On Sunday, the Denver Broncos travel to Seattle for a Super Bowl rematch. Are the Broncos happy to have another chance to slay the dragon, or dismayed that stretching back to last season, two of four games that count will be against the league's best defense?
Whatever the case may be, the Super Bowl rematch is surprisingly rare. On only five occasions following the 47 previous Super Bowls -- or V times following the XLVII previous Super Bowls -- has the next regular season seen a rematch. So far teams that lost the Super Bowl are 2-3 against the victors in regular-season rematches the following season. The rematches:
Super Bowl IV: The Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7. In the ensuing regular season, Minnesota defeats Kansas City 27-10.
Super Bowl XI: The Oakland Raiders defeat the Vikings 32-14. The following regular season, Oakland defeats Minnesota 10-3.
Super Bowl XIII: The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 35-31. In the next regular season, Pittsburgh beats Dallas 14-3.
Super Bowl XXVII: Dallas defeats Buffalo 52-17. In the next regular season, the Bills beat the Cowboys 13-10. (That's a 38-point swing in Buffalo's favor, but the Boys won the game people remember.)
Super Bowl XXXI: The Green Bay Packers beat the New England Patriots 35-21. Then Green Bay beats New England 28-10 in the regular season.
The most recent Super Bowl rematch, Green Bay versus New England, occurred in 1997, so it's been nearly two decades since a regular-season rematch.
Considering the beatdown the Bluish Men Group defense put on the Broncs' high-tech offense in the Super Bowl, the odds would seem to favor another Seattle win. So would the Seahawks' league-best 18-1 stretch at home. So would Russell Wilson's sterling record versus the NFL's quarterbacking old guard. Wilson is 7-0 in starts against Tom Brady, Drew Brees, the Manning brothers and Aaron Rodgers. By comparison, he's 3-2 versus young guns Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck.
Broncos partisans cannot be pleased that the rematch will be played in the league's loudest stadium, rather than in the gasp-inducing air of Colorado.
On Denver's first Super Bowl down, stadium noise caused confusion for the Broncs: The snap sailed over Peyton Manning's head for a safety, setting the tone for what would become a blowout. When John Fox coached the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII at Houston, the neutral crowd didn't make much noise. When preparing the Broncos for Super Bowl XLVIII, Fox assumed the neutral crowd at Snoopy Stadium would be similar, like they were watching Masterpiece Theatre. Assuming this, Fox had the noise generators turned off at the Jets' practice facility where Denver prepared for the big game. This decision came back to haunt the Broncos on that first play; Denver seemed discombobulated by the noise level. ("Wow it's loud in here," one of my kids, attending with me, said a moment before the safety.) Presumably, Fox will have his charges spend the week with ears ringing from the maximum decibels the speakers at Dove Valley can produce.
Or will he? Some coaches tailor everything to specific places and opponents, others say they approach every game the same. Seattle coach Pete Carroll is in the former group, Fox in the latter. Example: Going into the Super Bowl, Carroll had the Seahawks prepare for a long halftime. Fox did not have the Broncos practice this.
Super Bowl intermissions are twice the length of an average halftime -- roadies need to set up a stage for the big-deal act, who has to perform; then the stage must be struck, while plenty of time is required for beer and car commercials. This breaks player habits. When the New Orleans Saints onside kicked to start the second half of their Super Bowl collision with Indianapolis, Colts on the receiving team seemed unfocused. Some were checking out the double cheerleader squads both dancing at the Colts' end of the field. (Most college games have cheer patrols on both sides; the Super Bowl is the sole NFL contest with double cheerleaders.) Some were watching the final sets for The Who to be rolled off. The Colts weren't prepared for keeping focus during the unusually long halftime.
To prepare the Seahawks for the unusually long halftime, Carroll had them run plays, then go back to the locker room for half an hour of twiddling thumbs, then go back out and run plays at game tempo. Rich Cimini provides the details. Denver did not do any special halftime rehearsal. Result? The Broncs' special teams looked drowsy, too many players bunched on the same side, as Seattle ran the second-half opening kickoff back for a touchdown, turning the game into a rout.
One would think that in Sunday's rematch there's no way the Denver Broncos will repeat the mistakes they made in the Super Bowl. Yet history has a way of repeating itself. Whatever the outcome, savor one of the all-too-rare next-season Super Bowl rematches.
In other football news, the outsized nature of the NFL often thrusts the league into the nation's consciousness. The past week -- Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, concussions, this Outside the Lines report on domestic violence charges against Greg Hardy -- has been extreme even by NFL standards. After reflecting on events of the week, these issues lingered with me:
• Since Rice was placed into a pretrial diversion program by a New Jersey judge, isn't that a reason to think he should be treated leniently? John Barr and Don Van Natta Jr. find that only about 1 percent of New Jersey domestic violence cases similar to Rice's result in pretrial diversion. This suggests Rice got special treatment because he is an NFL star, and that is disturbing on several levels. (Janay Rice also was arrested; charges against her were dropped.) Granting special legal treatment to NFL stars is wrong in and of itself, but this sends the wrong message to youth and high school players: that they can bend the rules so long as they score touchdowns.
