The league's last two undefeated teams, both well rested coming off byes, went into action Sunday and were pounded. Early in the season, there is no undefeated team left standing -- no clearly dominant team, either. If the Super Bowl were tomorrow, who the heck would go? Contenders:
Cincinnati: Lots of victories in recent seasons but has not won a playoff contest since 1990. This is the league's longest drought. The Bengals are on an 0-4 streak in nationally televised games, folding in the limelight.
New England: A little early-season turmoil never hurt a good team. Of recent clubs to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, the Baltimore Ravens were openly feuding early in their Super Bowl season, including firing their offensive coordinator. The Giants began their recent Super Bowl season with a dreadful loss to rival Washington. The 2010 Super Bowl champion Packers took an early loss on "Monday Night Football." All used early turmoil to work out their issues and were powerful late.
San Francisco: Early turmoil can also lead to late turmoil -- the 49ers have significant meltdown potential. But they've reached three consecutive NFC title games. Will they be like the early-1970s Oakland Raiders: lots of bridesmaid seasons then finally a bride?
Arizona: Down to a third-string rookie quarterback, they hung with the Broncos in the Colorado air 'til the fourth quarter. This year's Super Bowl will occur in the Cardinals' stadium. No team has ever reached the Super Bowl on its own field; no team has even appeared in a conference title game in the season during which the Super Bowl was played on its field. The last host-field team to even make the playoffs was the Buccaneers in the 2000 season, and they lost at the wild-card round. Will Arizona break these trends?
Philadelphia: A team that fell behind 17-0 to Jacksonville, then at home allowed St. Louis, with a third-string quarterback, to run up 21 unanswered points, may be hard to take seriously. "Tough 4-1, soft 4-1. It doesn't matter," Chip Kelly said Sunday. That's the attitude of a football-factory coach looking for nonconference cupcakes to schedule.
Dallas: The Cowboys lead the league in rushing -- I must keep typing those words to believe them. The less Tony Romo throws, the better Dallas' chances.
San Diego: Can beach bums really be an NFL force? Check the standings and the stats.
Indianapolis: TMQ's pick to win the AFC, and I am sticking with my cards.
Green Bay and New Orleans: Both sputtering early, both potentially deep playoff contenders.
Seattle and Denver: If the Super Bowl were tomorrow, football enthusiasts would choose this pairing. But a rematch has happened only once -- Bills-Boys in 1993 and run it back in 1994. Logic says to not expect a rematch this season.
In high school news, three teen football players died recently during or immediately following games or practice. Tom Cutinella, a Long Island 16-year-old, said to his father "tell Mom I love her" before boarding a school bus and never coming back.
This is heartbreaking, but is it a reason football should not be played? On average, five teen males die per day in car crashes, suggesting that in the period since the first of the three horrible prep football deaths, about 50 teen boys have been killed by driving. Their names are known mostly within their communities; football deaths are national news. There is a roughly one-in-a-million chance a teen will die during an hour behind the wheel compared to a roughly one-in-six-million chance that an hour of a high school football game or practice will cause death. Life cannot be lived without risk: the risk of mortality in football is lower than other kinds of risk society accepts for teens. Long-term brain damage from repeated head hits, which affects tens of thousands of high school players, is a larger social concern than tragic but rare deaths caused by football.
In college football news, the new consortium of Power 5 conferences said last week it will provide full-cost scholarships to football players, grant multiyear scholarships and offer long-term health-care coverage for former players. The Power 5 will also create a new type of athletic aid -- the "lifetime scholarship" that allows a player who leaves college early hoping to make (or failing to make) the NFL to return at any time to complete his degree.
On a football landscape littered with bad news, this is wonderfully good news. Arguably, it's the best sports-and-society news in some time.
Many universities lack the money of the Power 5 and won't be able to match these terms. The Power 5 will acquire even more recruiting clout as a result. But the athletes who generate big bucks for the biggest university programs will receive a much better deal under this announcement than they do today.
In fact, Tuesday Morning Quarterback would argue the Power 5 deal moots the debate about pay for college football players. For all football players in the Power 5 to receive the progressive new package is a much better outcome than a few college stars receiving high income. And when did this breakthrough come? Just as a movement to unionize college football players began. Sometimes, the threat of a union causes employers to treat workers better. If the same effect is spilling over into collegiate athletics, that's great news.
Now, an item I reproduce annually from my AutoText. This season it appears unusually early. But count on it annually appearing, changed only for team names and time stamp. My heirs will be using this item!
"At 11:43 p.m. ET on Sunday, as the Bengals left the field in New England mumbling '#@%*!' under their breaths, corks popped. In one of the sweetest traditions in sports lore, on opening day of every NFL season, each surviving member of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, sole perfect team in modern pro football history, sets aside a bottle of champagne to cool. And it's genuine champagne from the French province of Champagne, not the boysenberry-infused sparkling-gewurztraminer wine-like substance that passes for bubbly these days. At the moment the stadium clock hits all-naughts for the vanquishing of the season's last undefeated team, the 1972 Dolphins pull the corks, secure in the knowledge that they will reign as the sole perfect team for at least one more year. Gentlemen of 1972, enjoy your annual draught. TMQ feels confident you will continue to sip champagne each season until you are called to meet the football gods, and greeted by song and feasting."
Another year as the sole perfect professional team is a nice feeling: Recall this amusing Reebok ad that aired moments after the Giants knocked off the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl, which was the latest an undefeated fell, or could fall. But what if your football-factory college team gained 812 yards, committed no turnovers, had touchdowns of 90 and 86 yards and lost? What if that was the most FBS yards ever in a loss? See below.
