding the clock, Carolina likely would have run out of time.

Sour Play of the Week No. 2: Already down 14-0 in the first quarter, Jersey/A had Seattle with first-and-goal on the Giants' 4. Darrell Jackson lined up slot-left; a Seattle receiver went in motion left, beyond Jackson; Shaun Alexander ran a flare left; all the Giants' defenders on that side ignored Jackson as he ran a simple turn-in for the touchdown that made it 20-0. Throughout the game, Jersey/A's pass defense seemed flummoxed that Seattle, which last season almost always had either a fullback or tight end on the field, was showing four wide receivers -- though four-receiver sets are now commonplace even in high school. And do you think the Blue Men Group, defending NFC champions yet shafted by the league out of a prime time appearance in the season's first month, were jacked up to at least be on national television?

Sour Play of the Week No. 3: Trailing 14-0, Houston had Washington facing a second-and-6 on the Moo Cows' 30 with nine seconds remaining in the first half. The Redskins' coaches called a draw to improve their field-goal position. The Houston defense allowed Clinton Portis to run 30 yards untouched for the touchdown.

Sour Play of the Week No. 4: The Browns led the Ravens 14-12 with 3:28 remaining and had second-and-goal on the Baltimore 4. Run twice and the icing touchdown is likely; if stuffed, take a field goal for a five-point lead at about the two-minute warning. Instead the Browns' coaches call a pass. Charlie Frye heave-hoes -- Aaaaaiiiiiiiyyyyyyeeeee! I can't look! Sometimes the best play a quarterback can make is zinging the ball out of bounds. Had Frye simply zung this one out of bounds, Cleveland likely would have won.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback In the News: Reader Joe Abraham of New York City reports he attended, at NYU Law School, a colloquium featuring Paul Clement, Solicitor General of the United States. During his talk, the Solicitor General of the United States referred to hindsight as "Tuesday morning quarterbacking." Surely Clement spoke in capital letters and said "Tuesday Morning Quarterbacking."

Eric Schmidt
A man with good taste in literature.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback In the News No. 2: Last week Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, called my book "The Progress Paradox" "a book you must read" because it "tells the truth about how the United States really is today." That's pretty exciting. Details are here.

Google CEO Has Good Taste in Literature: "The Progress Paradox" first argues that nearly every aspect of Western life is improving, then speculates about why "life gets better but people feel worse." A recent study by researchers including Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, and Alan Kruger, one of the leading names in behavioral economics, adds new detail on that question. The study found that the well-off are no happier than others; that as income rises, so does tension and anger; that "people exaggerate the contribution of income to happiness."

Kahneman, Krueger and their collaborators also offer a vital insight -- that happiness comes from choosing time over money, but most Americans choose money over time. "Leisure is better for happiness than increased income," they argue, supposing that time spent in travel, having new experiences, relaxing, hiking, reading, or simply looking up at the stars is more important to our sense of well-being than a new car or impressive house. Unless you are in a bad financial situation, Kahneman and Krueger recommend you spend less time working, accept somewhat lower income, and use your freed hours to experience life. Barbara Bush memorably said that no one on his or her deathbed has ever regretted not staying later at the office, while many regret failing to spend more time with family and friends.

I'll add another suggestion on why time is more important to happiness than money: Because time is far more precious. Money that has been used up can be replaced; you can always get at least some additional money, and in principle can get huge amounts of additional money. Your time on Earth, on the other hand, is limited and irreplaceable. You might add somewhat to your time on Earth by taking care of your health -- and that's an excellent idea, but there are no guarantees you won't be hit by a bus anyway. We all must surrender some of our time for work to acquire income. But those who obsessively chase maximum material possessions give up something precious and fleeting, namely time, in order to acquire something that cannot make them happy, namely money.