• Commentators including Peter King of Sports Illustrated noted that pro football players are arrested at a lesser rate than adults as a whole. How much lower? Neil Irwin of The New York Times, an economics writer and skilled numbers-cruncher, computes that the database of NFL arrests kept by USA Today works out to about 2.5 percent of NFL players being arrested in any given year. In 2010, the most recent Census, there were 234 million adults and 11.5 million arrests of adults. So about 4.9 percent of American adults are arrested per year. We're left with NFL players being arrested at somewhat below the rate for adults generally. No badge of honor but no epidemic of football criminality, either.
• Ongoing settlement talks for the main NFL concussion lawsuit last week led to a league-financed study roughly estimating that one former NFL player in three will develop later-life neurological damage. Since there are around 18,000 former NFL players, that estimate suggests 6,000 face neurological problems. A terrible number -- but nothing compared to what the estimate foretells about the larger football universe. About 3.7 million boys play youth and high school football, according to USA Football. If one-third of them face later-life neurological decay caused by football, that comes to 1.2 million cases of crippling head harm. Of course most youth and high school players never participate in as much football as those who go on to make the pros, and thus experience fewer head impacts. Cut the NFL rate in half, and that's still more than 500,000 cases of serious neurological harm caused by football. Cut the NFL rate to a tenth, and that's still more than 100,000 cases.
• TMQ has been noting for five years: "There is no law of nature that says the NFL must remain popular." Special legal treatment for NFL stars, tax subsidies to the super-profitable league -- these are disturbing trends. If it is definitely shown that football is causing serious neurological damage, with cases numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the sport could lose popularity and might be legislated or litigated out of existence.
In cartology news, no one arrived at the first regular-season contest at The Building Bluejeans Built by setting a GPS to "San Francisco." Yet NBC kept showing romantic aerial views of the San Francisco skyline, San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. Where were the views of Santa Clara landmarks? Like Intel headquarters, or the facility where the annual pinball convention is held?
In other sports news, what if your team scored 68 points and lost? I'm not talking about your basketball team; I'm talking about your NCAA college football team. See below.
Stats of the Week No. 1: During the regular season, the Cincinnati Bengals are on a 10-0 streak at home; during the playoffs, they are on an 0-3 streak at home.
Stats of the Week No. 2 In the Eagles' first two games, they fell behind by a combined 37-6, then came back by a combined 58-7.
Stats of the Week No. 3: Stretching back to the start of last season, Eli Manning has a league-worst 31 interceptions.
Stats of the Week No. 4: Stretching back to the start of last season, Jersey/A and Jersey/B quarterbacks Manning and Geno Smith have combined to commit 59 turnovers.
Stats of the Week No. 5: Two of the Miami Dolphins' past four regular-season games have been at Buffalo; in them, the Dolphins were shut out in seven of eight quarters.
Stats of the Week No. 6: Green Bay's possession results from the point the Packers fell behind 14-0 to the Jets: field goal, field goal, field goal, touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown. Chicago possession results from the point the Bears fell behind 17-0 to the 49ers: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, kneel-downs to end game.
Stats of the Week No. 7: The Vikings won their first game by 28 points, then lost their second game by 23 points.
Stats of the Week No. 8: Stretching back to the beginning of last season, Kansas City has followed a 9-0 streak with a 2-8 stretch.
Stats of the Week No. 9: In upsetting USC, Boston College outrushed the Trojans by 432 yards. The Eagles averaged 8.4 yards per rush and 3.9 yards per pass attempt.
Stats of the Week No. 10: The Cleveland Browns won their home opener for the first time in 10 years; the St. Louis Rams won their road opener for the first time in 13 years.
Sweet Series of the Week: The league's worst run defense in 2013, Chicago surrendered 193 rushing yards to Buffalo at home in its opener. On the road versus the Santa Clara 49ers, the Bears came out in a college-style seven-man front stacked to stop the Niners' power rush. College offensive tactics are the NFL trend of the moment, and the hosts showed a lot of Stanford's Four Horsepersons backfield, a run-first set. The result of these tactics? A 17-7 Santa Clara lead at intermission.
So during halftime, Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker changed tactics, switching to the Tampa 2 front that Brian Urlacher excelled in. Through the second half, the Bears' Tampa 2 held the hosts to 54 yards rushing and three points. With the Niners leading 17-7, Santa Clara reached first-and-goal on the Chicago 6 early in the third quarter. Run stuffed, run stuffed, run stuffed, field goal. On the second-and-goal stuff from the Chicago 4, the Niners had no wide receiver on the field -- nine blockers versus a conventional front; the run was stuffed owing to great penetration by Willie Young, Lance Briggs and Stephen Paea. The Chicago goal-line stand against the Niners' power runs was the sweetest series of plays of the week.
