Is there any end in sight for the upswing in football offense?
Denver and Dallas played a contest with 99 points, 1,039 yards of offense and one punt. At 46 points per game, the Broncos are on a pace to score 736 points, which would pulverize the NFL season record of 589 points. At 490 offensive yards per game, they're on pace to gain 7,840 yards, which would best the league record of 7,474.
And the Broncos are staring at the taillights of the Oregon Ducks and Baylor Bears! Baylor is averaging 71 points and 790 offensive yards per game; Oregon, 59 points and 630 yards. Saturday, Baylor gained 617 yards in the first half.
The offense surge is remarkable across football. A decade ago, the hot quarterback was the same -- Peyton Manning -- but no NFL team averaged more than 400 yards on offense. Today, Philadelphia's 453-yard average is practically ho-hum. NFL average scoring per team per game has risen from 18.7 points two decades ago to 22.8 points in 2012 to 23.1 so far this season. The NFL scoring record came in 2007 (New England), the yardage record in 2011 (New Orleans). The NFL's three best performances ever for first downs were in 2012 (New England), 2011 (New Orleans) and 2011 (New England). How many records will fall in 2013?
And the NFL is staring at the taillights of the NCAA! FBS scoring has risen from 20.6 points per game per team in 1972 to 28.3 points in 2012 to 30.4 points so far this season. The 122 schools of the FBS are averaging -- averaging -- 420 offensive yards gained. So far 19 big-time colleges average at least 500 yards per game. Roll in the FCS, Division II and Division III: All told, 69 colleges and universities are gaining more yards than the Denver Broncos. Even the small schools are making the scoreboard spin. Johns Hopkins, an elite academic college, is averaging 544 yards gained.
Broadly across football, rule changes that favor offense -- tighter pass-interference regulations especially -- are having the intended impact of increasing scoring. Coaches are putting their best athletes on offense, further shifting the balance. The 7-on-7 fad that began in the high school ranks around the year 2000 has led to college and pro players who spent endless hours in youth practicing passing the ball, and the way you get to Carnegie Hall is to practice, practice, practice. (Or to go on strike.) New emphasis on flagging helmet-to-helmet hits has made defenders a tad less aggressive, which benefits offense.
Specifically in the case of the Denver Broncos, the scoreboard-spinning act starts with Manning, a master quarterback at the peak of his powers, standing behind a very good offensive line. Also important are Manning's confident, quick release; constant small changes in the game plan; nearly error-free communication of rapid play calls (this factor is more than meets the eye); and defensive backs who play scared because they are worried about being torched. As the postseason approaches, defensive backs may start jamming Denver receivers, reducing the Broncs' gaudy numbers.
But gaudy numbers have become the new normal in college play. College offensive lines have switched to wider spacing, which spreads out the spread and generates yards. NFL teams could spread their lines too, but this would expose the quarterback to more hits, and protection of the $50 million quarterback is essential in the long professional season.
The NCAA's first-down rule -- clock stops on each first down -- is snaps-friendly. So is the NCAA preference for running the ball. This weekend, Baylor rushed 65 percent of the time, while Denver passes 60 percent of the time. In a quick-snap offense, running allows a faster pace: The line can reform more rapidly, the wide receivers don't have to walk back a long distance. Max Olson notes that quick-snap rushing has allowed Baylor to score in two minutes or less 29 times in just four games. NCAA first-down rules and college rushing preference add up to more snaps, which increases yards. In the Baylor-West Virginia game, there were 170 offensive snaps; in the Denver-Dallas game, 127 snaps.
Ultimately, more snaps may account for the big offensive differentials in the NCAA versus the NFL. Dallas and Denver combined to average 8.2 yards per snap; Baylor and West Virginia, 7.4 yards per snap. But Baylor snapped 95 times versus 73 times for Denver. The pace of the Baylor-West Virginia game was dizzying -- the official who spotted the ball had to sprint out of the way because he knew the snap was coming so fast. More snaps soften the defense. It's hard to explain unless you've been on the field, but playing defense is more tiring than playing offense. At Colorado, the Oregon Ducks snapped the ball 30 times in the first quarter. Defenders were gasping for air, and were only halfway to halftime.
Can offensive numbers keep skyrocketing? Pendulums tend to swing: A swing back toward defense would not be a shock. For now at least, football has become a stat-addict's paradise.
In schedule news, only five weeks have been played, and already there is just one possible pairing of undefeated, untied teams remaining in the regular season -- Kansas City at Denver on Nov. 17.
