Before the 2012 season, the NFL voted to bring the postseason overtime rules to the regular season. Those postseason rules, implemented after the New Orleans Saints had the unmitigated gall to force Brett Favre from a Super Bowl berth in the 2009 NFC Championship game, gave each team a chance to score unless the first team to possess the ball scored a touchdown on its initial possession.
Sounds simple enough, but some people still need a refresher course. In the New England Patriots' 34-31 Sunday night win over the Denver Broncos, Pats head coach Bill Belichick won the toss and took the wind, giving Denver the ball. It was seen by some as a questionable decision -- giving Peyton Manning the ball with the knowledge that a touchdown would prevent his own team from ever touching the ball in the fifth quarter -- but Belichick knew what he was doing. Manning was having serious issues with the wind at Gillette Stadium, and he went 1-for-3 for three yards on that initial drive. The two teams battled back and forth until Tony Carter's special teams gaffe gave New England the opportunity to kick the game-winning field goal, but it all started with Belichick's decision.
Not that his own players were cognizant of the possible ramifications.
"We all looked at each other like he was crazy -- then we all asked again and again and again," guard Logan Mankins told CSN New England. "And we just wanted to make sure we were doing exactly what he wanted."
Belichick further explained his strategy during his Monday press conference -- and by the way, if you want to get the normally taciturn coach to open up, ask him about special teams and then try to get him to shut up.
"Well, you never want to give Peyton Manning and that offense, you never want to just hand them the ball, but I just felt in that particular situation, with the wind being as significant as it was, that we just had to stop them from getting into the end zone. If we could do that, then we would have a significant advantage in the overtime period. We just had to make one stop and keep them out of the end zone. Even if they drove down and kicked a field goal, I felt like in that game, the field goal to kick going into the lighthouse, you’d have to get the ball to the 25 to be confident in making it. Depending on how the wind was gusting, you might even have to get it to the 20. Whereas going the other way, I think you could definitely get the ball to the uprights from probably anywhere inside the 45-yard line. Now, getting it in-between them was more of a challenge because of the crosswind and everything else. But at least to have a shot to make it, I felt like there was about a 20-yard difference in field position to just attempt a field goal, let’s put it that way.
"I’m saying getting to the 25 on one end, to the 45 on the other. You could fudge a yard or two there, but basically that’s what it looked like to me at that time. I felt like that was a big enough advantage to try to keep the wind. As it turned out, the punting game also was a factor in that too. Had we had the ball and not been able to score and be punting into the wind and all that, like I said, with their kicker and his distance, it wouldn’t have taken much for them to be in field goal range. I felt like, ‘Well, if that’s the way we feel about it, we might as well put them in that situation.’ That’s kind of the thought process there.
"To tell you the truth, the whole situation was a little bit confusing because when I told the captains that, there was a little bit of a question of, are you talking about deferring. I was like, ‘No, we’re not deferring, we’re taking the wind, period.’ ‘Well, is that if they take the ball?’ ‘No, it’s not if they take the ball.’ We actually, with the captains, had a little bit of a conversation that they had right what I wanted to do, because it was a little bit of an, obviously, unusual type of situation. They were doing a good job. They just wanted to make sure that they had the decision that we felt was best and we got it. It was not one of the normal ones."
Whew. Maybe Belichick should head over to Green Bay and teach the Packers a thing or two about overtime strategy in the offseason. As Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com reported on Sunday, several Packers players didn't understand that there would be a tie at the end of their overtime period with the Minnesota Vikings -- a game that ended in a 26-26 tie.
Among them was tight end Andrew Quarless. "I thought we was gonna go to another overtime. I never knew," he told Klemko. So, if you thought the Pack were playing with any less than optimal urgency during the fifth quarter ... well, that's because some of them thought that there would be a sixth.
Which takes Donovan McNabb off the hook, at the very least.
More of the NFL's best and worst:
First Down: Arizona's defense.
Going into Week 12, the Arizona Cardinals defense had ranked first overall in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics for two straight weeks. It's highly likely that Todd Bowles' defense will stay at the top of the charts for a third straight week after Arizona's 40-11 thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck's offense was limited to 15 first downs and 239 total yards, and Luck threw for 163 yards ... on 39 attempts. Indy's offense isn't quite the same quick-strike proposition it was last season, but if you want to know why the Cards are 7-4 and looking very much like a playoff contender, the answer is obvious -- that defense is the NFL's best.
