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Monday, December 11, 2006
Updated: December 12, 8:10 PM ET
Ravens good, Manning bad

By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Andy Reid isn't merely the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, he is "head coach/executive vice president of football operations." Jim Mora isn't merely the coach of the Atlanta Falcons, his full title is "executive vice president-head coach." Mike Holmgren isn't merely the coach of the Seahawks, he is the "executive vice president of football operations/head coach." Imagine trying to explain to Vince Lombardi why modern coaches need this verbiage to make themselves feel important.

Such inflated coaching titles pale, however, in comparison to the 3,795-word gag-me-with-a-spoon official team bio of Denver's "executive vice president of football operations and head coach," Mike Shanahan. According to the official bio, Shanahan is a "key leader" of "elite status" who is "ultra-impressive" and possesses an "exceptional talent" leading to a "stunning record" that puts him in an "exclusive club" plus has "dynamic drive" and has achieved "an almost unparalleled level of success" in "an atmosphere of great pressure and expectations" during "magnificent seasons" that made the Broncos the "perfect symbol" and is "arguably the finest head coach" with "one of the most brilliant minds in football" and has "one of the most dynamic minds" and is a "brilliant coach" who is the "most fertile football mind" who has "almost completely revitalized" his team while achieving "dramatic achievement" and is "dynamic" and "renowned" and gives "superb guidance" and stands "among the game's sideline greats" and is "universally regarded at the highest level" as "an ultimate leader." Move over Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Joan of Arc, Nelson Mandela -- you are flyspecks on the windshield of history compared to Mike Shanahan. Don't you get the feeling Shanahan personally supervised his bio? Hey, coach, people of genuine achievement don't have to boast. From now on, to this column Shanahan will be The Ultimate Leader.
Emperor Hadrian
Emperor Hadrian may have been deified, but even he could only dream of bearing the title, The Ultimate Leader.
In other football news, at the end of last season as the Colts honked out of the playoffs yet again, Tuesday Morning Quarterback offered this unsolicited advice to Peyton Manning: Make no commercials or public appearances, do no endorsements or golf tournaments, focus on nothing but football until you reach the Super Bowl. Now it's holiday buying season and Peyton Manning is ubiquitous in television advertising, while the Colts have lost three of four. MasterCard, Sony, DirecTV, ESPN, Sprint: Maybe we should save time by listing the big corporations Manning hasn't filmed a commercial for in 2006. On Sunday, the Indianapolis receivers dropped passes and the Colts' defensive front seven quivered like a bowl full of jelly against Jacksonville, but Big Brother looked out of sorts, too. During one extended sequence the Jax defense forced Peyton Manning into an interception, followed by a sack, followed by eight consecutive incompletions. Manning's chance to attend the Super Bowl might be folding its tent and stealing off into the desert, yet he continues to devote time to being Mr. Endorser. Manning films most commercials during the offseason, but even film work "in the can" generates distractions during money time. Colts' players snap on the television, they see Peyton hawking Gatorade, it's not conducive to concentration or team harmony. A decade from now Manning will regret that he didn't totally focus on football and win a ring when he had the chance.

In more news, the score was Baltimore 13, Kansas City 3 with 12 minutes remaining and Chiefs facing fourth-and-6 on the visitor's 39. That cannot be the punting team coming on the field -- Aaaaaiiiiiiiyyyyyyeeeee! I rent my garments and cried aloud to the football gods, but it was too late. You're down by two scores in the fourth quarter and you are punting from the opponent's 39! Needless to say as the punt boomed TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook, and I barely even need to mention the Ravens took the ball the other way for the touchdown that sent the home audience headed up the tunnels to the parking lot. NFL coaches will do anything to shift the blame from themselves to their players, but this fraidycat punt took the cake. Plus with Baltimore's defense so difficult to drive against, when did Herm Edwards think he was going to get a better opportunity to mount a comeback?
Vince Lombardi
He did not insist on being called Senior Executive Chief Operating Officer for Coaching.
This raises the question of the Baltimore defense. The Bears have been producing spectacular defensive stats plus turnover touchdowns, though teams such as Buffalo and Philadelphia are producing turnover touchdowns too; turnover touchdowns depend to no small amount on luck. The Broncos' defense was hot in the first half of the season when it was playing conventionally, though now it is fading down the stretch as, predictably, coaches begin to call blitzes and surrender big plays. The defense I wouldn't want to face right now is the Baltimore Ravens'. As of last night the Nevermores' defense has passed Chicago's, and is allowing the fewest points in the league. They've got power personnel at every position. Linebacker Bart Scott, undrafted out of Southern Illinois in 2002, is having a terrific season. The Baltimore secondary is strong, including Samari Rolle, whom Tennessee considered washed up; the defensive ends are strong, including Trevor Pryce, whom Denver considered washed up. Rookie tackle Haloti Ngata has made Ray Lewis a hot commodity again, by tying up the middle and keeping blockers off No. 52. (Ngata is the defensive Rookie of the Year; the Bills and Raiders, which considered then passed on Ngata in the draft, might regret that decision for a long time to come.) Coordinator Rex Ryan, son of the blitz-addicted Buddy, has resisted the urge to go blitz-wacky, instead usually playing a conventional position-oriented scheme. And linebacker Adalius Thomas has been all over the field, making a legit bid for the league's defensive MVP. Thomas plays special teams, too. For the Baltimore defense, it's Super Bowl Run: The Sequel.