Stats of the Week No. 1: Atlanta has been outscored 55-17 in the fourth quarter.
Stats of the Week No. 2: The Steelers had back-to-back games versus the Buccaneers and Jaguars, two of the league's worst teams, and split them, barely outscoring these opponents by a combined 41-36.
Stats of the Week No. 3: New Orleans has won six straight versus the Buccaneers.
Stats of the Week No. 4: The Packers are on an 8-1-1 streak versus the Vikings; in these contests, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 21 touchdown passes versus four interceptions.
Stats of the Week No. 5: Minnesota first-half possession results at Green Bay: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, interception, fumble, half ends.
Stats of the Week No. 6: Indianapolis sacked the Ravens more times (four) than Baltimore allowed in its first four games combined (three).
Stats of the Week No. 7: At 1:26 p.m. ET on Oct. 5, the Tennessee Titans recorded their initial first-quarter score of the 2014 season.
Stats of the Week No. 8: At 5:15 p.m. ET on Oct. 5, the Jets recorded their initial interception of the 2014 season.
Stats of the Week No. 9: The Lions are 4-of-12 on field goal attempts.
Stats of the Week No. 10: Against the Chargers, Geno Smith posted a 7.6 passer rating. If every pass an NFL quarterback attempts falls incomplete, his rating is 39.
Sweet Play of the Week: Texas teams in overtime, Dallas faced third-and-8 from its 32. Houston big-blitzed, with a rusher coming straight at Romo unblocked. Romo didn't flinch, standing in to throw deep to Dez Bryant for a 37-yard gain that set up the winning field goal. Highlight reels showed the dramatic Bryant catch. Romo standing in -- then hunching over hoping to survive the certain hard hit -- was the sweetest part of the play.
Sour Pair of Plays: Facing third-and-1 at Indianapolis, Joe Flacco play-faked and rolled right, hoping for a big gainer. Instead, sack. Later, the Ravens went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Colts' 3. Same action -- play fake, roll right. Same result -- sack. Sour.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Arizona bringing its West Coast Defense to Denver, the Broncos clung to a 14-13 lead with 1:48 remaining before intermission, pinned on their 14. Peyton Manning came to the line and saw Demaryius Thomas in man-on-man press coverage against Antonio Cromartie, with only a single safety high. Manning audibled to a go route to Thomas, plus a post to Wes Welker to freeze the safety away in the center. Thomas "got off the line" against Cromartie, who lunged at his ankles and fell down, the safety well out of the action. Eighty-six-yard touchdown pass. Sweet.
There was only 1:48 remaining, and the Broncs were pinned .They'd either kill the clock or take deep shots. Why was Arizona in an overstacked, rush-prevent front with only one safety? Sour. Fun fact: According to the Game Book, it took Thomas 11 seconds to run 86 yards in full pads, which isn't all that different from the numbers track guys post in their undershorts.
Knock Him Down! How their paths have diverged since the 2012 NFL draft. Robert Griffin III was obtained by Washington for one of the largest king's-ransom trade packages ever; Russell Wilson was selected unnoticed by Seattle in the third round after Jacksonville took a punter. Now Wilson is 31-10 with a Super Bowl ring, RG III is 13-18 and in street clothes. At least Griffin has far more endorsement income.
The Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons gave the defending champions a respectable game, though were outrushed by 193 yards on their own field. A highly placed league source told TMQ this is not good. Among other sins, the Persons violated TMQ's immutable law of playing up: You can't dance with the champ, you've got to knock him down. Trailing 17-7 on the first possession of the second half, Washington faced fourth-and-1 on the Bluish Men Group's 9. Sure-to-be-former head coach Jay Gruden sent in the kicking unit.
You can't dance with the champ, you've got to knock him down! Facing a superior opponent, mincing half-measures never do. Gruden passed on a golden scoring opportunity against the NFL's hardest team to score against -- then followed up with a pooch sort-of onside, another half-measure that gave Seattle possession on its 44. Yes, at that juncture, Washington trailed by a touchdown and field goal. But field goals can be kicked from long distances, while touchdowns require traversing the field. Within 9 yards of the goal line, Washington kicked.
TMQ's law of fourth-down decision-making holds: If the opponent is relieved to see your kicking team, then you should be going for it. As the Persons' placement unit trotted in on fourth-and-1, Steve Raible, the Seahawks' flagship radio announcer -- he refers to the team as "us," its tailback as "Marshawn," and so on -- said, "Jay Gruden is making the right decision here." Which shows he was making the wrong decision.
Wacky Food of the Week: Declaring "barbecue culture" has come to New York City, The New York Times described Texas-style brisket as "a field notorious for nourishing perfectionism, competition and even intimidation ("I cook slow, Clem. You got a problem with that?") The newspaper said a new Brooklyn emporium is "close to brisket Nirvana," offering smoked meat "topped with wobbly, savory fat and rimmed with a lip-numbing crust of coarse black pepper." Lip-numbing -- sounds yummy. And wouldn't "brisket Nirvana" be a place where you completely lost your appetite?
New York City's contribution to barbecue culture, The Times reports, is serving brisket with wine while swapping out the traditional potato salad and pinto beans for roasted corn and edamame or buttermilk broccoli salad.
The Endless Campaign Increases The Need For Resign-to-Run Laws: In recent months, Rick Perry has made appearances in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire and other states. He's taking a salary from Texas and spending Texas taxpayers' funds like mad while devoting most of his time to promote himself.