In broadcasting news, Tuesday Morning Quarterback long has wondered why television announcers say a team "has to" punt on fourth down. It's not just that announcers call any fourth-down try a "huge gamble," when the odds favor conversion on fourth-and-short. It's the assumption that a team must punt on fourth down, as though the rules required this. Teams must punt on fourth down because, why, because that's what announcers expect!
Eagles at Giants, Philadelphia was called for offensive holding. Jersey/A coach Tom Coughlin's choice was to give Philadelphia fourth-and-4 on the Jersey/A 47 or let the visitors repeat the down as third-and-20 on their 37. When Coughlin chose the latter, Fox announcers Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick practically passed out. "The Eagles were short of the first down, which would have forced Philadelphia to punt," Brennaman said. Philadelphia converted and scored a field goal on the possession. After commercial, the camera did a close-up on the announcers, who at this point had enjoyed five minutes to think about what occurred. "Philadelphia had to punt, why did the Giants not force them to punt?" Brennaman asked his partner. "The only explanation I can offer is that Tom Coughlin was confused about the situation and did not realize the Eagles would have to punt," Billick declared.
Coughlin took the penalty because he knew Chip Kelly would go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Giants' 47! Almost any team should go for it in this situation, but especially the Eagles, who entered the contest with the league's No. 2 offense and last-ranked defense. That it never occurred to professional football announcers, one a former NFL head coach, that a team might do anything other than punt on fourth down is an indicator of football orthodoxy.
In football and society news -- tick ... tick ... tick. That's the sound of the clock ticking down on the R*dsk*ns name. After President Barack Obama criticized the name, R*dsk*ns attorney Lanny Davis issued this snarl. Davis, a Washington insider who worked for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, surely knows one does not influence the president by lecturing him as if he were a child. The statement read as if the wording were insisted on by Chainsaw Dan Snyder, who got Davis to sign, since Snyder's opinion means nothing. But Davis' opinion means nothing, either. Davis is a lawyer employed by Chainsaw Dan, and would issue a statement declaring the sky is chartreuse if paid by his client to do so.
Tick ... tick ... tick. There should be a countdown clock at the entrance to Rdskns Park in Ashburn, Va., reading, "TIME REMAINING UNTIL NAME CHANGE."
Stats of the Week No. 1: Peyton Manning is on a pace to throw 64 touchdown passes. The NFL season record is 50, by Tom Brady in 2007.
Stats of the Week No. 2: Two NFL games -- New England at Cincinnati and Detroit at Green Bay -- had no touchdowns in the first half. Baylor-West Virginia had 10 touchdowns in the first half.
Stats of the Week No. 3: Drew Brees won at Chicago for the first time.
Stats of the Week No. 4: The Saints are 5-0 for the first time since 2009, when they went on to victory in the Super Bowl.
Stats of the Week No. 5: At 9:36 Eastern on Oct. 3, the Cleveland Browns scored their first rushing touchdown of the season. At 1:14 Eastern on Oct. 6, the Tennessee Titans committed their first turnover of the season.
Stats of the Week No. 6: Stretching back to the start of last season, the Texans have followed an 11-1 streak with a 4-7 streak.
Stats of the Week No. 7: The Giants are 0-5, have committed 20 turnovers, and are two games out of first place.
Stats of the Week No. 8: Denver is on a 5-0 streak versus Dallas, and 16-1 overall.
Stats of the Week No. 9: The past two Baylor-West Virginia games have resulted in 248 points and 2,765 yards of offense -- an average of 62 points and 691 yards of offense per game per team.
Stats of the Week No. 10: Detroit has lost 23 consecutive games in the state of Wisconsin.
Sweet Play of the Week: Midway through the fourth quarter, Indianapolis scored to pull ahead of undefeated visitor Seattle 29-28. The Colts prepared for a deuce attempt. Reggie Wayne, who's almost always on the left, lined up right. Tight end Coby Fleener lined up in the backfield and did spin motion, first left and then back right. Andrew Luck rolled right. Wayne seemed to block for a Luck run; Luck slammed on the brakes and the safeties looked at Fleener on the flare; then Luck threw to Wayne, forgotten in the center of the end zone. Sweet. The play could have turned sour if Wayne had been called for offensive pass interference -- he blocked his defensive back at the point when the action looked, to officials, like a rush.
Sweet Play No. 2: The Broncos have been running so many sweet plays it's hard to single one out. At the Dallas 4 in the first quarter, tight end Julius Thomas lined up in the backfield as a blitz blocker; Peyton Manning rolled out right; Manning flipped a shovel pass to Thomas underneath, who waltzed in barely noticed by the defense. This was a favorite action of Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez at Florida.