Favre Moratorium Call Renewed: It's good that the storied Green Bay Packers have a W. But midway through their game this Sunday, after completing a routine pass for a first down, Brett Favre jumped into the air and began pumping his fists as if he'd just won the Super Bowl. A year ago, Tuesday Morning Quarterback proposed a moratorium on press coverage of Favre, who's a first-ballot Hall of Famer but at this point ridiculously over-emphasized by the sports media. Any other player who jumped into the air and celebrated wildly after a routine completion would be mocked. The standards that apply to everyone else should also apply to Favre.

Stop Me Before -- Hey, It Worked! Both J.P. Losman fumbles, the decisive downs of the Buffalo-Jersey/B collision, came during six-man Jets blitzes. Then again, Rex Grossman's game-winning late touchdown pass at Minnesota came against the six-blitz.

At night while TMQ sleeps, little elves come into my workshop and write the last 7,000 words of the column.
Next One Will Have Seven Jewel-Encrusted Platinum Blades Forged In by Elves Beneath a Fog-Shrouded Mountain: First there were two-bladed razors, then three, then four-bladed, then the new Gillette razor with five blades in front and one in back. Now Schick has upped the ante further with a razor with four titanium blades. Disposable titanium -- only in America!

We're All Professionals Here: Leading 16-14 at the 2:03 mark of the fourth quarter, St. Louis had first-and-10 on its own 34, and Arizona down to one timeout. Running up the middle three times probably ices the game. Instead Les Mouflons try to -- well, your guess is as good as mine about what they were trying to do, but the result was a fumble recovered by the Cardinals. Now it's two snaps later, Arizona has first-and-10 on the Rams' 18 with 1:46 remaining and St. Louis is out of timeouts. The Cards are in position for a short field goal to win the game. Instead the Cardinals try to -- well, your guess is as good as mine about what they were trying to do, but the result was a fumble recovered by the Rams. Game over.

Forget Pro Wrestling, Give Me the Babes of Norwegian Curling: Curling has always struck TMQ as a sedentary activity for senior citizens or Canadians, and there may be only a technical difference between those categories. Reader J. K. Hoversholm of Bergen, Norway, reports that Norwegian curling matches have begun to feature scantily clad, tall, blonde curling babes who rival the recent U.S. Open ballgirls. Here, in Norwegian, is an advert for a curling-babe pinup calendar. Proceeds go to charity!

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Jacksonville trailed Indianapolis 14-7 at the end of the third quarter, and faced fourth-and-1 on the Colts' 31. Jack Del Rio sent out the place-kicker for a 48-yard attempt. But Josh Scobee had already missed from 24, and Scobee is not a distance kicker, going into the game having hit only 11-of-19 from the 40 to 49. Plus in this circumstance, if Jax goes for the first down and misses, the Colts get the ball on the 31 or so; a field goal miss gives the ball to Indianapolis on the 38. The kick failed, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook.

Miss Rogue, Your CT Scan Is Back. Would You Have Any Idea What This Internal Organ Is? I want to know what kind of vitamins Magneto takes! They must be good vitamins because his powers increase movie-by-movie. In the first "X-Men" flick, Magneto could control ferrous metals within about 100 feet. Captured at the movie's end, he was imprisoned in a plastic cell reached by a 100-foot plastic bridge; the guards in the watch-room beyond the bridge were using metal, but Magneto's powers did not reach that far. In the second X flick, Magneto was able to snatch the crippled, plummeting X Jet out of the air and save it; the plane started decelerating hundreds of feet above the ground, indicating Magneto has increased his range. In the third movie, this summer's "The Last Stand," Magneto was able to levitate the entire 4,200-foot main span of the Golden Gate Bridge. Set aside what the main span of the Golden Gate Bridge must weigh -- it's nearly a mile long, meaning Magneto can project his power a much greater distance than previously. You can check the Golden Gate Bridge's live webcam to see if any mutant armies are crossing.

