No matter which way you dissect it, Bill Belichick made the wrong call
NEW YORK -- Three o'clock in the morning, and I'm still rolling
This call reminds me a lot of
Very interesting day in the league, particularly in New Jersey and Pittsburgh, but The Call Heard Round the World takes the spotlight now, and I'm going to try to dissect it logically, after a couple of hours considering every angle.
Let's start with 2:23 left in the game, New England up 34-28 with two timeouts left. The Colts had three timeouts left, plus the two-minute warning stoppage, so New England needed at least one first down to bleed much of the clock, and two to run the clock out entirely. As
New England timeout, 2:08 left. The Patriots' last one.
Why? I wondered. Get the punt team on the field, try to pin
Belichick was talking to Brady on the sidelines. I was sure they were talking about trying to draw the Colts offside with a hard count; there was no way he'd be authorizing going for it on fourth down. But back went Brady to the field, and he lined up in the shotgun, and started calling signals without the head-bob you normally associate with trying to draft a team offside.
"My God,'' I thought, "he's going for it!''
Two things had to factor in here. One: Belichick didn't want to give Manning the ball with two minutes to go; he'd just seen Manning take the Colts 79 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Two: He trusted Brady to get two yards. Let's place the odds of Brady getting two yards at 60, 65 percent. The odds of Manning going 72 yards to score a touchdown in less than two minutes ... that's maybe 35 percent.
You might say Manning's chance of taking his team 72 yards are better than 35 percent. Not sure I would. On his previous seven possessions, covering about 30 minutes of game time, Manning had done the following:
· Six plays, 79 yards, touchdown.
· One play, zero yards, interception.
· Five plays, 79 yards, touchdown.
· Six plays, 16 yards, punt.
· Four plays, 24 yards, interception.
· Five plays, 16 yards, punt.
· Three plays, no yards, punt.
Three punts, two interceptions, two touchdowns. Now, maybe Belichick thought his defense was tired. Maybe he feared Manning. Maybe he trusted Brady. Whatever, the faulty logic here is that Manning was a sure thing to ram it down the Patriots' throats. Yes, he'd just done that, but on the series previous to that one he'd thrown a interception, his second of the night. So if the theory was Manning was going to score for sure, I don't buy it.
Against Atlanta in Week 3, there was a play something like this. New England had fourth-and-one at its 24 late in the third quarter, up 16-10.
Brady looked for his old reliable, Kevin Faulk, blanketed to the right by safety
The clock just then hit the two-minute warning. Under the rules of the replay system, a team can challenge a play until the first play after the two-minute warning; then all reviews are dictated by the replay official upstairs. At all other times, teams can challenge calls, but they have to have a timeout remaining so that if their challenge is wrong, they can be docked a timeout, as called for by the rules.
But the Patriots had no timeout left. The team that never makes dumb mistakes made one with 2:23 to go, calling one because of the miscommunication that resulted in the wrong personnel being on the field.
If they could have challenged the spot, what would referee
"If we gain seven more inches, it's a great call,'' Brady said at his post-midnight press conference.
Try 30 more inches. And this would never have been a great call. Even it you think you've got a two-out-of-three chance to make two yards deep in your own territory, the cost of missing it is too great. The difference between Manning driving 29 yards for the winning touchdown and 72 is too great. Too many chances for him to err in 72 yards, as he'd been doing occasionally during the night.
One more variable. If
It took only four plays for the Colts to drive for the winning touchdown, a Manning-to-
All in all, I hated the call. It smacked of I'm-smarter-than-they-are hubris. Let Manning, with the weight of the world on his shoulders and no timeouts under his belt, drive 72 yards in two minutes, with his mistake-prone (on this night) young receivers and the clock working against him. Sure he could do it. But let him earn it. This felt too cheap. It was too cheap. Belichick's too smart to have something so Grady-Littlish on his career resume, but there it is, and it can never be erased.
Now that was a weird end to a game at the Meadowlands. At the two-minute warning Sunday, the Jags trailed the Jets 22-21. New York had no timeouts left, and Jacksonville was going down the field in big chunks. When running backs coach
So on the next play, Jones-Drew burst through the middle -- unbeknownst to him, the Jets were instructed to not tackle -- and went down by himself at the one. A couple of Jets yelled, "C'mon! Score!'' Said Jones-Drew: "The Jets guys were laughing. One of them said, 'Why'd you do that?' '' The Jags let the clock run down, and
"Great job not being selfish,'' Del Rio told Jones-Drew.