Later, on third-and-goal from the Boys' 2, Manning split the running back wide left; then during his chicken-dance routine signaled the running back to return to the backfield; at the snap looked left; then threw a simple slant right to Wes Welker for the touchdown. Two motions on the left -- the running back moving, Manning's look-off -- drew the safeties' attention from the intended target. Safeties were distracted for only a second, but that's all a slant pass requires.
Sour Play of the Week: New Orleans leading 23-10 with six minutes remaining, the Saints lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 on their 47. Drew Brees practically held up a sign saying he would try to draw the defense offside, and if unsuccessful, call timeout. Don't fall for the guy who suddenly rocks back then goes in motion! Don't fall for the hard count! Bears veteran Lance Briggs fell for the hard count, jumping offside. The Saints killed some clock, kicked for three, and prevailed 26-18. Sour for host Chicago.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Leading 10-0 at Tennessee, the Chiefs had their backs to the wall as the Titans reached first-and-goal on the 1. Kansas City staged a classic goal-line stand: run no gain, pass no gain, run no gain, run no gain. The Chiefs' offense took the ball 94 yards the other way for a field goal and a 13-0 margin; the visitors went on to victory. Sweet. For Tennessee, the fourth-and-goal was sour -- just a power set and straight-ahead rush. TMQ's Law of Short Yardage holds: Do a little dance if you want to gain that yard. But Tennessee offered no misdirection.
Another sweet goal-line stand occurred when Dallas, jumping to a quick 14-7 lead over Denver, reached first-and-goal at the Broncos' 3. The Boys went penalty, incompletion, incompletion, sack, field goal. Holding Dallas to a field goal in this situation helped kick-start the Denver comeback. And by the standards of a game with 12 touchdowns, five field goals and one punt, this was phenomenal defense.
Maybe Zombies Are Writing the Scripts: Erg ... arg. "The Walking Dead" new season kicks off in a few days, hard on the box-office success of the Brad Pitt zombiefest "World War Z."
One must suspend disbelief to watch a Superman film, a sci-fi movie and almost any kind of action flick. But Superman is presented as a space alien whose biology is different from human, so perhaps different biology allows qualities such as wingless flight. "Star Trek," "Star Wars" and other sci-fi movies are set in imagined societies that have imagined technology. Zombie movies, by contrast, involve Homo sapiens and occur in the present day. In "World War Z," "The Walking Dead" and other recent zombie hits, there's not even a hint of how the zombie transition could be possible.
The intro to "World War Z" has newscasters talking about greenhouse gases causing strange animal behavior. The main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, occurs naturally in far larger volumes than the anthropogenic version: If carbon dioxide was going to create zombies, this would have happened to Australopithecus. OK, it's a movie. But the Brad Pitt character determines the zombies become dead and superstrong in just 12 seconds. It takes about 45 seconds for blood to circulate through the body, so the World War Z pathogen transforms human cells before it's been in contact with them. "We tried to infect the zombies with diseases, but their circulatory systems have shut down," a World Health Organization researcher tells Pitt. No circulation -- no carbohydrates and oxygen to the cells? Muscles that evolved to receive water and oxygen by blood circulation should become useless without these substances. Instead, having no circulatory system makes the zombies superstrong and superfast.
The sci-fi novel "World War Z" made a halting attempt to explain how a virus creates a zombie. It was mumbo-jumbo in the sense that "Star Trek" "explains" its technology with phrases like, "Spock, reverse the polarity of the dilithium MacGuffin!" But at least the novel was self-aware of the absurdity of its own premise. The movie version of "World War Z" dispenses with exposition, merely posits that billions of people can transform into creatures that are superfast and superstrong, with limitless endurance, all from a few seconds of contact with a pathogen. "Technically, they are undead" a Mossad colonel intones. Technically! "Undead" doesn't have any real-world meaning, and doesn't explain what the movie, "The Walking Dead" and other zombie media never explain -- if zombies are already dead, why do gunshots kill them?
Of course no James Bond flick is anchored in reality either. To stick with Brad Pitt, the hit film "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" made no attempt to be possible. "The Artist" was not possible. Maybe "The Philadelphia Story" wasn't possible. If a zombie movie entertains you, then you get your money's worth.
Zombie stories are sometime rationalized as social commentary -- societies are rife with thoughtless people who shuffle along following the crowd, threatening anyone not like them, etc. TMQ feels the greater allegorical appeal is that in zombie movies, the heroes can kill, kill, kill without compunctions or consequences.
Imaginary biology note: In "The Walking Dead," the zombie virus not only makes victims say "erg ... arg" constantly, it causes blood to run down their faces continuously, while weakening their bones, since it's really easy to crush the skull of one. No matter what spectral biochemistry may be, if blood was running down a zombie's face all the time, the body quickly would deplete of fluids. Then how would the zombie move?
