Monday night mayhem
I don't know if you'll get 24 more exciting minutes in sports than the last 24 minutes of Monday night. It's a few minutes after midnight as I write this, and my heart is still pounding.
Minute by minute, flipping between one of the best football games in recent history and one of the biggest baseball events in recent history:
11:36 p.m.: Moments after Buffalo corner Terrence McGee drops what would have been Tony Romo's sixth interception of the night in Buffalo, Romo hits Patrick Crayton for 11 yards to the Buffalo 27 with 1:22 left in a game the Bills lead 24-16. Dallas needs a touchdown and two-point conversion to force overtime, a touchdown and a miracle to win in regulation, and divine intervention, more or less, to ensure a match of unbeatens Sunday in Dallas, with 5-0 New England coming to town.
11:37 p.m.: With one out in the bottom of the ninth in the Bronx, Bobby Abreu homers off Cleveland closer Joe Borowski to pull the Yanks within two runs at 6-4 in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Alex Rodriguez strides to the plate.
11:38 p.m.: Jason Witten drops a short throw over the middle at the Buffalo 17. Third-and-three. Game on the line. Crowd going nuts.
11:39 p.m.: One and two on A-Rod. Game on the line. Season on the line. Joe Torre's future on the line. Crowd going nuts.
11:40 p.m.: Romo converts, hitting Witten over the middle for six yards. Forty seconds left. Timeout, Dallas ... A-Rod pops a high fastball to straightaway right. Two down. A-Rod's last at-bat as a Yankee? Can't tell from his spitting and violent gum-chewing.
11:41 p.m.: Marion Barber grabs a pass over the middle against the Buffalo prevent and bowls to the 4. Timeout, Dallas, with 24 seconds left ... there's a long fly ball to right by Jorge Posada! It is high! It is far! It issssss FOUL! Just feet from an upper-deck homer that would have made it 6-5, Cleveland.
11:42 p.m.: Borowski throws a wicked sinker. Posada swings. Strike three. "The game is over!'' Chip Caray yells on TBS. Pigpile on Borowski. Yanks in shock, watching Indians celebrate on their field the way the Marlins did in winning the World Series four years earlier.
11:43 p.m.: Somehow, in a little more than three minutes on the Ralph Wilson Stadium clock, Romo has shrugged off the worst night of his career and driven Dallas 80 yards, finishing with a four-yard fastball into Patrick Crayton's gut just over the goal line. Buffalo, 24-22. Two-point conversion coming. Timeout, Dallas.
11:45 p.m.: Empty backfield for Dallas! Romo in shotgun! Buffalo lines up six rushers. Can Dallas block them all? Will Romo get the ball out in time? On the left flank, Terrell Owens lines up on cornerback Jabari Greer, runs four steps into the end zone and turns around. Romo throws a jump ball. Greer's back is to Romo. Owens leaps to catch the ball in front of his face. He's got it -- maybe! Greer rips his hands down the front of Owens' torso and the ball falls to the ground. No good! The conversion is no good! Crowd is insane. Their little-engine-that-could Bills have beaten the Dallas Cowboys!
11:46 p.m.: Not so fast. Twenty seconds left. Dallas can onside kick.
11:47 p.m.: Rookie kicker Nick Folk from Sherman Oaks, Calif., onside kicks from the Dallas 30 to the Dallas 40.5-yard line, where wideout Sam Hurd leaps high in the air and punches the ball away from a Bill. It skitters to the Buffalo 47, where third-string tight end Tony Curtis ("I always wondered where Tony Curtis went,'' Tony Kornheiser says upstairs.) gathered it in and protected it in a fetal position. Dallas ball! With two plays left to get into field goal range! The game is not over ... or is it? The replay official upstairs, Howard Slavin, asks for a review to see if the ball traveled the required 10 yards before it was touched by Hurd.
