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Tuesday Morning Quarterback Excerpts, 12/20/05 (Merged)


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Check out what he says about the Skins-Cowboys game!


Lately this column has obsessed about teams that punt on fourth-and-short, or in opposition territory, or when way behind. Mentally I shout why are you punting???? at coaches more than any phrase, more even then you're blocking my view of the cheerleaders. An example from Week 15:

Trailing Washington 35-0 late in the third quarter, Dallas faced fourth-and-1 on its 30; in came the punt unit. When, exactly, will there be a better chance to claw back into the game? Outraged, the football gods pushed the punt out of bounds on the Cowboys' 45.

These examples could continue at length, not that length is a major concern with TMQ. Going for it may not work, of course -- on the decisive snap of the Chicago-Atlanta game, the Falcons, trailing 16-3, ran on fourth-and-1 and failed. But winning teams are not afraid of fourth down: In the tremendous San Diego-Indianapolis contest, each team badly wanted to win, and each went for it on a key fourth down. On the flip side, there seems a pretty clear relationship between losing and timid punting. All of which makes me wonder: Why do NFL coaches punt in situations like those above? I offer three explanations:

Explanation No. 1, Least Common The coach is telling the world, I AM QUITTING ON THIS GAME. This in my view explains Buffalo's punt. The Bills have done fine in the first half in 2005, outscoring opponents 140-138: the second half is a different story, Buffalo outscored following intermission by a worse margin than any team except cellar-dwelling San Francisco, which just became bowl-eligible. (See below.) Buffalo's second half-performance seems the cumulative effect of Bills' coaches making timid decisions as if they assume the game will be lost anyway. As this column has documented, for five years under novice head coaches Gregg Williams and now Mike Mularkey, the Bills have punted, punted, punted in situations where winning teams seize the day. Not only did Buffalo punt on fourth-and-2 when down by 11 against Denver; earlier Buffalo punted from the Denver 33. When coaches don't try to win, their players get the message and eventually quit too.

Explanation No. 2, Somewhat Common: The coach is more concerned with shifting blame than gambling on victory. This in my view was Detroit's situation. Had Dick Jauron gone for it when trailing 24-7, and the gamble failed, sportswriters would have blamed Jauron for a bad call. Instead he took the easy way out and sportswriters blamed the Lions' players for crummy effort. Alternatively, the coach orders a punt because he is more concerned with holding down the margin of defeat than taking chances to trigger a comeback -- this was likely the thinking of Jon "Once I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden. Gruden's job is secure, but coaches on the bubble tend to be punt-happy. Jauron and Mularkey are likely to be job-shopping come January 2nd, and don't want blow-out defeats on their resumes. This is what game-theorists call the minimax strategy. Jauron and Mularkey hope to win, but assume they will lose and so attempt to minimize the maximum damage, in this case, to their reputations. When coaches go minimax, they make their own job-shopping more important than victory for their teams.

Explanation No. 3, Very Common: "But that's what we always do." Surely this was Dallas' situation, and explains most Preposterous Punts. No one is more obsessed with winning than Bill Parcells, plus Parcells has repeatedly shown he could not give one fig about reputation. Yet he punted on fourth-and-1 while trailing by 35 points. Tradition says punt on fourth down. The assumption is even built into football language -- when a team is stopped on third down, announcers say, "Now they have to punt." They don't have to punt. Football coaches are fundamentally a hidebound crowd, and some may actually think, "It's fourth down, we have to punt."

Stats of the Week From October 17th at 9:49 ET to December 18th at 1:18 ET, the Indianapolis Colts did not trail.

Stats of the Week No. 2 From November 27th at 8:07 ET to December 18th at 2:49 ET, Seattle did not trail.

Stats of the Week No. 3 New England has won its last three games by a combined 79-10.

Stats of the Week No. 4 In its last two road games, Dallas has been outscored 52-10.

Stats of the Week No. 5 In 480 minutes of road play this season, the Jets held the lead for 10 minutes. Stat from Peter Cangemi of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Stats of the Week No. 6 16 players have caught a pass for New England and 10 players have carried the ball.

Stats of the Week No. 7 Tom Brady is 15-0 when the temperature is below 274.816667 Kelvin (35 Fahrenheit).

Stats of the Week No. 8 For the second time in three years, Miami won and was eliminated on the same day.

Stats of the Week No. 9 First overall draft choice Alex Smith has 10 interceptions and no touchdown passes.