Chris Christie -- Governor Abutment to this column -- has been hanging out in Iowa, too, or gallivanting internationally. Christie is drawing his New Jersey salary, spending New Jersey taxpayers' money on travel and bodyguards while shirking his New Jersey duties -- such as trying to fix the budget mess he created. In the same period that Governor Abutment struts around the country boasting of being a fiscal conservative, New Jersey credit has been downgraded seven times and is now indistinguishable from junk bonds. Rather than stay home and do the hard work that might fix such problems, Christie shuffles from media event to media event, denouncing others for failing to deal with fiscal issues. And why does Christie travel in a taxpayer-subsidized motorcade? To make himself seem important -- at public expense.
If you told your employer you would be absent for long periods while traveling to promote yourself, yet still expected to receive full salary and have your expenses paid, plus bodyguards provided, you'd be laughed at. If you told the local law enforcement agency you want a police escort so you could roar through red lights, you'd be laughed at. Yet politicians do these things all the time. And bear in mind there is no federal or state statute saying politicians are freed to ignore traffic laws. They simply pronounce themselves free to do so.
Then, having shown they happily squander public money, they seek higher office so they can squander even more. Politicians do this because the public lets them get away with it. Perry's and Christie's behavior is another example of why the United States needs resign-to-run laws.
Republicans surely are not the only ones wasting public money while shirking their duties. With war between Hamas and Israel and crisis in Ukraine, President Barack Obama took three days off to fundraise in California. The Democratic National Committee made a token payment toward costs of Air Force One and Secret Service but far less than the contribution taxpayers involuntarily made. Obama can't run again, so he was not promoting himself: but was assiduously shirking his duties while basking in the applause of carefully screened groups of supporters. It's foolish to complain about Obama taking an August vacation -- everyone needs vacations -- but constantly leaving his post to fundraise at taxpayer expense makes Obama seem sold out. The Washington Post notes Obama is appearing at a fundraiser every five days.
Other Democrats systematically misusing taxpayers' money to travel to places that have nothing to do with their duties include, as noted by reader Jon Riley of Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor William Bell of Birmingham, who's recently been on junkets to China, England, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, as well as to domestic destinations. At least Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel repaid $14,000 in travel costs that he'd billed to taxpayers while fundraising. A new city policy forbids the mayor from charging taxpayers for personal trips. We reached the year 2014 before that was illegal in Chicago.
Perhaps it is some consolation that foreign leaders such as Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, also use constant travel to make ego-boosting appearances before carefully screened audiences while shirking their duties.
Book News: My book, "The King of Sports," has just been released in paperback with a new subtitle: "Why Football Must Be Reformed." Now that you can buy this book for less than $15 or on the Kindle for $9.99 -- it's certainly not $10! -- really, what are you waiting for?
The Football Gods Promised An Investigation: The perpetually confused-looking Philip Rivers leads the league in passer rating, while the Chargers are third in total defense. At one point in the fourth quarter Sunday, San Diego had gained 370 more offensive yards than Jersey/B. Traditionally, the Chargers start slow because they are distracted by waves and babes at the beach, then come on strong late because San Diego surf season ends. In the past decade, San Diego is 38-35 before Nov. 1, 66-31 after. This year the Chargers have started strong -- 4-1, including a victory over the defending champions.
The First-Round Curse: Highly drafted quarterbacks -- Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill, Blaine Gabbert, Robert Griffin III, EJ Manuel -- continue to struggle around the NFL. Manuel, just shown the bench, is an example of the First-Round Curse for quarterbacks. Had Manuel been selected on the draft's second or third day, right now he'd be considered promising. Because he went in Round 1, he's viewed as close to a bust. JaMarcus Russell, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Josh Freeman and Matt Leinart are but a few of many quarterbacks who might have had solid NFL careers if they hadn't been chosen high. When a quarterback is selected in the top portion of the first round, he's either an instant hero or instant goat. Drew Brees struggled in his first two seasons, but because he was not a first-round selection and thus not expected to become an instant hero, got time to develop.
Many scratched their heads when the Bills used the 16th overall selection to tab Manuel, who was expected to be a third-day choice. That he went so much higher than expected might make Manuel the biggest quarterback reach since Kelly Stouffer. At Florida State, Manuel was effective in a simplistic offense that asked him to make two throws: the hitch screen and the deep sideline fade. Manuel didn't go through progressions in college, didn't look over the middle and has been exactly the same in the pros. For all the zillions of dollars now invested in NFL scouting, how could the Bills not have noticed that Manuel's deep passing was inaccurate and he had very limited experience reading defenses?
Now, Adam Shefter reports Jimbo Fisher, Manuel's college coach, told NFL teams he did not see Manuel as a starter in the pros. Burning a first-round draft choice on Manuel was the final bumble in Buffalo by Bumbling Buddy Nix, former general manager. Nix is the same genius who, in the 2010 draft, used a second-round selection on Torell Troup, OOF -- Out of Football -- in just two seasons. Nix passed on the next guy selected: Rob Gronkowski, who is from Buffalo.
Many NFL teams have made head-scratching mistakes on draft day regarding quarterbacks. Just ask the 23 teams that passed on Rodgers. In his draft, the quarterback-desperate Oakland Raiders chose the legendary Fabian Washington rather than local boy Rodgers. Joey Harrington, Ryan Leaf, Mark Sanchez -- the highway is jammed with broken heroes chosen in the first round as quarterbacks.