Storm
Doc, my hurricane-generating organ hasn't felt right lately. Could you do a blood panel and EKG on me?
The X-Men movies have been the most entertaining Hollywood superhero stuff in years. In order to rationalize another sequel, I will even swallow everyone coming back to life, though coming-back-to-life is sci-fi's worst cliché. Obviously X III sets up Professor Xavier coming back to life. My guess is everyone comes back. Immediately after the movie my 11-year-old, Spenser, pointed out Logan never found Scott's body, just his glasses, while if Jean Grey is more powerful than Professor X and the Prof. could teleport his consciousness an instant before physical death, why couldn't Jean teleport hers too? The Last Stand was the abbreviated title for movie posters. The full title was Don't Worry News Corporation Shareholders, There Is No Way This Actually Is the Last Stand.

Of course, one must suspend disbelief when it comes to superheroes. But what TMQ always wonders about X-Men, Superman, the Flash and the rest is: Where are the body organs that support their powers? I'm willing to believe a superhero can fly, but where is the organ that provides propulsion? Supposedly Earth's yellow star activated in Kal-El powers that he would not have had under the red sun of Krypton. But still, some internal organ must produce the energy for his heat vision and the thrust for his flying and so on. In "Superman Returns," Supe can even fly faster than light, a power he lacked in the comics; apparently some organ too small to even bulge under his skin propels him to warp speed. Really, there must be some physical point of origin for a superhero's power. Storm must have a body organ that projects force fields that control weather. Iceman must have a body organ that can reduce temperature very rapidly, plus shed heat so Bobby doesn't boil. Where in their physiques are these organs?

Beyond that, the X-Men premise defies scientific thinking about natural selection, which holds that new organs develop very slowly across hundreds of generations. Assume some body organ can allow Shadowcat to walk through walls or Colossus to change his skin to steel: it's unimaginable such an organ could arise de novo in a single mutation. Many generations of relatively minor mutations would be required before a novel body organ could come into full functionality. Biologists from Richard Goldschmidt of the early 20th century to Stephen Jay Gould of the late 20th have speculated there is an as-yet-undiscovered natural mechanism that enables accelerated evolution. Otherwise it's hard to imagine how creatures lived through long chains of generations with still-evolving incomplete organs, since incomplete organs should be a fitness disadvantage and thus render their possessors less likely to reproduce. Unless the X-Men are an argument for intelligent design! The intelligent-design crowd believes natural selection can produce minor alterations in existing forms but cannot produce new organs or new species; a higher intellect controls that. The sudden, drastic evolutionary jumps depicted in the X-Men movies and comics sure feel like intelligent design. In fact one of the most interesting X-Men, Nightcrawler, asserts that the very rapid evolution he and his friends experience could not occur naturally and must be the result of God intervening for reasons not yet known.

Mystique
Maybe she's naked. We really need a closer look.
Left unresolved by X III is whether Mystique, played by the scrumptious Rebecca Romijn, was nude. In her blue mutant form, Mystique seemed to be wearing a blue thong bikini. But when Romijn lost her powers, her blue skin turned the Caucasian shade and she collapsed to the ground naked. Did her bikini lose its powers too? In another scene, Wolverine's shirt was torn by projectiles that ripped his flesh. His miraculous powers healed the flesh  and when we saw Logan an instant later, his shirt looked brand new. Was he wearing a jerkin of self-healing wool made from mutant sheep?

Shaun Alexander Untouched Touchdown Run of the Week: Last season, Alexander had 15 untouched touchdown runs. On Sunday, Alexander went up the middle for a touchdown and was not touched until after he scored.

This Fulfills My Obligation to Say Something About the Dolphins-Titans Game: Miami trailing the Flaming Thumbtacks 7-3 in the third quarter, the Dolphins reached first-and-goal. Miami coaches sent Jason Taylor in as a tight end. Taylor never got the ball, but his presence seemed to discombobulate the Tennessee defense; Daunte Culpepper scrambled for a touchdown.

Hidden Plays: Hidden plays are ones that never make highlight reels, but stop or sustain drives. With Cincinnati and Pittsburgh tied at 7, the Steelers faced third-and-8 on the Bengals' 23. Robert Geathers sacked Ben Roethlisberger back to the 30, making the field-goal attempt a dicey proposition in gusting winds. Kick no good, and the missed three points would come back to haunt Pittsburgh in the second half of its loss.