Stats of the Week No. 10 Denver has the most points, yards and first downs in the last decade -- corresponding to the year Mike Shanahan became coach.

The Football Gods Chortled "Look Dad, he's cold." That's what Grant, my Official Oldest, said as Michael Vick first came to the sideline at Chicago on Sunday night, kickoff temperature 262 Kelvin (12 Fahrenheit). Vick immediately called for a heavy cape with hood, pulled up the hood and scrunched in. Throughout the contest Atlanta players threw on heavy capes and pulled up hoods and balaclavas the instant they came off the field -- and seemed reluctant to shed those capes to go back out. Bears gentlemen, by contrast, shrugged at the cold and marched around on the sidelines without capes. You may not need to know much more than that about the Chicago-Atlanta contest. On his career, Vick is 1-3 when the kickoff temperature is below 262 Kelvin. And yes, my brilliant advice was that Chicago stick with Kyle Orton; now everyone is praising Lovie Smith for switching to Rex Grossman. Orton played a half and the Bears scored six points, Grossman played a half and the Bears scored 10 points. We'll see.

Grade Inflation Comes to Sideline Showers Marvin Lewis got two buckets of Gatorade over his head as the clock reached all-naughts. Cincinnati has a league-leading 30 interceptions, a fabulous number. But turnovers are half skill and half luck. It's hard to believe Bengals' interception success can continue at this pace.

Sour Play of the Week Pittsburgh 10, Minnesota 3 with 23 seconds remaining in the first half, Vikes' ball on the Steelers' 19. Brad Johnson, don't do anything silly here, because a field goal makes it 10-6 at halftime. Instead pass into triple coverage, interception. Ye gods.

Sweet 'N' Sour Play All 11 Kansas City defenders fell off Tiki Barber at some point during his 41-year touchdown run. Has anyone ever broken a tackle by every defender on the field on the same play? Very sweet for Jersey/A; for Kansas City, a Sour Warhead http://www.warheads.com/warhead.html.

Law of the Other Shoe Things aren't going well for Dallas -- the Potomac Nanticokes lead 21-0 late in the first half. But now the 'Boys have first-and-10 on the Skins' 25. Drew Bledsoe fades back, crazy pass into triple coverage, ball returned to Dallas 38. The other shoe is yet to fall! One play later it's second-and-2 on the Dallas 30 with 21 seconds remaining till intermission. H-back Chris Cooley comes in motion left across the formation. Let's see, to this point, Cooley has two touchdown receptions, maybe Dallas should pay attention to him! Short catch, two very lame missed tackles, touchdown, and the Christmas caroling can start early in Washington suburbs.

Tactics note one: normally teams blitz the immobile Bledsoe -- but the Cowboys know that, so much of their game plan this season has involved quickly getting the ball out to whomever is left open by the blitz. The tastefully named Gregg Williams, defensive boss of the Skins, knows that. He double-crossed Dallas by not blitzing, dropping seven into coverage. Bledsoe scanned for the man left open by the blitz, and saw no one open immediately; he then fell into his bad habit, holding the ball too long, and a four-man Washington rush was able to sack him seven times, plus force bad decisions. Bledsoe was sufficiently confused by the Redskins' failure to blitz that afterward he said Washington must have been playing cover two (zone) when the corners double double-crossed him by playing man (what normally happens on blitzes). Tactics note two: Mark Brunell almost always rolls left. Yet when he rolled left, Washington leading 7-0 and facing third-and-goal on the Dallas 2, the 'Boys defense seemed surprised and ignored Cooley, who had gone in motion left then turned up to the end zone.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback All-Unwanted All Pros The Pro Bowl roster will be announced tomorrow on ESPN, and is sure to be heavy on first-round picks and megabucks glamour boys. Congratulations to them. TMQ has always been interested in the different group of NFL players -- those who succeed despite never being drafted or being let go on their first, second or even third tries. Each season Tuesday Morning Quarterback honors the All-Unwanted All Pros: the league's best players who were never drafted or were let go. These are players who have overcome the odds. And think the undrafted don't matter? As Gil Brandt has pointed out, there are 11 undrafted fellows in the Hall of Fame.

To qualify for the All-Unwanted All Pros, a player must have been passed over in the draft; or waived; or changed teams in free agency without his original team making a bona fida effort to retain him; or been traded for the purpose of getting rid of him. Examples: Brad Johnson could qualify for my team because the Buccaneers made no attempt to resign him, while Marco Rivera does not qualify because the Packers wanted him back but lacked salary cap room. Corey Dillon could qualify for my team because the Bengals traded him in order to get rid of him, while Santana Moss does not qualify since the Jets traded him because they wanted the player they got in exchange. To be eligible, a coach must have been fired.