New England Falls from Ranks of Unbeaten: Cincinnati sacked Tom Brady on third-and-2, sacked him on third-and-8, sacked him on third-and-10 late. The Patriots' no-name receivers were not open on critical downs. On the third-and-10 sack, Cincinnati blitzed six. Brady is accustomed to teams being afraid to blitz him, which allows the Flying Elvii to send out four or five receivers. Correctly wagering that the no-names would not be open, Cincinnati blitzed and mussed up Brady's expensive haircut.
Bill Belichick's normal superpowers faltered when, trailing 13-3 in the fourth quarter, he had New England take a field goal from the Cincinnati 1. Use The Force, Bill. Turn off the computer, use The Force! New England never entered the red zone again. At the endgame, as a downpour began, Brady went 1-for-10 with an interception.
Note No. 1: The Patriots and Bengals are a combined 29-5 when BenJarvus Green-Ellis scores a touchdown. Note No. 2: As chilly fall weather arrives, cheer-babe professionalism becomes a factor. Professionalism in this context means skin or at least skintight; scantily attired cheerleaders propitiate the football gods. As torrential sideways rain began around the two minute warning, the Bengals' cheerleaders did not don slickers. Outstanding professionalism, and the home team went on to win.
Replace Party Hacks with Algorithms: The nails-on-a-chalkboard nonsense in Washington, D.C., is happening partly because in most states, redistricting after the 2000 and then 2010 Census counts was designed by the parties in power to ensure that no House incumbent can ever be defeated. Zip-code analysis of voting patterns has given way to block-by-block computer analysis, generating gimmick gerrymandering that would have embarrassed Boss Tweed. Senate races cannot be gerrymandered, which is why the Senate recently has been more stable regardless of which party has the majority. In House redistricting, hanky-panky is unlimited.
The Cook Political Report calculates that in 1998 the House had 148 Republican safe seats, 123 Democratic safe seats and 164 contested seats. Two redistrictings later, for the 2012 election there were 190 Republican safe seats, 146 Democratic safe seats and 99 contested seats. That means today, only 23 percent of members of the House need to perform well to be re-elected. The other 77 percent, on both sides of the aisle, can devote their time and energy to grandstanding. That's a formula for the mess in Washington.
Right now that means that knowing their seats are secure no matter what they say or do, the far-right faction in the House can try to make the United States look as bad as possible. Why right-wingers want to make the United States look as bad as possible is a question only they can answer. Why conservatives rail against government, then manipulate districts to make certain they personally keep their government positions, is a second question. Why voters don't rebel against redistricting plans that are designed to emasculate them is a third question.
But if you're a conservative and think "this is great," bear in mind, the weapon may be turned against you.
In 2005, then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California proposed that redistricting be done by a nonpartisan panel of retired federal judges. Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi fought furiously, and successfully, against this progressive reform, since Democrats held the statehouse and wanted to rig districts. Your columnist lives in the Maryland 6th district, which after the 2010 Census was absurdly gerrymandered to create this monstrosity. The purpose of the gerrymander was to defeat Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, sole conservative member of Maryland's House delegation. It worked. Now Democratic John Delaney represents a district so elaborately crafted to generate a blue majority that Rep. Delaney could don a Lenin cap, vow allegiance to Moscow, and be re-elected. Today, safe-seat Republicans in the House are giggling about how they can stonewall a Democratic president. How long until Republicans regain the presidency and safe-seat Democrats in the House giggle about stonewalling?
Since any redistricting based on political arm-twisting will be tainted, the solution is computer algorithms that generate districts. A panel of experts representing a mix of ideologies could check the algorithms for neutrality, then let a mathematical formula draw the lines. This website details the logic of neutral redistricting. A simple way to use mathematics to subdivide any number of persons into the required number of districts is shown here.
StubHub World: On Friday, 50-yard-line seats behind the Bears' sideline for the New Orleans at Chicago game were selling at $1,650. The same ticket -- 50-yard line, behind the home sideline -- for Jacksonville at St. Louis could be had for $89. Dozens of nosebleed seats were being offered at $9, less than the cost of shipping.
Didn't Mean a Champagne Toast: Last week your columnist asked, "Are the Falcons toast?" Now they are toast with butter and marmalade.
Since taking their own home field for kickoff of the NFC title game, Atlanta is 1-5. Arguably football's strongest team in December 2012, they are now close to eliminated from this season's playoffs. Home-crowd boos rained down as the Falcons failed at the Jersey/B 1 on the final play of the first half on "Monday Night Football." Boos as the Jets moved ahead 27-14 in the fourth quarter. Briefly the crowd remembered what it felt like to back a favorite as the Falcons rallied for a 28-27 lead just inside the two-minute warning. Then a stunned hush as erratic rookie quarterback Geno Smith completed a series of rinky-dink passes to position the visitors for the winning field goal on the last snap.
