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Madden 24: A day (and night) of Madden

9/11/2009

Welcome to the Pat White era.

No better way to sum up my "Madden NFL 10" experience so far, the latest game in a franchise historically dominated by fast quarterbacks. Randall Cunningham owned the Genesis. Michael Vick ruled all since the PlayStation 2. And now, at least until Vick is inserted back into the game via downloadable content, Pat White is my favorite "Madden" character.

Forget his 65 overall rating -- it's the 87 speed, 92 agility and 92 acceleration that changes games.

Check these stats from an exhibition game I just played against the computer: White completed 21-of-24 passes for 228 yards, threw for two touchdowns, rushed for another 97 yards and two touchdowns, and caught (yes, caught) two touchdown passes out of the Wildcat offense when I lined Ronnie Brown up as the quarterback and sent White wide right.

As I said, welcome to the Pat White era of "Madden" football.

The only downer I've found playing White in a few exhibition games is that he has a knack for throwing the pick-six. (although in one game he threw a pick to Champ Bailey and then leveled him with a Hit Stick that forced a fumble that the Miami Dolphins recovered … talk about an all-around player!)

Add White to a fun team that includes Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, the return of Jason Taylor, the always-entertaining Joey Porter (95 hitting power -- just ask Levi Jones), the lightning-quick Ted Ginn (97 speed) and the Wildcat formation, and the Dolphins are my choice for most fun team of "Madden 10." Sure, the Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans are the best in the game (Chris Johnson is a beast), but I'm going with the underdogs and a rookie quarterback as I embark on a 24-hour quest to play straight through and try to win the Super Bowl. Hey, the Super Bowl is already going to be played in Miami, so why not make it a home game?

Hour One: Miami Dolphins No. 1

If you're keeping score at home, I've decided to play from 8 p.m. to 8 p.m. That way when I'm finished with the game, I can head straight to sleep before jumping on a flight to Canton, Ohio, to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Besides, I can always just sleep on the plane. Anyway, I immediately jump right into franchise mode and select the Dolphins, a team rated 82 overall (curiously, they are rated only a 77 in exhibition mode for some reason), with a score of 85 on offense and 78 on defense. I see Plaxico Burress on the free-agent wire. Since there is no threat of Plax getting carted off to polygonal prison in the game, I sign him to a deal to bolster my receiving group. He's the perfect "Madden" receiver, tall with the ability to jump up and snatch the ball over defenders. His character is huge in the game, like John Cena big, so he is also a great blocker on the outside when White decides to take off and run with the ball.

Again, when building the perfect "Madden" team, I always start with a fast quarterback, but then you need to add in a tall receiver who he can throw the ball high to in the clutch (think Brian Finneran on Vick's Falcons back on the PS2). It's one of the reasons the Dallas Cowboys were the team to beat in "Madden 09." Forget real life; in "Madden," it was Martellus Bennett that was the difference-maker over the middle of the field. Dude was so big, nobody could stop him. Gamers then moved Marion Barber to fullback and ran the speedy Felix Jones as the halfback, making the Cowboys virtually unstoppable.

Add White to a fun team that includes Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, the return of Jason Taylor, the always-entertaining Joey Porter, the lightning-quick Ted Ginn and the Wildcat formation, and the Dolphins are my choice for most fun team of 'Madden 10.'

-- Jon Robinson

For my "Madden 10" Dolphins, I plan to run a few formations with Ricky Williams as the fullback, feeding him the ball for those quick runs up the middle, similar to how gamers used Barber last season. If it works like '09, that's a guaranteed way to eat up yards on the ground.

After picking up Plax, I decide to skip the preseason (wish I could do this in real life) and head to Week 1, when the Dolphins play the Atlanta Falcons.