Santa Clara had plenty of blame to go around -- 16 accepted penalties (two more declined), including two automatic first-down fouls on Chicago third-down incompletions, one of which sustained a touchdown drive. The Niners dropped three interceptions. (After Jay Cutler threw two dropped interceptions on the same second-quarter possession, the Bears seemed so doomed the NBC announcers were talking about whether Jimmy Clausen -- 1-9 in his career -- would take over in the second half.) Jonathan Marin was horrible at right tackle, surrendering two "olé!" sacks on which he barely slowed Young. Santa Clara coaches were horrible, not noticing Martin's struggles and sliding him help. Three touchdown passes for Chicago went to its very tall wide receivers when they were covered by 5-foot-10 Jimmie Ward. Cutler was looking for whomever was matched up against Ward, and Niners coaches did not give Ward help.
Then there's Kaepernick. He is a gifted athlete who has an engaging personal story, and he looks great naked. (In consecutive offseasons, Kaepernick has stripped to pose for magazine covers.) But increasingly it seems he is in over his head as an NFL quarterback. He had four turnovers versus the Bears, two coming when Kaepernick forced the ball toward Michael Crabtree. Attention Niners coaches: The entire league knows Kaepernick forces the ball to Crabtree; make him stop! On one interception, Kaepernick was sprinting left then threw across his body (he's right-handed) into double coverage. With 1:29 remaining, Kaepernick threw the ball away though Frank Gore was uncovered at the Chicago 17. On the last Santa Clara snap, Kaepernick forced the ball to Crabtree, who was covered, with Anquan Boldin open on the right.
The 49ers have a strong running game, a mainly solid offensive line, and have shuffled in so many well-known or highly drafted wide receivers over the years -- Crabtree, Boldin, Randy Moss, Stevie Johnson, A.J. Jenkins, Jon Baldwin, Mario Manningham -- they might as well be running a 7-on-7 camp. But Kaepernick still looks unskilled as a quarterback: staring down primary receivers, holding the ball too long. Maybe the game will "slow down" for him (Drew Brees made a lot of mistakes at this point in his career, too). But considering the Niners have such a powerful roster in terms of talent, Kaepernick remains a question mark.
Sour Play of the Week: At Jersey/A, the Arizona Cardinals faced third-and-17. A false start stops the play, but New York Giants defender Jameel McClain ignores the whistle and runs several steps to drill backup quarterback Drew Stanton. With a first down via personal foul, the Cardinals go on to score a touchdown on the possession and continue on for the victory. A deluge of turnovers and bone-headed penalties -- could the Giants really be a team just two seasons removed from a Super Bowl win?
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: The San Diego Chargers reached first-and-goal on the 3 of the defending champion Seahawks. Two penalties pushed the Bolts back to second-and-goal on the 23. A fake zone-read run, followed by a college-style "smoke" hitch -- an action right out of the Seattle playbook -- moved the ball to the Seattle 8, from which Philip Rivers set three wide receivers left then threw right for a touchdown to tight end Antonio Gates. Sweet.
Sour was that the league's best defense could not stop a team facing second-and-goal on the 23. Earlier, San Diego faced first-and-goal from the Seattle 16 and ended up with a touchdown, also to Gates going right. Later, Gates caught a touchdown pass on second-and-20.
Sweet 'N' Sour Bonus: With the Bolts leading 27-21, the defending champions faced third-and-12 at the two-minute warning. The Seahawks had six to block four, yet the San Diego rush flushed Russell Wilson from the pocket and forced him to throw a checkdown, setting up a fourth-and-long that San Diego won. Sweet for the home team, sour for the Lombardi holder as it heads toward the Super Bowl rematch. The nine-point loss at San Diego was the biggest road-defeat margin for the Hawks under Wilson.
'Supervillains' Union Complains About Lack of Screen Time: The conventional wisdom is that Hollywood roots for Barack Obama and expansion of government. Maybe so. Yet Tinseltown simultaneously indoctrinates audiences to believe government is evil. Many recent big-budget blockbusters have sinister government agencies or corrupt national leaders as a theme: "X-Men 2," the first "Spiderman," both "Hulk" flicks, "Enemy of the State," "Swordfish," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," to name just a few. Back in Ronald Reagan's Hollywood heyday, government officials were the heroes of films -- stalwart, conscientious. Now they're the villains, plotting to destroy the American way of life.
Sometimes the notion of a super-evil U.S. government drifted over into primetime television -- old shows such as "The X-Files" or "Dark Angel." Generally, primetime presented federal agents as tireless champions of the public interest, national leaders as persons to be admired: "The F.B.I.," which ran from 1965-74, was the exemplar of this type. All that has changed. In the next two weeks, as primetime TV restarts, expect to see high-level Washington traitors everywhere. They have become the new normal for network television.
Fox's "24," which kicked off in 2001, set the tone, depicting traitors under every Washington D.C. bed. The head of the CIA, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, the head of the super-secret CTU, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, one president's wife, then another president himself -- all traitors. The co-creator of "24," Joel Surnow, is unusual in Hollywood culture because he's a political conservative: In addition to entertaining audiences with nonsensical action, he seemed to want to convince viewers they should detest government. Surnow has left "24," but his spirit was evident in the latest edition, "24: Live Another Day." That primetime show depicted the top of American government as riddled with turncoats -- the president's Chief of Staff is conspiring with Moscow, the CIA's London station chief is selling secrets to the Chinese.