Any game decided in the waning seconds might have gone either way. All five Atlanta losses in the current string were last-second affairs: The Falcons were at the goal line at the end versus San Francisco, New Orleans and New England, while needing just a stop here or there versus Miami and Jersey/B. But nobody on the Atlanta sideline was complaining when luck went the Falcons' way in last season's nail-biter victories over Denver, Carolina, Oakland, Dallas, City of Tampa and Seattle. Atlanta has played an extraordinary string of final-second games, all exciting, but with the Falcons transitioning from Cardiac Kids to Cardiac Klutzes.
The team has many structural problems. Weak running game, obviously: Almost every Atlanta rush is a delay or a draw, so the play starts with the ball carrier hesitating rather than exploding. Lack of running threat means third-and-short and fourth-and-short is a shotgun passing down: Atlanta seems to be better on third-and-long than third-and-short. The team's front seven performance has fallen off, as has tackling. Either of two missed tackles on the Jersey/B final drive could have changed the outcome.
The king's ransom in draft choices paid two years ago for Julio Jones led to talent depletion of the Atlanta roster. The king's ransom in money paid this offseason to Matt Ryan led to free-agency dilution. (It was unrealistic for Atlanta to put so many chips on discount free agent Osi Umenyiora -- in 2012, Osi's Giants were 31st in defense.) The Jones trade was a gamble on a win-now stance for the Super Bowl. It didn't happen, and sure won't this season.
Angry About Mercy: TMQ contends that whenever a high school or college team wins by 50 or more points the victor, not the vanquished, should be embarrassed, since the game was a hopeless mismatch or involved poor sportsmanship or both.
At the youth-league level the problem is more sensitive. Because there is so much disparity in rosters, size and speed at the youth level, often youth-league games are over in the second quarter. Running up the score only serves to hurt the feelings of players on the losing side. Nobody need care about the feelings of NFL or big-college players; the emotions of 10-year-olds are another matter. And lopsided victories speak poorly of the character of any winning coach who runs up the score.
Reader Tim Silva of Greensboro, N.C., notes a California youth league now penalizes any coach whose team wins by more than 35 points. That's a fine idea -- Northern California Federation Youth League, an ESPN columnist salutes you. What's disturbing is the news that some "parents are angry" about the mercy rule. Angry about mercy -- how very current!
Having coached many youth games, I can report that the absolute worst aspect of youth football is parents on the sideline screaming at their boys to hit harder, or shouting invective at the opposition. Some parents -- in all sports, not just football -- seem to believe a runaway scoring margin means their child is a prodigy: What it means is the game was a mismatch. Most likely the Northern California Federation Youth League parents who are angry about the mercy rule have children on teams that were winning by huge margins. Anyone angry because his or her kid isn't humiliating some other parent's kid needs to take a look in the mirror.
The Football Gods Chortled: Thursday against Cleveland, in the first quarter, Bills punter Shawn Powell made one of the best special-teams defensive plays ever, running down Browns return ace Travis Benjamin for an open-field tackle that prevented a score. Told to punt out-of-bounds in the second quarter, Powell instead boomed directly to Benjamin, who returned the kick 79 yards for a touchdown. Powell was waived the next morning.
Kevin Kolb, E.J. Manuel, Matt Leinart, Tarvaris Jackson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jeff Tuel -- either on the field or the depth chart, they've all been the Bills' starting quarterback in calendar 2013. Sunday, Thad Lewis -- one start in four NFL seasons -- takes over as Buffalo signal-caller. By the following week, perhaps the Bills will be lining up Shawn Powell at quarterback. J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards and Rob Johnson are available. Don't count them out, there's a lot of season left!
The Football Gods Were Angry: Trailing Kansas City 26-17 with two seconds remaining, ball on the Chiefs' 14, Flaming Thumbtacks coach Mike Munchak sent in the field goal unit. True, there was no possible winning move for Tennessee. But at least try to score a touchdown for the home crowd! Angered, the football gods pushed the short kick wide. Perhaps Munchak was thinking of his season-ending performance review and wanting to say, "We lost to Kansas City by only a single score."
Tuesday Morning Quarterback Game of the Week: In Rockville, Md., Zadok Magruder High defeated Walter Johnson High 4-2. And all the safeties were by the same team! The Colonels of Magruder led 4-0 as the clock ticked toward all-naughts, but were pinned against their goal line, fourth-and-long on the 1. Magruder took a deliberate safety, then survived a missed field goal on the game's final snap.