But Buffalo's recent quarterback decision-making seems especially odd. The Bills made a mega-trade for Rob Johnson, then gave up on him; they made a mega-trade for J.P. Losman, then gave up on him. (This is more indication that mega-trades don't work.) In 2010, the Bills devoted their entire offseason to working with Trent Edwards at quarterback -- then waived him three games into the regular season. Had he suddenly become a different person? After drafting Manuel in April 2013, the Bills spent their entire offseason working with him. Then, in late August they brought in Leinart and Thad Lewis. Leinart played the final preseason game then was waived the following day. In 2014, the Bills spent their entire offseason working with Manuel, failing to notice his lack of development. In late August, they brought in Jordan Palmer, who played in the final preseason game then was waived. As the season was starting, Buffalo brought in Kyle Orton, giving him no time to prepare. He's now "the man." Buffalo has a league-worst 14 years without reaching the postseason. Perhaps this is because the Bills' coaches and general managers consistently act as though they are unaware that quarterback is the most important position in football.
The Bills' comeback at Detroit was keyed by strong defense, which held the hosts to just 13 first downs and 1-for-11 on third-down conversions. Orton threw for 308 yards; Manuel has never bested the 300-yard threshold. Buffalo trailing 14-6 in the fourth quarter, the Bills reached first-and-goal on the Lions' 2. TMQ's Law of the Goal Line holds: play fake on first down, when the defense is cranked to stop a rush, not on second down, after the defense just stuffed a rush. The Bills play-faked -- touchdown to the uncovered backup tight end. Now trailing by two, Buffalo lined up in a spread look versus a Detroit dime. That meant a lightweight center of the defense: draw, deuce conversion.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: Ahead 17-16 at Santa Clara, Kansas City punted on fourth-and-4 from the hosts' 36. Outraged, the football gods caused the 49ers to march the other way for a field goal and the lead: They never looked back.
'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All: Ahead 10-6, Kansas City reached second-and-1 on the Santa Clara 40. The Chiefs threw incomplete then, on third-and-1, threw incomplete again. They lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 but jumped offside. A second-and-1 at the 40 ended up as a punt from the 46; the 49ers took the ball the other way for a touchdown. On the day when the Chiefs averaged 4.7 yards per rush, had they run on either second-and-1 or third-and-1, the game outcome might have been different.
Framing the Guilty in Political Debate: The latest job data -- unemployment below six percent for the first time since the 2008 recession began -- is fantastically good. The latest on inequality continues to be bad.
Last week this chart generated a lot of economics buzz -- there is such a thing -- by showing the recent extreme shift of income growth to the top 10 percent. Last week Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight showed that even adjusting for declining household size, median income peaked in 1999 and has gone down somewhat since. Still not convinced? Most post-recession gains in household net worth are caused by rising values of stocks, which are held mainly by the top quintile; this analysis shows most post-recession income gains have gone not just to the top decile but to the top one percent.
Elsewhere, this column proposes that the worst aspect of the U.S. economy is socialized cost but privatized profit; ever more, inequality is the second-worst aspect. (Job creation and rising standards of living for almost everyone are the best aspects.) Higher top-rate federal income taxes -- asking those most rewarded by current economic trends to give back more -- seem justified.
Inequality is likely to be a major theme of the 2016 presidential contest, and that means we're all going to keep hearing about Thomas Piketty's new book, "Capital in the 21st Century." Social critic Mickey Kaus memorably said that intellectuals sometimes engage in "framing the guilty." On inequality, "Capital in the 21st Century" frames the guilty. Piketty is right that CEOs are overpaid, that the system is rigged by, and for, the rich and that U.S. law favors capital over labor when it should be the other way around. But he uses such phony reasoning that in every way except sales, the book is a huge disappointment.
Piketty's claims -- both in his book and in elaborate stats he and partner Emmanuel Saez offered in Science magazine -- concern pretax income. This, he says, is the "simplest and most powerful measure" of inequality.
But income minus taxes plus transfers (government benefits) is the number that matters to people's lives. There, the indicators are declining federal taxes on average people coupled to rising state and federal taxes at the top, plus rising benefits for average people. Since the full calculation does not show an inequality emergency, Piketty ignores tax rates and benefits. A thesis is certainly "most powerful" if you pretend there is no counterevidence!
Harvard economist Martin Feldstein -- a conservative, but one who tirelessly advances the notion that poverty is the great fault of the American way -- has slam-dunked Piketty's ignoring of tax cuts for the middle class. The Vox and FiveThirtyEight analyses above, insightful as they are, also concern only pretax income, not the far more important income minus taxes plus benefits calculation.
Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution, the country's leading center-left think tank, has shown how Piketty's larger argument simply ignores any counterevidence. Burtless notes that while pretax income inequality is the highest since the Roaring '20s, "Progressive income taxes and government redistribution [benefits] are far more important in determining Americans' real incomes today." Adjusting for tax cuts for the middle and working class, for benefit increases and for smaller households, Burtless -- among the few truly original thinkers in Washington, D.C. -- finds that since 1980, "Americans in the bottom one-fifth of the distribution saw their real net incomes climb by almost 50 percent [while] those in the middle fifth saw real net incomes grow 36 percent."
And what about purchasing power -- after-tax income compared to prices? Here, economic trends (especially lower costs for electronics and energy) favor average people, so Piketty and many others ignore purchasing power. Since the 2009 trough of the recession, disposable personal income is up around five percent -- see the chart on page 119. A five percent increase in the purchasing power of your dollar is like a seven percent increase in your pretax income.
The three tax cuts under George W. Bush and Barack Obama have nearly eliminated federal income taxes on close to half the U.S. population (Mitt Romney's "47 percent"), while federal benefits are steadily rising in many categories. That is to say average people are paying less for federal government while getting more from it -- an anti-inequality trend that doesn't fit Piketty's analysis, so he ignores it. He also averts his eyes from the arrival of Obamacare, which will transfer many billions of dollars per year downward from the top decile. New Obamacare benefits for the average person, funded by new taxes on the affluent, have already reduced overall inequality, as Zachary Goldfarb demonstrates.