In other news, Brett Favre is chasing Dan Marino's all-time record for touchdown passes -- Favre needs eight more. This column has chided Green Bay coaches for calling Favre's number too much at the goal line in a transparent attempt to reach the record. On Sunday, Packers' coaches instead showed exceptional sportsmanship. Leading 30-19, Green Bay had second-and-goal on the San Francisco 5 at the two-minute warning. It was a perfect opportunity to run up Favre's touchdown stat -- and instead Green Bay coaches ordered Favre to kneel three straight times, the Packers making no attempt to score. Regaining possession on their 8-yard line with 37 ticks remaining, the Niners acknowledged the gesture by kneeling once to end the contest. High school and college coaches, please take note!

And in other news, readers of lads-mag FHM have named their cheerleader of the year. Today, Tuesday Morning Quarterback names his Man of the Year. See details on both below.

Stat of the Week No. 1: Buffalo and Miami began the season a combined 3-11 and have since gone a combined 9-3.

Stat of the Week No. 2: Jacksonville outrushed Indianapolis by 341 yards.

Stat of the Week No. 3: City of Tampa has one touchdown in its past three games.
Bibiana Julian
The DR's loss is Miami's gain.
Stat of the Week No. 4: Cleveland lost by 30 points, then beat a team with a winning record, then lost by 20 points.

Stat of the Week No. 5: Chris Weinke had almost twice as many passing yards in one game (423) as in his previous four seasons combined (244).

Stat of the Week No. 6: Seattle is 8-5 and leads its division, despite being outscored this season.

Stat of the Week No. 7: Willis McGahee averages 133 yards in starts against the Jets, and 79 yards in starts against all other NFL teams.

Stat of the Week No. 8: Jacksonville's possession sequence during the second and third quarters: touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal.

Stat of the Week No. 9: Chicago return man Devin Hester has more touchdowns (six) than Chicago starting tailback Thomas Jones (5).

Stats of the Week No. 10: We don't wish to alarm anyone, but Arizona has won three of its past four games.
Mistletoe
The overwhelming majority of Page 2 staff would meet Bibiana under the mistletoe.
Cheerleader of the Week This week's can be only Bibiana of the Dolphins, just voted "America's sexiest cheerleader" by readers of FHM. According to her team bio, Bibiana was born in the Dominican Republic, owns three horses and became a Dolphins' cheerleader as soon as she turned 18. Life is tough down in Miami: here the Fins' cheerleaders visit Bimini. Note the warm-to-the-touch Dolphins' cheerleader swimsuit calendar no longer includes shirtless Dolphins' players flexing their muscles, a 21st century marketing innovation that didn't work in terms of sales.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 1: Leading 7-3, San Diego faced second-and-1 on the Denver 4. The Bolts lined up with a full-house backfield, Philip Rivers not exactly under center but not far enough back to be in the shotgun. Rivers took the snap and handed the ball forward between the legs of fullback Lorenzo Neal. Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson sprinted right; Rivers faked an handoff to a receiver simulating an end-around right; Neal faked a block, the defense unaware he had the ball; then the blocking back sprinted left for the touchdown. Sweet! The CBS announcers declared this a "fumblerooski," the trick play pioneered at the University of Nebraska. But it wasn't. On a fumblerooski, the quarterback deliberately places the ball onto the ground, the backs sprint right and then the right guard picks the ball up off the ground and runs left. Both the NCAA and the National Federation of High Schools have made deliberately leaving the ball on the ground illegal. Why? Trick plays of this variation are a lot of fun to watch.

Many readers, including Jason Hill of Louisville, Ky., thought it was unsportsmanlike for Marty Schottenheimer to send Tomlinson back into the game when the Chargers took possession on the Denver 7 with three minutes remaining and a 41-20 lead. Schottenheimer wanted Tomlinson to set the touchdown record, as he did on the next snap. But with San Diego ahead by 21 and the game nearly over, shouldn't Tomlinson have been comfortably seated on the bench? Normally stars should exit once victory is assured, but in this case sending Tomlinson back in made sense. He got the record at the conclusion of a home victory; the sideline and home faithful could celebrate freely because the game was locked up. That was more fun than if Tomlinson had attained the record at, say, a tense moment during a close game, or on the road. The Broncos understood and did not consider what happened a rub-it-in score, and thus there was no sportsmanship problem.
Bibiana Julian
Bibiana certainly is alluring, but way overdressed for the FHM audience.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 2: Trailing Jersey/B 10-7 in the second quarter, the low-voltage Buffalo offense faced third-and-3 on its 23. Lee Evans ran one of those short dinky-dunky routes that many NFL offenses use on third-and-short; two Jets' defenders jumped the short route; then J.P. Losman pumped and Evans took off, 77-yard touchdown with no Jersey/B defender in the picture as Evans scored. A bold play-call from the Buffalo Ivies! That'll give Dick Jauron and Marv Levy something to talk about at the Bills' sherry hour. (In Buffalo, coaches conferences are called "faculty meetings.")