Reduce the Deficit by Competitive Bidding for Handouts from Congress: The other day, yours truly did the Sports on Earth podcast run by ESPN Page 2 expatriate Patrick Hruby. We talked about my new book, "The King of Sports" -- say, have I mentioned my new book?
At one point we discussed the NFL's antitrust waiver. Major League Baseball's exemption from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was granted in 1922 by the Supreme Court: Congress cannot overturn that exemption directly, though could amend the act. (Quaintly, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that antitrust law did not apply because each baseball game is played within the borders of a single state and thus there is no interstate commerce -- hear that, broadcast networks?) The NFL's antitrust exemption was granted by Congress in 1966 and can be altered by Congress at any time.
In "The King of Sports," I write that while the antitrust exemption for professional football might be justifiable, Congress gave away the store, getting almost nothing for the public in return. Now it's almost half a century later, and the NFL rolls in dollar signs. So Congress should auction football antitrust exemptions.
If the NFL doesn't really need the exemption, it could do nothing at the auction and allow the exemption to expire. If the NFL wants to remain exempt from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, let the bidding begin! Whatever the NFL agrees to remit could be used to pay down the national debt, with a sunset rule that requires another auction every five years. To ensure competitive bidding, don't just allow the NFL in the auction. Allow hedge funds and venture capitalists to bid for the NFL's antitrust exemption, which, if they won, they could lease to the league.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: Oregon leading 15-10 in the first quarter at Boulder, Colo., the Buffaloes punted in Ducks territory. TMQ tweeted "game over." The football gods agreed -- 75-yard Oregon touchdown on the next snap. Oregon was the favorite and likely to prevail no matter what tactics Colorado employed. But the Buffaloes' sole hope of victory lay in scoring a boatload of points. By punting in Oregon territory early, Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre ran up the white flag. Just to prove it was no fluke, trailing 29-10, MacIntyre sent in the field goal unit at the Oregon 5. The final was Oregon 57, Colorado 16.
Fortune Favors the Bold! Hosting Georgia, underdog Tennessee kept the offense on the field on fourth down three times in the fourth quarter, resulting in two touchdowns and a late 31-24 lead. The rest of the contest went the favorite's way. But near victory over a top-10 team surely is good for the Volunteers' karma.
As the O'Bannon Case Creeps Toward Trial, Colleges Determined to Prove That College Sports Is In Fact a Business: Lane Kiffin was fired for losing games, when he should have been fired for USC's dismal African-American football player graduation rates. Now Paul Pasqualoni of UConn has been fired, for the unspeakable sin of starting the season 0-4. UConn's football player graduation rates are about the same as rates for students as a whole at the school, so Pasqualoni did OK there. Maybe his problem was that he didn't pressure the players to skip class and concentrate on football.
The whole notion that a college coach should be cashiered because the school isn't winning shows college football is a business. And it's engaged in interstate commerce! The Ed O'Bannon class-action suit against the NCAA alleges, among other things, violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. If Oliver Wendell Holmes were alive today, what might he think?
WTF Now Means What the Frack: In modern polarized debate, one is expected to be either for or against. To take a nuanced view -- that a thing has both virtues and defects in need of reform -- is hard in a national conversation based on shout-shows and 140 characters. Some initial reactions to my new book, "The King of Sports" -- say, have I mentioned my new book? -- fall into this category. Commentators are confused about whether I am "for" or "against" football, since the book has both praise and reproach. I love the sport, but also think it has systemic problems involving, among other things, health risk to young people, corrupting impact on universities and taxpayer subsidies to the NFL. Liking something while wanting sweeping reform is hard to compress into a sound bite. Believe me, I'm trying!
Another area where the for/against false dichotomy dominates is the Washington budget mess. Another is fracking.
With domestic production soaring, natural gas can be used to displace coal in electricity production, which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. That's a major plus. The complication is that methane escaping into the air as a byproduct of fracking might do harm that overwhelms the benefit of reduced carbon dioxide. This could happen because methane is more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The short version of the math is that if fracking results in more than about 2 percent of the extracted natural gas escaping to the air, substituting gas for coal backfires from an environmental standpoint.
A few years ago this study found that fracking typically led to 4 to 8 percent emission to the atmosphere. The study used estimates, not actual readings, but was independent academic work. Now this study says the fracking emission rate is about half of 1 percent, well below the danger line. The second study is based on actual readings, but had the cooperation of industry.
