Once upon a time, NFL scouts wanted college quarterbacks who played in a pro-style offense. The theory was no one could learn to read pass coverages after arriving in the NFL: a player needed years of practice using NFL-style tactics. Quarterbacks who had been great runners in college offenses, such as Eric Crouch of Nebraska, were poison to NFL scouts.
Then about a decade ago, the spread offense arrived in Texas prep football. NFL teams of the Lone Star State may be struggling, but Texas high school football remains the sport's leading indicator. With the spread, suddenly quarterbacks didn't need a sophisticated understanding of defenses because everybody was open. About five years after that, the zone-read offense arrived. Suddenly running quarterbacks also had passing stats. The 2011 Alamo Bowl -- 777 yards of offense by Baylor, 620 yards by the University of Washington -- was thought the bellwether for the NFL. Insistence on quarterbacks from a pro-style offense seemed passé.
San Francisco at Washington on "Monday Night Football," the traditionalist scouts had their revenge. There's a reason they liked pro-style quarterbacks, who now may make a draft comeback.
In the game, Niners zone-read quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled against one of the league's worst pass defenses, often sailing the ball where no receiver awaited. Led by a highly drafted, magazine-cover, college-style quarterback, the Niners are last in the league in passing.
Zone-read quarterback Robert Griffin III -- the prize of a king's-ransom trade -- looked dreadful as he threw for only a 2.9 net yards-per-attempt average, which includes plays where he was sacked. Griffin was hampered by poor blocking: several times left tackle Trent Williams, among the league's highest-paid linemen, barely slowed San Francisco's Aldon Smith. Griffin was hampered by poor coaching. With 41 seconds remaining before intermission, a Washington runner went out of bounds at the San Francisco 18, then coach Mike Shanahan called timeout, with the clock already stopped. The R*dsk*ns list 21 coaches; shouldn't executive vice president/head coach (his actual title) Shanahan have one of them watch the clock? And Griffin made poor decisions, holding the ball too long and for the second week in a row launching a crazy, heave-ho interception.
Mostly, Griffin and Kaepernick looked like quarterbacks who can only run a college-style offense. When the zone-read was a fresh idea last season, that was fine. Now that defenses have adapted to the flavor of the month, good old vanilla, chocolate and strawberry passing is required. On Sunday night, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady did vanilla, chocolate and strawberry to spectacular effect: Monday night, the flavor of the month was a bust for both teams.
The pendulum had swung toward college-style quarterbacks on draft day -- expect it to swing back the other way.
As for San Francisco, the Niners are difficult to take seriously without a passing attack. Two years ago, the Giants won the Super Bowl despite the league's last-ranked rushing attack. In the modern game, winning a Super Bowl with a bottom-of-the-barrel passing attack is hard to imagine.
As for Washington, the club under Griffin has seen streaks of 3-6, then 7-0, now 3-9. That's not encouraging. Football is a team game. Not only did the RG III trade denude Washington of draft selections for talent and depth, the 21 coaches aren't performing well either. Shanahan is highly hyped and very highly paid. During the years Shanahan had John Elway in his prime, Shanahan was 54-18. In all other years, Shanahan is 124-121. With each successive season, there seems more evidence Shanahan was just the guy who was standing there when Elway realized his potential, and otherwise is a mediocre coach.
In Thanksgiving news, enjoy your turkey! Say a prayer for the Detroit Lions, who have posted nine consecutive home losses on Thanksgiving Day. If the Lions make it 10 straight with the Packers playing a third-string quarterback, look out.
In other NFL news, five years ago New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick completely outsmarted then-Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron in a late-season game played in cold, strong wind: Belichick made kickoff decisions based on getting in the wind in the fourth quarter, and tailored his team's tactics depending on wind direction. Sunday, Denver faced New England in cold, strong wind, and Belichick completely outsmarted Denver Broncos' backup coach Jack del Rio in wind management. Winning the coin flip in overtime, Belichick took the wind. That's not all he did to outsmart Denver. See more below.
In another overtime game, with one second remaining in the fifth quarter, the Minnesota Vikings fair-caught a Green Bay Packers punt. The ball was on the Vikings' 34 -- try a fair-catch kick! Sure it's a 76-yard field goal, which would be the longest ever. But Blair Walsh has a strong leg, and there's no rush on a fair-catch kick. Many placekickers launch kicks that would be good from around 70 in warmups, with no rush. Needless to say, the pass Minnesota attempted did not work, and the game ended in a yawn-inducing tie. The NFL is supposed to be entertainment. Fans were deprived the pleasure of beholding a very long fair-catch kick on the final play of an overtime. It might be decades until an NFL team is in this position again.
In other sports news, what if your team scored 73 points and lost? I'm not talking about your basketball team, I'm talking about your football team. See below.
Stats of the Week No. 1: The Carolina Panthers are on a 12-3 streak.
Stats of the Week No. 2: In his past two games, Tavon Austin has touchdowns of 98, 81, 65 and 57 yards.
Stats of the Week No. 3: Tony Romo and Joe Flacco are a combined 42-12 in the month of November.
Stats of the Week No. 4: Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 44 times.
Stats of the Week No. 5: Drew Brees is on a streak of 14 touchdown passes versus one interception.