We're Up by 21? Let's Pass! From the point at which it was Philadelphia 24, San Francisco 3, through the remainder of the game, Eagles' coaches called 10 passes and eight rushes. The game ran long, three hours and 22 minutes, in part because the Squared Sevens, way behind, kept throwing incomplete passes in the fourth quarter and stopping the clock while the Eagles, way ahead, kept throwing incomplete passes in the fourth quarter and stopping the clock.

This Fulfills My Obligation to Say Something About the Bills-Jets Game: Buffalo compiled 200 yards more offense than Jersey/B but committed three turnovers and missed three fourth-down conversions, a missed fourth-down being equivalent to a blocked kick; the Jets committed no turnovers and converted their only fourth-down try. The Bills had drives that reached the opponent's 1, 18, 19, 28 and 35, yet netted just two field goals.

Cheerleader Professionalism Watch: In the cheer context, "professionalism" means skin or at least skin tight: cheerleaders who are scantily attired increase their team's odds of victory. Robert Betlinski of New Haven, Conn., was among many readers to note that although kickoff temperature for the Broncos-at-Patriots date was a cozy 68 degrees F (20.16 C), the New England cheer-babes came out dressed in COATS. Needless to say, New England was defeated. Phil Kerlee of Los Gatos, Calif., notes that for the first half of the Giants-at-Seahawks contest, the Sea Gals sported their pleasingly revealing new "hello, sailor" outfits. Seattle led 35-3 at intermission. For the second half, Seattle cheerleaders switched to "the kind of jogging sweats your grandmother wears," Kerlee reports. In that half, the Giants outscored Seattle 27-7.

All This Assumes Satan Is At Least 35 Years of Age and Was Born in the United States: Last week Jerry Falwell said fundamentalists would work harder to defeat a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy than if Lucifer were running for president. On an exclusive basis, TMQ has obtained this transcript of a recent K Street meeting between Satan and his campaign consultant.

CONSULTANT: Let's go over these focus-group results. First there's the name thing. Voters like casual -- Bill Clinton, Bob Dole. "Satan" sounds kind of stiff and formal. Do you have a first name?

SATAN: I have many names. Abaddon, Ahriman, Apollyon, Asmodeus, Azazel...

CONSULTANT: Gotta be informal.

SATAN: My friends call me Steve.

CONSULTANT: Steve Satan. That's great, sounds like the guy next door. Now let's be honest, you have negatives. For example, you want everyone to suffer horribly for all eternity. How am I supposed to sell that to voters?

SATAN: We've made a lot of changes in hell -- now we're customer-conscious. If you're willing to sell your soul, we pledge to have the demon there with the contract that day or your first month in hell is pain-free. Plus we've got a mission statement and a philosophy of Total Quality Torment.

CONSULTANT: Now your position on the issues. Iraq war?

SATAN: Strongly in favor.

CONSULTANT: Universal health care insurance?

SATAN: Strongly opposed.

CONSULTANT: Immigration?

SATAN: Let 'em die in the desert.

CONSULTANT: United Nations?

SATAN: Don't mention that I run it.

CONSULTANT: Education reform?

SATAN: Everyone should learn Latin. I hate it when people come to hell and don't even speak our language.

CONSULTANT: The television coach will be here in a minute to work with you. We need to eliminate the hissing.

SATAN: Sorry. I do that when I'm nervous. Guess I shouldn't have quit smoking!

CONSULTANT: Fund-raising is going well. I hope you don't object to taking money from Persian Gulf oil sheiks.

SATAN: Of course not. But do you have any qualms about working for me?

CONSULTANT: Qualms! I'm a political consultant.