Bills' note: The opposite of Mike Shanahan's Hadrianic self-deification is Buffalo's austere 306-word biography of Jauron, which doesn't even tell you the coach's hometown.

Jersey/B note: Sunday's Jets' performance is an argument for turning off the scoreboard. Taking the field for the late game, Jersey/B players knew Kansas City had lost, enhancing its playoff chances. While the Jets and Bills clashed, the scoreboard kept flashing the news that New England was being shut out by Miami. Each time a Miami-New England score was shown, the Jersey home crowd roared. You had the feeling Jets players were paying more attention to that scoreboard than to the need to defeat the opponent in front of them.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 3: Leading 20-10 at Carolina in a battle to see which preseason contender would get written off, Jersey/A faced third-and-goal on the Cats' 3. Little Brother Eli Manning faked a "stretch" handoff right, then threw a touchdown pass to David Tyree running a quick turn-in from the right slot. The fake handoff not only was sweet but looked exactly like Peyton Manning faking the stretch handoff.
Coach Comet
He just turned down the Alabama job, too.
Sour Play of the Week: Can it be the New England Patriots seemed ill-prepared and out-coached at Miami? New England has lost games during the Belichick era, but never looked sloppy -- and on Sunday, New England looked sloppy. Plays just weren't run correctly. Trailing 13-0 early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had possession on the Dolphins' 33. The ball was direct-snapped to running back Kevin Faulk, who lateraled to Tom Brady, who threw a touchdown pass. Except it wasn't a lateral, Brady was way in front of Faulk, making Faulk's throw a forward pass and Brady's throw an illegal second forward pass. Three downs later Brady was sacked and lost a fumble; the rest was filler. Rules note: As recently as 2004, the Faulk-Brady play would have been legal in high school. National Federation of High Schools rules once allowed two forward passes if both were thrown behind the line of scrimmage, but now the NFHS has switched to the pro standard.

Something's-wrong-with-Belichick note: Trailing 3-0, the Flying Elvii faced fourth-and-7 on the Miami 42 and Yoda ordered a punt. Doctor, would you examine Mr. Belichick please? Belichick punts in the Maroon Zone less than any NFL coach, this being one reason for his success. The punt traveled a paltry 19 yards as the football gods showed their displeasure.

Monday Night Football Analysis: "Stay in your lanes! Stay in your lanes!" Coaches from the middle-school flag level to the NFL shout that at kickoff teams. Apparently no one on the St. Louis sidelines shouts this, because on Devin Hester's first kickoff return touchdown, there was not a soul in blue and gold on the left side when Hester cut back. Hester's second kickoff return touchdown, making the count 42-20 and icing the contest, came up the middle. The Bears were expecting an onside kickoff on that play, meaning Hester ran a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown when Chicago had its "hands" unit on the field, the blockers being skinny guys, not linemen. If the Rams special teams can't bust a wedge made up of cornerbacks and receivers, that's really pathetic. And why didn't Les Mouflons onside? The home team had just made it 35-20 with 7:35 remaining. St. Louis needed two scores plus a deuce. The coach's choice was to onside kick, squib-kick to keep the ball out of the hands of the NFL's most dangerous return man or boom it deep to the NFL's most dangerous return man. Scott Linehan chose the third option. TMQ won't be surprised to see Chicago opponents begin deliberately kicking off out of bounds, offering the Bears the ball on their 40 in order to keep it away from Hester.

Bears note: Chicago's remaining opponents are Tampa, Detroit and Green Bay, combined record 10-29. An epic collapse is all that stands between the Ming Ding Xiong ("Bears whose outcomes are decided by fate" in Chinese) and home field throughout the playoffs. Rams note: Trailing 21-13 in the middle of the third quarter, game still contested, St. Louis faced third-and-1 on its 31. The Rams averaged 4.6 yards rushing on the night. Just run the ball! Instead St. Louis coaches called a pass, and not a play-fake attempt to go deep for big yards, just a dinky-dunky short-slant thingee intended to gain five yards. Incompletion. Now it's fourth-and-1. Go for it, you're 5-7, what do you have to lose? Boom goes the punt, and I scarcely even need to mention the Bears took the ball the length of the field the other way for a touchdown. And now the Rams are 5-8.
Rudolph
Santa, the reindeer coach, Fireball and Donner were all guilty of nose-ism against Rudolph.
Dolphins Sack-O-Meter: Joey Harrington has been sacked less in his nine games as the Miami starter than Daunte Culpepper was sacked in his four games. As to Miami tactics, Jason Taylor has switched this season to a hybrid defensive end-linebacker position, similar to the old "elephant" role played by Charles Haley in his heyday. Taylor has been terrific, and if Miami were playoff-bound, would be a contender for defensive MVP. On Sunday, Dolphins coaches reached still further back into the past and let Taylor be a 1960s University of Michigan style "monster man," lining up wherever he pleased. New England blockers clearly could not figure out the rhyme or reason to where Taylor was, and he gave them fits all day. The reason New England blockers couldn't figure out the rhyme or reason to Taylor's movements was that there wasn't any -- Taylor was using his instinct to decide for himself where to line up on each down. Essentially, Taylor was calling his own plays. In the hyper-organized NFL, it's interesting to see that giving a top player the green light to use his instincts worked out really well.