Now the Jags are 5-4, winners of three of four, and only a game out of the Wild Card. And Jones-Drew, with 1,080 rushing-receiving yards, is showing no signs of slowing in his first year as an every-down back.
To start the final Pittsburgh series Sunday at Heinz Field,
On first down, defensive coordinator
On second down, Zimmer rushed the customary four, and Roethlisberger, hurried slightly, misfired deep down the right side for wideout
On third down, Zimmer sent five, and Roethlisberger had enough time to make a good deep throw to
On fourth down, Zimmer sent four, including two third-round defensive ends --
I watched nearly every snap of this game, and that last series showed the defensive depth of Cincinnati. The two linemen who had the best games were end
If you watched the game, you wondered which nose man had more impact -- the famous
Also, as impressive as corners
The Bengals, 27th in team defense when the buck stopped with
"What Mike's done that's been so valuable is he's taught a team defense to our guys, front to back, so they have total confidence in the scheme and know exactly why they're doing what they're doing,'' Lewis told me Sunday. "He's taught them how to adjust, why they adjust, the evolution of a game plan. And he's taught them how you win in the NFL.''
And Zimmer's appealed to their emotional side too. You'll read in a minute how the shocking death of Zimmer's wife last month has ruled his life -- rightfully so. Saturday night, he read the defense a letter -- written in pencil -- from a 9-year-old Indiana kid who loves the Bengals. He told Zimmer he was going to dedicate his youth football season to the late
The Bengals are 7-2, and so much of it is due to the emotionally wrung-out defensive coordinator and his men.
Imagine what Zimmer's life must be like. The defensive coordinator lost his wife to a yet-to-be-determined illness Oct. 8, and he comes home to an empty house every night. His son,
"She lost her voice, and we thought she just had laryngitis,'' Zimmer said from his office. "I thought she just had a cold. There were no drugs or alcohol in her system. They just don't know for sure yet. It's pretty tough.
"The thing that keeps me going is I've got to be a father and a mother. It's difficult, but you've just got to do it. You've just go to go on. I call the girls down in Texas, and they answer the phone crying and say, 'I'm just so sad.' And it's been harder on my son than I thought it would be. I just try to be there for them as much as I can. I've had to do things I never really thought of very much -- make sure I have a will, make sure I have my insurance taken care of.''
He spoke almost in a monotone, like he was trying to put one foot in front of the other and just go on.
"The letters, the messages, the cards ... they've been overwhelming. I've probably gotten 500 of them. They've helped. I've heard from a lot of people with depression. I got a letter from one guy who said that seeing me coach with what I'm going through gave him inspiration. I appreciate that. The thing is, it's so hard to be happy, even with how well the team is doing. We beat Chicago really bad a couple of weeks ago, and I go home, and I was just miserable. I've been sleeping on the couch because I just can't get back into our bed. I'm getting ready to go back in there, but I can't just yet. That's tough.''
She famously baked for all the players. "She always took care of us,'' said cornerback Jonathan Joseph. "She was a second mom to a lot of guys.''
On HBO's "Hard Knocks'' last summer, Zimmer, to me, came across like a head coach in waiting. I've always known him to be a very good teacher; what I didn't know was how naturally hard-nosed and disciplined he is. It just flows from him, and it's not forced. In the midst of his greatest tragedy, he is building a solid case to be an NFL head coach. If you can turn the Bengals' defense into a top 10 NFL defense, you deserve a bushel of interviews. Maybe you don't deserve a job over the four Super Bowl coaches on the street, but you deserve an airing.
"You ask the guys on this defense,'' said Joseph. "We like his approach. He's not looking to make any friends. He's looking to win.''
In seven of the Bengals' nine games, the defense has allowed 20 points or fewer. I think Zimmer's done his job.