Matt Millen
Matt Millen, NFL guru.
Matt Millen Incompetence Update: Keep your eye on speed receiver David Kircus of Denver, who had two nice catches against New England. Kircus spent his first three seasons at Detroit but barely got on the field for the Lions. Detroit was obsessed with its multiple first-round, big-school receivers and ignored this low-drafted gent from Grand Valley State. Don't be surprised if Kircus turns out better than wide receivers the Lions have recently blown high first-round choices on.

Single Worst Play of the 2006 Season So Far: Trailing 24-3, the Niners had third-and-goal on the Eagles' 1. Frank Gore fumbled and Nesharim defensive tackle Mike Patterson returned the rock 98 yards, effectively ending the game. The bad thing about this play was not that instead of making it 24-10, San Francisco trailed 31-3. The bad thing was not that Patterson, who's heavyset, huffed and puffed and had to jog the final 30 yards. The bad thing was not that sportscasters thought it was funny that a highly paid professional athlete is too heavy to sprint 100 yards, rather than asking what message about fitness and healthy diet this sends to the young. The reason this was the Single Worst Play of the 2006 Season So Far was that the Niners failed to chase Patterson down. Watch the replay; Alex Smith is the sole red jersey visible. Vernon Davis and Gore were hurt on the play and couldn't run, but that still leaves a Ticonderoga-class defensive tackle plodding the length of the field and eight of 11 Niners not catching him. According to the Game Book, this play lasted 21 seconds, allowing plenty of time to catch Patterson. San Francisco 49ers, you have committed the Single Worst Play of the 2006 Season So Far.

Plus Houston Is Last in Total Defense. The Williams Pick Is Really Looking Good: On Washington's first touchdown, a sweep left by Ladell Betts, first overall draft pick Mario Williams, playing right end for Houston, was blocked out of the play and practically off the screen by Mike Sellers, a reserve tight end. On Washington's second touchdown, a flare pass left to Antwaan Randle El, Williams was again at right end and again blocked out of the play and practically off the screen.

Please, Announcers, Learn the Distinction Between an End-Around and a Reverse: Watching a highlight of receiver Marty Booker of Miami running against Tennessee, novice sportscaster Jerome Bettis exclaimed, "Reverse!" It was an end-around, not a reverse: Daunte Culpepper faked up the middle, then handed off to Booker coming around. The ball never changed direction. Announcers, here's the easy way to tell if it's a reverse: count handoffs. An end-around requires one handoff. A reverse requires two handoffs, one to make the ball go in Direction A, another to make it go in Direction B. The very rare double reverse requires three handoffs, so the ball ends up going back in Direction A.

Last night my TMQ e-mail box got more than 400 messages from people watching "Monday Night Football," as the United States Saints ran a reverse and the MNF crew called it a double reverse. Drew Brees faked up the middle, then handed to Reggie Bush running left; Bush handed to Devery Henderson running right for the touchdown. That's one change of direction (Bush handing to Henderson), making it a reverse. Count the handoffs: two handoffs mean the play is a reverse. For the play to have been a double reverse, a third handoff would have been needed, from Henderson to someone running left, Bush's original direction. Danny Chamberlin of Memphis, Tennessee was among many readers to point out that Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser erroneously described the play as a "double reverse," while former quarterback Joe Theismann correctly described it as a "reverse." Mike and Tony, you're not alone. Adele Stannard of Springfield, Ore., noted that even the official Game Book erroneously describes the play thusly: "Double-reverse handoff Brees, D. to Bush, R. to Henderson, D." Hey official Game Book, that's two handoffs and thus cannot be a double reverse! See the entry at 3:04 of the first quarter.