Sweet 'N' Sour Matched Set: Against San Francisco, Favre play-faked right, bootlegged left and threw 36 yards for the touchdown to Ruvell Martin on the streak left. A couple hours later against Seattle, Matt Leinart play-faked right, bootlegged left and threw 56 yards for the touchdown to Bryant Johnson on the streak left. The two plays were all but identical, and equally sweet. Equally sour is that no one at all from the Niners' secondary covered Martin on this action, and the Seahawks let Johnson go deep on this action single-covered with no safety in the picture.

Fortune Favors the Bold! Trailing Dallas 7-0, the United States Saints went for it on fourth-and-1 in the Maroon Zone. The call was a reverse -- first down and the Saints score on the possession to tie the game. As the play began, I thought the Saints were crazy -- reverses are slow developing-plays and there's always penetration on fourth-and-short. But every Cowboys defender, save one, followed Reggie Bush when he took the handoff, and the reverse man beat that lone defender.

Fortune Doesn't Favor Bad Tactics! Now it's New Orleans 42, Dallas 17 with the Cowboys facing third-and-5 at the Saints' 13 at the end of the third. Dallas absolutely must score a touchdown on this possession or the home crowd can head up the tunnels to the parking lot. That the Cowboys absolutely had to score on the possession dictated "two-down" thinking -- assume you will go on fourth down, and call a play that will gain at least some yards. Instead Dallas coaches called a shot at the end zone, incompletion. Then on fourth-and-6 after an exchange of penalties, Dallas coaches called another shot at the end zone -- interception -- and the parking lot seemed a more attractive place to be than the stands.
Vince Lombardi
Sure he won a bunch of titles and all that, but Vince Lombardi never had to square off against TMQ across a middle-school flag football gridiron.
Failure to Read TMQ: Last week's column said of Jax human bowling-ball Maurice Jones-Drew, "Hey, NFL defenders, this guy is hard to tackle -- quit hitting him high and bouncing off. Go for his ankles." Game scoreless, Indianapolis linebacker Cato June had Jones-Drew in his sights, and tried to grab him around the shoulder pads. Jones-Drew bounced off, spun away for an 18-yard touchdown and the Jags' fantastic rushing day was under way. Later on Jones-Drew's 48-yard touchdown rumble, June again tried to tackle him high and bounced off. Hey, NFL defenders, this guy is hard to tackle -- quit hitting him high and bouncing off. Go for his ankles.

Indianapolis is last in rushing defense. Free-agency losses hurt, the Colts losing defensive tackle Larry Tripplett and linebacker David Thornton, the latter an underappreciated performer. The injuries to defensive tackle Montae Reagor and safety Bob Sanders hurt, as did defensive tackle Corey Simon deciding to impersonate the Hindenburg. This is Dwight Freeney's "contract year," and he's already cost himself maybe millions in bonus money with weak play. Roll it all together, and Indianapolis can't stop anybody. On Sunday the Colts couldn't stop Jaguar rushes, although by the second quarter, Indianapolis knew exactly what Jacksonville would do on every play. Jacksonville staged a 94-yard touchdown drive that was entirely rushes and an 81-yard touchdown drive that included only one 7-yard pass. Indianapolis' inability to stop the rush is doubly bad because every Colts' opponent wants to run and control the clock to keep the Colts' offense off the field. Has the chance for Peyton to win a Super Bowl already slipped by? Also, why was Big Brother still on the field with Jax leading 44-17 just before the two-minute warning?

NFLN Update: They are rending garments and gnashing teeth at NFL Network headquarters in California, as NFLN has now broadcast three Thursday night games and all have been duds. NFL Network was banking on outraged viewers calling their cable carriers to complain about the fabulous games they missed. Instead, so far NFLN games have been ones you're glad you missed. That will change at some point. There will be an NFLN thriller, and then the cable carriers and the league's network will get their heads together and agree on a reasonable price that allows NFLN to go mainstream.
Flag football
They've got game -- but do they know the secret of Blast Gold?
But the fact that NFL Network game broadcasting has begun with a whimper rather than a bang makes it time to start thinking ahead to the next decade, when the league's current deals with ESPN, Fox, CBS and NBC expire. The NFLN live-game slate is an experiment; several influential NFL owners want the experiment to lead to the league taking over its own broadcasting in 2012, cutting out the established networks. My guess is that if this happened, it would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, starting the seemingly invincible popularity of pro football into a cycle of decline. Several NFL owners labor under the mistaken impression that all ESPN and the other established networks are doing is "carrying" NFL contests, adding no value to them, and so they believe the NFL itself should broadcast its own games and keep all advertising and cable revenue.