Biggest difference-maker in the day games Sunday, with 123 rushing yards, 22 receiving yards, and two very big plays that don't show up in the ol' box score in the Jags' 24-22 win over the Jets. In the first half, he scored one touchdown on a 33-yard run and set up another by pushing a stalled
First, Woodson winning this is an achievement in itself, because the Bengals had about five guys who deserved this. But Woodson was dominant in a 17-7 win over the red-hot Cowboys. Imagine holding the Cowboys to a garbage-time touchdown in the final minute of the game ... with weather being no factor. Woodson led the charge with nine tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a crucial interception of
First, what can't be overlooked on Scott's weaving, sprinting, game-changing 96-yard kick return for touchdown -- the first kick return for a touchdown by a Bengals rookie in 33 years -- was the ridiculously weak tackle try by kicker
That was the only touchdown of the game, but it wasn't Scott's only impact on the game. After Cedric Benson went down with a hip injury early, Scott, a rookie from Division II Abilene Christian who scored 73 college touchdowns for the Texas school, had to bang against the great Steelers run defense. He rushed 13 times for 33 yards and caught a swing pass from
In four victories this fall, Zimmer's Bengals have held the Steelers and Ravens to 20, 14, 7 and 12 points. As I wrote higher in this column, Zimmer has shot up the charts and is now a legitimate 2010 head-coaching candidate. "What he's done is teach our players the total game of football,'' Marvin Lewis said after the win over Pittsburgh. "He's been invaluable.''
I hear the natives in the Loop are beyond restless, and they're not naming sandwiches after Trader
"We need a touchdown here, but let's not be in a hurry to score.''
How amazing this game was, obviously. The Colts, with four minutes to go, trailed 34-21 and had the ball at their own 21. To think they'd be trying to bleed the clock and waste time at the end ... well, it just shows what an incredibly weird and compelling spectacle this was.
"I'd like to apologize to all the fantasy football players out there. Sorry for taking the knee.''
"Third false start for the Packers, who I believe are at home this week.''
"I love the way
Gut Feeling of the Week: Mr. Cube will soon be named to the Raiders Board of Directors.
The ESPN documentary on
For those too young to remember the significance of "The NFL Today'' and Jimmy The Greek, or for those of you reading this in a college dorm and who know
Musberger was the voice of CBS and led most every red-blooded American into NFL games for 15 years, starting in 1975. He was smart and never knocked off his feet. The Greek picked games on TV, though he was careful never to mention the spreads. "He'd say, 'I like the Cowboys big,' or, 'I like the Cowboys close,' and people could figure out what he was saying.''
The Greek, angry at a perceived lack of TV time, once slugged Musberger in a bar. He was fired after the 1987 season for making racially divisive comments. The ESPN show focused on the tragic life that Greek's became. Good viewing.
Just think: In two decades, there's been a 550-percent increase in NFL pregame show programming. No wonder so little in NFL featuredom is special anymore. (And three years earlier, ESPN didn't even have a show. The sports network started a one-hour pre-gamer in 1985, long before it had rights to a game of the week.)
People ask me what the biggest difference is in covering the NFL today versus the early years I covered it; my first season as an NFL beat guy was 1984. That's easy. Access to players and coaches is monumentally different. The NFL landscape is under siege from reporters, producers, anchors and editors, all wanting to do something different, something new, and all wanting time with the big players of the day. I don't get angry about it, and I don't pound my fist on desks of PR guys or agents, screaming for access.
The perfect example is
I remember in
Not complaining, mind you. It's the reality of the business. Adapt or get out.
I have to thank my SI.com buddy
Three Kindle readers in my Amtrak car to New York on Saturday. I had the thinish
"The Who?!?! What's their target market? CSI fans?''
What an odd choice.
I am 52. I like The Who. Then again, I am not the future of the NFL. This band was formed 45 years ago; 39 years ago it did its signature album, "Who's Next.'' Two of the original band members,
I'll be signing today and then returning my first batch of
Send the book by Dec. 4, and I'll mail it back to you by Dec. 12. Send to:
On Saturday, I'll be in my old hometown of Montclair, N.J., at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, from 4-6 p.m. I'll have a short reading, sign, and answer everyone's NFL questions. Come by if you can.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 10:
a. Why, oh why, would
b. Just because
d. This tells you everything you need to know about the stunningly bad inaccuracy of
e. Strange but true, and probably meaningless: Entering play Sunday, the six stingiest teams in points allowed were all AFC teams -- Indianapolis, New England, Denver, Jets, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh.