One new feature that's cool is the ability to mix and match uniforms before each game. For the Dolphins, this means I can wear something like the '70s white helmet with the orange jersey; green pants; white, orange and green socks; and white shoes with an orange stripe. Next game I can change everything around and go all-white, go all-green or continue to mix current colors, alternates and throwbacks to fit any style I like. Right now, I'm feeling the orange jersey and green pants, so that's what I go with for White's debut under center. I just wish there were more options for shoes, as I'd love to go with some obnoxious orange shoes to match the jersey. Oh well, there's always "Madden 11."

My Dolphins win the flip, and Pat White takes the field as the greatest Dolphins quarterback since Dan Marino. White completes his first pass, a perfect strike on a curl route to Plax (high throw, rocket catch), then I switch things up and call the Wildcat. Once in the Wildcat, though, I find that you can't audible. You also can't use any of the Wildcat formations in your audible package. I guess EA didn't want people running the quarterback all over the field and breaking defenses online. Brown runs with power, bowling over a linebacker on his way to the first down.

First drive of the season, and White is tearing the Falcons apart. He completes all six passes, including three to Fasano on various crossing routes, then White takes off on a third-and-6 near the goal to dive in for the first score of the season. As I said, the Pat White era is here.

On the flip side, Matt Ryan is suffering through a sophomore slump, throwing two picks to Jason Allen, including one that Allen brings back for a touchdown.

Dolphins cruise to an easy 41-13 win, as White's final stats include 190 yards and two touchdowns through the air and another 53 yards rushing, including two more touchdowns on the ground.

After the game, some of the new presentation kicks in, showing a sideline reporter interviewing my new star quarterback after the game. Get used to the attention, kid.

Hour 2: The White era continues

Second game of the season is against the Colts. Tough early schedule for the Dolphins. As the game starts, I need to get some complaints off my chest about "Madden 10." First off, the announcers are terrible, and when I say terrible I'm talking epic proportions. During the halftime show, the female reporter's sentences are so disjointed it's a little embarrassing. Almost like the old Sports Talk Baseball game: "Miami … has a … three-point lead over … Atlanta." I actually hate the whole halftime show. It's just so generic and void of personality anytime they start talking about what happened, especially when the majority of analysis simply deals with the number of plays each team ran. Forget the fact that the score is 21-0, all is right in the world if both teams ran a similar amount of offensive plays, forgetting the fact that one team scored twice on special teams or off an interception. Why is "NFL 2K5's" halftime show still better than what EA did in "Madden 10"?

On the game-play side, receivers come back too far to catch the ball, causing them to actually run the wrong way after the catch. So you think you are going to have a nine-yard gain, but it ends up going for four after he's tackled running the wrong way. CPU receivers do the same thing, and it's a little strange. It's also disappointing that the CPU receivers still tend to run out of bounds for no reason. This was a big issue in "Madden 09," so it's surprising that it wasn't fixed.

Last item on my little rant is the collision-detection issues. I've seen Ted Ginn catch a touchdown pass and then run right through the barrier and disappear into the stands. After plays are over, you frequently see defensive players run through players on your sidelines as though they were ghosts. There are cut scenes that show your quarterback on the phone to his offensive coordinator, then the phone disappears as he talks. But the worst detection issue happened to me with the new fumble pile. This only happened once, but, man, was I mad. I destroyed the punt returner and forced him to fumble the ball backward. As my player went to pick it up, he was the only player within five yards. I dived for the ball, and then a Colts player dove at my feet. For some reason, his being near my feet when I recovered the ball triggered a fumble pile button-mash mini-game, which I lost. I was actually penalized by losing the ball because some Colt touched my foot while I dived for a fumble. Unbelievable.

Just wanted to get that out of my system. And don't get me wrong, I have gripes like this about every game out there. Thing is, "Madden 10" is so good in just about every other area that these little things get frustrating because they're holding the franchise back from perfection. In my eyes, even with these bugs, "Madden 10" is still the most fun game in the series since "Madden 05" introduced the Hit Stick. The new physics and tackling system is awesome, enabling up to nine-man gang tackles, not to mention some of the best-looking animations of runners breaking and spinning through those tackles. A huge upgrade for the series in terms of look and overall game play.