As recently as a decade ago, when "24" became a ratings monster, its interpretation of high-level government was quite unusual, and attributed to Surnow's politics. Now this worldview dominates network action fare.
On the NBC primetime series "Crisis," the CIA engages in systematic murder of Americans, including sending a death squad to gun down the family of a human-rights activist who lives near Washington D.C. When the FBI begins investigating, the CIA murders an FBI agent and hangs her body from a Washington bridge as a warning. The CIA director is a traitor, while his agents are depicted as mindless automatons who care nothing for the Constitution and follow the director's orders to murder the helpless.
On CBS's "Hawaii Five-0," the CIA is assisting Chinese gangsters in their plot to destroy the U.S. economy. When Danno questions CIA motives, the agency takes him captive and tortures him; the CIA officer who helps Danno escape a U.S. government black-site prison is immediately executed by the agency. This is presented as standard CIA behavior.
On NBC's prime-time series "The Blacklist," returning to the air next Monday, the FBI director is a traitor, as are members of a mysterious committee of super-powerful U.S. senators who are plotting to hand over the nation to an international criminal syndicate. On the FX prime-time show "Justified," the FBI is helping mobsters bring heroin into the country; on the FX prime-time show "The Bridge," the CIA is helping Mexican cartels smuggle in heroin. On the CBS prime-time series "Intelligence," the CIA director, national security adviser and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all were traitors.
Topping this is the CBS prime-time series "Unforgettable." Valorous NYPD detectives discover that after 9/11, the federal government began cooperating with Osama bin Laden, encouraging him to stage additional terrorist attacks that could be used to rationalize crackdowns on civil liberties. The series posits the existence of An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than the CIA that possesses unexplained unlimited money and unexplained total power over the White House. The leader of the Agency Far, Far More Secret Than the CIA plans to detonate an atomic bomb in Manhattan, in order to blame terrorists and justify suspension of the Bill of Rights. "It's a shame we will kill millions of innocent New Yorkers, but ending the Bill of Rights will make me America's greatest patriot," the director declares. This is far beyond the craziest truther theory regarding 9/11.
Of course viewers know the content of prime-time shows is nonsense. But what does it mean that major networks now think claims of high-level government treason are entertaining? And if it's true that the Hollywood establishment wants voters to support Barack Obama, the prime-time worldview of traitors running Washington is not likely to help.
The NFL Has No Shame: NFL headquarters masquerades as a civic-improvement organization to get a tax exemption, 70 percent of stadium costs are subsidized by taxpayers, while nearly 100 percent of stadium revenue goes to owners. Roger Goodell pays himself $44 million a year to stonewall and make excuses -- can the NFL look any worse?
Sure! Reader Joe Baustian of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, notes this story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune: "Louisiana is paying higher than average rent for space in Benson Tower, including vacant offices, in a lease that was penned as part of an effort to keep the Saints in New Orleans, state auditors said." Benson Tower is the property of Tom Benson, owner of the Saints. Louisiana is paying Benson $25.12 per square foot, auditors found, though the same building advertises rates up to $19 per square foot for commercial customers. Louisiana officials told the Times-Picayune the deal "actually saves the state" money because at one time Louisiana gave $18.5 million per year directly to Benson, but now gets some office space in exchange.
So once public money was used to bribe an NFL owner, but now the public is merely getting a bad deal. The NFL has no shame.
And The NCAA Has No Shame: The defending champion Florida State program graduates just 58 percent of its players. That's okeydokey with the NCAA. But heaven forbid there should be telephone calls or text messages!
This new study by two Vanderbilt professors got attention last week by contending that football-factory coaches are not overpaid compared to the additional revenue they bring their colleges. Maybe so, but what struck me was Table 2D, showing how modest football-factory coaches' academic bonuses are, compared to bonuses for victory. Randall Thomas and R. Lawrence Van Horn write that a "substantial majority" of football-factory head coaching contracts "pay a maximum amount equal to less than 14 percent of base salary, which is the minimum possible payment for on-field coach performance ... We conclude that academic performance clauses are far less economically significant than on-field performance pay."
Latest Nutty Sports Contract: Over the weekend Robert Quinn signed a mega extension with about $41 million guaranteed. The Rams want to lock him up, contractually speaking, because he was second in sacks in 2013. But Les Mouflons were mediocre on defense in 2013, and since the start of that season, have allowed at least 30 points on six occasions. If Quinn is a franchise-quality defender, why is the St. Louis defense unimpressive?
New Orleans Defense Honks Out Again: In Week 1, the Saints seemed to have the Falcons dead to rights, leading by 3 with Atlanta on its 20 with 1:20 remaining. Then New Orleans shifted into the prevent defense, and you don't need to know anything more about the contest.
Sunday, the Saints seemed to have the Browns dead to rights, leading by a point with low-voltage Cleveland back at its 4 with 2:46 remaining. This time the Saints went to the opposite extreme, with too much blitzing. Third-and-3 on the Cleveland 24 with 1:34 remaining, New Orleans blitzed seven, easy first-down conversion. Five-man blitz results in a short sack, which only seemed to encourage Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Now Cleveland has first-and-10 on its 48 with 19 seconds remaining, holding a timeout. Ryan called a big blitz; quick 13-yard completion. Second-and-10 on the New Orleans 39 with 13 ticks remaining, Ryan called another big blitz. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins ran up the field uncovered by anyone -- an uncovered guy going deep with 13 seconds remaining in the game! Hawkins caught a 28-yard pass that positioned the hosts for the winning field goal as time expired.