This view is shortsighted. Today, ESPN and its established-channel competitors present NFL games on independent networks organized under journalism standards. That makes the games both more credible to viewers and more exciting. It's exciting to watch a game on ESPN or CBS in a way that will never happen with NFLN. The NFL Network does some things well for a project that's only in the third year, but it's always clear you are viewing an in-house corporate promotion channel. If in the future the NFL was broadcast entirely on an in-house corporate promotion channel, viewer interest would decline. Specifically, the NFL seems insufficiently appreciative of how much value has been added to its product by ESPN. There's a zany energy about ESPN no in-house broadcasting will ever offer. ESPN made it OK to be a total sports nut, OK to obsess about fantasy stats and the draft, OK to watch sports news during breakfast, OK to tape an hour of NFL highlights and review them slo-mo, OK to say to yourself "I live in the sports artificial universe, and I like it there." At the same time, ESPN made it OK to make fun of sports -- you can only enjoy the sports ecosphere if you admit to yourself it's fundamentally silly. (In literary terms, you need "ironic detachment.") The NFL never would have reached its current position of popularity and income without ESPN or something very much like ESPN. For the NFL to believe the league can someday go it alone in broadcasting, generating viewer interest unassisted, is classic obliviousness. "We've got all these golden eggs, why do we need the goose?" The NBA once thought it was invincible, and its ratings have fallen off the cliff. Constantly TMQ reminds: There's no law of nature that says the NFL must remain so popular.

Arlen Specter, Tuesday Morning Quarterback Man of the Year: On another broadcasting note, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, an influential figure on Capitol Hill, announced last week that unless the NFL makes Sunday Ticket available to anyone who wants to buy it, he will introduce legislation to revoke the NFL's antitrust exemption. All hail Arlen Specter! TMQ has been campaigning for years on the point that the monopoly arrangement, which Sunday Ticket is offered only to satellite customers of DirecTV, violates the NFL's 1961 agreement with Congress. That agreement granted the league an antitrust exemption in return for its promise that pro football programming would be offered equally to all viewers. Because many millions of Americans live in places where it is not technically possible to receive DirecTV, the Sunday Ticket monopoly seems an obvious breach of the NFL's accord with Congress. (DirecTV is great; it's DirecTV's monopoly over Sunday Ticket, not the satellite carrier itself, that's causing the problem.) "A lot of people, including myself, would like to be able to have Sunday Ticket and can't get it," Specter said. The Pennsylvania senator also will press the NFL to cut the asking price for NFL Network, so NFLN can be shown on basic cable without necessitating a cable rate increase.

Arlen Specter
Senator Arlen Specter gives hope to little-guy football fans.

Football fans of America, you have Arlen Specter in your corner! It seems to me the Pennsylvania senator has found a potent populist cause, and for becoming champion of that cause, Arlen Specter is the 2006 Tuesday Morning Quarterback Man of the Year. Specter is the outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and word is the incoming chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, is also eyeing the NFL's antitrust exemption. TMQ said this months ago and says this again: Commissioner Goodell, reach some voluntary deal with DirecTV to end the monopoly now -- before Congress imposes a deal on you.

So Judy, What Are Your Psychosocial Reasons for Wanting Ripped Abs? Texas Christian University now offers five degrees in kinesiology, including a degree in movement science and one in "psychosocial kinesiology."

Oh, Ho, the Mistletoe, Hung Where You Can See -- Somebody Waits for You, Kiss Her Once for Me: Last week, I took out my Burl Ives snowman plush doll and put him on my Brookings desk -- it's the snowman from the Johnny Marks' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" claymation special that has been playing annually on CBS since 1964. I know every word of that special, having watched it annually for 42 years, and I still get scared when Rudolph is alone on the ice floe and the menacing Bumble roars in the distance! And after 42 years, I'm convinced that the coach of the Reindeer Games is an idiot, probably punts in polar bear territory. Maybe he could take over the Crimson Tide program -- for that matter the reindeer coach might be the only one willing to take the Alabama job. Anyway, last January when I put the snowman doll away I remember thinking to myself, "It's not going to seem like that long till I put it out again." It didn't. This phenomenon of time accelerating as you age is palpably real.

The Secret of Blast Gold: Readers, including Rebecca Eisen of Chicago's Lincoln Park, asked how Spenser's flag football team fared. I am pleased to report the Cabin John Cougars recently completed an undefeated season and won the Montgomery County, Md., sixth-grade flag football championship. I have proven my theories work at the middle-school flag-football level -- that's Phase 1 of my ambitious plan for world football domination! My offensive theory of flag football is run-run-run, then play-fake and throw deep. My defensive theory, as you already have supposed, is never blitz. (We practiced blitzing because the players demanded it, but by the strangest and most amazing coincidence, during games the blitz call never got signaled in.) I pause to boast that I was also on the sidelines clutching a clipboard for the county championship won by my oldest, Grant, in eighth grade. We tied twice that year, but I've never lost a league game as a flag coach. Tuesday Morning Quarterback is the Vince Lombardi of middle-school county-league flag!