Anyway, back to my franchise as the game against the Colts goes down to the wire. White completes a pass to Fasano at the one, the tight end dives forward as he's hit, but there is no call from the officials. Instead, two refs run up to the ball, discuss the play, and they signal no touchdown. I love the new presentation (just hate the fact I was stopped short). Next play, White dives for the winning score. Dolphins win 28-24.

After two games, Pat White leads the NFL with a 123.5 passer rating. He has thrown for three touchdowns, run for four and caught one.

Hours 3-6: Dolphins domination continues

Funny announcement from the PA announcer telling one lucky fan that he just won an all-expenses-paid date with the cheerleader of his choice. I wonder how desperate for fans a team would need to be to run this contest for real.

As I push on through the season, one player I'm falling in love with in "Madden" is Greg Camarillo. Dude catches anything thrown his way. It's like his character's hands are made of glue. Against the Chargers, I get a little obsessed looking his way, and he catches 15 balls for 198 yards as Miami starts the season 5-0.

Hours 7-10: Injury bug bites

First few games, no significant injuries of note. But in Week 7, stars start going down as if there were a sniper on the roof of the stadium. Madden has an all-new injury system, but it doesn't seem to work very well. Here's the problem: Ricky Williams hurts his elbow, and you are given the option either to bench him and let him rest or to put him back in the game at the risk of further injury. I choose to put Ricky on the bench, and the announcer says he's done for the game because of his swelling elbow. Fine. Then a few plays later the announcer tells you that Ricky is back in the game even though you opted to bench him and he was already announced as not coming back. I usually just go back to the depth chart and replace him just to make sure I don't lose him for the season, but it's bizarre that they give you the option, then put him back in the game a few plays later anyway. Why even ask?

Aside from Williams, I lose Ronnie Brown the same game, but no worries; all Pat White does is rush for 128 yards and four touchdowns. (He's second in the league in rushing touchdowns with 11 for the season.) Highlight of the season so far is White sending the receivers deep then taking off to the right, pulling the ball down and running like a man possessed. The defensive end reaches out and grabs White, who somehow muscles up and knocks the end over, spinning out of a second tackle to take the ball down the sideline, where he then hits a cornerback head-on. As neither player falls, Plax actually runs up from behind and shoves White forward for the touchdown. Awesome.

Unfortunately, Week 8 is when things start to go downhill for Miami as we battle the Jets in a fierce rainstorm inside the Meadowlands. First time White runs with the ball, he fumbles. My receivers are dropping the wet ball right and left, and the Jets' defense seems to have made the right adjustments to shut down the Wildcat. White ends up throwing two interceptions in the end zone; Camarillo drops an easy touchdown pass after slipping making his cut on the wet surface; and then, just when the Dolphins started to mount their comeback, the Jets' D comes up with the play of the season so far. White scrambles out of trouble and rumbles 28 yards to the 1, but as he attempts to leap into the end zone, Kerry Rhodes comes out of nowhere and pops White to the ground, forcing another fumble and sending White out of the game with an elbow injury. Dolphins end up losing 26-15.

And the schedule doesn't get any easier, as the next game is against another division rival, the Patriots. Ted Ginn returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but the Dolphins struggle from there, losing their second game in a row thanks to an 82-yard reception by Randy Moss, 78 of it dodging and even hurdling over defenders on his way to the sensational score.

Hours 11-13: Madden Moments

After suffering two consecutive losses, I decide to take a break from franchise and head into Madden Moments. This mode lets you relive some of the best scenarios from last season, seeing if you can relive, and in some cases, rewrite football history. First scenario is the Super Bowl, in which you take control of Big Ben and the Steelers down 23-20 with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter. This mode is a lot of fun, but again, there are some really strange things that happen. First of all, the announcers act like it's the first quarter and nothing is on the line. These are the final minutes of the Super Bowl -- you can at least get excited. And if you ever ask Coach Madden for advice on play calling, he keeps telling you to run the ball even though I need to drive the length of the field and time is tick-tick-ticking away. There is just no sense of urgency. Also, if the Cardinals get the ball back, they hand it to Beanie Wells -- the mode uses the updated rosters even though you are reliving games that happened last season. I guess that makes Beanie the first guy to play in the Super Bowl while still in college.