Stats of the Week #6: Ohio native Ben Roethlisberger is 16-1 versus the Cleveland Browns.
Stats of the Week No. 7: The Houston Texans have followed a 13-4 streak with a 2-10 streak.
Stats of the Week No. 8: The St. Louis Rams have defeated its past two opponents by a combined 80-29.
Stats of the Week No. 9: The Kansas City Chiefs, who a month ago led the league in sacks by/against ratio, are on a minus-12 streak for sacks by/against.
Stats of the Week No. 10: Tom Brady is 24-5 when the kickoff temperature is freezing or below; Peyton Manning is 2-6 in those conditions.
Sweet Play of the Week: The Atlanta Falcons leading 10-7, the New Orleans Saints had possession on the Falcons' 44. The Saints lined up with Drew Brees under center, a tight end in-line and an I-backfield -- once among the most common formations in football, now practically risqué. A man-in-motion came back toward the formation. Brees play-faked a power run; both backs pass-blocked; two receivers on the right ran decoy routes to attract the safeties; from his in-line position, star tight end Jimmy Graham ran what seemed a quick out. Then Brees pump-faked and Graham headed up the field, leaving a confused corner in his dust, touchdown.
Sour Play of the Week: Hosting City of Tampa, the Detroit Lions surrendered five turnovers and a blocked kick: few teams could overcome that. Late in the first half, Detroit seemed to be driving for a score. Nickel safety Leonard Johnson lined up where the Sam linebacker normally would be. Matt Stafford seemed unaware Johnson was present when he threw a short out. Leaving his man, Johnson "jumped the route" for a pick-six. Moderately sour.
Yet trailing by only three despite the turnovers, Detroit reached third-and-12 on the City of Tampa 28 with a minute remaining. The Buccaneers blitzed. Stafford sprinted backward 10 yards, then launched a perfect lob to Calvin Johnson, who had beaten his man at the Tampa 3. Megatron, holder of receiving records uncountable, let the ball carom out of his hands for an interception. Game over. That's a Sour Warhead.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Kansas City leading 38-34, the San Diego Chargers, out of timeouts, faced second-and-long on the Chiefs' 26 with 31 seconds remaining. TMQ loves the tactic of, in a high-pressure situation, giving the ball to a guy who never gets the ball. Bolts receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, with two catches on the season, lined up wide left. He ran a go, and caught the touchdown pass that proved the winning points. Sweet. Sour was that Kansas City corner Sean Smith let Ajirotutu roar past him, though Smith knew the visitors had only seconds to reach the end zone. When the game is on the line, keep everything in front of you!
The Final Frontier May Not Be Peaceful: Many readers, including Jennifer Carpenter of Palo Alto, Calif., noted this research finding of an extremely strong gamma-ray burst relatively "close" to Earth in time and space. Previously observed strong gamma bursts have come from the far past, and thus from early in the evolution of the universe. This burst is "only" 3.6 billion years old, meaning the event occurred long after the firmament reached its present form. Theories about strong gamma bursts involve the early conditions that followed the Big Bang. Because this burst happened so much later, it's back to the drawing board for explanations of what strong gamma bursts are. The burst released in a few hours significantly more energy than the sun will release in its entire lifetime.
Probably gamma bursts have a natural origin, but we shouldn't assume this. As TMQ has noted, what if they are the muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons? Strong gamma bursts tracing to the dawn of the cosmos happened before intelligent life is likely to have evolved. But the new burst occurred "recently" enough that there had been plenty of time for intelligent beings to come into existence and devote themselves to cataclysmic weapons. Gamma bursts appear far more violent than nuclear explosion. If this burst happened in our Milky Way, the radiation would have killed everything on Earth, and any life similar to ours throughout this galaxy. When astronomers look into the heavens, they observe fantastically powerful explosions. We should not blithely assume all are natural in origin.
What Should Rocky Give? Two years ago, TMQ featured Rocky the Dog, noble hound of ESPN contributor Bill Speros. Readers were asked what Rocky should eat, drink or do for relaxation. This year's question: What should Rocky give for Hanukkah or Christmas? If you've seen a preposterous gift advertised, tweet it to me with a link @EasterbrookG.
You Don't Need a Weather Man to Know Which Way the Wind Blows: The tactics for coaching in cold, strong wind are three: First, scheme to get the wind in the first quarter, to jump to a lead. Next, scheme to get the wind in the fourth quarter, when it's money time. Third, if moving with the wind use a fast pace and throw; if moving against the wind, huddle up and rush. Bill Belichick has always cleaved to these tactics, and employed them for New England's dramatic comeback against Denver.
The Patriots won the opening coin toss, so Belichick deferred. That left Denver to decide whether to start with the ball or start with the wind. Denver chose the ball, which meant New England could then take the wind. Remember, on the opening coin flip the victor has three options: If "defer" is the choice, then the flip loser takes the ball, then the flip victor can choose which goal to defend. So the game began with Belichick getting the best-case wind outcome for the first half.
Having the wind in the first quarter didn't help the Flying Elvii, who lost three fumbles, spotting the visitors a 17-0 lead. By halftime, the margin was 24-0, and some of the New England crowd headed for the warmth of their cars.