Consecutive late defensive collapses: Rob Ryan just can't seem to call the defense that is appropriate to the situation. That fourth-place New Orleans finish for defense last season? Maybe it was a misprint.
Not a Misprint!: It's only two games into the season, but Buffalo holds first place in the AFC East, not exactly a familiar position. In the same week that the NFL was doing an impression of the Titanic headed for an iceberg, everything went well in Bills-land -- franchise sold to a good guy with deep roots in Buffalo, Jim Kelly's health improving, a huge home win over rival Miami.
The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders were nowhere to be seen, though. The Jills suspended operations after five members sued the team over the failure to pay them minimum wage. Bills management claimed that because a contractor operates the cheer squad, the club has no responsibility: the sort of claim a judge is likely to laugh out of court. (Look up "vicarious liability.") With O.J. Simpson's name on the stadium ring and the cheerleaders given the heave-ho for daring to mention fair treatment, the Bills' symbolism for football and women is all wrong. Soon-to-be owner Terry Pegula needs to address both problems on Day 1.
As for the Dolphins, since the start of the 2012 season, Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 98 times. This team just can't be taken seriously until such time as it can keep its quarterback upright.
Woe Is Iraq: How can anything be left standing in Iraq?
During the 1980s, the United States backed Saddam Hussein and subsidized Iraq's government; then from about 1990 to 2003, worked feverishly to destroy Iraq's government, saying its advanced weapons made it a threat to international security; now the United States is working feverishly to support Iraq's government, including by selling it advanced weapons and sending back U.S. troops.
Whatever one thinks of that sequence of events, just think about the degree of warfare Iraq has endured in the past 30 years. Iran and Iraq were at war from 1980 to 1988, a conflict that involved extensive use of chemical weapons and bombing of civilian areas, killed an estimated 1 million people and caused untold damages. From 1986 to 1988, Iraqi military forces systemically murdered ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq, including by shelling Kurdish civilian areas. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. In 1991, a U.S.-led coalition destroyed Iraq's army in Kuwait while extensively bombing Iraq, dropping about 88,500 tons of bombs, about 20 times the tonnage of the Dresden raid in World War II.
Through the early 1990s, Iraq's Sunni government bombed Kurdish and Shia towns, sometimes using chemical weapons. In June 1993, the United States fired cruise missiles into Iraq in retaliation for Hussein's attempted assassination of the elder George Bush. In 1998, the United States extensively bombed Iraq for violation of the United Nations agreements that ended the 1991 Gulf War. From 1999 to 2001, the Air Force and RAF regularly attacked Iraqi air-defense installations (sometimes using bombs containing no warhead, just concrete). In January and February of 2003, U.S. aircraft conducted an all-out bombing campaign against Iraq. In March 2003, U.S. Army and Marine units invaded Iraq, obliterating the country's army and destroying much of Baghdad and Basra. In 2004, the Marines staged offensives against Iraqi cities resisting U.S. control. From 2004 to 2007, the United States conducted at least 2,000 airstrike missions in Iraq. In 2007, the United States began a surge of soldiers and heavy weapons into Iraq. In 2011, most U.S. forces departed. In 2014, Sunni militias invaded Iraq, hoping to smash its now-Shia government, while Syrian warplanes bombed Iraq. In 2014 the United States began bombing Iraq again, sometimes picking targets in conjunction with Iranian militia.
How can there be any semblance of normalcy in Iraq? Any military-age males still alive? Any prospects for the young? And since all previous bombings of Iraq have led to more bombings, why should we think this series of attacks will fare any better? The 2003 invasion and its aftermath were rationalized partly as an effort to improve life in Iraq, which hasn't happened. Maybe there's still a threat there that is relevant to U.S. national security. All we can be sure of is that more bombing means more misery for average people in Iraq.
Manly Man Plays of the Week: Leading Georgia by three points, South Carolina faced fourth-and-1 at midfield with 1:26 remaining. Most coaches would do the "safe" thing and punt in this situation. Steve Spurrier went for it, conversion, and the rest was filler.
Leading ninth-ranked USC by six points, mega-underdog Boston College had first-and-goal on the Trojans' 6-yard line with about 30 seconds remaining. Rather than try for an extra touchdown to run up the score, coach Steve Addazio did the dignified thing and had his charges kneel. That sportsmanlike kneel-down was the most exciting NCAA play TMQ has seen in years. (Kneel-downs can be manly man plays because sportsmanship is manly.) Sunday, when San Diego took possession on the 5 of the defending champion Seahawks with less than two minutes remaining, Mike McCoy had his charges kneel three times, then launch the icing field goal with 20 ticks remaining. In San Diego, they stay classy!