But Obamacare is a benefit, and, in the Thomas Piketty universe, benefits don't exist. And that's setting aside that the ultra-sharp Neil Irwin believes a lot of Piketty's data are wrong, especially Piketty's mysterious "adjustments" that cause marching columns of numbers to reach the desired conclusions.
Even as the income-minus-taxes-plus-benefits situation improves for most Americans, by taking into account only pretax income, Piketty will be able to say that inequality grows worse. Any 2016 presidential candidate who cites him as an authority will be citing someone whose work borders on intellectually dishonest.
Do a Little Dance If You Want to Gain That Yard!: TMQ's Law of Short Yardage holds, do a little dance if you want to gain that yard. Leading 28-22 versus the Browns at home, the Tennessee Titans lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 from their 42 with 3:09 remaining. It was the right tactical decision -- but a vanilla play. No shifts, no misdirection, no quick snap. Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst simply tried the sneak and was stuffed, positioning the visitors for victory. True, against Cincinnati, Tom Brady converted a fourth-and-1 on a sneak. But he runs the sneak better than any current NFL quarterback, and the Patriots rushed to the line to quick-snap. On the decisive down of the contest, the Flaming Thumbtacks had nothing but vanilla.
734 Yards, That's All You Threw For?: Calmly flinging the ball hither and yon in Mike Leach's pass-wacky spread, Connor Halliday of Washington State attempted 70 passes and completed 49 for 734 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions, only to see Wazzu miss a point-blank field goal with 19 seconds left and fall to Cal. It's a loss, but an epic loss. Seventy attempts, no interceptions! Since the game was at home, the biggest party night in Washington State history got canceled when the kick honked. Look at it this way: Cal quarterback Jared Goff threw for 527 yards, and in the context of the game, his numbers were unimpressive.
Washington State might not have gotten the win, but Halliday gets his own personal TMQ club -- he is the founding member of the 734 Yards Just Isn't Enough Anymore Club. Will someone push that number even higher?
Let's Move Out And Then Saddle Up: For the amount of time movies and TV shows devote to military and quasi-military action, Hollywood continues to get details wrong. Characters say "let's lock and load," which makes no sense. Once the action of a firearm is locked, it won't load. ("Load and lock" does make sense, though isn't a common expression.) Cops and commandos are depicted as cocking pistols or snapping the pump on shotguns while still in the police station or during preparations at a staging base. This is supposed to be macho, but would you drive around in a car with a cocked handgun a few inches from your vital organs? And don't get me started on TV detectives stuffing pistols into their waistbands. Not only do law enforcement agencies require sidearms to be holstered, stuffing a gun down the back of your pants is an excellent way to shoot yourself in the keister.
Memes seem to travel in action cinema. This year every action show has some good guy say, "he's in the wind," meaning, "he got away." TV cops say "he's in the wind." Actual cops surely say "he got away." Another recent meme is the military or police battle scene in which the leader points two fingers toward his eyes. Directors like the gesture because it's dramatic and seem to think it means, "Look into my eyes because I am really important."
I asked readers via Twitter if soldiers actually point two fingers toward their eyes. Dave Wilson of Tampa, Florida, replied, "It's a hand signal to tell someone to look at something without making noise by speaking. First point at your eyes, then point at whatever you want the other person to look at." Reader JP of Orrville, Ohio, notes Army Field Manual 21-60 covers hand and arm signals, including, "Enemy in sight. If not armed point at eyes. If armed point rifle at enemy." FM 21-60 has more battlefield hand and arm signals than an NFL officiating manual.
You Oppose The Baseball And Hot Dogs Act Of 2014?: The first Monday in October means the Supreme Court is back in business. Last term's most controversial ruling, the Hobby Lobby case on insurance coverage for contraception, springs from law with a fantastic name: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Like the USA Patriot Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act had the kind of name that's supposed to make a bill impossible to vote against. "What, you oppose patriotism? You oppose religious freedom?" The 1993 bill didn't merely claim to protect religious freedom -- the First Amendment does seem to do that. The bill claimed to restore religious freedom, as though religion had disappeared.
If I were a lobbyist, I'd tell clients, "Don't call this bill the Special Favors for Corrupt Insiders Act. Call it the Cherry Pie Preservation Act. In fact, call it the Restoration of Every American's Sacred God-Given Freedom to Eat Cherry Pie Act. Then, sneak in the stuff about handouts to the super-rich."
Whatever one might think of the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby, the majority's logic flowed directly from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Perhaps Congress erred in drafting that law, but since Congress enacted the law and the president signed it, the Supreme Court had better honor its provisions.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed unanimously in the House, by a 97-3 margin in the Senate, then was signed by Bill Clinton. Among the bill's leading supporters was Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, then the country's most prominent liberal; another supporter was Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, now the majority leader. Yet, after the Hobby Lobby decision was announced, Reid denounced the court for following instructions that Reid himself voted for. Hillary Clinton said the decision means "women and girls are being deprived of their rights," skipping that her husband signed the bill that set it all in motion.
The Hobby Lobby decision does not deprive women of rights. Rather, it may deprive them of an employer-paid benefit. Rights and benefits, two fundamentally different concepts, are increasingly confused in public discourse. If the John Roberts court had blocked women's access to contraception -- enunciated as a right, not a benefit, in a 1965 Supreme Court case -- that would have been outrageous. But women retain their right to contraception under Hobby Lobby, just in some cases must bear the cost.
Congress can revise the situation by amending or repealing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Supreme Court decisions are rarely the final word. In most instances Congress holds the trump card because it can alter law, including to clarify interpretation of confusing statutory language, which was a factor in the Hobby Lobby decision. So if the outcome of that case makes you mad, don't shake your fist at the Supreme Court -- contact your representatives on Capitol Hill.