Down by 24, Belichick had no choice but to take the ball to begin the second half. If the game had been close, Belichick might have chosen a goal instead, to be sure of fourth-quarter wind. When the referee turned to the Denver captain, inexplicably the visitors elected to take the wind in the third quarter, giving New England the wind in the fourth quarter, exactly what Belichick wanted.
Del Rio's blunder on choice of direction in the third quarter was the game's big play, happening while officials held the ball. The blunder was especially bad since, with a solid lead at that point, Denver was likely to rush the ball in the third quarter anyway. Del Rio should have saved the wind for when he might need to throw.
Jack of the River compounded his goal-to-defend mistake by keeping his offense on the ground in the third quarter, which would turn out to be the final time Denver had the wind. As New England was outscoring Denver 21-0 in the third quarter, the Broncos ran eight rushing plays and four passing plays, never attempting a deep throw. True, rushing was attractive -- New England was playing a funky 2-4-5 alignment intended to frustrate Manning, offering Denver the run. On the night, the Broncos would rush for 280 yards, and few NFL teams that post that kind of number end up losing.
But in the third quarter, Denver wasted its last good chance to strike deep. Denver would throw deep against the wind five times in the fourth and fifth quarters, all incomplete. Tom Brady has experience throwing against swirling Christmas-is-coming cold wind, and was close to flawless into the wind in the third quarter. Eli Manning has experience throwing into cold wind. Peyton Manning doesn't.
Exploiting the fourth-quarter wind edge, New England sent the contest to overtime. The home team won the second coin flip -- and Belichick took the wind. In the NCAA overtime format, coaches winning the flip almost always defer. In the NFL format, flip-winning coaches almost always take the ball. Belichick understood that wind was more important than the ball at that juncture. Would Del Rio have taken the wind if he'd won the flip? We'll never know. We do know that in a game where the visitors seemed to have better players, the home team had better coaching.
On the subject of those in cleats, reader Kevin Bryan of Chicago reports, "The Pats have been decimated by injuries, leading to a profusion of the sort of undrafted players whom you admire. The current 53-man roster includes 18 undrafted men. There are as many undrafted players on the New England roster as first-, second- and third-round picks combined."
Bear in Mind, Jimmy Stewart Was Not an Actual Senator: Last week the Senate changed the filibuster rule such that most presidential nominees can be confirmed by a majority; 60 votes are no longer required. It would be tempting to think that smooth-flowing efficiency will now break out. The new rule allows 30 hours of floor debate for appellate judges and cabinet secretaries, two to eight hours for others. There is such a backlog of nominees awaiting confirmation that if the minority invokes maximum debate time on each one, the Senate floor will be paralyzed for a year -- the longest filibuster ever.
In the wake of the decision, pundits harked back to Jimmy Stewart bringing the Senate to a halt in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." That dramatic filibuster, in which Stewart faints from exhaustion, has become such a part of American political lore that it's important to bear in mind, this never happened.
In Frank Capra's 1939 movie, the earnest Mr. Smith isn't elected to the Senate. Rather, he was appointed to an open seat by a cynical governor who wants to divert attention from his own corruption. From whence Smith hails is never made clear, though the movie's subject is personal courage, Capra didn't want to offend audiences in any particular state. What does Mr. Smith filibuster about in this cinematic classic? Not any great issue such as civil rights, war or peace. He wants to prevent a dam from being built upriver of land reserved for a boys camp. Today it would be impossible to get environmental permits to build a dam anyway!
Because Capra was such a Hollywood success, he might be assumed left-wing. But in many matters, he took the John Wayne worldview. Late in life, Capra said he left Hollywood because "hedonists, bleeding-hearts and God-haters" had taken over. His choice of a dam for Smith's filibuster is telling. Today, liberals despise dams, which alter the ecology, never mind that they generate emission-free power. In the 1930s, liberals adored dams, which were actively backed by Franklin Roosevelt (Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam were among leading achievements of FDR's public-works programs to fight the Depression), and were the centerpiece of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which during the 1930s was liberalism personified. Conservatives of the time were suspicious of dams, because then conservatism wanted to preserve wild lands, and dam-building was central to Stalin's Five-Year Plans. There are few public-policy subjects on which left and right have exchanged positions as emphatically as dam-building.
Whatever Capra's politics, "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and "It's a Wonderful Life" number among the best sentimental movies ever made. Thus horror struck me with the news that a big-budget sequel to "It's a Wonderful Life" is in development. There's already been a sort of sequel, the 1990 TV movie "Clarence," about subsequent adventures of George Bailey's guardian angel. "Clarence" was excruciating. Who will star in the sequel to "It's a Wonderful Life"? Perhaps Johnny Depp as George, Clair Danes as Mary Bailey and in a gender-bender, Lily Allen as Clarence.
It's a Good Thing Mr. Smith Didn't Live to See This: If consumers try to use bitcoins to replace U.S. currency, politicians of both parties will be furious. They are, however, pushing for legal approval to accept bitcoins as campaign donations.
Taxpayers Not Fleeced! This should have been headline news -- the Cleveland Browns, not Ohio taxpayers, are covering the bulk of the cost of a spruce-up of FirstEnergy Stadium.