I also can report that my scouting department has developed a play that is 100 percent unstoppable, yet I have never seen run in any pro, college or high school game. In Grant's championship year and now Spenser's, I called this play -- Blast Gold in our nomenclature -- a total of nine times. The result was seven touchdowns averaging about 50 yards, plus two gains of about 30 yards. This innovative play just steamrolls defenses; I am in earnest, as they say. So NFL and college schools, want to bid for a diagram of Blast Gold? Submit your offers using the link at Reader Animadversion.

Crazy Pass Watch: Leading 20-0, Minnesota had first-and-10 on the Detroit 13 and a chance to seal the contest by halftime. Brad Johnson, under pressure, heave-hoed a crazy pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, making the game interesting. Johnson is supposed to be a savvy veteran -- just take the sack!

TMQ's Christmas List: Looking for something for the person who has everything? Reader Lloyd Crosby of Calgary, Alberta, suggests this superyacht from the Craig Loomes yacht design firm of New Zealand. Equipped with 16,400 horsepower worth of engines, the boat has a helicopter landing pad and grand piano bar. Price? Maybe $100 million, topping the $80 million that self-described "zillionaire" venture capitalist Tom Perkins recently paid for his custom yacht the Maltese Falcon. It is estimated that 30 years ago, there were about 200 privately owned large luxury yachts in the world; today there are believed to be about 6,000. The money that has been sunk, as it were, into these ego boats would have been sufficient to raise living standards across Africa. Instead it goes to indulge the filthy rich.
Hindenberg
The blimp represents Corey Simon in 2005; does the explosion foretell the Colts' playoff fate in 2006?
Actual gift suggestion: "The Brushback Report" by Dave Saraiva, a book of sports humor -- Onion-style lampoons of sports reporting. Great stocking-stuffer for any sports lover.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! In overtime, the Flaming Thumbtacks faced third-and-14 on the Moo Cows' 39. Houston blitzed seven, which was like handing out engraved invitations for Tennessee to score an easy touchdown; Vince Young scrambled for an easy touchdown, game over. Not only did Houston use an all-out blitz on a long-yardage down where the odds favored a defensive stop -- Tennessee was already out of field-goal range, so getting a sack was not the priority, getting a stop was the priority. (Yes Rob Bironas hit a 60-yard field goal a week ago, but the chance of him following up with a 58-yarder this week was not the sort of thing defensive coaches should worry about.) Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk note: Earlier in the game, Houston faced fourth-and-6 from the Tennessee 43 and punted. I scarcely even need tell you it took just one snap for the Titans to pass the point where the ball would have been, had Houston gone for it and missed. You're 4-8, what have you got to lose? And now you are 4-9.

Best, Worst Blocks: The 61-yard screen catch-and-run by Reggie Bush was the backbreaker touchdown as New Orleans stomped on the Cowboys at Stonehenge Stadium. This play worked because of perfect blocking. Linemen Jamar Nesbit and Jammal Brown didn't just jog in front of the runner as offensive line so often do on screens, they both pasted Dallas defenders at the point of attack. And then they didn't just stop to watch as offensive linemen so often do on screen, each hustled downfield and made a secondary block. Brown wiped out the highly paid, highly hyped Roy Williams. On the flip side of the coin, Detroit was trailing Minnesota 30-20 with four minutes remaining and down to its last gasp with fourth-and-goal at the Vikings' 1. The Lions' offensive line gave so little effort, barely bothering to tap the Minnesota front, that Jon Kitna was hit one second after taking the snap, and was sacked. Minnesota didn't blitz on the play -- four Vikes' rushers all but instantly overcame five Detroit blockers. The Lions rushed for negative yardage on the day, and their inability to punch the ball across after reaching second-and-goal at the 1 in this sequence was cover-your-eyes awful.

Evolution of the TMQ Logo: The Cincinnati Bengals are on their fourth or fifth uniform in as many years, and Tuesday Morning Quarterback, too, is an ever-shifting target from a design standpoint. Tuesday Morning Quarterback began at the online magazine Slate. The first TMQ logo was a drawing of a gigantic quarterback in a polka-dot helmet being tackled by a tiny defender; you can see it here. This out-of-whack illustration by Robert Neubecker conveyed the underlying goofiness of TMQ. The logo was dubbed "in the grasp."

Then Tuesday Morning Quarterback left for ESPN.com, where the first logo reversed the perspective: gigantic defender, tiny quarterback. Around the office in Bristol, people said this looked a lot like Diron Talbot closing in on Roger Staubach -- who now runs a realty company and has a blog. So the second logo was dubbed Diron. The artist was Larry Johnson.

Always one step ahead of the posse, Tuesday Morning Quarterback skedaddled to NFL.com, where the first logo was, well, let's try to forget the first logo. A staffer at NFL headquarters on Park Avenue dubbed it "rocket man." I called it "the flying hobo" and couldn't wait for its demise.