Many people, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, reacted angrily to Hobby Lobby because it was perceived as grumpy, old men wagging their fingers at sexual freedom for young women. The court's majority in the case might well consist of grumpy, old men who dislike women's sexual freedom, but let's not forget the grumpy guys were faced with a conundrum: what to do when the First Amendment conflicts with other valid concerns. The court decided the First Amendment wins. It's not bad when courts side with the First Amendment.
A month after Hobby Lobby found traditional religious claims more protected than other kinds of claims, a leading federal appeals court, in an opinion by a tastefully named judge, ruled that ethical humanism deserves the same respect under law as religious claims. Now there's a powerful thought.
Reports Of Death Of Patriots Greatly Exaggerated: Lots of contemporary football teams do hurry-up no-huddle passing: the innovation of the 2010 Blur Offense squad at Oregon was hurry-up, no-huddle rushing. Hosting Cincinnati, the season's final undefeated squad, Bill Belichick opted for no-huddle, quick-snap rushing. The Patriots had two tight ends and a fullback on the field, hurried to the line to snap fast, then handed off. The result was 46 rushing downs and 82 total offensive snaps -- Ducks-like stats.
Once again, the Bengals honked out in prime time, dropping passes and missing tackles. Coming in with the league's best defense against points, allowing only 11 per game, Cincinnati gave up 43 points, and it might have been worse if the hosts had not switched to clock-killer tactics in the fourth quarter. Leading 20-10, New England faced third-and-16 on the Bengals 35 in the third quarter. A trap draw gained 19 yards and a first down, positioning the hosts for the touchdown that gave them a commanding margin. Cincinnati had no idea what was happening -- tailback Shane Vereen sprinted past two Bengals defenders who seemed not to know where the ball was. Earlier in the contest, on third-and-21, the Patriots ran the same trap draw for a big gain. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk No. 2: Entering Green Bay on a 1-7-1 stretch versus the Packers, the Vikings trailed 7-0 and faced fourth-and-inches at their own 41. Mike Zimmer sent in the punt unit. Outraged, the football gods caused Green Bay to hit a quick 66-yard touchdown pass. Just to prove it was no fluke, Zimmer also ordered punts on fourth-and-2 and fourth-and-3 in the course of falling behind 0-42.
Big Coal, Big Sugar, Big Paper: Smashing the steam looms didn't work. Now the paperwork lobby makes its bid to stop progress.
Wobble But Don't Fall Down: Cleveland trailing 28-3, Carolina trailing 21-7, New Orleans trailing 31-20 in the fourth quarter -- three teams that started the season wobbly were in danger of falling over. All came back. The keys:
Trailing 28-3, the Browns took possession on their 10 with 2:38 remaining before intermission. Cleveland staged a nine-play, 90-yard, buzzer-beater drive that made the margin 28-10 at halftime. Then, trailing 28-13 in the fourth quarter, Cleveland went for it on fourth-and-3 from the Tennessee 4 and failed. But that left the Flaming Thumbtacks pinned against their goal line -- a failed fourth-down try in close is like a coffin-corner kick. Cleveland held and blocked the Titans' punt from the end zone, then controlled the remainder of the quarter in a 29-28 victory.
With Chicago leading 24-21 in the fourth quarter, the Panthers sacked Jay Cutler on third-and-long. Next Chicago possession the Panthers intercepted Cutler. Next Chicago possession the Panthers recovered a fumble. Carolina forged a 31-24 lead by recovering another Chicago fumble. Chicago never snapped on the Carolina side of the field in the fourth quarter.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, the lowly Bucs led at New Orleans, a field where the hosts had won nine straight. Perhaps Saints players' eyes were dazzled by the new City of Tampa road unis, which look like video game icons on a screen whose contrast control is broken. City of Tampa faced third-and-29 at its own 1. The Bucs got to third-and-29 by committing penalties on three of their four previous snaps, so they weren't exactly in sync. That cannot be Mike Glennon making a deep drop into the end zone! Sack, safety and New Orleans goes on to overtime victory.
Perhaps Graying Audiences Want Action Heroes Who Are On Social Security: Recently, TMQ complained about aging box-office stars, such as James Spader and former actor Liam Neeson, flattering themselves with ultra-macho roles in which they effortlessly beat up strong, young men -- that is, strong, young stuntmen who have rehearsed being effortlessly beaten up.
Two more examples were just added to the inventory -- Pierce Brosnan, age 61, as an ultra-macho action guy in "The November Man" and Denzel Washington, age 59, as an ultra-macho action guy in the reboot of "The Equalizer." Both graying stars prove they are so incredibly macho they can effortlessly beat up much younger men who have rehearsed being beaten up. In the original "The Equalizer" TV show, Robert McCall was presented as a middle-aged person who used his wits to avoid fights. In the movie, five heavily armed, strong men don't stand a chance against him.
What Counts As Hosting The Super Bowl?: In 1980, Pittsburgh beat the Los Angeles Rams at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, 16 miles from the stadium in which the Rams then performed. In 1985, the 49ers defeated the Dolphins at Stanford Stadium, 30 miles from where the 49ers then performed. The Rams and 49ers are not considered to have hosted the Super Bowls they reached because the game was not held in their respective facilities. If the Cardinals make Super Bowl XLIX, they will be the first team in the contest at their own field.
What will be said if the 49ers make Super Bowl L? That game will be held at the field on which the 49ers perform, but the field is in Santa Clara, California, 45 miles from San Francisco -- a greater distance than the Rams and 49ers were from their homes when not considered to be hosting the Super Bowl.