11:49 p.m.: "The ruling on the field stands,'' says ref Peter Morelli. Dallas ball, with no timeouts and 18 seconds left, on the Buffalo 47
11:50 p.m.: Romo sends Owens up the right side on a 20-yard curl and throws it up for him. Owens dives and ... there's no signal from the two nearest officials ... and finally one gives the catch-is-good signal. Mayhem. Lots of it. Players run to line, :05, :04, :03 ... Romo spikes it, :01 ... Clock stops! Cowboys have time for a 43-yard field goal! But wait! Whistles. Waving of arms. Another booth-mandated review!
11:51 p.m.: ESPN pans Bills fans. They can feel their world ending.
11:52 p.m.: But no! The pass is incomplete. You can see a sliver of the ball hit turf before Owens covers it up. Dallas ball, 13 seconds left, way back at the original line of scrimmage, the Buffalo 47. Crowd goes nuts.
11:53 p.m.: Over on the YES Network, Torre, alternately funereal and philosophical, says: "This ballclub, they have a great future.'' They? Say it ain't so, Joe. What happened to we?
11:54 p.m.: Romo to Barber for four ... Romo to Crayton, inexplicably open in the right flat, for eight ... :02 left. Ball at the Bills' 35. Timeout, Buffalo.
11:55 p.m.: Torre is still going. "It's been a great 12 years, whatever the hell happens,'' he says ... "Twelve years felt like 10 minutes.''
11:56 p.m.: Folk lines up for a 53-yard field goal from the right hash. Of all the ridiculous sporting possibilities you've seen, imagine this one: Dallas has turned it over six times to Buffalo's one, and Buffalo has run two interceptions back for touchdowns, and has run a kick back 102 yards for a touchdown. Dallas can win it right here with a field goal. Snap, ball is placed down, the kick is up and ... it's perfect! The Dallas Cowboys have ... BUT WAIT! The Cowboys are streaming onto the field, but here is Morelli ... "Prior to the snap, Buffalo called a timeout.'' Wade Phillips looks like he's just eaten a dozen rancid chicken wings. He has just been Shanahaned. He has just been Kiffined. And this stupid timeout rule has ruined another great NFL moment. Amazingly, on replay, you can see Dick Jauron calling for time three times before he finally gets it from the nearest official on the field.
11:57 p.m.: Folk lines up again. He is 22 going on 72 now. All that he has on his shoulders is the realization that if he misses, the Dallas Cowboys will be 4-1, and if he makes the re-do, the Dallas Cowboys will be 5-0. A year ago, he was kicking a bunch of meaningless field goals in Tucson for Arizona. And now, he is kicking for Jerry and the 'Boys, and a country full of Cowboy fans who will be late for work in the morning. the snap is good, the hold is good ... "AND THE COWBOYS STUN THE BILLS!'' Mike Tirico hollers.
11:58 p.m.: "We won the game!'' Jerry Jones mouths a couple of time up in his box.
11:59 p.m.: Romo tells Michele Tafoya he thought he had "about seven'' interceptions. "He (Folk) got me outta the doghouse,'' Romo says before being led off the field, in a daze, by well-coiffed Cowboy PR man Rich Dalrymple, in his perfectly pressed Lombardo's suit, looking like the only cool head in the place.
Midnight: Torre, the Energizer bunny of post-game interviewees, is still going at it. "Some of your children make A's. Some of your children make C's. But they work their ass off either way. You just hug 'em ...'' And then he caught himself before the manager of the Yankees -- for now -- broke down ... In the Dallas locker room at Ralph Wilson Stadium, 350 miles across the state, Wade Phillips, the former Bills coach, handed new Dallas folk hero Nick Folk the game ball, and linebacker Bradie James told everyone to hold on a minute. James grabbed a ball and said, "Coach, this ball's for you. We know this game meant a lot to you.''
Now onto your e-mails, the first of which came to me from a Bills' fan buddy I used to know in college early this morning.