The flying hobo was replaced by a colorful logo designed by the art department of CBS Sportsline, which produces NFL.com. Initially this logo was called "glasses guy" for the obvious reason. Eventually the name became Fielding, suggested by NFL.com's editor, Mark Zimmerman. The figure reminded Zimmerman of Fielding Melish, nebbish protagonist of the Woody Allen movie Bananas. Plus, in the logo Fielding is attempting to field a punt. Surely, a preposterous punt!
Rudolph and Hermie
Hermey the elf refused to chuckle. He needed to watch a little SportsCenter and lighten up.
Finally, the prodigal columnist returned to Page 2. Artist Kurt Snibbe drew two new Tuesday Morning Quarterback logos -- "huddle up," showing 11 players clustered around a computer, and the current logo showing me at the keyboard wearing a helmet. Reader J.B. of Maryland immediately wrote to ask, "What are we going to nickname this one? Looks like John Hall wearing Gary Anderson's single-bar helmet." Reader Kristie Willworth of Bellingham, Wash., wrote, "It's the 21st century and TMQ is still composed using a bulky desk-hogging CRT monitor?"

Actually, Kristie, it is! My desktop PC is a Win 98 model manufactured in 1999. This is the subject of considerable kidding around Bristol, and occasional complaints. Once when my Internet failed on Tuesday at dawn, I couldn't file the column from home. My pre-USB desk PC can make only floppy-disk file copies. I drove to the local Kinko's with one, and the place had no equipment for reading a floppy disk! ("What is Easterbrook using, a Commodore 64?" was in the ESPN e-mail chain on that one.) Anyway someday I will get a desktop with 5.8 terabytes of memory and a one-molecule-thick flat screen, but bear in mind that the most effective PC security system is to work on a machine too antiquated to load Microsoft Office. Snibbe's snazzy second logo will, I hope, adorn the column for years, as it also adorns the TMQ hats and T-shirts you can buy in huge quantities for holiday gifts. And the new logo's nickname? Make suggestions using the address at Reader Animadversion.

Ultimate Leader Analysis: So Denver was 7-4 when The Ultimate Leader switched to rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, and is now 7-6. TMQ asked before Cutler took the field and asks again: How, exactly, does the dynamic, renowned and superb Mike Shanahan think an untested rookie can get the Broncos into the playoffs? Cutler did some things well and some poorly against San Diego, but he's unlikely to play into January. Or is it that The Ultimate Leader is failing to lead? In the fourth quarter, the Broncos quit on the game. Trailing 34-20 with seven minutes remaining, Denver went for it on fourth-and-2 from its 28. The Chargers rushed four against five Denver offensive linemen and a running back kept back to block. Yet with six to block four, Cutler was sacked no more than two seconds after the snap, Broncos blockers barely bothering to slow the rush.

Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All No. 1: Trailing 21-16 with five minutes remaining, Washington reached second-and-goal on the Philadelphia 3. The Redskins must get a touchdown here; they're playing at home, with crowd energy and their glamorous cheerleaders dancing in little more than Santa hats; to this point, Washington had averaged 5.3 yards per rush; pound the ball straight ahead against the Eagles' 29th-ranked rush defense, and six points are likely. Instead, incompletion by novice quarterback Jason Campbell, then sack as Campbell sprints backward away from the objective, then field goal. Washington never touched the ball again.

Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All No. 2: Atlanta rallied to defeat Tampa, but the Falcons continue to have at least one goal-line disaster every week caused by coaches calling passes at the goal line -- and the Falcons are the NFL's No. 1 rushing team! Trailing 6-0 in the second quarter, Atlanta faced third-and-goal on the Bucs' 4. Pound the ball! Instead pass, interception. When the Falcons finally got around to rushing on a third-and-4 in the second half, the result was a 21-yard touchdown by Justin Griffith. On the play, Griffith turned Tampa safety Will Allen inside-out. When your starting safety cannot tackle the other team's backup fullback in the open field, your defense is a shadow of its former self.
Bucs cheerleader
Future historians will debate how Florida passed California as the cheer-babe capital.
This Week's "Battlestar Galactica" Complaint: "Galactica" continues its descent from hot show to cancellation. Hey, producers, how about having Admiral Adama discover a planet where there are some writers? Friday's episode involved several ships being destroyed when the fleet decided to fly directly through the center of an active star-forming nebula of intense heat and radiation. But this is outer space, which is three-dimensional -- you don't need to go "through" anything, you go around! One character pronounced the nebula was "too big to go around," yet "Galactica" and its sister ships previously have been depicted as able to make instantaneous hyperspace jumps covering thousands of light-years. Flying directly through a dangerous area of space rather than simply going around it is a running theme of bad science fiction. As the conclusion of the "Deep Space Nine" Star Trek serial, a Federation battle fleet had to reach DS9 station to prevent a calamity; the sinister Dominion placed all its ships tightly together at one point between Earth and DS9; the Federation force blasted through the center of the bad guys, rather than just go around! As Douglas MacArthur said of ocean tactics where there is a lot of open territory and a few heavily defended positions, "Hit 'em where they ain't." This will someday be the rule of space combat.