f. Excellent job by ref
g. When we talk about the great tight ends, we too often forget
h. My football buddy at NBC,
i. When's the last time you heard
3. I think
4. I think this is what I liked about Week 10:
a. Not bragging or anything (yeah, right), but did you see San Francisco defensive tackle
b. Watch the replay of the
d. Love how hard the Rams are playing for
e. Play of the Day I: Buffalo running back
f. Play of the Day II: Detroit cornerback
g. Play of the Day III: Washington punter
h. I'm going to quote
i. Beautiful throw by Vince Young, rainbowing a bomb into
j. Great pop by Jags safety
k. Speaking of great pops, Steeler safety
m. Buffalo corner
n. You're right,
5. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 10:
a. How in the world,
b. Speaking of absolutely inexcusable,
c. And how old did
e. Steelers special teams. Awful. Tackle somebody, will you?
f. Detroit's offensive line. You guys are going to get
g. The Jets just can't make up for the loss of
h. Vikings, 10 points on 303 yards at the half. Talk about inopportune.
i. A 46-yard penalty is important in any game. In Cincinnati-Pittsburgh, it was vital, with Bengals safety
j. Why the timeout with 14 seconds left,
6. I think I get a little bit like a broken record on this issue, but the thought of playing 18 games is so absurd that -- well, I'll let
One member of the Competition Committee told me recently it's a train rolling down the tracks, the expanded regular-season schedule, and more likely to be 18 games than 17. How about the injuries Sunday --
7. I think -- and this will be the only time this year I say anything of substance about betting lines -- this is the best reason why you absolutely, positively should not gamble on NFL games: After eight games, every team in the AFC East was 4-4 against the spread. You're not going to beat it, folks. Why do it?
8. I think I think it's not all disastrous for the Browns, at least according to a site you've probably never heard visited. But if you're into the real nitty-gritty of football, you should check out
PFF's verdict on the best left tackle in football in the first half of the season? Cleveland's
PFF rates tackles on pass-protection and run-blocking, and Thomas is fourth in pressure allowed per pass-drop (behind
9. I think I blew the
To me, the fine was totally out of whack. When you fine
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Department of Redundancy Department: ESPN's
b. Great to hear from Army First Sgt.
"Hi Peter. I got a new company, HHC 40th Engineers, huge company. Twice as big as I had before, so I work from 5 a.m. until about 7 p.m. every night. HHC is the Headquarters Company for my Battalion, very different from running a regular 'Line Company,' and tiresome. We are preparing to deploy again. Can't give you the date yet, but I can tell you that I am enjoying this football season because I won't be around for next year's. On and off, it's a crazy lifestyle, I know. I am glad I have such a strong wife and kids. They are on their own for long periods of time with no help from me.
"Right now I am watching the Bengals-Steelers game. I've seen a lot of the Bengals this year. Seems like every week they are on here. They are pretty impressive though. Very good defense. That front line is hardcore. Got to see Kurt throw 5 TDs last week. Even kept my wife up late to watch. Very fun to watch. Can't wait to read your book. Rams will be OK. A real fan rides the hard times. Man, they are terribly hard now. But they will get better. What's your take on
c. I'll have an opportunity for all of you to wish Mike and his men happy holidays coming up here in a week or so. Stay tuned.
e. Don't tell me there's only one "Curb Your Enthusiasm'' episode left. Come on! You just started,
f. Coffeenerdness: Saw
i. Sounds like I'm talking to Bailey, our Golden Retriever.
k. I found the perfect Peter King short-attention-span book for the football season. It's John Grisham's collection of Mississippi-based short stories,
In fact, as I've said before, the only one of his books I didn't like was
Anyway, Grisham did a heck of a job on these short stories. The first one, about three miscreants making a road trip to Memphis to donate blood, is the best so far. I got the book Friday night, and I'm through four of them. I'd be finished by now if this darn job didn't intrude.
Such good luck
Baltimore's in town, and the 4-4 Ravens are playing for their playoff lives beginning tonight. Quinn's as hard-working a kid as the NFL employs, and he wants to succeed as much as anyone. But tonight's not the night -- unless he's significantly more accurate than he showed in his first go-round this fall.