Politicians tend to assume that if they don't cave to money demands from NFL owners, the sky will fall. But the Florida legislature just said no to more subsidies for the Miami Dolphins, and now the Browns are doing the decent thing and covering capital costs themselves. Anytime a wealthy NFL owner demands public handouts, as is now happening in St. Louis, politicians should follow Nancy Reagan's lead and Just Say No.
Kuechly Update: On the final snap of the New England at Carolina game on "Monday Night Football," officials picked up a flag in the end zone on Luke Kuechly of the Cats, sealing Carolina's win. Six days later, Miami leading Carolina 13-3 with third-and-goal on the Panthers' 5, Kuechly was flagged for helmet-to-helmet hit in the end zone, which would have given the Dolphins first-and-goal at the 1. Officials picked up the flag, without explanation -- though the call seemed correct to your columnist, and the Fox announcers said they thought the flag was correct. Miami settled for a field goal, and went on to lose by four points.
As the saying goes, Who does Luke Kuechly know?
Couldn't Make This Up: Swedish regulators have required the famed Ice Hotel -- built entirely from frozen water -- to install fire alarms.
What's the Martian Word for "Lunatic"? Two months ago, yours truly chided the mainstream media for taking seriously claims that a Mars voyage could be accomplished relatively cheaply with private resources. Also chided was Dennis Tito, a wealthy man who has been taken seriously in Washington for his claim that he will fund a Mars voyage himself.
Well, last week Tito released some details of his plan. He did not explain how a capsule weighing about the same as moon-bound Apollo hardware -- the longest Apollo mission lasted 12 days -- could carry enough supplies for more than a year's voyage. He did not explain how an Apollo-like capsule could provide radiation shielding, which moon travelers did not have. (Much of their transit was spent within Earth's magnetic field.) He did casually allow that his "privately funded" mission would entail NASA paying the launch costs. The still-on-the-drawing-board heavy-lifter rocket Tito wants to use is projected to cost at least $5 billion per launch.
Mars flight with current propulsion technology seems not the goal of dreamers, but the patter of crackpots. NASA needs to concentrate on objectives that can be realized with current technology and within foreseeable budgets, such as an asteroid defense.
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Jim Clair of Louisville, Ky., reports that last week, "ABC Family had a chyron touting the beginning of the 'countdown to 25 days of Christmas.' What was in the crawl was a countdown to a countdown to a countdown."
A "Hunger Games" Name Generator Turns "Adrian Peterson" into "Septimus Perthshire": Movie critics are noting the "Hunger Games" flicks soften the violence of the books. Viewers see Jennifer Lawrence launch arrows, but don't see the children-killing-children bloodbath that makes the books so disturbing. Any faithful cinematic rendering of the "Hunger Games" books would be R-rated, if not NC-17. There goes the shopping-mall tween-girl target audience.
Set aside what it says about contemporary culture that a franchise of bestselling books and box-office hits, about a fascist society that graphically slaughters children, is targeted to affluent shopping-mall girls and their moms. Books for the young-adult market have changed from dreamy happiness (the "Chronicles of Narnia") to horrific brutality ("Hunger Games," the "Golden Compass" trilogy, the thousands of interchangeable vampire books) during the very period in which crime and war have declined, living standards have improved, education has increased and lifespans extended. In "Hunger Games" flicks, Katniss is presented as a positive role model for girls, which seems like saying John Brown is a positive role model for boys. But at least, one might suppose, "Catching Fire" is an instance of Hollywood toning down rather than ramping up violence.
That's not the norm for shopping-mall flicks. This new study from the journal Pediatrics finds that depictions of gun violence are now as common in PG-13 movies as in R-rated fare. PG-13 is the shopping-mall audience: tweens and teens are being deluged with ever-more Hollywood depictions of gun use. Hollywood won't show characters smoking, because viewers might imitate that. But glamorous movie stars gunning down the helpless, Hollywood has no problem there.
Best Purist Drive: Taking possession with the game tied, 4:45 remaining and Jersey/A holding all its timeouts, the Dallas Cowboys staged a 14-play, 69-yard drive that drained the clock, burned the opposition's timeouts and resulted in the winning field goal as time expired. During the drive, Tony Romo looked like a skilled, poised quarterback. The football gods promise an investigation.
The Football Gods Chortled: Game tied on the final snap of regulation, Boston College missed its field goal attempt. But Maryland coach Randy Edsall signaled an icing timeout one second before the snap. You have already guessed that granted a second try, the Boston College kicker won the contest.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: TMQ contends that coaches don't go for it on fourth down, or in other pressure situations, because they want the players to take blame for a loss. Never was this better on display than in the Navy at San Jose State pairing. During the second overtime, Navy scored and kicked a PAT, then San Jose State scored a touchdown. That meant Spartans coach Ron Caragher faced this choice: kick a PAT for a third overtime, or go for two to win. That's two yards to win a game, on a day when San Jose State averaged 6.3 yards per offense snap. Caragher sent in the kicking unit. Navy prevailed in the third overtime.
Afterward he said, "I felt more comfortable kicking and letting the players play to win the game and not making a coaching decision that could've backfired." Blame the players, don't blame me!