WHAT WERE THE BILLS THINKING? From Tim Cormier, of Manhattan: "I'm dying here. The Bills were up by eight midway through the fourth quarter and were in position for a chip-shot field goal to put the game out of reach. What in the world are they doing having a rookie quarterback throw the ball down there instead of just taking the field goal?''
That's the question I was asking when Terence Newman grabbed the interception and ran downfield with it. Buffalo could have kicked a 29-yard field goal with six minutes left to go up 27-16. That would have iced the game. that's the call that should haunt the Bills for the rest of this lost season.
YOU ASK A GOOD QUESTION, TODD. From Todd Swanson, of Dodgeville, Wis.: "Do you think that the Packers lost because of the turnovers, or because the coaching staff instituted the prevent offense upon the start of the second half?''
I was asking about the Packers' offensive play-calling midway through the second half too. Sometimes I think coaches get a lead in the second half and think: Our defense is good enough to hold on. We've just got to bleed the clock. Well, after Green Bay ran for 102 yards in the first half, you just knew the options were going to be run first, run second, run third. And in the first 17 minutes of the second half, Green Bay threw it twice. (It didn't help that one was an interception, a silly one by Brett Favre to Brian Urlacher.) But overall, Green Bay lost this game because it didn't take care of the ball, not because Mike McCarthy got so right-wing.
IT'S NOT THE PACKERS' STYLE. From Greg, of Alameda, Calif.: "Question of the day: Why are the Packers not offering a first-round pick and one of their defensive tackles for Michael Turner right now? They might be easily replaced, but not at mid-season when you have a good shot at making a run deep in the playoffs in one of Brett Favre's final seasons.''
Interesting thought, and I'm not saying an impossible idea. But Ted Thompson, the Packers' GM, is one of the two or three most conservative franchise architects in the league. He was slow to act in the pursuit of Randy Moss last spring, and it cost the Packers the chance to acquire and sign Moss. Thompson's going to hang onto his first-round pick, and his stable of defensive tackles. I wouldn't dismiss DeShawn Wynn as a big rushing factor this year for the Packers, either.
I'VE SAID IT BEFORE -- THE BEARS TRADED THE WRONG GUY. From Sheila Woodward, of Yankton, S.D.: "Last night during the Bears-Packers game, Andrea Kremer reported she had spoken to Bears GM Jerry Angelo about the Thomas Jones trade. According to Kremer, Angelo said he had to make the trade because Jones and [Cedric] Benson couldn't get along and the locker room was divided. From everything I've read and heard, it sounds like Jones had the support of at least 90 percent of the team while Benson was the outcast. Explain to me, please, why they decided to trade Jones? I suspect it is because Angelo has a huge ego and couldn't admit that he blew it by drafting Benson in the first place. The pick made no sense to me when it happened, and it makes even less sense now. I don't care that Jones isn't having a great year in NY, he was the heart of the Bears' offense and trading him was a huge blunder. Angelo should apologize instead of making it seem like Jones was a malcontent. Your thoughts, please.''
I think Jones is a better runner and better football player than Benson. Period. He's a tougher runner, too, which is why the coaching staff chose to play him for the two years he and Benson shared the job. In those two years, Jones ran the ball 610 times for a 4.2-yard average; Benson ran it 224 times for a 4.1-yard average -- and fewer than half the touchdowns. Now, with the bullseye solely on him, Benson is rushing for 3.0 yards a tote. Understand that when a team picks a player in the top 10 of a draft -- and Benson was the fourth overall choice in 2005 -- he's going to eventually get the starting job. If he doesn't, the GM and coach look like fools for taking a bust so high in the draft.
I STAND BY MY CHOICE OF CALIENDO. From Mike Murray, of Chico, Calif.: "Peter, Peter, Peter! Caliendo better than Belushi? Belushi was an incredible comedian and performer. Caliendo is nothing more than an impressionist, albeit a good one. He's Rich Little, modern day. Nothing more.''
How about Belushi, as a zit, in Animal House? You may be right. You probably are right. There's no accounting for taste. Caliendo is the funniest guy in America right now.