The NFL Has No Shame -- And Neither Does MLB: Washington, D.C., baseball aficionados are thrilled the Nats are hosting playoff games. Area taxpayers may feel differently. Reader Bill McVay of Springfield, Virginia, notes the Nationals refuse to pay expenses associated with keeping the Metro mass transit system open for any postseason contests that run late. He writes, "Taxpayers gifted the Nats with more than $600 million to build their stadium and rake in income, and the team won't even cover a potential of $30,000 to take care of its own fans if a weeknight game goes late?" Socialized costs with private profit, the single-worst aspect of the American economy, is found across professional sports. Voters should demand change. McVay adds, "In September, the non-profit I work for hosted a fundraiser at Nats Park and they charged us about $26,000 to rent out the ballpark for something like five hours. I highly doubt a penny of that went back to the DC government that paid for the stadium."
Why Puppets Are Better Than Computers: A couple years ago, your columnist asked when there would be a big-budget Hollywood reboot of "Fireball XL5," the 1960s Saturday-morning kids show featuring Steve Zodiac and Eleanor Zero of the World Space Patrol racing around the galaxy. Produced by Gerry Anderson, one of the great names of schlock, the show was filmed with models and marionettes, as was his equally silly "Supercar" and "Thunderbirds." Here's a hilarious documentary about filming puppet sci-fi in the 1960s.
There's a big-budget reboot of the 1951 flick "When Worlds Collide" said to be in the works -- it's about the apocalypse, everyone's favorite theme of the moment -- but no big-budget "Fireball XL5" with Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Zodiac and Emma Watson as Eleanor Zero. This might have to suffice -- Anderson's son, Jamie, is raising funds in hopes of making a retro marionettes-and-models TV show.
"Fireball XL5" was deliciously cheesy -- viewers could see the puppets' strings, and ocean scenes were obviously filmed in bathtubs. But what was on the celluloid was real. As recently as the initial "Star Wars" movie, special effects were created with miniatures or by manipulating film itself. The spaceships of that flick were models. Luke's landspeeder was a modified car whose wheels were painted out on the film to give the illusion of floating. If not all early "Star Wars" special effects were special -- the torture device Darth Vader threatens Princess Leia with is obviously a spray-painted basketball -- the primary impact was enthralling. Audiences saw actual stuff that really exists.
Now that everything is computer animated, there's nothing more boring than special effects. Computer animation might sell -- the video game-like "Transformers" movies have been big money-makers -- but is not interesting because it's so obviously fake. Computer animation also divorces movies from natural law: There's no gravity or action/reaction in contemporary action sequences because these don't happen inside software. The result is fast-paced, colorful dullness.
Maybe a show made with marionettes, in which spaceship models get blown up using firecrackers, will be the antidote to computer-generated filmmaking ennui.
High and Low Football IQ on Special Teams: Bears at Panthers, scoreless, a punt sailed to Carolina's Philly Brown, whose catch was interfered with. Flags flew. The ball touched a Chicago player first, then was rolling around. Brown alertly snagged it and ran 79 yards to the house. Brown knew Carolina could have accepted the penalty if anything went wrong. Plus, when the punting team is first to touch the ball downfield, the receiving team can take chances because, should anything untoward occur, the receivers have the option of possession at the spot of first touching.
Santa Clara leading Kansas City 19-17 with nearly four minutes remaining, the hosts faced fourth-and-2 on the visitors' 36 and lined up for a long-shot field goal attempt. Kansas City was called for 12 men on the field -- Santa Clara first down. The 49ers ground the clock then kicked a field goal that represented the contest's final points.
Best Crowd Reaction: "Heath! Heath!" the Pittsburgh home crowd chanted when Heath Miller caught a pass to the Jacksonville 1. Wait, the game was in Florida, not Pittsburgh. No fan base "travels" as well as Steelers fans -- there is appeal in having a league-best six Super Bowl rings. Between the easy availability of Jaguars seats and the allure of a Florida side trip, so many Pittsburgh supporters decamped to Jacksonville that there seemed nearly as much gold in the stands as blue.
Packers Versus Vikings Looked Like Florida State Versus Savannah State: Packers fans are never going to have more fun than the stretch from the second quarter of the Chicago game to the start of the fourth quarter against Minnesota: Green Bay outscored opponents 66-0 in that span. The difference between a quarterback who knows what he's doing (Rodgers) and a quarterback who doesn't (Ponder) was never on sharper display than in the Packers-Vikings game. Rodgers threw for just 156 yards before exiting the contest to put on a baseball cap, but he hit three touchdown passes, including a perfect, deep zed-in to Jordy Nelson (hard pattern to run, hard throw to complete) and a perfect down-and-in to backup Davante Adams (whom the Vikings' nickel corner did not chuck, merely watched).
Ponder played the whole game in desperation mode, the low point being a pick-six to Julius Peppers. The whole Vikings' season might be slipping into desperation mode, with Adrian Peterson in limbo, Teddy Bridgewater hurt, an offensive line performing poorly and a nothingburger secondary despite two recent first-round draft picks. Throw in a rookie coach who punts on fourth-and-short, and the picture isn't good. At least Minnesota taxpayers are being fleeced for nearly $500 million to subsidize the super-rich Vikings ownership family!
Disclaimer Of The Week: Recently in New York City, I stayed, at someone else's expense, at the Parker Meridien -- excuse me, at Le Parker Meridien. If you call the hotel, the synthesized computer voice says, "To ensure this experience is memorable, we may record this conversation."