Let's Take the Limo to the Private Jet to the Climate Conference to Complain About Fossil Fuel Use: The latest global conference on climate change just ended in Warsaw, with no agreement except that thousands of officials will expend fossil fuels again for the next meeting. "Delegates agree to the broad outlines of a proposed system for pledging emissions cuts" -- the New York Times final dispatch. The broad outlines of a proposed system of nonbinding pledges! Every global greenhouse gas conference since the original Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 has come to no conclusion stronger than that delegates will keep meeting. As Churchill said, better to jaw, jaw than war, war. But a subculture has developed of climate delegates who have important-sounding jobs and jet around the world accomplishing little other than sustaining their important-sounding jobs, while causing greenhouse emissions.
The scientific consensus on artificial global warming is now strong. Probably climate change is not causing hurricanes (this year's season was quiet), typhoons or tornados. But slow-moving sea-level rise, and threats to agriculture, seem disturbingly real.
There's no political consensus at all. Even Japan, home of the Kyoto Protocol, recently said it would ignore the treaty's deadlines, as nearly every nation is doing.
The good news is that economic trends (energy efficiency, discoveries of natural gas) have caused the rate of greenhouse gas emission to decline worldwide. The bad news is, emissions continue to accumulate. The good news is the current very mild solar cycle probably means solar energy reaching the Earth is trending down somewhat, which buys humanity time to deal with global warming. The bad news is that even if artificial greenhouse gas emissions stopped entirely, heat buildup in the atmosphere would continue for decades.
Many developing world nations are now using the climate issue to demand money from the West. So the real issue isn't protecting the Earth, the real issue is money. Guilt-trip payments might be stolen by developing-world elites, funding their lifestyles rather than clean energy projects.
Currently it is impossible for the entire family of nations to agree on strict greenhouse gas rules, and inconceivable that the United States Senate would ratify any treaty granting the United Nations control over American domestic policymaking.
So the way ahead is to give up on the expensive, pointless international conferences and have the United States enact domestic legislation establishing a profit incentive for finding ways to reduce greenhouse gases. Smog and acid rain are declining almost everywhere in the world, though no international treaty governs either. They're declining because the United States developed the fixes for both problems, and then gave the fixes away. We can do the same for greenhouse gases.
Are Gimmick Offenses Fading in College as Well as the Pros? Saturday was Armageddon for the Xbox offense. Baylor and Oregon entered their games versus Oklahoma State and Arizona at a combined 18-1, averaging a combined 112 points; they combined for 33 points as both were blown off the field. Baylor and Oregon have offenses built to jump to a quick lead and cause opponents to give up; when forced to play from behind, both looked befuddled. Even excellent football teams need to play from behind. It's part of the skill set a champion must possess.
As TMQ has noted before, of high-scoring teams such as the 1991 Buffalo Bills, 1998 Minnesota Vikings, 2010 Oregon Ducks and 2007 and 2012 New England Patriots, they tend to peter out late, as defensive intensity cranks up and tendencies become clear. This is a restive point for the high-scoring Denver Broncos.
"Game Over" Goes International: Underdog Hamilton trailing host Saskatchewan 24-3 in the second quarter of the Grey Cup -- Canada plays its title game in November, before glaciers cover the fields -- the Tiger-Cats faced third-and-goal, the CFL equivalent of fourth-and-goal, on the Rough Riders' 3. When the kicking unit trotted in, reader James McCollough of Kelowna, British Columbia, announced "game over." And verily, it came to pass: The final was 45-23. Just to prove it was no fluke, scoring to pull within 31-12 late in the third quarter, Hamilton took a single point after, rather than go for two.
Like the Super Bowl going 'round the world on American Forces Network, the Grey Cup was beamed on Canadian Forces Radio and Television to that nation's soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The Grey Cup offered a Super Bowl-style halftime show with Canadian rock band Hedley, rolling stage, fireworks, pyrotechnic towers and lots of heavily bundled dancing girls -- halftime temperature was 29 degrees Fahrenheit, with gusting wind.
Receivers Are Supposed to Receive: Carolina leading 20-16 with 10 seconds remaining, Miami's Mike Wallace dropped a pass at the Panthers' goal line. It would not have been an easy catch, but Wallace's job is to catch the ball. Carolina won. Packers leading by three in overtime, Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson dropped a pass in the Green Bay end zone. It would not have been an easy catch, but Patterson's job is to catch the ball. The game ended in a tie.
Cold Coach = Victory: How to apply TMQ's immutable law of Cold Coach = Victory if the game ends in a tie? At Green Bay, kickoff temperature 19 degrees, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wore a heavy parka and balaclava, while the Packers' Mike McCarthy sported a sweatshirt and baseball cap. More important, the Packers Bikini Girls were out in force, shirtless with bikini triangle tops despite the cold. That alone should have pleased the football gods. Perhaps the fact that Green Bay was playing its fourth-string quarterback had something to do with the mixed outcome.
I See…Wait, It's Becoming Clearer…I'm In A Sort of Green Room… A Heavenly Booker Says Oprah Will Let Me On Her Show… Yes, That's What Happens After Death: Celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne failed to foresee her own death last week. How long until her company charges marks to "speak" to Browne from the beyond?