New Orleans at Cleveland scoreless, the Browns faced fourth-and-1 on the Saints' 5. Rather than do the "safe" thing and kick, rookie coach Mike Pettine went for it, conversion and touchdown on possession. The play set an aggressive tone and added four points, Cleveland going on to win by two points.
Chiefs Honk Out Again: The Broncos won for the fifth straight time versus Kansas City, whose stretch of defeats is at meltdown status. Yes the Chiefs have injuries, but in the NFL everybody has injuries. Kansas City twice had drives that reached first-and-goal at the Denver 9 but resulted in no points. In one sequence, penalties gave Kansas City eight red zone snaps without points. The Chiefs staged a 19-play, 10-minute drive without scoring. Kansas City actually outgained the Strat-O-Matic Denver offense, but could not punch the ball across when it counted.
Denver leading 21-10, the Chiefs threw incomplete on third-and-goal from the Broncs' 8. As the pass sailed out of bounds, Denver corner Chris Harris threw his hands up in the "I didn't do it!" gesture. Penalty, automatic first down for Kansas City. Defenders should never make the "I didn't do it!" gesture, which only alerts officials to the fact that they did it. In football, the "I didn't do it!" gesture is regarded by zebras as a notarized confession after a Miranda warning.
Peyton Manning and Julius Thomas got into an (uncharacteristic for Peyton) sideline shouting match over Thomas' allergy to blocking. With Seattle losing and Denver not sharp, perhaps both teams were looking ahead to their rematch.
Will the Mega-Trade For RG III Be Seen As a Mega-Blunder?: Jax at Washington scoreless, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons split seldom-used blocking fullback Darrel Young, who had four receptions in 2013, near the sideline. Normally this formation is used to draw a defender out of the main action -- it's assumed the ball will never go to a split-wide blocking back. When Young sprinted up the field on a fly pattern, the Jaguars ignored him. Twenty-yard touchdown reception from Kirk Cousins, in for the again-injured Robert Griffin III, who simply refuses to use his head and jog out of bounds when pressured.
During the contest, Cousins completed eight passes, including a touchdown pass, to the little-used Niles Paul. Because Cousins and Paul are backups, they are accustomed to tossing the ball around with each other. When a backup quarterback unexpectedly enters a game, defenders should be wary of any backup receiver who also enters.
Week 1 fantasy-stats star Allen Hurns of Jacksonville was all by his lonesome when he dropped what would have been a 76-yard touchdown. Persons cornerback DeAngelo Hall was making the high school mistake of looking into the backfield trying to guess the play, and let Hurns run right past him.
News Finally Turns Happy in Happy Valley: Penn State's bowl probation ended two years early. Just as important, reader Nicholas Miller of Warrington, Pennsylvania, reports last spring Penn State had 50 football players with a GPA of 3.0 or better.
Tartan Watch: Some advocates of Scottish independence cite the North Sea oil fields, whose bounty would belong to the new nation. Is that even good? Political scientists bemoan the "oil curse" -- that nations with economies based on petroleum extraction fall into autocracy and corruption, since dictators can obtain lavish lifestyles without any productive achievements, just by stealing from the oil sales. Iraq, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela are oil-curse societies. Does Scotland really want to become like them? On the other hand, Scottish independence might make single-malt scotch less expensive. There's the silver lining.
Elon Musk Recharges His Bank Account: Tesla's agreement with Nevada to build a battery factory is expected to create about 6,000 jobs in exchange for $1.25 billion in tax favors. That's about $208,000 per job. More jobs are always good. But typical Nevada residents with a median household income of $54,000 per year will be taxed to create very expensive jobs for others. Volkswagen is expanding its manufacturing in Tennessee, which is good. But the state has agreed to about $300 million in subsidies for the expansion, which will create about 2,000 jobs -- that's $150,000 per new job, much of the money coming from Tennessee residents who can only dream of autoworkers' wages. The median household income in Tennessee is $44,140, about a third of the tax subsidies per new Volkswagen job. The Tesla handout was approved by the Democratic state legislature of Nevada; Tennessee's Republican-controlled state government approved the Volkswagen corporate welfare deal.
At least it's a bargain compared to federally subsidized solar jobs. A Nevada solar project -- state that is home to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Barack Obama's closest ally on Capitol Hill -- cost $10.8 million in subsidies per job created. Local public interest groups noticed the extreme subsidy while the national media did not.
This cheeky website monitors giveaways state by state.
10K Meets Fashion Week: TMQ will forgo its annual item making fun of the ridiculous stuff on display at New York's Fashion Week -- no one, not anyone at all, actually buys and wears many of the absurd looks that are applauded -- to note that Oiselle staged a runway show with its sportswear worn by runners, not models. Two top women's runners, Kara Goucher and Lauren Fleshman, were among those wearing Oiselle: both are mothers in their 30s, hardly the sort of vacant-eyed waifs who normally frequent fashion runways. Their strutting showed that women can be fit and strong, yet still radiate sex appeal.
The Blur Offense Creates Its Own Traveling Mile-High Thin Air: The very-fast-snap Blur Offense Chip Kelly developed at Oregon was great for running up the score on lesser teams, but how would it work in the pros versus equal teams? So far it's 12-7. At the pro level, nobody dominates like in the NCAA. The elite teams win two games for each one they lose, and Kelly's Nesharim are on that pace.