Fourth Down: Kansas City's missing sack attack.
On the other hand, we've sent out an APB on the Chiefs' ability to bring down enemy quarterbacks. Through the first eight weeks of the season, Kansas City's defense looked like an unstoppable force, leading the league in quarterback takedowns with 36. It's a testimony to how far ahead they were that the Chiefs still lead the league in that category ... but they now have to share the lead with four other teams (the Bills, Packers, Ravens and Saints) because Kansas City has just one sack in its last three games -- and that was from safety Eric Berry in Sunday's 41-38 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Yes, K.C.'s sack attack was affected by the injuries to outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali in the Chargers game, but both guys played every defensive snap against the Bills in Week 9 and the Broncos in Week 11, and there were no sacks in either contest.
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First Down: Mike Glennon, and Tampa Bay's impressive turnaround.
Quite under the radar, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is enjoying a very impressive season, and he's one of the primary reasons the Bucs have won three straight after an 0-8 start and calls from everywhere for Greg Schiano's head. Glennon has completed 168-of-269 passes for 1,782 yards, 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Not bad for a guy who was thought by many to be a middling draft prospect.
Fourth Down: Whatever the heck it is that Geno Smith's doing.
Ah, Mr. Smith. The Jets' second-round pick in 2013 has quite the ugly November line -- 25 completions in 64 attempts for 345 yards, no touchdowns and five interceptions. He hasn't completed more than nine passes in a game since Oct. 27, he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in over a month and he's making Matt Simms look like a viable starting quarterback for the Jets down the stretch. Perhaps more worrisome than Smith's raw stats is his clear inability to see the field and make multiple reads -- this has been an issue for young quarterbacks throughout NFL history, but Smith appears to have a real issue with field command.
First Down: Tony Romo.
In the Cowboys' 24-21 win over the Giants, it was Romo 11, Narrative 0. That's how many fourth-quarter game-winning or comeback drives Dallas' quarterback has authored since the start of the 2011 season, more than any other quarterback. It was the same on Sunday, as the G-Men closed a 21-6 gap to tie the game near the end, and Romo responded by taking his team down the field with impressive efficiency, leading to a game-clinching Dan Bailey field goal. The Cowboys are now back on top of the NFC East, and we'll see if Romo will have an opportunity to blast through the perception that he's not a viable playoff quarterback. He's certainly beaten up on the "choke" label in the regular season of late.
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Fourth Down: The week in officiating.
The NFL's recent and lawsuit-aided emphasis on player safety has had Roger Goodell and the Competition Committee throwing new rules around like a couple of American Football League quarterbacks, and the level of confusion and inconsistency displayed by officiating crews is a clear and worrisome result. If you're of the opinion that officiating has never been as spotty as it's been this season, you're not alone. Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk recalled a litany of weird calls from Sunday: from a host of odd roughing the passer calls, to the roughing the passer call that should have happened in the Steelers-Browns game and didn't, to refs out of position, to blown challenge mechanics, to the usual "What the hell is a catch anymore?" issues ... let's just say that the league has a lot to deal with when it comes to its refs. Yes, some of these guys belong in the PAC-12, but the mixed messages from the league do not help.
First Down: The NFC West.
The Seahawks have the league's best record at 10-1, but from top to bottom, there are no lightweights in this division. The 5-6 Rams have the West's worst record, and they beat the heck out of the Bears on Sunday. The 7-4 Cardinals have officially claimed the "team nobody wants to face" status for reasons discussed above, and the 49ers can match Arizona's record with a win over the reeling Redskins on Monday Night Football. The division that was the NFL's joke just a few years ago has become the gold standard from top to bottom.
Fourth Down: The NFC North.
And then, there's these guys. On Sunday, no NFC North team won a game -- despite the division game between the Packers and Vikings. Detroit and Chicago lead the division at 6-5, but the Bears may have the league's worst run defense right now, and the Lions have been reduced to players-only meetings. The timely return of Aaron Rodgers could blow this foursome apart. In the meantime, it's just some ugly football up there.
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