Struggling Washington offense impacts regional economy:
Best game summary pic.twitter.com/dTyTw0HolA
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) November 26, 2013
Last Week's Jacksonville Item: My item on the city of Jacksonville giving a $43 million gift to the Jaguars for stadium upgrades, while billionaire Jags owner Shad Khan ponies up only $20 million, originally contained a link to school funding cuts in Jacksonville, Ill. This error made me look like a complete idiot. The link rapidly was replaced with the correct one, to school funding cuts in Jacksonville, Fla. The item also said the source of the $43 million was a "new" hotel tax. The hotel tax is not new, so I took out the word "new," leaving the rest as is because none of the underlying points changed.
Last Week's Boston Mob Item: TMQ noted that mobster Whitey Bulger was sentenced to two life terms, plus five years. Reader Jonathan Levin of Glastonbury, Conn., writes, "Ariel Castro, the Cleveland kidnapper, was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years. He was in prison for about a month before killing himself, so he served 1/12,001 of his sentence. For Bulger to serve as much of his sentence as Castro, Bulger would have had to die about three hours after being imprisoned."
Last Week's Missing Item: Annually, when the final NFL undefeated team is knocked off, I reproduce, from my AutoText, an item praising the 1972 Miami Dolphins. I've said I expect my heirs to be using that item, because there will never be another NFL perfect team. Many readers, including Russ Arnold of Minneapolis, Minn., noted that last week, I forgot to run the item in recognition of Kansas City being defeated. I've made a note to myself for 2014.
More Proof of the Decline of Western Civilization: This year the Christmas classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" airs on CBS on Nov. 26. A Christmas special airs before Thanksgiving!
Imagine the Final Exam in Leisure Studies: Reader Brad Prescott of San Francisco notes this Ohio State announcement about Buckeye athletes with good grades: "There are athletes taking challenging majors, such as biology, economics and electrical engineering. But 21 of the 74 athletes lauded are in some form of sports, exercise or recreation majors, including 'exercise science' and 'sport industry,' a college department that lacks a grammatically correct name. In my view, such majors should not even be offered at a four-year institution. People aspiring to work in sports should major in law, medicine or statistics; subjects like exercise and 'leisure studies' should be minors, at best. The athletic factory schools know it's easier to keep players eligible if they are pushed away from challenging majors [and] toward course loads that free up more time for practice."
Of Mice and Men: Leading Carolina 16-13, Miami faced fourth-and-2 at midfield with four minutes remaining, opponent down to its last timeout. By that point, the foundering Dolphins were on their seventh consecutive game without an offensive fourth-quarter touchdown. They needed to gain just two yards at home to be in a position to reset their season -- and instead punted. Bringing the ball back the other way, Carolina faced fourth-and-10 with three minutes left, and went for it. The Panthers' 2013 rebound tracks to Ron Rivera's decision to start playing to win rather than playing not to lose.
In the cold at New England, with five minutes showing in the fifth quarter, Denver faced fourth-and-8 on the Flying Elvii 37. Backup head coach Jack Del Rio sent in the punt unit, which first took a deliberate delay-of-game penalty, then boomed into the wind a punt that netted a mere 17 yards of field position: from the 37, the original line of scrimmage, to the 20. It took New England exactly one down to reach the point where the ball would have been, had Denver gone for it and failed. After the preposterous punt, the Broncos never snapped again, capping a nationally televised humiliation in which they could not hold a 24-0 lead.
Sure, fourth-and-8 is a difficult down. But punting from the opposition 37, in a game decided by the next score? Carolina won because the Panthers dared on fourth-and-10; Denver lost because the Broncos folded on fourth-and-8. Jack of the River shifted blame from himself to his players, which may be what mattered to him -- compare to the San Jose State item.
Two Cheers for Obamacare: Obamacare is off to a shaky start. Once teething problems are resolved, awareness of the benefits will begin to kick in. Already the Obamacare legislation has eliminated the "pre-existing condition" clauses that punished many Americans for being sick. Already the legislation has extended coverage to children up to age 26 whose parents have health insurance. Soon millions of poor and working-class people will find their bare-bones policies replaced by better coverage, or that their health insurance costs drop as subsidies kick in. Maybe there could have been a better path to health care reform than Obamacare -- that's a separate question. But once the situation settles down, large numbers of Americans are likely to be pleased with the new system. When Medicare began, the initial period was shaky, then large numbers of Americans were happy.
Someone must pay, and that someone is the upper class. Premiums are rising for white-collar workers. When Americans begin filling tax returns, upper income filers will discover there's a new Obamacare 3.8 percent tax on capital gains and other investment income, plus Medicare taxes have risen by 0.9 percent. That's a nearly 5 percent federal tax increase on the affluent.
Higher taxes on the affluent will fund new health benefits for ordinary people -- because Obamacare is, at heart, an income-transfer plan. It's widely believed America's affluent run the country and seize everything for themselves. When social-issues columnist Bob Herbert retired from the New York Times in 2011, his parting shot was a column pounding the table about how "the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles," refusing to help average people. Yet the biggest social legislation of the past decade starts a new income-transfer system that taxes the folks at the top to reduce costs for average people. Obamacare disproves claims that America's government serves only the well-off.