Quick snapping catches the defense unready, complicates defensive substitutions, increases the number of snaps (the more snaps, the more yards -- Philadelphia is No. 1 for yards) and wears the defense out. At Indianapolis on "Monday Night Football," the Eagles sputtered in the first half, then put up 24 points in the second. Usually the home team controls the fourth quarter. The Eagles seemed lively in the fourth quarter, while the Colts were gasping for breath.
And not just Colts' defenders. The offensive players looked tired in the fourth quarter while the Eagles' defense, which practices against the Blur tempo, looked fresh, attacking the Indy line with enthusiasm. The Colts seemed to have matters in hand leading 27-20 with third-and-9 on the Philadelphia 22 with 5:15 remaining. A tired-looking Indianapolis line let the visitors get quick pressure on Andrew Luck; T.Y. Hilton fell running a stop; interception. If Luck had simply thrown the ball away and a field goal followed, the Colts likely would have won. Mental mistake by Luck.
But the fresher Eagles defense was at that point performing with a verve that the team with the lead lacked. Score now tied at 27, Indianapolis faced second-and-4. Nobody even tried to block Bennie Logan, who dropped Trent Richardson for a loss on the hidden play that led to a Colts punt and Eagles victory.
Monday night's game had all kinds of tactical fun -- unbalanced lines, triple-tight end sets, lots of double-A blitzing. But the exhaustion effect of the quick snap was most prominent. Teams that face the Eagles may do well in the first half and think, "This Blur Offense isn't so hot, we're controlling them." Then it's the second half.
TMQ's alternative-jersey Super Bowl picks were Denver over New Orleans or Seattle over Indianapolis. Two of my four predicted Super Bowl entrants opened 0-2, and the Colts just lost Robert Mathis for the season. Being wrong in front of the entire nation is not for the faint of heart! But I am sticking with my hand. The Tuesday Morning Quarterback Law of Panic holds: Don't panic now; there will be plenty of time for that later.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!: Cincinnati leading Atlanta by 10-3, the host Bengals faced third-and-6. The Atlanta call was an eight-man blitz, a tactic rarely seen because it's like handing out a card that says, "Please score a touchdown." Which Cincinnati did, 76 yards from Andy Dalton to Mohamed Sanu. A high school quarterback, Sanu also completed a 50-yard pass off a gadget play.
The Packers-Jets contest tied in the third quarter, on first down Jersey/B run-blitzed seven defenders. Jordy Nelson ran a stop-and-go -- which TMQ thinks is football's most effective pass pattern -- and blew past a press corner, 80-yard catch-and-run for the winning points.
Is Gold Next?: Reader Elizabeth Schreppel of Gloversville, New York, notes the Crumbs cupcake chain went out of business. Sports columns are unlikely to be your best source of investing advice. But in January 2011, when Crumbs went IPO, yours truly opined, "I'd short Crumbs stock -- cupcakes are becoming a classic bubble." Perhaps cupcakes will take their place in b-school cautionary tales, along with rhodium and tulip bulbs in the 17th century.
Hidden Play Of The Week: Hidden plays are ones that never make highlight reels but sustain or stop drives. Carolina leading 3-0, Calvin Johnson dropped a well-thrown touchdown pass on third down, then the Lions missed the field goal try. The Cats went on to win by the new economy score of 24-7.
In the third quarter at Green Bay, Geno Smith overthrew Eric Decker, who was behind the Packers' secondary, for a likely long touchdown. Held to a field goal in the second half, the Jets lost what seemed like a secure 21-3 lead.
Adventures In Officiating: Late at Denver, Alex Smith appeared to fumble, with the Broncos recovering to ice the contest. On review, officials correctly determined that because his arm came forward with control of the ball, the down was an incompletion. Smith was in the pocket and the pass did not travel toward a receiver, so why wasn't it intentional grounding? The result was not intentional; Smith's arm was hit as he tried to throw. Why was Smith's arm hit? Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher, first overall choice of the 2013 draft, did an "olé!" block on DeMarcus Ware.
Les Mouflons leading 19-17, City of Tampa's Mike Evans caught a pass that put the Buccaneers in field goal range with 8 seconds showing. But Evans was hurt on the down, and Tampa was out of timeouts. Dazed, Evans tried to stagger off the field; he should have tried to line up, so Josh McCown could spike the ball. When Tampa trainers came out to assist Evans, the 10-second runoff against the offense ended the contest.
At Green Bay, a Jersey/B third-quarter interception was wiped out by penalty. But if the Jets hadn't had 12 men on the field, they wouldn't have made the pick. At Tennessee, Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain juggled a pass and fell down while juggling, but he wasn't hit and the ball did not touch the ground. The Flaming Thumbtacks assumed incompletion. McClain got up and jogged most of the length of the field for what should have been a touchdown. On review, officials ruled inadvertent whistle, giving Dallas possession at the spot, but no runback. The crew made it up to the Boys later by overturning a fourth-quarter Tennessee touchdown.
