Tuesday November 17th, 2009

What should have been the biggest football news item of the day Monday: Jon Gruden decides to stay in TV for the time being, taking himself off the head-coaching market for 2010 -- and leaving Mike Shanahan atop the heap of the certain returnees to the coaching sideline in January.

What remained the biggest football news item of the day Monday: The Call. I'll get to that in a few paragraphs. Blessed relief. We've got something else to talk about other than all Belichick, all the time.

Gruden: Interesting, very surprising decision. In my mind, Shanahan and Gruden, both Super Bowl winners, were 1 and 1a on the postseason coaching carousel, with Bill Cowher and Mike Holmgren being X factors because it's no sure thing either will coach in 2010. Now the herd of definites for the likes of Buffalo and whatever other jobs come open has been thinned and you won't have Gruden to kick around anymore -- at least for the time being, likely until about 2012. It sounds like that's the first year he might consider a return to coaching.

To make it clear, Gruden told me he definitely would not coach anywhere in 2010 and didn't plan on coaching the year after; and ESPN vice president Norby Williamson told colleague Richard Deitsch that Gruden would "absolutely'' be at ESPN for the 2011 season.

After talking to Gruden Monday afternoon, I got the impression it was some about family, some about the exhausting reality of the business, and some about liking what he's doing. A good friend of Gruden's stressed that last point to me later Monday, telling me Gruden's surprised how much he likes a more sane life and is digging his new job on TV.

"As you know,'' Gruden said, "I love this game very much. This job gives me the opportunity to see the game at a different angle, and I'll be honest -- I just fell in love with it. I want to get good at it. I really like the team I'm on at ESPN. They're really trying to help me be good.''

I told Gruden I was surprised -- that I thought it was a given he'd take this one-year hiatus from coaching and be back in 2010.

"Look,'' he said, "I went into this with an open mind. They've told me they want me to stay around, and it's nice to be wanted. I was in Oakland for four years, then got traded away from there. I was in Tampa for seven years and got fired. That's a little bit of an open wound, to be honest. So it's nice to be wanted. I've got a great crew. I love working with Ron Jaworski and Mike Tirico. They're teaching me a lot about this business.

"I'm 46 years old. I probably will coach again. I miss the opportunity to coach players, to help them get better. I really miss the competition. But I don't miss the agony.''

Gruden says he hasn't missed any of his high-school son's football games this year, and he's enjoyed being more a part of the lives of his wife and all three sons.

"This is going to give me a chance to get my act together in some other ways,'' he said. "My boys are at the age where they need a father to be around a little bit more.''

You mean it's not conducive to a good family life to be going to work at 3:17 a.m., five days a week?

It's a good call by Gruden the person and Gruden the announcer; he has a chance to be good at it, as long as he remembers he's working outside the family now. I also really like how he's taken the year for some continuing education about football. We talked about the spread offense and how much he's learned about it from reaching out to college coaches. "I've really learned a lot from [Oregon coach] Chip Kelly and the Appalachian State coaching staff,'' he said. "I've liked learning more football.''

So now two of the interesting 2010 coaching candidates are off the market -- Gruden and Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, who has erased any doubts about his return with a strong recent run. Monday's news means Shanahan should have even more choices in a couple of months.


Gruden on Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28 with 2:08 to play and a six-point lead Sunday night at Indianapolis:

"A couple of things. If you give Peyton Manning the ball and let him play with four downs, that's a big difference from giving him three downs. [Meaning because the Colts wouldn't punt, Manning would always have four downs to keep the chains moving.] In Tampa, we had a 35-14 lead on Manning with five minutes left, and he beat us. So two minutes, one timeout, four downs ... that's an eternity for Peyton Manning. I know this: There's not too many guys out there, maybe Sean Payton, who would have made that call.''

So I called Payton. What would Payton have done in this case?

"The question you're asking is something I really can't know without actually being there and knowing all the variables,'' he said. The question can't exist in a vacuum, he said. How's your defense holding up? What kind of confidence do you have in your quarterback? Do you fear the other team's offense? Do injuries from the night play a factor?

"Only Bill can know how the game is unfolding, and it's not something he's going to talk about," Patyon added. "There are some things you don't want to say to your team or to the public. I remember learning from Bill Parcells, who also was around Bill [Belichick] forever, that you've got to pay attention to the game. Bill does that better than anyone in our game today.