Usually my All-Unwanted All Pros are as strong as the real All Pros except at tackle and cornerback. These have become premium positions where teams spend considerable amounts of money and draft picks, making it harder for unknowns to break through. This year the weak points of my squad are corner and running back, while my tackles, undrafted or shown the door by someone, are among the league's top performers. As for tailbacks, lately you hear people saying NFL teams have devalued the position, but check the top rushers -- 20 of 30 are first- or second-round draft choices. At any rate I'd pit my All-Unwanted All Pros against the real All Pros any day. My guys would play with more motivation.

An asterisk indicates the gentleman has been let go more than once, or went undrafted and was also let go at least once.

First team

Quarterback: Trent Green,* Kansas City.

Tailbacks: Warrick Dunn, Atlanta; Thomas Jones,* Chicago.

Fullback: Lorenzo Neal,* San Diego. (Let go four times!)

Wide receivers: Joey Galloway, Tampa; Rod Smith, Denver.

Tight end: Antonio Gates,* San Diego. (Did not play football in college.)

Offensive line: Matt Lepsis, Denver; Stephen Neal, New England; Willie Roaf, Kansas City; Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis; Brian Waters, Kansas City.

Defensive line: Brentson Buckner,* Carolina; Bryce Fisher,* Seattle; Adewale Ogunleye,* Chicago; Pat Williams,* Minnesota.

Linebackers: Gary Brackett, Indianapolis; Antonio Pierce,* Jersey/A; Mike Vrabel, New England.

Defensive backs: Ryan Clark,* Washington; Ken Lucas, Carolina; Deltha O'Neal, Cincinnati; Brian Russell,* Cleveland.

Special teamer: Sean Morey,* Pittsburgh.

Kick returner: B.J. Sams, Baltimore.

Punter: Brian Moorman, Buffalo.

Kicker: Neil Rackers, Arizona.

Coach: Bill Belichick, New England.

Second team:

Quarterback: Jake Plummer, Denver.

Tailbacks: Reuben Droughns,* Cleveland; Willie Parker, Pittsburgh. (Parker did not start in college.)

Fullback: Mike Sellers,* Washington. (Went to a community college, wasn't drafted, was let go twice in the NFL and spent two years in the CFL.)

WR: Plaxico Burress, Jersey/A; Joe Jurevicius,* Seattle.

Tight end: Jermaine Wiggins,* Minnesota. (Undrafted and let go three times!)

Offensive line: Rich Braham, Cincinnati, Ruben Brown, Chicago; Mike Goff, San Diego; Ryan Lilja, Indianapolis; Kareem McKenzie, Jersey/A.

Defensive line: Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tennessee; Montae Reagor,* Indianapolis; Paul Spicer,* Jacksonville; Gerard Warren, Denver.

Linebackers: London Fletcher,* Buffalo; Jeremiah Trotter,* Philadelphia; Marcus Washington, Washington.

Defensive backs: Keion Carpenter,* Atlanta; Al Harris,* Green Bay; Dexter Jackson,* Tampa (unwanted and recycled!); Darren Sharper, Minnesota.

Special teamer: Corey Ivy,* St. Louis.

Kick returner: Reggie Swinton,* Arizona. (Undrafted, cut twice in the NFL and cut twice in the CFL!)

Punter: Nick Harris,* Detroit.

Kicker: Adam Vinatieri, New England.

Coach: Mike Shanahan, Denver.

If You Used to Be Randy Moss, Press "2" One catch against the Browns; no receptions in the second half. Trailing 7-6 with 43 seconds remaining, Cleveland had third-and-2 on the Oakland 19, holding two time-outs. Romeo Crennel ordered quarterback Charlie Frye to kneel, then call timeout with five ticks showing. The kick was true, but this seemed a needless tempting of the football gods. Next time try for the touchdown first!

If You Used to Be the Philadelphia Eagles, Press "3" Mike McMahon fakes to Ryan Moats, then finds Mike Bartum for the winning touchdown! Who are these guys? Trent Cole, Todd Herrremens, Roderick Hood and Jamaal Jackson all started for the Eagles against the Rams. Jackson is so obscure, the Eagles' depth chart shows him as a grayed-out unknown.

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