Maybe the Seattle Cheerleaders Outfits Explain All This: The Seahawks certainly made a statement against the Giants, yet coaching decisions on both sides were puzzling. Seattle leading 35-0 with three seconds remaining in the first half, Jersey/A on the Hawks' 28, Tom Coughlin ordered a field goal. Sure a 28-yard touchdown play is unlikely, but haven't you seen a lot of touchdowns that long or longer? By kicking, Coughlin ran up the white flag. The Giants might as well have left and gotten blueberry-almond martinis with crumpets. (Note: Seattle insider reference.) With the halftime margin 35-3, to prevail in the second half the Giants would have needed to match the greatest comeback in pro football history, and that greatest-ever comeback was by a home team. Jersey/A was the visitor; scoring a touchdown before halftime was, in practical terms, the Giants' last hope. Coughlin seemed to be motivated by avoiding a goose-egg, so that when his performance review comes up at the end of the season, one of the strikes against him will not be, "You got shut out in Seattle." But coaches are not supposed to be maximizing their career prospects, they should try everything possible to win. When Jeremy Shockey said the Giants were "outcoached," this is one of the decisions he was referring to, and Shockey is right.

On the other side of the ball, it's Blue Men Group 42, G-Persons 10 with 9:53 in the fourth quarter. What in heck is Matt Hasselbeck doing on the field? Why in heck are the Seahawks still passing? Hasselbeck tosses an interception, the Giants score quickly; Hasselbeck trots back out onto the field and throws another interception the Giants return for a touchdown. Suddenly it's Hawks 42, Giants 24 and now a prudent coach leaves the starters in. Starting on its first snap of the fourth quarter, had Seattle done nothing but rush up the middle for no gain, Jersey/A's semi-comeback would not have happened, and Seattle's starters could have taken seats.

No Wonder Hedge Funds Are Secretive -- They Don't Want You to Know Their Actual Returns: Last week Amaranth Advisors, a hedge fund that had been boasting of spectacular 25 percent returns, admitted it lost $6 billion of investors' money in high-risk trading. Tuesday Morning Quarterback has done several items in recent years on the amusing fact that hedge funds, the trendy investment vehicle of the rich -- hedge funds generally require a $1 million minimum account, and because of that are exempt from many Securities and Exchange Commission regulations intended to protect average investors -- often produce returns no better than the plain-Jane mutual funds anyone can join. Recently Jonathan Clements of the Wall Street Journal, who's become a first-rate columnist on finance, noted that hedge fund managers typically claim to have realized a 16.5 percent annual return in the past decade, besting the 11.6 percent return of the Standard & Poor's 500 on which the most common class of mutual funds is based. But Clements shows the hedge fund claims have been doctored, Enron-style, by doubling-counting successful investments while not recording losses. Adjust for this, according to calculations by Roger Ibbotson and Peng Chen of a leading capital analysis firm, and hedge funds returned 9 percent annually in the last decade. That is, the snazzy hedge funds of the rich finished behind S&P mutual funds. And hedge funds crash; plain-Jane mutual funds may decline in value if the market declines, but almost never simply lose their investors' capital. Hey millionaires, just call the 800 numbers of Fidelity, T. Rowe Price or any reputable public investment firm. You'll get a better deal.

NFL in Iran Update: Wow look at those headliner games Sunday -- Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, Jacksonville at Indianapolis. CBS had the rights to both, and both turned out to be dazzling contests. Which game did CBS show in Washington, D.C., where TMQ lurks? Neither. CBS showed our nation's capital Baltimore at Cleveland, such a woofer that my dog barked when I turned the television on. (Because CBS and Fox alternate doubleheader weekends, CBS had the contractual right to air one game this Sunday; in Washington the network exercised its right in the late slot, as Baltimore at Cleveland started late.) One of TMQ's core complaints about the NFL is that the league spares no expense to produce fabulous games, and then makes it impossible for much of the country to watch the fabulous games, owing to that monopoly that makes it impossible for millions to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket, and to programming choices by local network affiliates. If only I lived in Iran! No one in Washington, D.C., saw the Steelers-Bengals playoff rematch. But Tehran saw this contest, as Middle East TV beamed the game to Iran, kicking off at 8 p.m. Tehran time.

Take Him Out! Take Him Out! That's what TMQ and my 11-year-old, Spenser, began to chant when Mark Brunell was 22-of-22, Washington leading 28-7 in the fourth quarter against the hapless Texans. Take him out so he finishes with a perfect game! Naturally, Brunell's next pass attempt clanged incomplete.