So should you be for or against fracking? Joe Nocera of The New York Times does a five-star job of laying out why questions like this become political Rorschach tests -- not about what's right or wrong, rather, about how to frame special-interest positions. Nocera has been writing that fracking will be good for the environment, but only if the practice is tightly regulated. That's a nuanced view, going against the pro-business drill-baby-drill grain and also against the Times-readership grain, since fracking is extremely unpopular in New York state. Check the column, which is a minor chef-d'oeuvre. Delving into a complex topic, not believing the official pronouncements of either side, then following the evidence wherever it leads, is the best service journalism can offer readers.
The Football Gods Promised an Investigation: Coming into the season, no one would have expected the Chiefs at Titans contest to offer a combined record of 7-1.
Streak Watch: The Lions were so horrible the game is hard to comment on, except to note that Green Bay is on a 15-1 streak versus Detroit. The Giants were so horrible the game is hard to comment on, except to note that Philadelphia is on a 9-2 streak versus Jersey/A. Tom Coughlin is on the hot seat: Sure there were those two Super Bowl trophies, but what have you done for us lately? The Texans were so horrible the game is hard to comment on, except to note that since taking a 20-3 lead over Seattle, Houston has gone seven quarters without a touchdown and been outscored 3-54. The disastrous heave-ho pick-six against the Seahawks seems to have broken Matt Schaub's confidence. Once a quarterback loses confidence, he may not get it back.
Sportsmanship Watch: Weasel coach Greg Schiano several times has had his defensive players charge game-ending kneel-downs. He claims, falsely, that this ploy once produced a turnover at Rutgers: Schiano's real motive seems bad sportsmanship. Sunday, in the closing seconds the Colts and Bengals knelt, holding one-score margins; neither the Seahawks nor Patriots charged the kneel-downs. Between them Pete Carroll (BCS title) and Bill Belichick (three Super Bowl rings) are roughly 10,000 times more accomplished than Schiano. The accomplished coaches think charging a kneel-down shows lack of class. Why does Schiano think otherwise?
Fairly Caught: Last week, TMQ noted the obscure rule that allows a team that made a fair catch to launch a fair-catch kick -- a field goal attempt without defenders rushing the place-kicker. Fair-catch kicks could happen after any fair catch, but make sense only with a few seconds remaining in a half: Otherwise, advancing the ball is more attractive.
Readers including Daphne Story of Evansville, Ill., noted this listing of fair-catch kicks in the NFL. The inventory has a 1976 fair-catch kick by Ray Wersching of San Diego as the last confirmed successful NFL attempt. (Because a successful fair-catch kick is listed in the box score as a field goal, it's impossible to be sure.)
I asked if any reader had seen a fair-catch kick that missed, going into the end zone before time expired. In high school all kicks into the end zone are touchbacks, but in NCAA play the ball would be returned to the line of scrimmage and in the NFL, to the point of the kick. So if Team A attempted a long fair-catch kick from its own territory and missed, leaving one second on the clock, Team B could follow with a regular field goal attempt. Perhaps this very unlikely sequence of events has never occurred.
Untouched Touchdown of the Week: No Dallas player was within 15 yards of Peyton Manning as he jogged into the end zone on a naked bootleg on third-and-goal. How monumental will the point spread be for next Sunday's Jacksonville at Denver contest? With Jax 0-5 and barely putting up a fight, for the remainder of the season, this column will call the team Jaguars A&M. Maybe next Sunday's pairing will be Jaguars A&M at Broncos University.
The 500 Club: Visiting San Diego State, Nevada gained 570 yards, made 34 first downs, scored 44 points, and lost. Hosting Rutgers, SMU gained 552 yards, scored seven touchdowns, and lost. Jonathan Wells of Arlington, Texas, reports that against Fort Worth Dunbar High, Saginaw Boswell High gained 548 yards, punted once, and lost. Hosting Morehead State, Campbell gained 553 yards, and lost. Campbell's athletic symbol is an angry camel. Hosting Morrisville State, William Paterson gained 592, and lost. Quarterback Ryan Gresik threw for 519 yards and five touchdowns in a losing cause.
Hosting Washington State, Cal gained 585 yards and lost by three touchdowns. Cal has exceeded 500 yards four times this season, and is 1-4. Cal's win is versus Portland State, which often exceeds 500 yards and loses. Speaking of which, visiting Montana, Portland State gained 511 yards and lost by four touchdowns. Since the start of the 2012 season, Cal and Portland State have combined for nine games in which they exceed 500 yards, and lose.