San Diego-Atlanta-Jersey/A Bottom Line: LaDainian Tomlinson's ascent to likely MVP makes it time to weigh San Diego's double trade-offs of the top picks in the NFL draft. In 2001 and 2004, the Bolts traded away the draft's first choice, in each case used on the year's most desired quarterback. Taking into account players drafted with picks that moved in both deals and players released -- surely you remember Tay Cody -- here's the bottom line on the two deals combined. The Chargers gave up Michael Vick and Eli Manning, and got back LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding. San Diego seems to be the winner in this series of transactions. (It's common to hear that San Diego traded Vick for Tomlinson and Drew Brees, but this is wrong; Brees was selected with a choice the Bolts already had.) Now consider the financial bonus: Avoiding first-overall-pick bonus money on two occasions has kept the Bolts' salary cap in order.

Obscure College Score of the Week No. 1: Appalachian State 48, Youngstown State 24 (Division I-AA semifinals). Located in Youngstown, Ohio, Youngstown State has a 32-page student code of conduct that includes a 27-step appeals procedure for disputed grades.

Obscure College Score of the Week No. 2 : Grand Valley State 49, Delta State 30 (Division II semifinals). Located in Cleveland, Miss., Delta State's women's teams are the Lady Statesmen. We know a lot of contemporary college kids are gender-confused, but the Lady Men? South Carolina's women's teams are now just the Gamecocks, not the Lady Gamecocks, though this doesn't solve the gender-confusion issue since gamecocks are male. Cockfighting is also illegal in the United States except in Louisiana and New Mexico -- meaning not only are the women's teams of South Carolina gender-confused, both women's and men's teams are banned!

Obscure College Score of the Week No. 3: Wisconsin Whitewater 44, Wesley 7 (Division III semifinals). Located in Dover, Del., Wesley's president is "a former honorary commander" of Dover Air Force Base. Dr. Miller -- just sit in the chair, and for God's sake don't touch that red button!

This Fulfills My Obligation to Say Something About the Cincinnati-Oakland Game: As the Raiders stagger to 2-11, commentators looking for something nice to say have praised Oakland for possessing the league's No. 1 pass defense. But as demonstrated years ago by Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, losing teams often have pass defenses that look good statistically, because their opponents hold comfortable leads in the second half and don't throw. In 2005, three of the top four spots for passing defense were occupied by Green Bay, New Orleans and Cleveland, all losing teams.

Sportsmanship Watch: Many readers, including Samantha Dell of Portland, Ore., noted Lincoln University defeated Ohio State-Marion 201-78 in a Division III basketball game. Ohio State-Marion, a troubled program, dressed six players; Ohio State-Marion had lost its previous contest by 80 points; Lincoln University coach Garfield Yuille had his players full-court press in the second half to humiliate a helpless opponent. One Lincoln player attempted 41 three-pointers, continuing to launch treys when the school was ahead by more than 100 points. This is bottom-of-the-barrel behavior, and I give a lot of credit to Ohio State-Marion coach Mark Sisler and his six men for not simply walking off the floor so the game would end as a forfeit. What of the Lincoln coach? He's a victim! Yuille feels sorry for himself because people are criticizing his lack of sportsmanship. When coaches without class run up the score, instead of saying "I apologize" they invariably have a million excuses why they weren't responsible for their own actions. Lincoln University's basketball coach has made his school's name nationally synonymous with bad sportsmanship, and instead of apologizing, he's all about excuses. But then it is people with dignity who apologize. Bad sports claim they weren't responsible.

And where were the gents in the funny shirts while all this was happening? The NFL and NCAA football rulebooks contain broadly worded provisions granting officials nearly unlimited authority to prevent coaches from engaging in actions that make a travesty of the game. My guess is there's a similar clause in the NCAA basketball officiating manual. Why didn't the officials order Yuille to show sportsmanship, and enforce such an order by, say, ejecting any Lincoln player who pressed or shot a three? Officials are not supposed to be passive bystanders. Among their duties is protecting the integrity of sport.

Relief in Philadelphia: "The Eagles cannot make the playoffs," said Terry Bradshaw on the Fox pregame show Sunday morning. The Nesharim are in! And "Football Night in America" guys, will you please stop laughing hysterically at your own wisecracks? It makes the show sound like a bunch of washed-up Catskills comics hanging around the Carnegie Deli trying to impress each other.

Same Paper, Same Day: "We're not exactly a nation of savers," according to a news story in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. But according to a story on the editorial page, Americans fail to save is a "myth" and a "persistent misconception."

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: Yahoo! mail has experienced all kinds of technical bugs since introducing a beta a few weeks ago, so there will be a Reader Animadversion on Wednesday assuming the problems are fixed by then.

Next Week : Mike Shanahan commissions the construction of a Pyramid.

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.