Carlos Fuentes
Page 2 has been compared to the novels of Carlos Fuentes. Just don't ask if it was a favorable comparison.
Obscure College Score of the Week: Kansas Wesleyan 3, University of Saint Mary 0. There were 18 total first downs and 17 total punts. Located at three campuses in Kansas, the University of Saint Mary boasts it is "consistently included in the U.S. News and World Report's "America's Best Colleges" edition." That's like me saying, "My writing is consistently compared to that of Carlos Fuentes." ("Year in, year out, Easterbrook is nothing like Fuentes.") University of Saint Mary is "included" in the current U.S. News ranking: You'd just rather not know where.

Obscure College Score of the Week No. 2: Adams State 34, New Mexico Highlands 17. Located amidst glorious mountain scenery in Alamosa, Colo., the student center at Adams State rents rock-climbing shoes for $30 per semester or $3 per use. Regrettably the cheerleaders are the Spirit Squad, not the Eves.

"Gimme a Pi! Gimme an Avogadro's Number! Gimme a Scalar Boson!" Last week TMQ marveled that not only does MIT have a football team, the team has a 6-foot-5, 268-pound tight end. Now reader David Bone of Dickson, Tenn., reports that MIT even has cheerleaders. Attractive, athletic women at MIT? This must be an Admissions Office screw-up.

TMQ Immutable Laws in College: Leading 13-7, the woebegone University of Colorado was within 46 seconds of a monster upset of ninth-ranked Georgia, which faced third-and-5 on the Colorado 20. It's a seven-man blitz, and you know without having to be told who won the game. TMQ also asks, in desperation situations, Where, oh where, might the pass go? Maybe up the field! Leading 15-10, Boston College had North Carolina State down to 21 ticks of the clock, ball on the B.C. 34. Where, oh where, might the pass go? Yet John Dunlap was able to get behind the Eagles' defense in the corner of the end zone for the winning touchdown; he was singled deep with nary a safety in sight. There were 21 seconds left, N.C. State had to get a touchdown, why didn't Boston College have half its defenders standing in the end zone?

Running Up the Score Watch: Many readers, including Seth Mundorff of Pittsburgh, noted that Bridgeport Central High beat Bassick High by 56-0, setting up the first test case of the new Connecticut regulation that sanctions coaches whose teams win by more than 50. Bridgeport coach Dave Cadelina filed an appeal and was not suspended. Cadelina argued that he could have avoided trouble by ordering his players to stand aside and let Bassick run the length of the field to score on the game's final play; and if an absurd act satisfies a rule, then the rule must be absurd. That's pretty solid logic. The 50-point restriction was designed to stop one bad-egg Connecticut coach who routinely tried to humiliate opponents with huge victory margins, but only a small number of coaches are such poor sports. Connecticut should switch to the "running clock" rule used by many states, and recommended by the National Federation of High Schools. It's used in Maryland, my state  whenever a team leads by 35 or more in the second half, the clock does not stop for incompletions, penalties or ball out of bounds. The result is that winning margins of greater than 40 points are rare in states that use this system. The running clock allows the better team to produce proof of its superiority, plus to play its second- and third-string, without ridiculous final tallies that suggest bad sportsmanship. Connecticut, switch to this rule.

New England Gang of 11 to Meet Seattle Bourgeois Reactionaries: The Patriots-Seahawks 2007 preseason game in Beijing, announced over the weekend, will be played in Workers Stadium.

Reader Animadversion: Got a complaint or a deeply held grievance? Write me at TMQ_ESPN@yahoo.com. Include your real name and the name of your hometown, and I may quote you by name unless you instruct me otherwise. Note: giving your hometown improves your odds of being quoted.

Next Week: The Archangel Gabriel files for the New Hampshire primary, refuses to tell reporters whether he really has 600 wings.

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 is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here.