At Penn, Dartmouth gained 534 yards, and lost. Visiting UNC/Charlotte, Gardner-Webb gained 577 yards, built a three-touchdown fourth-quarter cushion, and lost. Leading 45-24 early in the fourth quarter, Gardner-Webb needed to keep the clock moving. Instead: interception, quick touchdown for the hosts. Had Gardner-Webb simply run up the middle for no gain on this down, victory was likely. Leading 45-31 with 8 minutes remaining, Gardner-Webb faced fourth-and-inches on its 38. Bad punt snap, 38-yard loss, safety. The game concluded with Gardner-Webb, trailing 53-51, missing a deuce try.
And hosting the Denver Broncos, the Dallas Cowboys gained 522 yards, scored 48 points, and lost.
The 600 Club: Mark Johnson of Findlay, Ohio, reports that against Lima Senior, Findlay High gained 609 yards and lost by 19 points. Visiting Troy, South Alabama gained 633 yards, did not commit a turnover, and lost.
Adventures in Officiating: In the second quarter of the Baylor-West Virginia game, Darwin Cook of the Mountaineers was flagged for "targeting" -- deliberate helmet-to-helmet hit -- which as of this season is an automatic disqualification in the NCAA. Officials gave Cook the thumb, plus walked off 15 yards. Then they huddled at the video monitor and declared that Cook was not guilty of targeting -- the hit looked hard but clean to yours truly -- and so could remain in the game. Yet the penalty walk-off stood. Huh? Several times in this young season, ejections have been overturned but the penalty still assessed -- either both should happen or neither. Two snaps later, zebras assessed a ticky-tacky pass interference penalty against Baylor -- the makeup call.
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Matthew Huie of Savannah, Ga., notes that Weather Channel declared the existence of Winter Storm Atlas on Oct. 4, "81 days before the arrival of winter."
Weather Channel's storm names are not recognized by the National Weather Service, rather, are a branding gimmick. Weather Channel gets eyeballs for its shows -- many senior citizens follow weather reports closely -- by turning every rainy day into a named storm, constantly suggesting the next Sandy is just beyond the horizon. Weather Channel even announces its storm name picks in advance, mimicking National Weather Service policy on tropical storms. TMQ hopes the channel gets to Storm Kronos, then the weathercasters can dress as Klingons. If only Storm Xenia were instead Storm Xena!
Many readers including Victoria Ames of Windsor, Ontario, noted that this year's Halloween edition of "The Simpsons" aired on Oct. 6. Here is the tremendously amusing intro by director Guillermo del Toro. The air date was very creepy -- but then, Halloween is supposed to be creepy.
Late Show Football: Remember the San Diego team that finished first in offense, first in defense and missed the playoffs? That team was on display in the baseball-altered game that did not begin until the clock was about to strike midnight Eastern. Visiting Oakland, the Chargers posted 433 offensive yards while holding the Raiders to 299 -- but turned the ball over five times, and were spanked. San Diego got pass-wacky numbers but abandoned the run -- the Bolts' leading rusher was Danny Woodhead, with 13 yards on nine carries -- leading to multiple interceptions.
Ron Rivera, Pack Your Bags: Cam Newton was 25-1 as a starter in college, and is 14-22 as a starter in the NFL. But football is a team sport. Three-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kalil barely even slowed his man on the safety that put Arizona in command in the third quarter. And should coaches really have called 48 passing plays for Newton versus 16 rushes for the team's running backs? The safety occurred when, ball on the 5, Panthers coaches radioed in a play that had Newton sprint backward into his own end zone. That's a call for an expert quarterback such as Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, not for Newton.
Obscure College Score: Martin Luther 68, Iowa Wesleyan 51. Located in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Iowa Wesleyan offers a Paranormal Investigation Group. The organization has both a faculty adviser and a parliamentarian. "Point of privilege! The Atlantis solar crystal death ray makes it impossible to read Robert's Rules of Order!"
Single Worst Play of the Season -- So Far: Dallas leading Denver 48-41 with about three minutes remaining, the Broncos were called for offensive holding. Choice offered to Jason Garrett, head coach of the "offended team" -- give Denver third-and-goal on the 5 or second-and-goal on the 17. Garrett took the penalty, but should have declined. To Peyton Manning, an extra snap means more than a few yards. With the benefit of second down over, Manning worked the ball in for the touchdown that tied the contest.
Now it's 48-48, Denver has third-and-1 on the Boys' 2 with 1:40 remaining, Dallas holding two timeouts. Let Denver score! Let Denver score! Instead Dallas played straight-up defense, holding the runner to 1 yard, which made it first-and-goal on the 1. Dallas could do nothing but watch Denver milk the clock until the winning field goal as time expired. Princeton-educated Jason Garret, how could you not let Denver score? You are guilty of the single worst play of the season. So far.
Next Week: Will the NFC East be won by a team with a losing record?
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.