And it's not just on health care where American government taxes the affluent to help average people. This new Congressional Budget Office study weighs government by social class -- how much various groups receive in benefits, versus pay in taxes. Economics columnist Robert Samuelson summarized the key findings:"If government taxes and transfers -- what people pay and get -- are lumped together, in 2006, the average elderly household received a net payment of $13,900; the poorest fifth of non-elderly households received a net benefit of $12,600; the richest fifth of non-elderly households paid out an average of $66,000."
Those figures are for 2006, before Obamacare, before big expansions in food-stamp and educational-benefit programs, and before several recent tax increases on the upper class. Surely this year, the elderly and the disadvantaged will receive larger net benefits, while top earners see an even larger net loss on government.
That's fine! The rich should pay so that the poor can live better. But when Obamacare's income-transfer impact takes hold, it must be factored into inequality claims. This graph is much discussed in Washington policy circles. Look closely: top-tier American inequality was worst during the early 1930s, then began a decline -- just as Social Security, the first important income-transfer program, went into effect. Around 1980, inequality started climbing again, including under the popular two-term liberal president, Bill Clinton. Now Obamacare will transfer income from the top to the bottom and lower-middle. Perhaps another 1930s-like transition is in store.
There's a case to be made that inequality trends are driven mainly by economic changes that have little to do with government. Beginning around the 1930s, industrialization caused employers to compete for skilled labor, which made hourly wages rise. Beginning around the 1980s, electronics caused skilled labor to drop in value, while the value of intellectual property soared. Or perhaps the fortunes of the labor movement explain the curves, as argued by Timothy Noah in his brilliant book "The Great Divergence." Whichever the cause, your columnist's wagers are two: Obamacare will prove popular, and inequality will decline.
Manly-Man Play of the Day: Facing fourth-and-goal at Houston, Jax scored a touchdown, and went on to record its second victory. As for the Moo Cows, they have declined from a preseason playoff pick to a contender for the first choice in the 2014 draft.
The Secret of Blast Gold at Last Revealed: Years ago when Page 2 still existed and still had a background of yellow kryptonite, your columnist claimed to have drawn up a play that was "100 percent unstoppable." The play was called Blast Gold. A year after the boasting item linked in the previous sentence ran, in a middle-school game I called Blast Gold on fourth-and-short from our own 18, and the result was a touchdown. If I could have sold the diagram to an NFL team using eBay, I would have. Time marched on, and I never revealed the secret of the play.
Sunday, the St. Louis Rams ran Blast Gold. Tavon Austin lined up wide; came in motion left, back toward the formation; took a toss left; took one hard step left and then executed a planned reversal of field, sprinting right behind a pulling blocker for a 65-yard touchdown. Reversal-of-field runs are high-risk, high-reward. Usually they occur spontaneously on broken plays. They should be planned more often.
Move Over, Sports Illustrated Curse: Since TMQ asked if the Colts are the best team in the league, Indianapolis is 1-2 and has been outscored 49-105. And I don't wish to alarm anyone, but the Arizona Cardinals have won four straight. They host the 49ers in their season finale, a game that might determine the final NFC playoff invite.
Football IQ: Miami leading 16-3, Carolina had possession on its own 43 with 8 seconds before intermission, out of timeouts. The Genetically Engineered Surimi put all their defensive backs in or near the end zone. Cam Newton threw a quick flare to Brandon LaFell, who ran along the sideline and then stepped out-of-bounds on the Miami 28 with 1 second remaining. Panthers' field goal. Nice football IQ by Carolina.
Hosting Indianapolis, Arizona ran a trick play for Larry Fitzgerald to throw off a reverse. On trick plays, running backs or wide receivers may panic and release nutty heave-hoes. So the rule of well-coached trick-play passes is: If the man is uncovered, throw it; if he is covered just eat the ball, we don't care if you lose yardage. Seeing the intended receiver covered, Fitzgerald went the coaches one better by deliberately sailing the ball out-of-bounds like a veteran quarterback.
Bonus Sweet Play: With San Francisco leading 17-6, the Squared Sevens had second-and-goal on the 1-yard line of the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. The visitors lined up jumbo with two tight ends, two running backs and an offensive lineman in the backfield -- no wide receiver. The lineman went in motion right, suggesting a power run right; Kaepernick faked a power run with the fullback as lead blocker; tight end Vernon Davis brushed his man and turned out into the end zone, uncovered. Home fans began streaming to the exits. The Niners' reputation for sweet play design under Harbaugh/West has suffered as Kaepernick has struggled to complete passes. This play was drawn up well.
Bonus Sour Play: The R*dsk*ns went for it on fourth-and-2 at the San Francisco 41 early in the third quarter. The formation was a jumbo set -- except the extra blocker in the backfield was 180-pound speed receiver Aldrick Robinson. What the hey? Needless to say, run stuffed.
The 500 Club: Honorary membership to Cal, which, at Stanford, gained 383 yards, yet lost by 50 points. Cal is averaging 454 yards of offense per game, and is 1-11. Honorary membership to Old Dominion, which, visiting North Carolina, gained 371 yards, yet lost by 60 points. The coaches mutually agreed to shorten the fourth quarter, in which the Tar Heels did nothing but run up the middle. Honorary membership to Idaho, which, at Florida State, gained 345 yards, yet lost by 66 points.