Santa Clara leading Chicago 10-0, the Bears completed a third-down pass deep into 49ers territory. Officials called the catch good on the field; Harbaugh/West challenged and the call was reversed, leading to a Bears punt. It sure seemed that a correct call on the field was made into an error by replay review. Even if the original call was wrong, it wasn't indisputably wrong -- unless the call on the field is so clearly wrong the referee has to look at it only once, the call on the field should stand.
Ghost Producers Replace Ghostwriters: Steven Spielberg put his stamp on the TNT summer sci-fi series "Falling Skies" and on the CBS summer sci-fi series "Extant," which has its finale Wednesday. In both cases this seems like a celebrity signing "by" to a ghostwritten book. Spielberg also sold his stamp to Fox's very expensive 2011 sci-fi fiasco "Terra Nova."
"Extant" borrowed liberally from the 2011 Spielberg movie "AI," and from a less-known 1997 movie called "Event Horizon." It's great to see Halle Berry on television, but the plot devices were obvious and the bad guys cackle as ominous music plays. In the penultimate episode a character shouts, "What's going on?" Wouldn't we all like to know. "Falling Skies" has been renewed for a fifth season. Premise: Space aliens needed just 24 hours to destroy all of the world's militaries and kill 99 percent of humanity, yet four years later still haven't finished off a group of ragtag survivalists, despite attacking them constantly. Luckily, the survivalists have those special guns that never need to be reloaded, the survivalists never need to eat or change clothes, and they can walk hundreds of miles during the commercials.
As the show, expected to be a summer one-off, stays afloat in the ratings and keeps being renewed, writers have scrambled to revamp the plot line. First the evil aliens wanted to enslave human children. Then for some reason they came here to collect rocks and scrap metal. Then they wanted Earth as a staging base for an attack on another alien race. In the recently completed fourth season, the aliens seemed intent on covering the Earth with dry ice.
Initially super-intelligent -- possessed of enormous faster-than-light starcruisers and antigravity platforms -- the aliens have grown stupider by the episode, in order to give at least some vague plausibility to the survivalists constantly outwitting them. Perhaps in the fifth season, Bert and Ernie will be revealed as the alien leaders. To render the survivalists' counterattacks plausible, the aliens keep becoming more vulnerable. In the "Falling Skies" pilot, main tank rounds and GPS-guided munitions bounced harmlessly off alien battle bots. By the fourth season, it takes a couple of pistol bullets to cause an alien robot to explode into smithereens. And luckily, destroying one central power generator makes all the alien tech stop working!
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: Trailing by 14 points with four minutes remaining at Cincinnati, the Falcons punted. Who cares if it was fourth-and-15? Trailing 23-6 with less than 10 minutes remaining in Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Steelers punted. Who cares if it was fourth-and-10? Trailing 27 points late in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville took a field goal. Who cares if it was fourth-and-12?
The 500 Club: University of Toledo gained 563 yards versus University of Cincinnati, committed just one turnover, held the ball for 34:38 and lost by 24 points. Georgia Southern gained 528 yards versus Georgia Tech and lost. Hosting Air Force, Georgia State gained 532 yards and lost. Concordia of Wisconsin, versus Augsburg, gained 504 yards and lost. Visiting Bowling Green, Indiana University gained 582 yards and lost. Honorary member of The 500 Club: New Orleans Saints, third overall in NFL offense and 0-2.
The 700 Club: Reader Charlie Myers of Indianapolis reports that versus Rose-Hulman, Illinois College gained 745 yards, scored 10 touchdowns, posted 68 points and lost.
The Football Gods Chortled: Iowa and Iowa State were tied with two seconds remaining in their annual rivalry contest. Iowa State launched a field goal attempt, which missed. But Iowa called timeout an instant before the snap, hoping to ice the kicker -- who hit on his second try, giving Iowa State the victory.
Trailing the Packers 31-24 late in the fourth quarter, Jersey/B hit a long touchdown pass. But just before the snap, Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had called timeout. In the NFL, only the head coach can signal a sideline timeout. But the side judge, facing the field, had no way of knowing who on the Jersey/B staff was calling time, so stopped the play. Mornhinweg cost his team a touchdown; the drive ended without a score.
We're All Professionals Here: Miami faced fourth-and-36, Chicago and Dallas faced fourth-and-29, Green Bay faced fourth-and-28.
Obscure College Score: Merrimack 75, Pace 2. The Setters faithful's lament: If only we'd gotten 37 more returns of extra-point attempts! Merrimack scored 75 points despite allowing six sacks and gaining only 22 first downs. Located in North Andover, Massachusetts, Merrimack College boasts of Division I fitness facilities despite being a Division II school.
Bonus Obscure College Score: Lafayette 50, Robert Morris 3. The Colonials took a short field goal to avoid being shut out. Located in Pittsburgh, Robert Morris University constantly is confused with the unaffiliated Robert Morris University of Illinois. The latter once was Robert Morris College, but in 2009 began calling itself a university despite the existence of another institution with the same name. Apparently branding is not on the curriculum at Robert Morris University of Illinois.
Next Week: Will the Super Bowl rematch be true to form?