Adventures In Officiating: Alabama leading Ole Miss 7-3 with 51 seconds remaining before intermission, Mississippi ball on its 18, I'Tavius Mathers ran left; the Crimson Tide's Cyrus Jones grabbed Mathers' face mask, twisting his head around; not surprisingly, he fumbled; Jones recovered and ran the ball in for a touchdown, no flag. Ole Miss went on to win, so the no-call had no impact on the outcome -- but ay caramba.
Denver leading Arizona 21-13, the Cardinals punted and the Broncos broke a long return. Suddenly, the Cardinals were lining up to punt again from the same spot. The Fox broadcasters debated at length why Denver was offered the option of replaying the down "or having their penalty enforced," as referee Bill Leavy said. There were offsetting penalties on the play, Denver's flag coming while the kick was in the air -- that is, with neither team possessing the ball. When either team possesses the ball, offsetting penalties always lead to replaying the down. In this case, Arizona was asked if it wanted Denver's penalty enforced and of course said yes. Denver's option was to replay the down, Arizona again facing fourth-and-3, or to accept the result of the play, which meant allowing its holding penalty, a spot foul, to be enforced from the spot. The result would have been Denver ball at its 11. The Broncos opted to make the Cardinals kick over.
The 500 Club: Visiting Middle Tennessee, Southern Mississippi gained 537 yards and lost. Visiting Mississippi State, Texas A&M gained 526 yards and lost by 17 points. (Punting when down 41-17 in the fourth quarter did not help, as noted by reader Al Caniglia of Frankfurt, Germany.) Hosting Purdue, Illinois gained 515 yards and lost. Visiting Miami University, Massachusetts gained 554 yards and lost. Visiting Eastern Washington, Idaho State gained 614 yards on red turf and lost.
Honorary member: No. 2 Oregon gained 446 yards at home versus unranked Arizona and lost.
The 800 Club: Gaining 812 yards at home versus Cal and losing, Washington State became the first football powerhouse college invited past the velvet rope into this highly exclusive club. The previous FBS mark for most yards in a loss merely got Nevada into the 700 Club, since the Wolf Pack gained 791 yards in defeat versus San Jose State in 2001.
Five years ago, Oregon debuted the Blur Offense; two years ago, Mike Leach arrived with his pass-wacky mindset; Cal has long been pass-wacky. The Pac-12 has become the place for scoreboard-spinning, big-college contests. Because half the country heads to bed before Pac-12 night games kick off, this entertaining craziness is underappreciated.
The Football Gods Chortled: When Emmanuel Sanders of the Broncos was flagged for offensive pass interference, Denver coach John Fox vehemently protested that Manning's pass was uncatchable.
Obscure College Score: University of Chicago 17, Rhodes 14. It's the 1930s University of Chicago team coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg, not the Bears, with whom the Monsters of the Midway nickname originated -- the Midway is far from where the Bears perform. A week ago the University of Chicago's planned game at Pacific University was canceled when an air-traffic control center fire meant the Monsters of the Midway couldn't get out of Midway airport.
Located in Memphis, Tennessee, Rhodes College has dozens of experts, including an expert on "student retention theory."
Single-Worst (College) Play of the Season -- So Far (Runner-Up): Hosting Arizona State, USC led 34-25 with three minutes remaining, visitors ball on their 27. Only a dramatic, long touchdown could revive Arizona State's hopes. So why were nine USC defenders close to the line of scrimmage at the snap? Seventy-three-yard touchdown pass.
Now, it's USC 34, Arizona State 32, with seven seconds remaining, visitors at midfield. Maybe, just maybe, the pass will go the end zone. Arizona State kept seven back to block, and USC rushed three. That meant eight defenders to check three receivers. Since the play absolutely had to reach the end zone -- the game would end with any runner down on the field of play -- why were three USC defensive backs standing doing nothing around the 25-yard line? With eight guys to cover three guys, how did two Arizona State receivers get open near the goal line? Touchdown, visitors win.
Since USC is near the bottom for football graduation rates among ranked teams, perhaps mental mistakes should be no surprise. Which leads us to ...
Single-Worst (College) Play Of The Season -- So Far: The annual Notre Dame-versus-Stanford gridiron contest is not only among the great events in sports lore, it bears a message -- schools with terrific football graduation rates can play terrific games. This year's meeting paired the top two programs for combination of on-field and classroom results -- Notre Dame at No. 9 for on-field and tied No. 1 for graduation, Stanford at No. 14 for on-field and tied No. 1 for graduation. College football is not a guilty pleasure when you're watching schools that actually educate players.
But there's book-smart and football-smart. Recently, Stanford has been the former but not the latter.
Two years ago at Notre Dame, the Cardinal had first-and-goal at the Irish 4 in overtime, needing a touchdown. Four straight vanilla runs up the middle, without misdirection. TMQ's Law of Short Yardage mandates a little dance. Stanford used no shifts, no man in motion, no misdirection and got stuffed four straight snaps -- Notre Dame victorious.
Now, it's the 2014 game. Stanford leads 14-10, Notre Dame faces fourth-and-11 at the Cardinal 23 with a minute remaining. Surely, Stanford won't make a mental error at the end in consecutive appearances at Notre Dame!
The Irish send out five, Stanford rushes three, meaning eight men to cover five. Ben Koyack, a tight end who is 6-foot-5, is flexed left and heads up the field not covered by anyone. This gentleman reaches the end zone unchallenged and, all alone, catches the winning touchdown pass. Eight to cover five on a desperation down when the defense knows the offense must reach the end zone, yet the other team's tallest guy is not covered by anyone. Stanford, you are guilty of the single-worst play of the college season. So far.
Next Week: After three straight blowout losses by teams with a new coach playing on Thursday night (Buccaneers, R*dsk*ns, Vikings), the league spots any new coach a touchdown in Thursday games.