"Sometimes the conventional thing is what the defense wants you to do. The Colts wanted Bill to punt. But I'm watching the game at home Sunday night, and about five seconds after they didn't make the third down, I'm looking at their sidelines and I say, 'He's going for it.' ''

I got the strong feeling Payton would have punted, but as he said, he wouldn't know for sure without being on his sideline and considering everything -- whether he felt good about getting the two yards, and how he regarded the matchup between his defense and the opposing quarterback.

There's no question in my mind that having Peyton Manning on the other side of the ball changed everything for Belichick.


I'd like to thank many of you for pointing out what a math dolt I am. Quoting John Roumas of Leominster, Mass., "Regarding your analysis of the odds for BB's decision: Using your own odds, 65 percent Brady makes the two yards. 35 percent Manning drives 72 yards. That would make Manning's odds of NOT driving 72 yards 65 percent, which sounds like a tie. Also, the odds of Hansen getting off a good punt with no (or negligible) return aren't 100 percent, and on the other side, Manning's chances of scoring even from the Pats' 30 aren't 100 percent either. Those numbers would tell me that BB made a good choice, odds-wise.''

OK. My base disagreement with the call is that I think the situation that most favors the Patriots is forcing Manning to drive the Colts 72 yards to score a touchdown in two minutes with one timeout. (I arrive at 72 yards by factoring in Chris Hanson's average net punt on the day, which was 44 yards on four punts.) And yes, my math in MMQB basically was nearly a wash.

I've read the intelligent piece on advancednflstats.com about the call being right and smart. I respect the numbers -- but wouldn't live by them. They are based on football statistics over time, not on what was happening in this particular game. Why use the historical average net punt of 38 yards when Hanson's average net for the night, for four punts, was 44 yards? Why take every drive instead of focusing on what the Colts had done that night? Over the previous 32 minutes, the Colts, in inverse order, went touchdown, interception, touchdown, punt, interception, punt and punt.

I'm not saying the mathematical theory is wrong; it's not. I just think there's a certain amount of playing by feel. And I could not have a feeling to not punt in that situation because of the imminent consequences of failure. Would Manning drive it 72 yards on me? Maybe. But I'll take my chances on a 72-yard drive -- after picking off Manning twice in the second half -- over converting a fourth down and risk giving him a 29-yard field.

Now onto your e-mail:

NOW'S NOT THE TIME TO PUT ASTERISKS ON THE BENGALS WIN. From Matt Burk of Pittsburgh: "Peter, not to take anything away from the Bengals, they beat the Steelers fair and square. However, remember that the Steelers had to play a big Monday night game in the high altitude of Denver, come back almost cross-country, and prepare for another big game against a tough opponent just five days later. Surely that had to take something away from their game. Maybe a little something, I don't know... But something nonetheless. Agree?''

Absolutely disagree. When the Bengals have beaten you twice in eight weeks, fair and square, and when they've held you touchdown-less at home, you can think whatever you want. But I think it's beneath a proud team like the Steelers to try to point to very minor factors here as excuses. Take your medicine and live to fight another day.

WE'LL AGREE TO DISAGREE. From Calvin Curd of Nashville: "Have to disagree with your assessment of Jack Del Rio's decision to have Maurice Jones-Drew kneel at the 1-yard line. A TD here means the Jets would need a TD of their own to win, and with the Jags still trailing, I think they have to take the free TD there. No FG is as sure as the TD that the Jags gave away; just ask Tony Romo."

I equate the field goal the Jags kicked with an extra point. Also, Josh Scobee is 41 of 42 in his career on field goals between 20-29 yards. But if Jones-Drew scores, the Jets have 90 seconds to drive the field and score a game-winning TD. The chances of that happening are what -- 10-15 percent? I'd rather kick my virtually guaranteed extra point.

THEY'RE NOT GOING TO CHANGE THE BYES. From Doug of Austin, Texas: "Peter, the bye weeks just concluded with the Giants and Texans getting the most advantageous spots. I think the league should change the bye week schedule so all the byes are in Weeks 9 and 10. This evens the advantage and what's wrong with "only" eight games to televise for two weekends of the season?''

Because it wouldn't give the networks enough of a selection. I agree with you; for fairness, it makes more sense. But it wouldn't make sense for four networks to split eight games.

YOU GUYS ENJOYED THE DEPARTMENT OF REDUNDANCY DEPT. After my note on Jesse Palmer using the phrase "MAC conference," you guys came through with a few more:

VIN number. (Joe of New York)

ATM machine. (Jess of San Diego)

SAT test. (Samuel of Alexandria, Va.)

HIV virus. (Claude of Miami)

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