Hours 14-21: The race to the postseason

I get back to my season and suffer through the ups and downs of starting a rookie quarterback. Maybe I shouldn't declare the Pat White era just yet, as he goes through a stretch where he fumbles three times a game on scrambles, and his accuracy is all over the place. Sometimes he's hitting his receivers on stride. Next throw might sail out of bounds. Even with White's inconsistency, the Dolphins still manage to win the AFC East with a record of 11-5. Here is how the league shakes out for the upcoming season, according to Madden:

'MADDEN NFL 10' SEASON RESULTS

As for the awards, Tom Brady is named both the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, although Pat White finishes fifth in both categories. White is named Offensive Rookie of the Year with season stats that consist of 2,597 yards passing, 1,002 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, 15 rushing touchdowns and three touchdown receptions. If he can stop turning the ball over, he could end up joining Vick and Cunningham as one of the greatest video-game quarterbacks of all time.

One defensive stat that stands out is I managed to get only nine sacks all season … and three were in one game. I got plenty of pressure and was able to force some bad throws, but I can never seem to finish the job. Not sure whether I'm bad at rushing the passer or the CPU offensive line is just too good on All-Pro difficulty.

Hours 22-23: Road to the Super Bowl

Miami draws a bye for wild-card weekend, then ends up playing the Steelers in the divisional round. Awesome fighter-jet flyover before the game gets me pumped. Funny, this is the second year in a row I stayed up 24 hours straight playing "Madden," and for some reason, I never get as tired as I think I will. Delirious? Yes. Sentences not making sense? You tell me. Tired? Not with all the caffeine circulating through my system. Toughest part about playing through the night is when you have a huge lead at 4 in the morning, I actually get distracted by how silent it is. (When you have two kids, silence is strange.)

Dolphins beat the Steelers 20-17, controlling the game on the ground with a combination of Brown, Williams and White. Camarillo makes a clutch leaping grab to ice things in the fourth, and Miami moves on to play the Chargers for the AFC Championship.

Turning point of the Chargers game comes when Joey Porter straight smacks the snot out of LT, forcing a fumble that leads to the go-ahead touchdown. Ronnie Brown comes up big, as does White, who rushes for 120 yards and two touchdowns (fast quarterbacks are deadly around the goal line), and the Dolphins move on to play in the Super Bowl against the Cardinals. After the game, the players dump a bucket of Gatorade on coach Sparano and the players celebrate their trip to the Super Bowl as confetti falls to the ground.

Hour 24: The Big Game

I've stayed up all night and my hands are getting a little shaky from all the caffeine, but here I am, playing in the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback trying to win the ring Marino always dreamed of. Stat at the bottom of the screen says 99.5 million people expected to tune into the game. The announcers talk about players' wanting to etch their names into the history books, and that's exactly what Pat White sets out to do.

White rushes for 98 yards in the first half, but with the score tied at 21 heading into the fourth quarter, the unthinkable happens: White is hit and fractures his elbow. He is gone for the remainder of the game.

The Super Bowl now rests on the throwing arm of Chad Pennington, and that scares the bejesus out of me. But it shouldn't, as Pennington completes four passes in a row, three of them to Plax, including one in the back corner of the end zone, as Chad leads the Dolphins on the two-minute drive that wins Super Bowl XLIV, 27-24.

And despite leaving the game in the fourth quarter because of injury, Pat White is named Super Bowl MVP and is handed the trophy on the podium (all that's missing is an elbow sling). Pretty cool cut scene. Funny to think that White carried my team all season (or in my case 24 hours), but that I never would've won it without Chad.

Looks like the Pat White era really is upon us, with a little help from his friends.