The 600 Club: Hosting Navy, San Jose State gained 600 yards, scored seven touchdowns, yet lost. Visiting Wyoming, Hawaii gained 624 yards, scored 56 points. yet lost. The Warriors allowed 793 yards by Wyoming, which has a losing record. Reader Paul Vergnani of Sacramento, Calif., notes, "Laramie is 7,200 feet above sea level, maybe it's easier to move the ball where the air is less dense." Visiting Eastern Washington, Portland State gained 603 yards, yet lost. In its past two games, Portland State has gained 1,316 yards, yet lost both times.
The 800 Club: Reader Michael Lischio Jr. of Saint Augustine, Fla., reports that quarterback John Wolford of Bishop Kenny High in the Sunshine State personally gained 773 yards -- 539 passing, 234 rushing -- as Kenny lost a playoff contest to Clay High 74-73. The game featured 21 touchdowns, which on the 48-minute high school clock means a touchdown was scored almost every two minutes.
Clayton Freeman, a sportswriter for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, adds these details: Bishop Kenny racked up 834 team yards, and lost. Wolford's 773 total yards appears to be a national individual yardage record, according to the National Federation of High Schools. The teams' 147 combined points set a record for Florida prep action. Three Clay rushers gained more than 140 yards as the visitors finished with 489 rushing yards. Bishop Kenny scored 11 touchdowns to Clay's 10, but three missed extra points combined with five successful deuce conversions by Clay made the difference.
"This game will be available for public viewing over the Internet after the state playoffs end on Dec. 15. The link is here. If you enjoy football shootouts at their best, it's worth checking out when it opens up."
Adventures in Officiating: After the flag for pass interference was picked up on the final down of the Carolina-New England game, football insiders were all over the map trying to figure out what happened. Your columnist thought the call should have been defensive holding, which would have given the Patriots five yards and one more try. I thought the key fact was this NFL rulebook definition: "It is defensive holding if a player grasps an eligible offensive player (or his jersey) with his hands, or extends an arm or arms to cut off or encircle him." Luke Kuechly "encircled" Rob Gronkowski with his arms.
On "SportsCenter" the day after, Jay Crawford read that definition to former NFL official Gerry Austin, who dissembled. Austin allowed that holding might have been called, but wouldn't answer Crawford's questions about the wording of the rule. Instead he talked about whether Gronkowski was trying enough to reposition his feet. Repositioning feet isn't mentioned in the rules, but might be in the NFL officiating manual.
At the high school, NCAA and NFL levels, zebras work from two documents, the rulebook and the officiating manual. The latter sets standards for how to determine fouls. Perhaps attempts to reposition feet is spelled out in the NFL officiating manual as a metric of defensive holding -- and Gronkowski was not trying hard to get back to the ball. Just as TMQ thinks football rules should be simplified, I think the rulebook and the officiating manual should be merged, so that when controversies like this happen, everyone is talking about the same thing.
Close reading of the rulebook caused many to realize that once the quarterback releases a pass, defensive holding is no longer called. (Gronkowski was held before the pass.) That made me wonder -- how come once the ball is away, defenders don't start grabbing anyone not in the path of the pass? Consider the hitch screen that's a football fad. Once the ball is released by the quarterback, defenders could grab offensive linemen and wide receivers blocking for the hitch, and throw them to the ground. That seems legal under the wording of the rule. It doesn't happen because officials might throw flags anyway. There's the exact wording of the rules, and there's the way the officials call games. Often, they are different.
Bears throwing incomplete on third-and-22 at St. Louis, the Rams were called for illegal contact -- five yards walked off, first down Chicago. The call itself was correct, but TMQ dislikes this rule. Illegal contact should be five yards without an automatic first down.
Patriots trailing 24-14, third-and-goal on the Denver 6, Gronkowski ran into the end zone, slammed into his defender, then turned around to catch a touchdown pass. Offensive pass interference should have been called. This was a four-point swing in a game New England won by three points. Guess that makes Gronkowski, and the Patriots, even for the Carolina ending. Given the similar game situation, one wonders: Is this what Gronkowski was trying to do on the final snap at Carolina? Maybe he planned to slam into Kuechly, but Kuechly grabbed him first.
Thumbs Up for NFL Films: Long viewed as well-packaged but predictable, NFL Films is getting some game. Its latest, a demi-documentary on the development of the forward pass, is well worth watching. There's fun old footage, sharp analysis and cultural references to George Carlin and conspiracy theorizing. NFL Films' four-hour true documentary, "Star Spangled Sundays," is high-quality work with credibility, since critics of football are interviewed as well as boosters.
Over to You, Paul Lukas: This week's Oregon versus Oregon State collision is less important than expected a month ago. TMQ hopes it will establish a festive holiday mood if Oregon wears its radioactive green uniforms while Oregon State sports its visible-from-orbit all-reds.
Obscure College Score: Tabor 14, Benedictine of Kansas 13 (NAIA playoffs). Located in Hillsboro, Kan., Tabor College offers a FAQs page on which the third question is, "What does liberal arts mean?" If you don't know what liberal arts means, maybe you're not ready for college.
Next Week: Peyton Manning vows to spend offseason training at South Pole.
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.